Monday, 10 January 2011

Toxic Antiquities: Concern for Dealers

One of the issues that is likely to become significant during the next few weeks relates to toxic antiquities. There are thousands of antiquities that can be identified from images seized during police raids in Geneva, Basel, and on the island of Schinousa. How can dealers avoid handling them? The easy solution would be to insist on an authenticated collecting history that can be traced back to the period before 1970.

But what if you had sold the material to a private collector a decade or so ago? And now the collector (or their heir) had asked you to sell the collection for them? And what if you knew the original source for the collection?

Do you refuse to handle the objects? But would that indicate that you knew that the items had an "interesting" collecting history?

Or do you agree to sell them and hope that nobody will notice that the items feature in one of the photographic archives? And as Marion True has so recently reminded us, some of these images were made available on the Carabinieri website.

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know


kyri said...

pre 1970s paper trail is very rare.20-30 years ago provenance was not a major issue in collecting antiquities so to say that every antiquitie without a pre 1970s paper trail is "toxic"is a rather simplistic view considering the collecting habbits of the 1950s-60s is only in the last 5-10 years that provenance has become paramount.calling any piece "toxic"makes a good headline but doesnt do anything to solve the problem that demand is driving the collectors we can all bury our head in the sand ,like some do,but i realise there is as a link between illicitly excavated pieces and the antiquities market [the medici affair proved as much]
i am a collector and try to buy as ethicaly as posible,as long as a piece has at least 15-20 years solid provenace and i know it was not dug up yesterday,thats about as good as it gets im afraid.

Paul Barford said...


What does it mean "not a major issue?"

Who made it not a major issue, and why?

Obviously in the wider art market, provenence is everything - to avoid for example Nazi-stolen art and link works with authors and patrons, so why was the antiquities-art market any different?

Why did dealers and buyers NOT want a check that the objects on the market were not - in one way or another - stolen?

Why did nobody involved in this trade seek the answer to these questions 15-20 years ago?

We are constantly assured that the market is full of licit items, the problems begin when we ask to have them demonstrated to us and it turns out that for a market allegedly "full of" them, demonstrable examples are REALLY thin on the ground... cal".

The whole history of a Little Master cup

These fragments of an Athenian Little Master cup, decorated with 'nonsense' inscriptions are among the pieces being returned to Ital...