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An Antiquities Sale with Hazy Guarantees?

May 11, 2012

A Greek Bronze Helmet of Illyrian Type
, Archaic Period, ca. 600-550 B.C. Estimate $20,000-$25,000. Photo courtesy Antiquities Saleroom

The May 12 online auction hosted by  “Antiquities-Saleroom.com, a fully owned subsidiary of Artemis Gallery Ancient Art, will offer more than 250 lots of antiquities from ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, Italy, the Near East, the Far East, as well as art from the Ancient Americas (Mexico, Central and South America) and Africa,” according to a press release — “Online auction offers more than 250 antiquities with guaranteed authenticity” — posted on Antiquetrader.com.

The press release’s third paragraph contains a carefully crafted quote from Antiquities-Saleroom.com managing director Teresa Dodge meant to reassure buyers about  the authenticity and legality of the works:

“All items offered for sale in this auction have been legally acquired and are legal to sell, and are guaranteed authentic/as described. We believe an antiquity will find its correct price in the market almost every time if it is offered with the assurance that it is authentic, legal to purchase and meets the timeline qualifications for UNESCO and various national treaties,” said Teresa Dodge, Managing Director.

Though linked together, these two sentences talk about very separate scenarios.  To the best of their knowledge, all of the works on offer “have been legally acquired and are legal to sell,” and “are guaranteed authentic/as described.” The second sentence is a reasonable determination about the current state of the antiquities market, especially as concerns provenance: “meets the timeline qualifications for UNESCO and various national treaties.”  The implication is that each antiquity in this sale, “meets the timeline qualifications for UNESCO and various national treaties.”

BUT … that’s not part of the guarantee offered in the first sentence.  In fact, the provenance for many lots is sketchy, at best.  Here’s a sampling:

Lot. An Important Old Kingdom Limestone Relief, Provenance: Ex-prominent Toronto, Ontario collection.

Lot 7. An Egyptian Limestone Relief, Provenance: Ex D Liebert, New York.

Lot 14B. An Egyptian Bronze Head of an Ibis, Provenance: Ex-Sarkisian Estate, Denver, CO.

Lot 19. A Large Cypriot Terracotta Amphora, Provenance: Ex-London dealer, reportedly from a old British private collection.

Lot 23. A Greek Corinthian Black-Figure Amphora, Provenance: Ex-private French Collection.

Lot 28A. A Greek Attic Siana Cup, Provenance: Ex-private New York collection, ex-private German collection.

Lot 30C. A Large Greek Bronze Helmet of Illyrian Type, Provenance: Ex-W. Farmer Collection, Maryland purchased in the German Art Market. (Image at top).

The provenance of these lots does not indicate when they were purchased so buyer’s do not know if any of them “meets the timeline qualifications for UNESCO and various national treaties.”

Some lots do have provenance with certain or approximate acquisition dates such as Lot 10A, A Rare Egyptian Faience Amphora – Near Miniature! Provenance: Ex-private German collection, collected between 1905–1940, sold in Belgium art district.

However, in a random sampling, a majority of the lots had provenance that carried no date, again meaning we don’t know if each “meets the timeline qualifications for UNESCO and various national treaties.”

With all due respect to Ms. Dodge, her statement seems less of an assurance or guarantee, a more like a dodge.

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