- First, the objects from Egypt were entrusted to the Society by the British School of Archaeology in Egypt in 1914 for the benefit of the citizens of St. Louis and were intended to be placed in a public institution where they would be used for public education and scholarly study. Selling them breaks this fundamental commitment, now a century old. The citizens of St. Louis have been deprived of part of their legitimate heritage.
- Second, the objects were obtained by division from an authorized excavation, thus enhancing their scholarly and educational value. Such objects should remain in the public domain, not sold off in a manner that risks removing them from public view.
- Third, the actions of the St. Louis Society have seriously compromised the Archaeological Institute of America itself as an organization that upholds the value of preserving, studying and presenting the record of the human past for the benefit of future generations.
The Egyptian objects on sale at Bonhams last month were withdrawn and purchased by New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The St Louis Art Museum clearly feels that it wants to display Egyptian antiquities and even went as far as acquiring a mummy mask that subsequently turned out to have been excavated at Saqqara (and allegedly removed from the archaeological store).
Now some Mesoamerican pieces are due to be sold by Bonhams in New York.
The ArtNewspaper has drawn attention to the issue ("St Louis society attempts second sale of antiquities", November 6, 2014). Washington Paid Lobbyist Peter Tompa has now added his voice to the debate (as a comment to the ArtNewspaper):
In the golden age of archaeology, archaeologists were collectors and some wealthy collectors were amateur archaeologists. Now, its seen as heresy for an AIA chapter to sell a well-provenance piece which has somehow become inalienable for the ideologues that run the organization. Hopefully, this episode will prompt a much needed discussion of the issue and how the AIA's positions have only alienated itself from others who also care about preserving artifacts from the past.He conveniently overlooks the AIA's position in order to promote the position maintained by those organisations who retain the services of his law firm. I note that the IAPN has increased its contribution to Bailey & Ehrenberg by $10,0000 in 2014.
Tompa's incautious language ("heresy", "ideologues", "alienated") highlights the insecure position held by the lobbyist.
I hope that the St Louis Society realise their responsibility to retain the objects for future generations in St Louis. It is not too late for their officers to withdraw the pieces from the sale.