Showing posts with label online auctions. Show all posts
Showing posts with label online auctions. Show all posts

November 1, 2016

Recovery - Medieval Manuscript: "Matricula et Statuta paratici fabrorum ferrariorum"


Italian authorities announced last week that they have recovered a stolen Medieval manuscript, titled Pallastrelli 43 or Matricula et Statuta paratici fabrorum ferrariorum, a historical document related to the economic exchange and work of blacksmiths from the city of Piacenza. 

The calf-skin parchment, which dates from the fifteenth century and is made up of 34 finely-detailed vellum pages inscribed in neatly-written red and black ink, was carefully bound between two wooden manuscript boards that serve to form the front and back covers of the book. Spotted on an online auction website for €600, an honorary inspector in Lazio reported his identifications to the the city of Piacenza's archive authorities, who in turn contacted the Carabinieri that one of the library's manuscripts had been spotted.  

The stolen manuscript was one of 145 texts, dating from the 14th to the 17th century, that were stolen in 1985 from the Biblioteca Passerini-Landi in Piacenza during a period when the library had to be shuttered for restoration and renovation work.  The theft is believed to have occurred sometime during repair works on the roof of Palazzo San Pietro which had been damaged due to heavy snows over the winter. 

When the theft was discovered, each of the well-inventoried books were reconciled and a list compiled was given to the the Carabinieri where they were listed in the unit's stolen art Leonardo database system. Between 1986 and 2013 a total of 72 volumes were recovered due to the watchful eyes of investigators and those familiar with the collection. Some volumes were recovered in Germany, some in Switzerland and some in Italy.  A portion of the stolen manuscripts were traced to auction house catalogues in Europe which is why these are heavily monitored by the Italian authorities. 

Then alas, the trail apparently went cold, that is until October 2016.

The Biblioteca Passerini-Landi was created in 1791 to house the merger of the Royal Library, established by Ferdinand of Bourbon with books donated by the Jesuits, along with the collection of the Library Passerini. The Library contains a distinguished collection of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, any of which, still circulating in the illicit market would be highly prized by antiquarian collectors.  
Note:  Library identifiers have been removed
In addition to the Biblioteca Passerini-Landi, other important libraries, such as the Girolamini Library in Naples, the Library of the Abbey of Montecassino, the Biblioteca dei Servi di Milano, the National Library of Sweden, the Danish Royal Library in Copenhagen and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris have each suffered thefts that serve to sustain the illicit market in stolen books and manuscripts.

During the city's press conference Captain Francesco Provenza of the Comando dei Carabinieri per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale (TPC) of Monza reminded the audience that "the market for archival literary heritage might be a niche market but it is a flourishing one." He further stated that "some collectors are willing to pay huge sums for these works. Even the supply chain is well-established: the thief, if he doesn't list the work for sale on his own, already knows what channels are out there for finding potential customers." 

Italian authorities have charged three individuals living outside Milan for complicity, for helping or encouraging another individual to commit a crime in collection with this theft. It is hoped that their identification will open the door a bit wider on where the other half of the stolen Passerini-Landi books and manuscripts are. 

Since 1996, thousands of specialist antiquarian bookdealers worldwide have used the internet to offer rare art books online. Some antiquarian bookdealers are part of larger trade associations, like the Italian Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association (ILAI), the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB) or the International Online Booksellers Association (IOBA). But there are also numerous independent booksellers who sell their books independently or who offer similar association services.

To combat the sale of illicit material, the ILAB maintains a stolen book database that contains a listing of stolen books, manuscripts and maps beginning with thefts that have occurred from June 15, 2010 onward.  With this database buyers can check (for free) to see if a book they have been offered has been reported as stolen.  Some data in their database is available for older thefts, but this data tends to be limited and less comprehensive. 

But even with these safeguards, dealing with members of bookseller-organizations or professional booksellers - rather than private individuals selling secondhand art books on eBay or elsewhere - does not guarantee quality of descriptions, fair trade, or clean provenance, despite the official wrappings of membership.  It merely means that there is an organizational structure where book dealers can be found, oftentimes honest, but sometimes dishonest.  

