Thursday, 3 November 2011

Trustee of Boston MFA talks of the joy of collecting

North American private collector and trustee of the Boston's MFA, Peter Aldrich, has revised his earlier 2003 essay “An Antiquities Collector’s Thoughts on the Structure and Economics of the Antiquities Markets. The Unintended Consequences of Public Policy, Possible Reforms and the Ethics of Market Participation” (in Carol Mattusch, Alice A. Donohue, and Amy Brauer, eds., Common Ground: Archaeology, Art, Science, and Humanities -Proceedings of the XVI International Congress of Classical Archaeology, Boston (Oxford: Oxbow, 2006), 494-96) for Forbes (with Robert Lenzner, "There's Big Money And The Need For Reform In The Antiquities Trade", November 1, 2011). Lenzner tells us "Aldrich, a retired real estate investor from Boston, ... began collecting Greek and Roman artifacts in emulation of the late Leon Levy and his wife Shelby White". What Lenzner does not inform the readership of Forbes is that two of the antiquities returned from a North American collection to Italy had passed through the Peter and Widgie Aldrich collection (and discussed in an academic article published by Cambridge University Press in 2007). Among the antiquities presented by Aldrich to a major North American museum was a set of armour belonging to a South Italian cavalryman. (Another set of armour from a cavalryman's burial passed into the Shelby White and Leon Levy collection.)

Aldrich now writes "I found that the current market system stimulates, enables and creates looters, black marketeers, and unscrupulous middlemen, dealers and purchasers." He appears (astonishingly!) to be suggesting that some private collectors, like himself, were unscrupulous in the way that they developed their collections. Aldrich alludes to Robin Symes (though fails to mention Paris-, Swiss- and New York-based dealers who played their part): "There are examples galore of scandal in the antiquities trade, all of which makes reform advisable, indeed essential. For example, the reputation of the Getty Museum, an avid collector of antiquities, has been seriously stained by the scandal involving a London dealer who served time in jail."

Aldrich's association with recently-surfaced (and returned) antiquities makes it hard to take his seven point plan seriously.
I believe that this albeit plan could beneficially reform the structure and economics of the antiquities markets, lower the level of violence and corruption that afflicts poor and rich countries alike, and increase dramatically the employment and research opportunities of the archeological profession. It would also make it again an honor and a joy to collect.
Perhaps a more radical solution would be for collectors like Aldrich to insist on seeing properly authenticated documention before making their acquisitions. And in this spirit, I hope that he will publish the full collecting histories of the objects in his collection and include the pieces that he has donated to public museums.

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1 comment:

Mark said...


I too wonder how genuine Aldrich is about his plan; however, I wouldn't write his views off entirely due to his association with recently-surfaced (and returned) antiquities. People can change after all. I'm more interested in where he thinks the initial funds will come from to develop his proposed regulation system and to implement a tax monitoring/collecting system. Most countries don't maintain databases due to cost of implementing and maintaining them.

Congrats on your new position!


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