September-October 2008

 

The Bonhams Geddes Collection sale, museum ethics, and the effect of provenance on price
 
On October 15, the London auction house Bonhams sold 120 of 180 lots from the collection of Graham Geddes. Geddes, described by Bonhams as “Australia’s foremost dealer and collector” (C. Rountree, “The Geddes Collection”, Bonhams Magazine, Autumn 2008, 43), built up his collection from the 1970s onwards. It was particularly strong in Classical Greek and South Italian pottery. The sale had originally comprised 193 lots, but the day before the sale was due to go ahead, the Italian authorities informed Bonhams that 10 pieces probably derived from illegal digs during the 1970s, and Bonhams subsequently withdrew 13 pieces from auction (N. Squires, “Suspicions that Roman artefacts were illegally traded”, Telegraph, October 16).
 
The withdrawn lots were:
 
Lot 6. An Attic black-figure column krater, attributed to the Swing Painter, circa 530 BC.
Provenance: Acquired at Sotheby's London, July 13-14, 1987.
Exhibited: On loan to the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, April 2005 - April 2008, on loan to the University of Melbourne, Australia, March 1988 - February 1994.
Published: Sotheby's London, Antiquities, July 13-14, 1987, lot 440.

 

Lot 9. A large Attic red-figure bell krater, attributed to the Retorted Painter, circa 380-360 BC.
Provenance: Acquired at Sotheby's London, May 20, 1985.
Exhibited: On loan to the Borchardt Library, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia, March 1995 - April 2008.
Published: Sotheby's London, Antiquities, May 20, 1985, lot 383.

 

Lot 10. A large early Apulian red-figure hydria, attributed to the Painter of the Berlin Dancing Girl, circa 410-400 BC.
Provenance: Acquired at Sotheby's London, May 21, 1984.
Exhibited: On loan to the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, April 2005 - April 2008, on loan to the Museum of Mediterranean Antiquities, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia, March 1995 - April 2005.
Published: Sotheby's London, Antiquities, May 21, 1984, lot 384.

 

Lot 15. An Apulian red-figure trefoil-lipped oinochoe, circa 340-330 BC.
Provenance: Acquired at Sotheby's London, December 8, 1986.
Exhibited: On loan to the Borchardt Library, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia, February 1997 - April 2008.
Published: Sotheby's London, Antiquities, December 8, 1986, lot 185.

 

Lot 26. A small Campanian red-figure bell krater, attributed to the Danaid Painter, circa 335-315 BC.
Provenance: Acquired at Sotheby's London, May 22nd, 1989.
Exhibited: On loan to the Museum of Mediterranean Antiquities, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia, November 2005 - April 2008, on loan to the University of Melbourne, Australia, March 1995 - July 2003.
Published: Sotheby's London, Antiquities, May 22nd, 1989, lot 199.

 

Lot 28. A small Apulian red-figure bell krater, attributed to the Perrone - Phryxos group, circa 340-330 BC.
Provenance: Acquired at Sotheby's London, December 8, 1986.
Exhibited: On loan to the Borchardt Library, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia, March 1988 - April 2008.
Published: I. McPhee and A.D. Trendall, Greek Red-figured Fish-plates, (Basel 1987), p.127, IVA, no.100a; Sotheby's London, Antiquities, December 8, 1986, lot 188.
 
Lot 36. A Campanian red-figure neck amphora, attributed to near the Chequer and Dirce Painters, circa 380 BC.
Provenance: Ex Amati collection, London, acquired in the mid-1970s.
Exhibited: On loan to the University of Melbourne, Australia, March 1988 - July 2003, on loan to the Museum of Mediterranean Antiquities, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia, November 2005 - April 2008.

 

Lot 51. A Roman marble torso of a dancing satyr, circa 1st-2nd Century AD.
Provenance: Ex Foley Collection, 1979. Formerly in the Dean Collection, Melbourne.
Exhibited: On loan to the Classics Department, University of Melbourne, 1981-1995, on loan at the Museum of Mediterranean Antiquities, Monash University, March 1995 - April 2005.
 
