Thursday, 25 August 2016

The "cultural heritage" group neurosis 15: Inauthentic

Pacatian (248-249) Photo: Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.
The forgery shown on the right is among my favorites of the work of Becker: it is overstruck (and double struck on the obverse) on a genuine coin (probably Marcus Aurelius) and subsequently "aged" by the forger. A novice collector could be forgiven for thinking it was a real Roman coin. No small wonder it sold for $575 when its estimate was only $150. Another Becker from the same obverse die but not overstruck on a genuine Roman coin fetched only $220. A real Pacatian, however, does not come cheap, even if it has a hole in it.

In addition to clever forgeries of ancient objects, there are the not-so-clever forgeries and cheap tourist goods where (if not marked as copies) it is debatable whether even the term "fake" is not giving them too much credit. All of these are on a sliding scale and it is difficult to know where to draw the lines. Quite often, a copy can pass as genuine if one is not paying much attention and does not expect to see a copy. This has happened to me and to a number of other people I know. If such had been shown with the question "is this genuine?" then a closer examination would be made and the answer would be "No". It's amazing what can pass if you are not paying attention. It can work the other way, too. I once bought an advertised forgery because I knew that it was actually genuine. Sadly, that sort of thing happens only rarely. In that case, the auction cataloguer did not read a reference correctly as he was expecting so to see something different. This phenomena is part of human nature: bad car accidents can happen close to home; many WW II dispatch motorcyclists had fatal accidents, not when they were new to the job, but after very many missions and expert hang glider pilots have been known to forget to attach their harness before they jumped off the hill. If you are bored, or in a rush, mistakes can easily happen.

A recent trick of peddlers of dodgy antiquities is to claim that they were looted, but you really have to wonder about the media when such looting stories get passed on as news. Was there even any attempt to fact-check because it was thought that the story had to be true? Were the things understood by the reporters to be fake, but ignored in favour of a controversial story? We can only guess. Here is a good example where the media is conveniently unsure but where it would have been child's play to discover the reality. Take a look at a genuine example of the same subject from the Zuegma Mosiac Museum in Turkey. Then take a look at some (better quality than the fake) modern mosaics.

If you follow the CBS slideshow you can see more tourist copies/fakes where the origins of the copied items vary. The faked silver dekadrachm of Athens, for example, has no Syrian connection at all. the genuine examples are only found in Turkey and appear to be part of  a special Athenian issue for a payment there. They are not found in Greece or Syria. It is no coincidence that the "smuggler" Omar is from Turkey. It is really too bad that that the CBS article offers no public comments.

Pieter Brugel the Elder
Parable of the blind leading the blind
One Guardian article gave me quite a chuckle for a number of reasons: Looted in Syria – and sold in London: the British antiques shops dealing in artefacts smuggled by Isis
There is an old saying that whatever you are looking for, you can find it in London. Mark Altaweel of the UCL Institute of Archaeology went wandering around looking for things in London and found them. Had I been looking for the same things when I wandered around London shops in the first half of the sixties, I would have found the same. I actually remember seeing some of the things he saw, but I was looking for other things. Of course, when I was doing that it was long before those conflicts and also before the 1970 UNESCO convention about illicit antiquities. I did look around London shops, again, in 1999, but was really disappointed to discover that there is far less available to buy, now, and far fewer shops.

He also says, ‘Antiquities shouldn’t be bought and sold in private collections’ and there is a picture of him examining things that the public never gets to see in their own collection. I have come to the opinion that it far harder to stop collectors from showing you examples from their collections. I try to keep it to a minimum, myself and mostly just post images and details of such things to my blog. I did make a presentation to my daughter's school once, though. The kids seemed to enjoy that. I do try to avoid showing too much, though, Some people are just too polite to say "Enough!":

There is problem in being associated with a museum and then saying that there should be no private collections. If you removed everything from museums that had been bequeathed  by collectors, most museums would be almost empty and there are some museums that contain nothing but what was once a private collection.

After admitting that they knew "the near east specialist" the Guardian triumphantly reveals "A Syrian coin from around 500 BC, which may have been looted by Isis, and was listed for sale on eBay." the same coin is illustrated in another article (by the Daily Mail, this time and with the Ebay listing and another coin of the same city.), but the comments are not moderated and collectors soon reveal that these are fairly common coins and have been bought and sold for a very long time. Long before ISIS, long before UNESCO, long before the great-grandparents of anyone reading this was even born. If you want one, I saw one today listed for $45, there are probably more available. It is really only relatively recently that find spots have been recorded and such common coins have even been photographed on dealer's lists.

The Guardian, with their "near east specialist" dominating the article not only does not identify the city of the coin as Apameia, but says it is around 500 B.C.

It is not only that a number of antiquities are inauthentic, pretty well all anti- collecting "cultural heritage" disciples are too. I do allow for some ignorance, though. Still, they do provide a chuckle or two.

John's Coydog Community page

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