Rare book connoisseurs need to exercise caution when purchasing ancient manuscripts from dealers and individual sellers, especially when they see an appealing centuries-old book or manuscript that doesn't come with a clear collection history.  They should also raise their eyebrows to books and documents with strategic tears or missing portions of the book's pages as libraries often place stamps at the beginning or the end of a book or manuscript and these tell-tale signs of theft are often torn away so as to allow the seller the opportunity to plead ignorance as to the book's illicit origin. 

Speaking in relation to the Girolamini Library theft, Giovanni Melillo, the then Deputy Prosecutor of the Naples Tribunal, who lead the library theft's prosecution, said at a 2013 presentation I attended at the ISPAC meeting in Courmayeur “The rule ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is what governs the rare-book market.”

Buyer beware.

By Lynda Albertson   





October 26, 2016

To keep or not to keep, that is the question

Despite the formal objections of two governments, Cyprus and Egypt, and an open letter of complaint from classical archaeologist and MacArthur Foundation Genius scholar and Toledo native, Joan Breton Connelly, Christie’s in New York and the Toledo Museum of Art have gone forward with their auction of 68 deaccessioned artworks from the museum's antiquities collection.  


Shaaban Abdel Gawad Supervisor-General of Egypt's Antiquities Repatriation Department at the antiquities ministry had earlier contacted the directors of UNESCO and the International Council of Museums, as well as Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who tried to work through the Egyptian embassy in the United States to persuade the museum to withdraw the Egyptian artefacts and return them to their country of origin.  The National Committee for Antiquities Repatriation led by Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany also met to discuss the proposed sale and to consider possible methods of postponing the sale or requesting that the objects be relinquished to Egypt.

Leonidas Pantelides, ambassador of Cyprus to the United States, voiced his own, somewhat softer objection on Monday, October 24, asking that the sale be postponed or that the museum reconsider keeping the items. 

In a letter of rebuttal to the public outcry, and in the most part to Dr. Connelly's rebuke of the sale, the Toledo Museum of Art issued a formal reply which is posted in its entirety on the museum's website. In explaining its rationale for going forward with the antiquities auction the museum stated:


The rebuttal quotes from the AAMD - The Association of Art Museum Directors wherein the North American-based association states: 

“Deaccessioning is a legitimate part of the formation and care of collections and, if practiced, should be done in order to refine and improve the quality and appropriateness of the collection, the better to serve the museum’s mission.” 

The Toledo Museum of Art's statement further justified their decision to sell antiquities from their collection drawing from the collections ethics guidelines of the AAM - the American Alliance of Museums

In simple terms, the museum's letter spelled out that their decision to sell artifacts was not taken willy-nilly and in their eyes falls safely inside the AAMD code of ethics which provides that sales proceeds may not be used “for purposes other than acquisitions of works of art for the collection.” 

But the museum's decision, and the consequences of their decision, underscore the slippery slope museums can legally walk on, staying inside the perceived ethical boundaries of specific association guidelines in order to raise funds for new acquisitions, while still being allowed to divest themselves of no longer wanted art.

In total, 23 items from the museum's collection have been sold during Tuesday's New York auction including Lot 16 a Cypriot limestone head of a male votary, formally part of the Cesnola Collection of Cypriot antiquities which sold for USD$ 68,750.

And Lot 6 an An Egyptian limestone fragment from the Early 26th Dynasty which sold for USD$162,500

The auction netted the Ohio art museum $640,000 on Tuesday.

The sale of the remaining 45 deaccessioned artworks continued via Christie’s web-based online auction site through Wednesday, October 26, 2016. The Online and live auctions at Christie’s generated almost USD $970,000 for the Toledo Museum of Art's new acquisitions fund.









October 10, 2016

Carabinieri del Comando Tutela Patrimonio Culturale to return stolen archaeological finds to Mexico

Mexican Embassy in Rome, Italy
In a ceremony to be held October 11, 2016 at 13:00 at the Mexican Embassy in Rome, Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli, Italy's new Commander of the Carabinieri for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, in a ceremony to repatriate illicitly trafficked heritage will return twelve archaeological objects to the Mexican authorities via a handover to the country's ambassador to Italy, Signore Juan Jose Guerra Abud, KBE. 