Lot 53. A Roman marble statue of a Togata, circa 1st-2nd Century AD.
Provenance: Acquired from David Jones Gallery, Sydney, 1981.
Exhibited: On loan at the University of Melbourne, Australia, March 1985 - February 1995.

 

Lot 54. Another Roman marble statue of a Togata, circa 1st-2nd Century AD.
Provenance: Acquired from David Jones Gallery, Sydney, 1981.
Exhibited: On loan at the University of Melbourne, Australia, March 1985 - February 1995.

 

Lot 70. A large Roman marble statue of a Togatus, circa 2nd Century AD.
Provenance: Acquired at Sotheby's London, 8-9 December 1986.
Exhibited: On loan at the University of Melbourne, Australia, March 1989 - April 1992.
Published: Sotheby's London, Antiquities, 8-9 December 1986, lot 337, p.130-131

 

Lot 72.A Roman marble statue of a Togatus, circa 2nd Century AD.
Provenance: Acquired in the UK in 1981.
Exhibited: On loan at the University of Melbourne, Australia, March 1988 - July 2003.
 
Lot 73. A Roman marble statue of a Togatus, circa 2nd Century AD.
Provenance: Acquired in the UK in 1981.
Exhibited: On loan at the University of Melbourne, Australia, March 1988 - July 2003.
 
Bonhams also withdrew the following piece from their October 15 2008 Antiquities sale, again after Italian protests, perhaps because of its connection to Robin Symes:
 
Lot 180. An Apulian red-figure volute krater, circa 320 BC.
Provenance:
Ex Robin Symes Collection.
 
Four of the withdrawn pieces were South Italian vessels that had been acquired at Sotheby’s London in the 1980s. It is now well known, through the work of Peter Watson, that large numbers of previously unknown South Italian vessels were passing through Sotheby’s London in the 1980s and early 1990s, and that many were consigned by Giacomo Medici who was convicted in 2004 of receiving and illegally exporting stolen antiquities. It is known that Geddes bought at least one of the Medici pieces, because it is illustrated in Peter Watson’s book, (1997, Sotheby’s: Inside Story, pl. opp. 186), though it was not offered in the Bonhams sale. Nevertheless, the Italian request suggests that some of the other pieces too had passed through the hands of Medici.
 
 
Apulian krater consigned to Sotheby’s London by Medici and bought by Geddes. Photo: Peter Watson
 
