The advent of the Internet has been a mixed blessing for collectors of antiquities. The upside is that collectors can buy from the comfort of their homes, but the ease of listing items for sale, particularly on online auction sites, and the cheapness of building and maintaining good-looking websites has led to a massive increase in fake and even looted antiquities available online. So how can you find a reputable dealer?
A large number of sellers have emerged who sell fake or even natural objects as ancient. For example, naturally fractured flints appear online described as flint implements; modern tourist souvenirs from Egyptian bazaars are described as ancient. There are other sellers, sometimes with professional-looking websites, who sell mixtures of fake, misattributed, and genuine items, some altered after excavation to make them more saleable or attractive. Medieval Eastern European items, often looted, are described as ‘Viking’ to attract buyers; common brooches have inscriptions added to make them appear rare and more valuable.
The best way to avoid buying fake, looted or pimped items if you are, or planning to be, a serious collector is to specialize and through research become an expert in your field. Indeed many collectors are rightly regarded as experts in their specialisms and even highly regarded by academia. But what about more casual collectors and those wanting to buy an antiquity as a one-off gift? How can they be assured of finding a reputable dealer?
A key thing to look for is membership of a professional association. There are three professional associations for antiquities dealers and membership is not automatic. Applicants are vetted by the committees and subject to strict codes of ethical and professional standards. Membership of these Associations will provide assurance that you are dealing with a professional dealer who recognizes his obligations to his customers and to his peers.
There are three professional associations for antiquities dealers:
The Antiquities Dealers Association
), founded in 1982, represents professional dealers and auction specialists of antiquities in the United Kingdom. The Association is a corporate member of the Museums Association and a corporate member of the British Art Market Federation (BAMF). A list of members is published here
. They also run a conciliation service to resolve occasional disputes between clients and dealers.
The International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art
), established in 1993, represents high-end dealers in ancient art. A list of members is presented here
. The IADAA also distribute a very informative and highly pertinent monthly newsletter
to which anyone can subscribe. We highly recommend collectors sign up to receive the IADAA Newsletter
The Association of Dealers & Collectors of Ancient & Ethnographic Art
) is US-based and lists a number of reputable dealers
on their website.
Dealers who are members of these three Associations sell ethically sourced and genuine antiquities and adhere to the highest professional standards. If you are looking for a reputable dealer, their members’ galleries are a very good place to start!