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Project on Unprovenanced Ancient Objects in Private US Hands


Cultural Policy Research Institute

Project on Unprovenanced Ancient Objects in Private US Hands

Research Study #1

November 10, 2009


GREEK, ROMAN AND RELATED ORPHANS

 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, 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”.

Purpose

 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.

Goals

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.)

 

Excluded Categories

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.

Exclusion Threshold

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

Responses to the study will be welcomed and should be addressed to cprinst@gmail.com.  A periodic summary of responses is intended.  With the respondent’s permission, selected responses may be published on the Institute’s website. 

Results: Estimates

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.

Category

Pre-Classical, Incl Cycladic etc

Classical-Hellenistic, including Bactrian and Parthian

Roman and Etruscan

Total

 

 

 

 

 

Stone sculpture

200-400

500-1000

4000-8000

4700-9400



Other stonework (stelae, inscriptions, vessels, etc.)

 

 

400-600

 

 

1500-2500

 

 

2500-4000

 

 

4400-7100






Bronze sculpture

400-600

400-600

6000-10,000

6800-11,200


Other Bronze (vessels, lamps, appliqués, etc.)

 

200-400

 

700-900

 

2000-4000

 

2900-5300

Terracotta Sculpture

500-1000

2500-4000

3500-5000

6500-10,000





Terracotta vessels (incl vases) and major fragments

 

 

1000-2000

 

7000-10,000, incl. Apulian etc.

 

 

3000-5000

 

 

11,000-17,000






Glassware

 

2000-3000

8,000-15,000

10,000-18,000






Jewelry, incl. mounted gems

500-800

4200-5700

6000-8000

10,700-14,500






Engraved gems and seals etc.

500-800

4000-6000

5000-7000

9500-13,800






Other types and materials (mosaic, plaster, wood, lead, etc.)

 

300-500

 

300-500

 

400-600

 

1000-1600






Totals

 

 

 

67,500-111,900

 

 

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