Bonhams’ chairman Robert Brooks expressed his frustration with the Italians when he was quoted in the Telegraph as saying “We would welcome a greater openness on the part of the Italian government, which would allow us far more advance warnings and information about concerns they have” (N. Squires, “Suspicions that Roman artefacts were illegally traded”, October 16). But, in truth, the Italian action was prompted by poor due diligence on the part of Bonhams. It should now be common knowledge in the collecting and sales communities that any South Italian pottery with a 1980s or 1990s provenance was quite possibly excavated illegally, particularly if it was sold through Sotheby’s, and its acquisition or sale should be avoided unless there is evidence at hand to prove otherwise. Clearly, in Bonhams’ case, the evidence was not to hand, or else the pieces would not have been withdrawn after the Italian protest. Nevertheless, undeterred, Bonhams went ahead with the Geddes auction, selling a further 12 South Italian pieces with a suspect Sotheby’s provenance (lot numbers 18, 19, 20, 21, 23, 33, 34, 39, 146, 149, 152, 160).
The withdrawn pieces had all been exhibited in Australian museums, as listed in the provenances, often until 2008. And yet by 1999 Museums Australia had adopted a Code of Ethics which requires that a museum should not acquire or accept on loan any object “unless the governing body and responsible officer is satisfied that the museum can acquire a valid title to the specimen or object in question and that in particular it has not been acquired in, or exported from, its country of origin and/or any intermediate country in which it may have been legally owned, in violation of that country’s laws” (Museums Australia Incorporated, 1999, Code of Ethics, articles 3.4 and 3.8), demonstrating once again the lamentable gap that often exists in the museums world between professional ethics and professional practice. It also seems likely that some of these museums are still holding Geddes pieces with no clear account of provenance. The National Gallery of Victoria, for example, lists a Paestan bell krater (D28-1992) as the 1992 gift of Mr and Mrs Graham Geddes, and the University of Queensland’s Antiquities Museum lists several pieces that are apparently on loan from Geddes.
Market and museum practice apart, the sale of the Geddes lots can be used to test the Cannon-Brookes/Borodkin hypothesis that object provenance has a positive effect on object price. Peter Cannon-Brookes first suggested this hypothesis in 1994, when he surmised that in a climate disapproving of the sale of unprovenanced antiquities, the market might start to discriminate against them by awarding higher prices to well-documented pieces. Higher prices would in turn encourage the release into the public domain of more provenance related information, and the market would gradually become more transparent, allowing the customer to be more selective about acquisitions. In 1995, Lisa Borodkin made a similar suggestion, arguing that there were so many fakes on the antiquities market that customers would pay a premium for provenance as the absolute guarantee against forgery.
            The Cannon-Brookes/Borodkin hypothesis has not yet been confirmed, partly because it is difficult to identify suitable data sets for testing (N. Brodie, “The effect of an artefact’s provenance on its saleability”, Culture Without Context no. 19, 4-6). One method of investigating the effect of provenance on price is to compare the pre-auction estimated prices of auction lots with their realized prices. If the realized prices of lots with good provenances consistently perform better against their estimates by a greater amount than those with poor provenances, then it would seem to confirm the Cannon-Brookes/Borodkin hypothesis.
The Bonhams auction included 52 single-object lots of Classical Greek or South Italian pottery. Seven of the lots were withdrawn at the request of the Italians, and five failed to sell. None of the 40 lots that actually sold had a good provenance, they were all post-1970, but they could be divided into two provenance groups. The first group, 17 lots in total, had been acquired at Sotheby’s London in the 1980s. The remaining 23 lots had been acquired through other sources. For the Cannon-Brookes/Borodkin hypothesis to hold, it would be expected that objects with an obviously suspect provenance (those bought at Sotheby’s), would perform less well than those with a better provenance (those not bought at Sotheby’s).
 
 
 In fact, this was not the case. As this histogram shows, lots with a Sotheby’s provenance performed better against their estimated price than those without a Sotheby’s provenance. On average, lots with a Sotheby’s provenance sold for 114 percent of their median estimated price, while those without a Sotheby’s provenance sold for 100 percent of their median estimated price. The Cannon-Brookes/Borodkin hypothesis is not confirmed. Provenance does not seem to have exerted a decisive effect on price.
 
Afghanistan
 
In October, during an official visit to Greece, the deputy culture minister of Afghanistan announced new plans for the strengthening of Afghanistan’s heritage infrastructure. They include the construction of ten new regional museums and the training of more archaeologists (H. Smith, “Afghans plan museums to replace moonscapes”, Guardian, October 30). There are still problems finding security staff, as the pay of $10 a month is insufficient, and there are few funds available for transport and communication equipment. Greece has been a major backer.
 
China
 
 Photo: Xinhua
 
Four bronze mirrors were stolen in August from Duanhuang museum, in China’s northwestern Gansu province (Chinadaily.com, “Ancient bronze mirror stolen from NW China museum”, September 3). The largest mirror, probably dating to the period of the Wei and Jin Dynasties, is 11 cm in diameter and is inscribed on the back with the Chinese characters “Wei Zhi San Gong”. 
 
Egypt
 
Egyptian officials announced in October that they had retrieved the stolen eye of a statue of Amenhotep III from the Antikenmuseum Basel (T. Elyan, “Egypt to retrieve Amenhotep III’s stolen eye”, Daily News Egypt, October 9). Zahi Hawass, the secretary general of the Supreme Council for Antiquities, said that the eye had been stolen from the statue in 1972, bought by antiquities dealer Norbert Shem, who sold it at Sotheby’s to another German antiquities dealer who had in turn loaned it to the Basel museum. After negotiations between Hawass and museum curator Peter Blome, the dealer agreed to return the eye without compensation.
 
