Looting Matters: Antiquities Sales Increase

Jun 18, 2010, 12:01 ET from Looting Matters

SWANSEA, Wales, June 18 /PRNewswire/ -- David Gill, archaeologist, reflects on the June sales of antiquities in New York.

The sale of antiquities took a nosedive in 2009. Christie's and Sotheby's combined achieved a mere $20 million worth of sales, down by some $8.5 million from the previous year. Indeed 2009 was comparable with 2003 and 2006. 2007 had been an exceptional year with the sale of the Guennol Lioness at Sotheby's.

Sotheby's offered relatively few items for the June 2010 sale. Just three items accounted for over $14.5 million. These included a Roman head of the goddess Athena, a Roman marble group of three satyrs fighting a servant, and a headless torso of a first century AD Julio-Claudian emperor.

Christie's sold $8.7 million worth of antiquities. Their most expensive sale was a Roman lamp-stand with a youth that sold for just over $1 million.

Christie's had faced calls for three lots to be withdrawn from the auction. The lots (an Apulian rhyton, a Roman marble youth with a cockerel, and a South Italian terracotta figure) appeared to be similar to objects that featured in Polaroid photographs seized in the Geneva Freeport. In the end the rhyton (the piece with the highest estimate) appears to have been left unsold, and the marble statue failed to reach the price for which it was sold at the same auction house in 2004. Christie's only cleared 64% of their lots.

The sales are a reminder that higher prices can be achieved when objects have documented collecting histories (or "provenance") that show when the lot first appeared on the market, as well as the subsequent owners and appearances at auction. Values appear to be strengthened when these histories can be traced back to the period prior to the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

Potential buyers, whether they are private collectors, institutions, or investment companies, want to avoid objects that could be the subject of a possible future claim by a foreign government.


SOURCE Looting Matters