Skip to main content

Looking Back to Athena Fund II

I can remember the appearance of the sale catalogue that realised the antiquities of Athena Fund II. Objects that passed through that Fund continue to appear on the market so it would be helpful to write a short summary.

As the Washington Post noted, "McNall also runs an investment fund for Merrill Lynch, called the Athena Fund II, that specializes in ancient art and coins" (Heidi L. Berry, "The Ancient Wealth Of the Hunt Brothers", June 14, 1990). Attitudes towards selling and collecting antiquities were very different in 1990 (Andrea Gabor, "Art of the wheeler-dealers", U.S. News & World Report July 2, 1990).
The smart money is backing ancient art. Onetime Texas billionaire Nelson Bunker Hunt and his brother William went bust speculating on silver, but their collection of ancient coins, vases and bronzes fetched over $ 23 million at last week's Sotheby's auction -- roughly double the original estimates. Just last year, Canal Capital, a firm controlled by Asher Edelman, a corporate raider and art collector, invested "well over $ 10 million" in inventory for the Merrin Gallery, a leading New York City antiquities dealer. Similarly, Merrill Lynch has launched several limited partnerships that invest in ancient coins. "Antiquities have traditionally been overlooked by the public," says Frank Carr, the portfolio manager for Merrill's Athena funds and chief financial officer at Los Angeles-based Numismatic Fine Arts.
The New York magazine gave a little more detail about the sale of Athena Fund II through Hesperia Arts Auction (Andrew Decker, "The Shock of the Old", November 19, 1990). It revealed that the three main figures were Bruce McNall, Jonathan Rosen ("New York collector and real-estate developer"), and Robert E. Hecht ("the éminence grise of New York antiquities collectors"). According to one of the cataloguers for the sale, Jasper Gaunt, the main consignors were Atlantis Antiquities and Athena Fund II. (Atlantis Antiquities is a consignor of some significance for other reasons.) Only today a North American dealer informed me that Robin Symes was the source of much of the material in the Fund.

The Funds were not a great success ("Merrill to Pay Back Investors in Coin and Art Partnerships", New York Times August 24, 1994):
Merrill Lynch & Company said yesterday that it would pay $20 million to $30 million to settle lawsuits by investors in its ancient-art and rare-coin limited partnerships.
Units in the partnerships, which failed, were bought by about 3,500 investors from 1986 to 1990. They will receive the full $1,000 they paid for each unit in the Merrill Lynch Athena Fund I, Athena Fund II and Numismatic Fine Arts World Coin Fund, excluding any distributions they received from the first two funds.
Buyers desiring to acquire ancient art that had passed through such a Fund would want to be sure of the collecting histories of the pieces.

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Marble bull's head from the temple of Eshmun

Excavations at the temple of Eshmun in Lebanon recovered a marble bull's head. It is now suggested that it was this head, apparently first published in 1967, that was placed on loan to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (Tom Mashberg, "Met Museum Turns Over Another Relic With Disputed Past to Prosecutors", New York Times August 1, 2017 ). The head is reported to have been handed over to the Manhattan district attorney after a request was received from the Lebanese authorities.

It is suggested that the head may have been looted from an archaeological storage area at Byblos in the 1980s during the Lebanese civil war. Mashberg has rehearsed the recent collecting history:
The owners of the bull’s head, Lynda and William Beierwaltes of Colorado, say they have clear title to the item and have sued Manhattan prosecutors for its return.  The Beierwaltes bought the head from a dealer in London in 1996 for more than $1 million and then sold it to another collector, Michael …

The Toledo skyphos and a Swiss private collection

The Attic red-figured skyphos attributed to the Kleophon painter in the Toledo Museum of Art (inv. 1982.88) is now coming under further scrutiny following the research of Dr Christos Tsirogiannis. The skyphos shows Hephaistos returning to Olympos.

Tsirogiannis has identified what appears to be this skyphos in five photographs in the Medici Dossier. The museum acknowledged that the skyphos had resided in a 'private Swiss collection'. Tsirogiannis suggests that this is probably a reference to Medici.

Enquiries to the museum by Tsirogiannis elicited the information that the skyphos had been acquired from Nicholas Koutoulakis (although that information does not appear on the museum's online catalogue).

The curatorial team at the Toledo Museum of Art will, no doubt, be contacting the Italian authorities to discuss the future residence of the skyphos.

For further discussion of the Toledo Museum of Art on LM see here.

Reference
Tsirogiannis, C. 2017. "Nekyia: Museum ethics an…

Metropolitan Museum of Art hands over Paestan krater

In May 2014 I commented on a Paestan krater acquired by New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art after it had been identified by Dr Christos Tsirogiannis in photographic images seized from Giacomo Medici. Tsirogiannis published his full concerns in the Journal of Art Crime in 2014, but it has taken a further three years for the museum to respond.

The krater showing Dionysos in a hand-drawn cart was purchased in 1989 from the Bothmer Purchase Fund (details from the Museum's website, inv. 1989.11.4). The krater surfaced through Sotheby's New York in June 1989.

It is unclear who consigned the krater to Sotheby's New York.

It has now been revealed that the krater has been handed over to the US authorities after a warrant had been issued (Tom Mashberg, "Ancient Vase Seized From Met Museum on Suspicion It Was Looted", New York Times July 31, 2018).

It appears that the museum did make an attempt to resolve the case in December 2016. Mashberg notes:
The Met, for its par…