Having succeeding General Mariano Mossa as the head of Italy's specialised Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale this year, Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli is not stranger to the nuance of international policing.  With degrees European Studies as well as International Law and Diplomacy the new general has commanded a team of Iraqi police as part of the NATO mission in Iraq and served as the commander of a training department for police in Baghdad.  Closer to home,he has served within the Carabinieri TPC overseeing the its NCO School in Florence.

The twelve pre-Columbian Mesoamerican pieces to be repatriated are from the Mesoamerican Preclassical period (2500 BCC - 200 CE) and the Classical Period (200-1000 CE).  The objects seized included a clay head of votive use portraying a character of high rank, another votive bust with disk-shaped earrings and another sculpture with nose ornamentation.

The antiquities were seized by law enforcement between 2013 and 2016 as the result of three separate investigations coordinated by the prosecutor of the Republic of Palmi (RC), Pesaro and Ascoli Piceno.  Several of the objects were seized during a customs cross-check of two travellers arriving from Mexico via the Reggio di Calabria "Tito Minniti" Airport, also known as the Aeroporto dello Stretto, in southern Calabria.  In a second instance an object had been marketed via "a popular online sales site" where the seller listed the city where the object was currently located and a cellular where he could be reached for further questions.  To verify the authenticity of the objects being sold the Carabinieri TPC worked with experts from the Museo Nazionale Preistorico Etnografico Luigi Pigorini in Rome as objects of this type are often reproductions.


Mexico is a quintessential example of an antiquities-rich “source nation”.  It's a country with an abundance of unprotected archaeological sites that all too often yields artifacts with a commercial value on the art market.  It is also a nation, that despite making great strides, still lacks the economic resources necessary to adequately protect much of the remote cultural patrimony found within its borders. 

In 2013, art market trend watcher Emma Crichton-Miller noted that Paris had superseded New York as "the most dynamic centre for pre-Columbian art globally, attracting collectors mainly from Europe and America, but also Latin America, the Middle East and Asia." This might explain why traffickers importing illicit goods, appreciate Italy's strategic placement on the European mainland. 

The theft and illegal trade of Mexican pre-Columbian antiquities is fed by high demand within the art market, which in turn creates strong incentives for poverty-driven digging.   Individuals and teams of looters dig indiscriminately where opportunity avails, without concern for the objects lost archaeological context.  They then collect and smuggle valuable finds to market countries by whatever channels are available to them.  

What legal instruments are there in Mexico to protect cultural heritage? 

Mexico's heritage law, written January 19, 1934 (Art. 27, Political Constitution of the Republic of Mexico; Law on the Protection and Conservation of Monuments. Typical Towns and Places of National Beauty), established national ownership of all immovable archaeological material in the public domain, and precluded the export of all works of art or antiquities without an export license.  

This law was further refined in 1972 creating new archaeological zones and extending national ownership of the cultural patrimony to private collections and absolutely forbidding the export of pre-Columbian antiquities. The only exception to this strict mandate is in the case of presidentially-approved gifts and exchanges to foreign scientific institutions and foreign governments for diplomacy purposes. 

It is also illegal in Mexico to excavate archaeological sites, even on private land, without the permission of the Mexican government's National Institute of Anthropology and History. 

October 5, 2016

Genuine (likely-fake) Ancient Roman Antiochia Syria Glass Vial Perfume Oil Unguent $299 on eBay

Tracking conflict antiquities and illicit antiquities sold via the internet is challenging, even for people who regularly try to monitor sites in their daily life or as part of ongoing research. Manual checks and automated link and keyword extraction crawlers can be useful for scraping data, but all too often it feels a bit like the arcade game whack-a-mole.  


Just when you think you might be on to a terrorist selling antiquities on eBay, surprise! You really have only found the non-terrorist-leaning dishonest individual with the same modus aperandi that you have already recorded ten times before, but now with a different user name.  

