“History is subjective. History is alterable. History is, finally, little more than modeling clay in a very warm room.” ― Bradford Morrow, The Forgers
Papyrologist and ancient historian Dr. Roberta Mazza once coined a phrase to describe the world in general, but which also aptly applies to how the art market sometimes moves and acts....“absurdistan”
Chiming in with her very own “prestigious auction alert” on her spot-on blog Faces & Voices earlier this week, Mazza then drew our attention to an upcoming New York auction we may not want to miss. In addition to auctioning six, six-figure bibles from the Dr. Charles Caldwell Ryrie collection, auction powerhouse Sotheby's is also offering a “Souvenir Facsimile” of the Rylands Library Papyrus P52, also known as the St John's fragment.
But who recreates a Canonical gospel as a souvenir? And more importantly, who buys one? Does its ownership by a famous theologian make the counterfeit knock-off the Bible-nerds equivalent to a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle baseball card?
If reading about a certified fake on auction wasn't enough to make me think people will buy just about anything, the auction house news reminded me of this list-serv posting from 2014. It is from an antiquities collector forum and was posted by a well known dealer. Its title...
A journey in the life of a looted antiquity...
I'm sure this lovely step-by-step guide was merely an illustration, mind you. Surely the um.... the respectable dealer himself wasn't speaking from any first-hand experience?
“Hello to you all.
I would like to share with you my thoughts regarding how a piece you end up buying in auction at Bonhams or Christies is actually looted.
- A poor farmer in Egypt finds it while ploughing [sic] his land.
- He is scared to report it considering the hell he will go through, confiscating his land, ending up in jail, family dying from hunger etc... so he sells it to the local dealer in the village.
- Local dealer sells it to the middle man in Cairo.
- Middle man sells it to the big boss in Cairo.
- Big boss smuggles it to an Arabian gulf country, e.g. Qatar, Dubai, Bahrain.
- Piece then shipped to a stupid European country, e.g. Portugal. sorry, stupid meaning = level of customs awareness.
- Then an invoice is made from a dealer in another European country e.g. Belgium, to this Portuguese dealer for the piece, of course no body [sic] checks, it's an EU transaction, no tax, no customs.
- Based on the Belgian invoice, the Portuguese dealer make an export licence [sic] to U.S.A from ministry of culture, piece origin from Belgium, this totally cancels the fact that the piece came from the Arabian gulf.
- Item received in the U.S , no trouble, legal,
- Item sold in auction + old European collection, legally entered to U.S, customs paid.”
Dealer name withheld
Location: somewhere in “absurdistan”
NB: ARCA has screenshots of the conversation with said dealer in question, but based on the above, we are super happy that US Secretary of State John Kerry has signed off this week on the U.S.-Egypt cultural property Memorandum of Understanding with Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.
by: Lynda Albertson