Greece
 
It seems the Greek Ministry of Culture is investigating the provenance’ of three pieces in the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University in Atlanta (H. Stoilas, “Greece investigates antiquities in Atlanta”, Art Newspaper no. 195, October, 26). The pieces in question are:
 
2002.34.1. Mid-fourteenth-century BC Minoan larnax. Acquired in 2002.
 
2002. 31.1. Greek, late 4th to mid 2nd centuries BC marble, perhaps Parian statue of a woman, perhaps the muse Terpsichore.
 
2004.2.1 Greek, probably island, ca. 650-600 BC amphora.
 
Meanwhile, within Greece itself, two men were arrested in Trikala on suspicion of trying to sell antiquities (Associated Press, “2 men arrested for trying to sell antiquities”, September 20).
 
Iraq
 
The Art Newspaper reported a telephone conversation with Abbas al-Husseini, who was Director of Antiquities in Iraq from 2006 to 2007 (M. Bailey, “Iraq’s top archaeologist says looting of sites is over”, September, 1). Al-Husseini claimed that the large scale professional looting of sites in Iraq is over – now there is just the occasional digging by children. He suggested the improving situation is the outcome of several developments: local religious leaders have started to speak out against the plunder, more guards are available to protect sites, Iraqi archaeologists have started excavating again. He also suggested the black market has stopped, so that looters will not be paid.
 
Kristallnacht
 
It was announced in October that investigative journalist Yaron Svoray has discovered just north of Berlin what he thinks is a huge dump of Jewish artifacts made after the Kristallnacht of November 9, 1938, when there were widespread attacks on Jewish property across Germany. Negotiations are proceeding among German and Israeli organizations over how best the site may be investigated (K. Connolly, “Kristallnacht remnants unearthed near Berlin”, Guardian, October 22).
 
Macedonia
 
Macedonian police seized 70 artifacts in raids of homes of two suspected artifact smugglers (Associated Press, “Macedonian police seize stolen antiquities”, September 24). The artifacts are believed to have been stolen from the Iron Age to Roman site of Isar in the south of the country.
 
Peru
 
In August 2007, Peruvian prosecutors raided the house of Cesar Baroni in La Angostura, seizing 1836 pieces of pottery and textiles (N.L. Amancio & J.R. Vargas, “Fiscalía denuncia tráfico de patrimonio de Ica a EE.UU”, El Comercio, August 3). The investigation started in July 2006, when Peruvian customs intercepted two packages at Jorge Chavez airport containing some ancient skeletal parts and two pieces of Nazca pottery. The packages were addressed to a US forensic anthropologist, and named the sender as Julian Valentin. When questioned, the anthropologist denied having solicited the packages, and alleged that Julian Valentin was a pseudonym used by Baroni, who sold artifacts on various Internet sites using the address arkeologo2000@yahoo.it. In August 2008, Baroni was charged with the illegal excavation and sale of cultural obects. Baroni denied the charges, stating that he had inherited the seized material as a collection from his parents and grandparents.
 
In September 2008,  police in Cusco seized 690 pieces of Inca and Pre-inca pottery from the premises of a souvenir shop close to the main square of Cusco (Andina, “En Cusco decomisan 690 piezas arqueológicas y detienan a dos presuntos traficantes”, September 10). Mauro Alvítez Mendoza and his wife Mercedes Sayre Quispe were arrested. The police also seized computers and documents, and revealed that one single invoice recorded payment of 8,000 Nuevos Soles ($2500) for three archaeological figures
 
Philippines
 
In August, archaeologists recovered 22 sacks of broken pottery on the island of Mindanao (T. Bell, “Stolen artefacts point to lost Philippines tribe”, Telegraph, October 24). The pottery, including broken anthromorphic burial jars, perhaps more than 2000 years old, is of a previously unknown culture. Archaeological fieldwork on Mindanao is difficult because of armed rebel groups demanding protection money. 
 