Take for example, this eBay auction which purports to be a Genuine Ancient Roman Iridescent Blown Glass Vial, what archaeologists call a piriform unguentaria. Ancient everyday vessels like these weren't intentionally iridescent.  They gained their rainbow'd look when the vessel became buried in soil.  Soil then leaches the alkali from the glass which, when corroded, can alter the glass object's surfaces to reflect light in such a way as to cause iridescence.

The eBay seller ancientgifts gives the following description for their item:

CLASSIFICATION: Ancient Roman Blown Glass Vial

ATTRIBUTION: Eastern Roman Empire (Syria), 1st Century A.D.

SIZE/MEASUREMENTS:
Height: 80 millimeters (3 1/4 inches)
Bowl Diameter: 11 millimeters (1/2 inch)
Neck Diameter: 8 millimeters (1/3 inch)
Top Lip Diameter: 16 millimeters (2/3 inch)

Weight: 5.99 grams

CONDITION: Very good, complete but likely repaired (professionally, probably by a conservator). Fairly uncommon style. Minor scratches and scuffs consistent with use and then burial in soil. Heavy layer of iridescence and soil deposits caused by prolonged burial in soil).

Surprisingly, this suggested "conservator-treated" piece still has soil clinging to it? Ancient objects that have surface deposits can contain important information on its use or provenance so IF the object actually passed through a conservator's hands, like the seller's object description implies, the potential significance of the soil deposits should have been evaluated and recorded, not merely left in place. Perhaps this teaser has been added to give the object the appearance of authenticity?

Not so surprisingly this genuine possibly-fake object comes without any provenance/collecting history.  This in spite of the fact that the object has one of this seller's typical 3 kilometer long descriptions which outlines the likely history of the object ad nauseam.  

But as eBay shoppers should know, provenance is difficult to produce when an object has recently been looted and equally hard to come by when a seemingly-authentic antiquity has no history at all because it isn't what it claims to be, or hasn't come from anywhere near where it has been suggested.

But who is the seller ancientgifts?

Looking through ancientgifts "ADDITIONAL TERMS OF SALE" takes you on a not so foxy fox hunt that I doubt any, but the most well-informed savvy collectors, who actually bother with conducting due diligence would ever bother with.  The first click links you to his Ancient Gifts website at http://www.ancientgifts.biz. This link in turn leads you to a twitter profile: @ancientgifts which then lists another URL for a website claiming to be the SUSU - Student Association for Archaeology and Anthropology on which is posted the following claim.

Click to Enlarge
When searching with Google "Southern Urals State University Students Association for the Advancement of Archaeological and Anthropological Studies" doesn't return any URLs pointing to a legitimate organisation affiliated with the Chelyabinsk, Russia university.

The WHO IS registry however does give us some leads as the Registrant Contact Information for both of the seller's URLs is:

Name: Chuck Ordego
Organization: Timeless Treasure
Address: 3051 Hales Passage
City: Lummi Island
State / Province: WA
Postal Code: 98262
Country: US
Phone: +1.3607589932

Note the "d" in the last name "Ordego".

A check of directory assistance shows that the telephone number and residential address affiliated with each site are registered to Charles Edward Ortego (notice the "t" and not the "d"), his wife Anna (sometimes written as Anya) Ponomareva  who also goes by the name Anna Ortego and possibly a third individual, his elderly or deceased grandfather Carl Stube. 

"Ortego" is the last name "Chuck" or "Charlie" or "Charles" uses, according to his mother's blog and various legal records related to a lawsuit he filed on behalf of a Lummi Island homeowners association he is registered with.    His wife, according to one of her two Facebook pages, is from Chelyabinsk, Russia which might explain the Russian University nonsense or the certificates of authenticity they are willing to provide from the likely-fictitious university student group. 

Mr. Stube appears to be Chuck's mother's father, and as she is in her late seventies, and the only evidence of his existence I could find was a fifty year old photo that would make him at least ninety. I personally doubt if he is still living.

