Collecting Antiquities

Provenance: Why is this important when buying?

The term provenance is used to describe the history of the object since it was excavated in its country of origin.

The following questions are frequently asked in order to establish an object’s collective history.

  1. Where was it found?
  2. When was it found?
  3. Whom was it owned by?
  4. Is there a chain of ownership and paperwork matching provenance? This can include an invoice, certificate of authenticity or solicited letter.
  5. Has your object ever been published or exhibited?

The provenance for antiquities is often not known, some sellers frequently use the same template for all provenance to make the object seem appealing (i.e. “ from a deceased estate in London”, or “from a collection of a London Gentlemen”). Provenance is important as it adds history to the object and is important for future generations of collectors. Always retain a paperwork trail of your purchases i.e. invoices, certificates of authenticity or even solicited letters which carry history and context to the object.

Provenance adds value to an object so it makes financial sense to keep all paperwork proving its collective history; this will improve its value as the years go on. All also makes sense to keep all provenance, so you are compliant with cultural heritage legislation. If you wish to sell an object in the future, your provenance will help you in an ever-growing market where un-provenanced antiquities are becoming the normal.

Authenticity – As a buyer how do I know something is genuine?

As a buyer you don’t, you rely on the seller being genuine and authentic as the objects they are trying to sell. Even the most knowledgeable and experienced dealers, museums collectors can occasionally make mistakes in judgment especially when relying on photographs alone. A good dealer will always recommend you seek the advice of other specialists if in doubt. An honest dealer would have no reservation with this motion and would encourage anyone to be thorough in their research, just as the dealer should have been before sale.

A good dealer will offer a lifetime guarantee with the objects they sell. If the object is not as described, you must be willing to return if you feel the object is not to your expectation. The seller should cover all costs if the object is found not to be genuine including postage and taxes (if any). The buyer should not be inconvenienced by this error. A trustworthy dealer will tell you that mistakes can happen to the best of us, but it is how the seller treats the error that separates them from an untrustworthy seller. Be vigilant when buying, everyone claims to be an expert. Many fakes and forgeries can be found on eBay and auction houses delicately worded to appeal to the buyer. Always read descriptions thoroughly and watch out for poetic writings from some sellers using quotes like ‘style of’ to cover up the fact they are not saying it is what it is ie “(a bronze figure in the style of a Roman goddess”)