Ancient Glass Blog of The Allaire Collection

Orphans of Antiquities

Posted in Uncategorized by Allaire Collection of Glass on September 7, 2012

Orphans of Antiquities

In the United States measures taken to curb the trade in looted artifacts are making it more difficult for collectors of antiquities to donate, or sell, the cultural treasures that fill their homes, and display cases. Museums typically no longer want artifacts that do not have a documented history stretching back past 1970, a date set by the Association of Art Museum Directors, whose guidelines most institutions have adopted. Drawn up in 2008, the rules have been applauded by countries seeking to recover their artifacts and by archaeologists looking to study objects in their natural settings. But the sweeping shift in attitudes has left collectors stuck with items they say they purchased in good faith many years ago from reputable dealers. On the auction side collectors are finding the nation’s two largest houses, Sotheby’s and Christie’s, have tightened their policies to follow the AAMD guidelines. It has been predicted that museums, cultural scholarship and the items themselves will suffer as important gifts are disallowed. Museums have long relied on the generosity of collectors and for centuries collectors have helped define artistic taste, and their collections, whether assembled for vanity, beauty, profit or some combination thereof, have been the backbone of museums. But the antiquities trade begins, at its source, with an act of appropriation: the removal of artifacts from a native site to one where, in the case of museums, they can be more accessible to scholars and the public.  Whatever air of nobility once attached to that effort has dissipated recently as antiquities collectors are increasingly depicted as the beneficiaries of a villainous trade.

Background

The 2008 Report of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) Task Force on the Acquisition of Archaeological Materials and Ancient Art recommended guidelines stated that Member museums should not acquire a work by purchase, gift, bequest or exchange unless research substantiates that the work was outside its country of probable modern discovery before 1970 or was legally exported from its probable country of modern discovery after 1970.

Objects that the AAMD guidelines exclude from acquisition by Member museums include all archaeological material or ancient art in private hands whose provenance is uncertain.  The absence of clear provenance histories or records for most material in private collections, including those objects that have been held long before 1970, thus makes it certain that some large number of objects purchased by US collectors even before that year will be excluded from acquisition by AAMD Member museums.  The AAMD guideline also covers material in Member museums, including material whose acquisition antedates the 2008 guideline, which now cannot be exchanged with or, if sold, be acquired by other AAMD Member museums.

By the self-rule of the AAMD, objects excluded from acquisition by Member museums cannot have the benefit of professional museum exhibition, publication, or conservation.  Because such objects can have no permanent parentage or protection (many run the risk, over time, of deterioration, damage or destruction), these objects are here informally termed “orphans”.

Taken from an articlepublished: July 12, 2012 in The New York Times,

“The Curse of the Outcast Artifact” by Ralph Blumenthal and Tom Mashberg

Comment on Sept 8 2016

For the future it is important that ancient glass collectors form an association and can identify each other. Your blog is helping that. More of the trade is being done directly between collectors without using auction houses with their very heavy commissions. As one generation gets old and ready to dispose of their collection (maybe for reasons of downsizing their house),they can sell directly to a fellow collector of a younger age. Much of the recent rules and regulations imposed on museums are not to the liking of the museums themselves and tend to be an overreaction of certain groups who are misguidedly paranoid about looting following all the wars in the Middle East. Hopefully at some stage there will be a more rational and balanced approach to this subject. Most museums have received the largest elements of their collections from, private collectors. These private collections have always been a safe refuge and guardianship for such precious material over many centuries in which the lands they originated in have been subject to war and unrest and wholesale destruction. It has been a great service to conservation and posterity. In the postwar period between 1945 and 1980 there was no preoccupation with paperwork or proof of provenance and so even material that has been around before 1970 rarely has any paperwork to prove it. Objects have been handed down in families that today do not have their parents or grandparents records. It needs some rational thinking and resolution and there are, thank goodness, a lot of people working to this end.

David Giles

 

One Response

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  1. David Giles said, on September 8, 2016 at 9:51 am

    For the future it is important that ancient glass collectors form an association and can identify each other. Your blog is helping that. More of the trade is being done directly between collectors without using auction houses with their very heavy commissions. As one generation gets old and ready to dispose of their collection (maybe for reasons of downsizing their house),they can sell directly to a fellow collector of a younger age. Much of the recent rules and regulations imposed on museums are not to the liking of the museums themselves and tend to be an overreaction of certain groups who are misguidedly paranoid about looting following all the wars in the Middle East. Hopefully at some stage there will be a more rational and balanced approach to this subject. Most museums have received the largest elements of their collections from, private collectors. These private collections have always been a safe refuge and guardianship for such precious material over many centuries in which the lands they originated in have been subject to war and unrest and wholesale destruction. It has been a great service to conservation and posterity. In the postwar period between 1945 and 1980 there was no preoccupation with paperwork or proof of provenance and so even material that has been around before 1970 rarely has any paperwork to prove it. Objects have been handed down in families that today do not have their parents or grandparents records. It needs some rational thinking and resolution and there are, thank goodness, a lot of people working to this end.
    David Giles


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