In any case, I think we can say for certain that Charles E. Ortego, who lives at a residence located at 3051 Hales Passage, Lummi Island, Washington along with his Russian-born wife are the most likely humans behind the username ancientgifts and I don't want to make this post more tedious than it already is by listing all the sites where you can find a correlation. 

The auction duo seem to "seed" their online sales with low value often-overpriced authentic objects alongside fakes and a mixed bag of inexpensive gemstones that Ms. Ponomareva Ortega advertises on two Facebook profiles and her Instagram profile.  

The couple claim that much of the proceeds they make will go to "The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, as well as some other worthy institutions in Europe connected with Anthropology and Archaeology."

Not surprisingly we weren't able to verify any donations to that esteemed institution.

Looking over past reports from suspicious archaeologists Doug Rocks-Macqueen and Paul Barford it appears that Ortego and/or his wife have been selling tourist-grade trinkets of sketchy origin under a variety of usernames for more than a decade.

Sometimes irreputable sellers on eBay create shill accounts to bid on their own auctions to drive up the prices and sometimes they change user names when they have been outed publicly for fraud, hoping that angry buyers or hostile competitors won't notice or won't pursue them. 

Past online auction names that have been attributed to the individual(s) selling under the current username ancientgifts include:

southern_urals_state_saaa
southern_urals_saaa, and
s_urals_state_university
timelesstreasure4u
thegiftoftime

But regardless of how many names the seller has used now or in the past, he has been successfully working the system for more than a decade.

This doesn't say much for eBay's investment in policing their own auction site, where profit opportunity is high and old rules for committing fraud no longer seem to be applied.  Or if they are, they are applied selectively and very rarely when it comes to chasing dealers flogging low value ancient art.

But if you have any information on other user names used by this particular ancient art dealer, please send them our way and we can update his list.

If you have found your way to the ARCA blog doing your own due diligence as a potential eBay buyer/collector, consider yourself duly warned.  Any successful con game depends on the greed and deception (especially self-deception) of BOTH the conner and the connee.

Purchasing ancient art via the murky waters of an online trading community the size of eBay, is the perfect toxic cocktail for the uninformed novice collector. The site has all the trappings of honest tradesmen plying their goods in the 21st century but still very little in the way of deterring or prosecuting criminals and conmen.

Welcome to the Wild Wild Web. 

By: Lynda Albertson

April 21, 2016

The Carabinieri TPC Sequester Stash of Archaeological Finds For Sale on the Internet

Italy's Syracuse branch of its specialised art squad, the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, has seized a cache of antiquities including rings, fibulas (brooches) earrings, pottery, oil lamps and more than 100 silver and bronze coins dating to the Greek and Roman period. 
Photo Credit - Carabinieri TPC - Ragusa Division

Tracking cCommerce online collector auctions, the Carabinieri's data researching officers notified authorities in Sicily and a search warrant was executed at the home of a 48 year old restaurant worker in Ragusa.  At the residence, in addition to the illegally excavated antiquities, officers found a small amount of hashish and marijuana, a metal detector and tools used for illegal clandestine excavations. Law enforcement authorities are now trying to determine which archaeological sites in Sicily may have been the likely find spots for the objects.

While it is not illegal to purchase a metal detector in Italy, there are strict rules on where and what you can metal detect.  There are also many historical and protected archaeological areas where metal detecting is forbidden altogether.  These include the antiquities rich zones of Calabria, Lazio, Tuscany, Val D'Aosta and not surprisingly, Sicily.  

It should be noted that Italian Law 1939:1089 on the Custody of Artistic and Historic Objects published in the Official Gazette no. 184 on August 8, 1939 affords protection to all objects of historical or archaeological value, including coins. All objects discovered by excavation or fortuitously are the property of the Italian state.  They also must be reported to the heritage superintendency immediately.  Rewards may be offered by the state but only within a certain limited percentage of the finds' combined worth.  

The destruction of archaeological layers and the removal of objects by Nighthawkers, those who illegally search and remove artefacts using a metal detector, affects everyone.  Reckless treasuring hunting,  destroys our archaeological and historic understanding of a site, which in turn destroys the information and knowledge of our shared heritage, which should be available to all.

By.  Lynda Albertson