‘Virtually none of them have a provenance that says where they were dug up or when’

Paul Barford noted today, amongst other items, Wayne G. Sayles’ Antiquarian e-store on V-coins offers ‘Artukid coins (from the present Turkey/Syria border area), a Byzantine coin struck in Homs (now a bombed out town) and other items from Syria, and quite a few from regions in and around modern Turkey’, but rarely displays documentation that proves the antiquities’ licit origins. Why not?

Coincidentally, D. Johnson commented on my mothballed doctoral blog today,

I recently started buying some antiquities from dealers and this is a big problem area. Virtually none of them have a provenance that says where they were dug up or when, though often the previous owner or even the one before that are named. I am not talking just about Cypriot Antiquities but any antiquities.

Often dealers do not want to advertise their sources or sellers do not want to advertise the fact that they have valuable things in their houses or relatives of deceased owners don’t understand the importance of provenance or don’t find them. Even items with a Cyprus Museum export tag on them don’t have any other provenance (I own one).

What is the solution for the hundreds of thousands of antiquities out there? Many private collectors or their heirs donate or sell these items to the major Museums, so are we supposed to be more scrupulous than they are (ie buy nothing since almost everything is in this state?)

I am very sorry that I am not signing this beyond D. Johnson, but I don’t want burglars to know I have some of these things!

I agree that museums should maintain high standards too, though I believe that – when properly done – museums can act as repositories of last resort for looted antiquities.

However, antiquities collectors and dealers cannot deliberately obscure the origins of almost all of their antiquities, then complain that it is very difficult for them to know if the antiquities on the market are legal, then complain that they are unfairly disadvantaged by regulations that are designed to ensure that the antiquities on the market are legal.

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