Preah Vihear
 
The stand-off between Cambodian and Thai troops at the Khmer temple of Preah Vihear continued. Fighting broke out on October 15 that left three Cambodian soldiers dead and several Thai soldiers wounded (K. Doyle, “Trying to calm Cambodia – Thailand temple dispute”, Time.com, October 17).
 
Robin Symes stock liquidation
 
The Italian newspaper Il Messaggero expressed outrage that the stock of bankrupt antiquities dealer Robin Symes might be sold off at public auction in London (F. Isman, “Scandalo a Londra: l’arte rubata finisce in vendita”, October 7). It is estimated that Symes’ frozen stock comprises 17,000 artifacts worth an estimated $210 million (P. Watson and C. Todeschini, 2006, The Medici Conspiracy, New York, Public Affairs, 259). Il Messaggero suggested that as much as 60 percent might be from Italy (Italian experts had been in London authenticating the material), and that much of it might have an illegal provenance. Il Messagero might have taken heart from the following piece in the Antiquarian Booksellers Association Newsletter no. 343, December 2007, which suggests then when the Symes stock is offered for sale, it will be without guarantee of full title:
 
CAVEAT EMPTOR

Bonhams held a sale on 29th October of books formerly in the reference library of Robin Symes. The Conditions of Sale included the following unusual sentence:

".... the Seller is selling only such right, title and interest as it may have in each Lot."

Extracts from the response by the ABA solicitors are printed below. Alan Shelley wrote to David Park at Bonhams expressing surprise and concern that the auctioneers, being unable to receive the assurance of full title guarantee, apparently passed the responsibility to those who purchased at this sale.

Robins Symes Limited are currently in liquidation, and as such Bonhams are acting as agents for the liqidator ... –

Although the liquidator will examine the background to each individual asset as far as is possible, there may be a charge or encumbrance over the asset that he has not been able to discover (because, for example, the paperwork relating to the charge has gone missing or been misplaced). Thus, a liquidator ... will not give a warranty that the asset of the company is completely free from any legal charges or burdens ... Bonhams, who are acting as agents for the liquidator, will not give such a warranty either. By including the phrase "the Seller is selling only such right, title and interest as it may have in each Lot", Bonhams are essentially inviting any potential bidders to consider this.

Section 12(3) of the Sale of Goods Act 1979 applies to contracts where the contract states that it is the intention of the seller to transfer only such title as he or a third person may have, as is the case here ... Essentially, this means that when the contract is made (when the auctioneers hammer falls), if the Seller knew of a charge or encumbrance over that lot prior to the auction, the buyer will be deemed to have done so even if they did not. This is something that should be borne in mind if placing a bid where the Seller has included a caveat in the contract with regard to title guarantee.

As I understand it, Robin Symes Limited have been in liquidation since 2003, and one would hope that any issues regarding any of the items up for sale at auction on 29th October 2007 would have come to the liquidator's attention by now. However, the points I have raised previously should always be borne in mind. If there are any particular concerns you have over any specific lots, you may wish to raise these with the auctioneer.

Lee Bolton & Lee

 
Spanish seizures
 
Spanish officials announced on October 27 that 45 artifacts seized in 2007 from Leonardo Patterson have been returned to Peru. They include 12 pieces thought to be from the Moche site of Sipan. (Associated Press, “Spain returns looted Peruvian artifacts”, October 29).
 
Spanish police in Palma (Majorca) have recovered nearly 100 artifacts from underwater sites as part of an investigation into marijuana trafficking (“La policía recupera cientos de piezas artísticas en tres operaciones”, El País, October 13).
 
