Cultural Policy Research Institute Project on Unprovenanced Ancient Objects in Private US Hands Research Study #1 November 10, 2009
Cultural Policy Research Institute
Project on Unprovenanced Ancient Objects in Private US Hands
Research Study #1
November 10, 2009
GREEK, ROMAN AND RELATED ORPHANS
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, that 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”.
It is the broad purpose of this study to assist the US museum and archaeological communities, as well as others, by providing the factual basis for policy-making and consideration. It is anticipated that this initial, limited study will be followed by others that will eventually embrace all objects covered by the current AAMD guidelines.
The study has two principal goals: a) to determine a methodology that can provide a reasonable estimate of the number of orphan objects outside of Museums in private US hands; and b) to test the methodology against a specific cultural area to determine whether a realistic approximation of total numbers can be made in the selected area. Full accuracy is neither expected nor intended, and it is believed that a range of estimated numbers for relevant categories of material will be sufficiently illustrative.
This study includes the following areas:
Greek: Bronze Age through Hellenistic
Roman: Republican through Constantine
Related Cultures (Italiote, Bactrian, Parthian, etc.)
Certain material of lesser importance that museums are generally unwilling to accession even if it were offered for donation, is excluded from the study. This includes but is not limited to glass, terracotta, stone or metal fragments and miscellaneous small objects, such as sling bullets, bullae, etc.
The study does not include unprovenanced Greek and Roman coins in private hands, which by the estimate of specialists likely number not less than 700,000 (200,000-300,000 Greek, 500,000-600,000 Roman) and which are not routinely of interest to AAMD Member institutions.
In an effort to ensure that the data encompasses only significant material, $1000 was set as a lower exclusion threshold. The threshold figure is arguably arbitrary, but consumers of this report should be able to apply their own relevant correction factors.
Methodology. Sources: Strengths and Deficiencies
This study is the product of a team approach – essentially the willing cooperation of specialist collectors, museum professionals, scholars and members of the trade who have either provided information for this study, or who have reviewed and verified its content.
The estimates in this study are based on interviews with staff members of a number of US museums with major holdings of ancient materials and knowledge of private collections; discussions with private collectors with current or past major holdings in Greek or Roman objects; discussions with major US dealers with important holdings of ancient materials and knowledge of existing private collections; and interviews with a number of scholars considered to be familiar with the field of antiquities, including in particular Greek, Roman and associated material. To preserve the confidentiality of the sources of information, specific individuals or institutions are not discussed in this study.
The study has been closely reviewed by individuals familiar with US antiquities law and museum policies.
Responses to the study will be welcomed and should be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org. A periodic summary of responses is intended. With the respondent’s permission, selected responses may be published on the Institute’s website.
The following are estimates of the number of “orphans” in US private hands at the current time. The numbers in each category are considered by most participants in the study to be conservative.