Sunday, 22 January 2017

More on Operation Pandora: 75 Arrested in European Crackdown on Art Trafficking

European police have arrested 75 people and recovered about 3,500 stolen archaeological artifacts and other artworks as part of the dismantling of an international network of art traffickers [...] following a Pan-European police operation begun in October and led by investigators in Spain and Cyprus. The criminal network handled artworks looted from war-stricken countries, as well as works stolen from museums and other sites, the statement said.
(Raphael Minder '75 Arrested in European Crackdown on Art Trafficking' New York Times Jan 22, 2017).

The code name for this operation probably refers to the opening of pandora's box, apparenly 48 000 other people were investigated - probably buyers rather than sellers.

Operation Pandora: Multinational Investigation Leads to Arrests

Do you know where your local antiquities dealer has been getting his stock from? This article by Associated Press ('Spanish Police Announce Arrests in Cultural Artifacts Ring Jan 22, 2017) ought to get collectors wondering...
Spanish police say 75 people have been arrested and more than 3,500 stolen artifacts and pieces of art seized in a joint operation with 17 other European countries that dismantled an international cultural goods trafficking ring.
As part of this operation, Spanish police  have seized up to 500 archaeological objects alone in the southern Spanish town of Murcia, including 19 that were taken from the local archaeological museum in 2014 (see here for what looks like a related matter: Stolen Artefacts Seized in Spain ). But that was just part of this gang's field of operation:
The multi-national investigation started in October and the arrests were made the next month. It was led by investigators from Spain and Cyprus with support from 16 other countries, UNESCO and Interpol. Authorities allege the ring mostly dealt with objects looted from countries affected by wars. Spanish police did not say why they were announcing the operation two months after the arrests.
Guess. I suspect we'll be hearing more about this one. We learn from another article that this time, 49000 dealers and collectors were scrutinised ('Una macrooperación de la Europol permite recuperar más de 3.500 obras de arte'). These actions included the verification of suspicious advertisements on the Internet that allowed the seizure of more than 400 coins of illegal origin of different origins and periods and identification of sellers and buyers.

In fact Operation Pandora has been reported on this blog at least once before ('Arrests on Cyprus: Operation Pandora' PACHI Friday, 11 November 2016) dealing with arrests of collectors and dealers on Cyprus.  

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Market Strikes back

The Tell Sheikh Hamad Stele in the news again (Patrick Sawer, 'The strange case of the ancient Assyrian curse and the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police' Telegraph 21 January 2017) This lower part of a stela of King Adad-Hirari is a fragment of an object from which comes the upper half in the British Museum, where it has been since it was acquired in 1881 from the private collector Joseph M Shemtob, two years after its discovery at the Tell Sheikh Hamad site in Syria. The lower part was offered for sale to the British Museum in 2011, but they declined it on the grounds that they were not satisfied that it had left the site and Syria legally. The object reappeared on the market three years later and was being offereed by Bonhams, but on the eve of the auction, officers from Scotland Yard’s art and antiques unit raided the Bonham's warehouse where it was being stored and seized the stele as evidence in any future trial. Now:
Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police [...] is being sued by a Lebanese antiques dealer after his officers seized the slab, known as a 'stele', following claims it had been stolen. The controversy began when it became known in art circles that Halim Korban was planning to auction the stele at Bonham’s, in Geneva, in April 2014. The Beirut-based Saadeh Cultural Foundation informed UNESCO that the stele had been obtained illegally, probably after being looted from a site in modern Syria, and should be returned to that country “as soon as circumstances permit”. [...]  Mr Korban has gone to court to have the artefact returned and is demanding £200,000 compensation for loss and damage as part of his claim. A spokesman for the art dealer told the Sunday Telegraph: “The stele is a valuable object which Mr Korban considers his and he wants it back. He can show proper provenance and utterly rejects the notion that it was obtained illegally.” [...]  Before the planned auction Bonham’s had said that the stele was "given as a gift from father to son in the 1960s" and that although no details about how it left Syria were available, it was confident of its provenance (sic). Mr Korban holds Mr Hogan-Howe personally responsible for the actions of his men in seizing the stone and preventing its planned sale. In his writ against the Commissioner he said: “At all times since their seizure of the stele the police have been aware of the claimant’s [Mr Korban] claim in respect of it, namely that he is its owner, and that he is who is entitled to its possession.” But Scotland Yard intends to mount a robust defence against his claims, [...] 
The stele had been offered in Bonhams with an estimate of £600,000 to £800,000,an interesting discrepancy.It will be interesting to see how this story comes out. Lobbyists for the antiquities trade insist that the reasons why cases like this are so rare is that dealers thing it is 'more economical' to surrender a questioned and seized piece than defend their legal title to it with the aid of their business documentation. Let us see how dealer Korban (who handled the Sevso Treasure in the past) fares with his.

Friday, 20 January 2017

The Antiquities Trade in Egypt 1880-1930

Fredrik Hagen and Kim Ryholt: The Antiquities Trade in Egypt 1880-1930. The H.O. Lange Papers. The Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters. Scientia Danica. Series H. Humanistica. 4 vol. 8. 2016. 335 pp. Lavishly illustrated. Price DKK 300  (preview here)
The book presents the first in-depth analysis of this market during its “golden age” in Egypt in the late 19th and early 20th Century. It is primarily based on the archival material of the Danish Egyptologist H. O. Lange (1863-1943) who, during two prolonged stays in Egypt (1899/1900 and 1929/1930), bought objects on behalf of Danish museums. The travel diaries, and the accompanying photographs, are complemented by a wide range of other sources, including contemporary travel guides and various travel memoirs, which together paint an extraordinarily detailed picture of the extensive antiquities trade.
The book looks at the laws governing trade and export, both in theory and practice, and the changes over time. The practicalities of the trade are described: its seasons, the networks of supply, the various methods available for acquiring antiquities, and the subsequent routes of transmission of objects, as well as the different types of dealers operating in Egypt. The geographical distribution of dealers is mapped, and the role of the Egyptian state as a dealer is investigated, both through official sale rooms, and as a seller and exporter of more or less complete tomb-chapels.
The final part of the book contains a list, with short biographies, of over 250 dealers active in Egypt from the 1880s until the abolishment of the trade in 1983. Most of them are described here in detail for the first time.
It also provides not just an excuse for all those collectors with private collections (the usual old crap about "how many objects were sold in teh past") but a challenge, if they want to claim one of those 250 dealers "might have been" the origin of the items in their collections, how many of them can give us proof that an object they now own came from one one of those dealers? How many objects in personal collections today can be assigned a legitimate collecting history back to any one of those dealers? 

Vignette: Lecture flyer
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