United States
CBS13 reported that Donald and Steven Parker of Folsom were indicted for stealing Native American artifacts from federal and private land in Nevada (CBS13.com, “Two indicted for stolen native American artifacts”, October 27). Meanwhile, in Arizona, the Bureau of Land Management reported that a petroglyph depicting a human figure with two arms and one leg has been chiseled off from the face of a sandstone cliff in the Cottonwood Point Wilderness Area (Associated Press, “Ancient petroglyph chiseled from N. Arizona cliff”, September 24).
 
On September 25 the US Senate voted to ratify the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.

 
 
United Kingdom
 
Controversy has erupted in Shepton Mallet, Somerset over the identity of a small silver amulet. It was found during the excavation of a fourth-century AD Roman cemetery in 1990, and is significant because it is marked with a Chi-Rho symbol, and thus considered the earliest evidence of Christian burial in Britain. Analysis of the amulet at Liverpool University has now suggested that the silver used is of nineteenth century origin, and that the amulet must be a recent fake. The archaeologists present at the time of the amulets discovery however are certain that the grave had not been recently disturbed and that therefore the amulet must be genuine (S. de Bruxelles, “Ancient Christian amulet exposed as modern hoax”, Times, September 19; A. Norfolk, “Christian amulet that ruined my life is not a hoax”, September 22).
 
US returns
 
On September 15, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) returned 1,046 artifacts to Iraq at a ceremony held in the Iraqi embassy (US Customs and Immigration Enforcement, “ICE returns more than 1,000 artifacts to Iraq”, News release, September 15, 2008). The artifacts had been seized for false declaration of country of origin during four separate investigations, no criminal charges were filed. The seizures in questions were:
 
2001. 300 cuneiform tablets and 62 other artifacts sent to a Newark (NJ) gallery. The customs entry documents stated Dubai as the country of origin.
 
2001. The Art Loss Register informed ICE that that Christie’s New York had asked about the potential consignment of a copper foundation nail in the form of a figurine. The nail was illustrated in Fascicle 1 of Lost Heritage. Antiquities Stolen from Iraq’s Regional Museums (1992, M. Gibson and A. McMahon, 50) and had been stolen from the Kirkuk museum at the end of the 1991 Gulf War (G. Gugliotta, 2003, “Global hunt is launched for Iraq’s looted heritage”, Washington Post, May 2). Customs documents stated the object’s country of origin to be Syria.
 
2003. Twelve foundation cones from Lagash darting to 2141-2122 BC. Each cone carried the text “For Ningirsu, Enlil’s mighty warrior, Gudea, ruler of Lagash, made things function as they should (or, made shine what is fit for the cult/made everything come forth), built and restored for him his eninnu, the whit Anzu”. The entry documents gave the country of origin as Syria.
 
2003. Five Federal Express packages containing 671 artifacts of different types and dates sent to another Newark (NJ) gallery. The artifacts were originally declared to be of British origin.
 
Not to be outdone, on September 23, the FBI announced the return of 168 Precolumbian artifacts to Ecuador (FBI, “FBI announces the return of Pre-Columbian artifacts to Ecuador”, Press release, September 23). The artifacts had been seized in July 2006 during raids in Miami (J. Doole, 2006, “In the news”, Culture Without Context no. 19, 8). A further 583 artifacts were recovered in Ecuador as part of the same operation.
 
Yemen
 
The Yemeni press continued to report upon the theft of Yemeni cultural heritage. The Yemen Observer bemoaned the poor judicial response, revealing that a Jordanian national arrested in May 2008 on suspicion of antiquities smuggling had been released without trial (Z. al-Alaya’a, “Yemeni courts lukewarm towards smugglers of Yemeni artifacts”, October 11). The man had been under investigation since 2005, and is suspected of being involved in artifact smuggling as far back as 1996. It was also claimed that he was fabricating gold artifacts from ancient gold.
 
In October, police at Sana’a International Airport arrested a Yemeni woman who was attempting to smuggle 38 manuscripts and other antiquities on to a flight to Qatar (“Police thwart attempt to smuggle historical manuscripts”, Yemen Observer, October 14).