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Fake or Find (APPLIED EPISTEMOLOGY)
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Hatty
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S Franses is a carpet gallery in London's Jermyn Street which I know well as the owner was the dad of my best friend at primary school. Reading the obit of her Uncle Jack who co-owned the gallery I found an interesting anecdote about tapestry authentication and the Gettys. Coincidentally the story of the Getty kidnapping is being serialised on BBC2.

Perhaps his most memorable encounter was with the billionaire oil tycoon J Paul Getty, who in 1969 had bought a 16th-century rug at the Sotheby’s Kevorkian sale for £22,000. Subsequently two experts told Getty that the carpet was a 19th-century copy — the red was “too red”, and was a chemical dye. Getty demanded compensation from the auction house, and in 1974 Franses was asked by Peter Wilson to verify whether or not the carpet was genuine.

Having seen the item at the time of the sale, Franses was convinced that it was. “It was the most perfect 16th-century carpet I have ever seen, and the colours were like new,” he later said. But he asked for one knot to be cut from the rug and sent to the pharmaceutical company Geigy to test for cochineal and tin, from which the red in such early textiles was derived. Three days later the answer came back: cochineal and tin had indeed been detected, and it was therefore a “natural”, not a chemical, dye. The auction house had been vindicated.

If I wanted to pass off a carpet as antique I'd make sure I didn't use modern chemical dyes but perhaps this wouldn't seem important to someone in the 19th century. I didn't know tin was an ingredient of red dye so I looked it up and yes, it is true although it may be somewhat more modern than16th century

Drebbel scarlet, a color that many people in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries considered a perfect red. It was named for its discoverer, Cornelis Drebbel, a Dutch inventor and alchemist who lived in London in the early 1600s.

According to some stories, Drebbel's discovery was a complete accident, the result of some tin and aqua regia falling into a bowl of water dyed with cochineal. But I suspect Drebbel actually stumbled across the new dye during his alchemy experiments. Tin and aqua regia (a combination of nitric and hydrochloric acids) were often used in alchemy. Alchemists worked with red dyestuffs like cochineal, too, because red was the color of the fabled philosopher's stone — the mythical substance that was supposed to transmute base metals into gold and bestow eternal life on its creator.

By the mid-1600s, other European master dyers had figured out Drebbel's secret, and they used tin, cochineal, and acidic compounds in various formulations to produce a range of luminous scarlets, from a deep cherry red to an eye-popping neon color. The most brilliant reds were "full of fire," according to one observer, "and of a brightness which dazzles the eye."

Presumably dyes and their compounds were trade secrets. It's possible that 'new' combinations were already known, just not known to rival dyers.
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Mick Harper
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This is a terrific new avenue to explore. Alchemists have a strangely pernicious influence from the Renaissance and on up to the Scientific Revolution. It is very difficult to understand why since they never actually produced the Philosopher's Stone or transmuted gold or did anything of economic, cultural or political value. Maybe they were latterday (even the successors of the) Tironensians i.e. producing bogus stuff to order. Now that did have an economic, cultural and political value. Would also account for their paranoid secrecy. So much for the Rosicrucian Enlightenment.

PS Valuable carpets should remind us, qua tapestries and embroideries, that tapestries are just carpets that hang on the wall.

PSS See also my post in the All Things Roman thread re red ochre.
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Mick Harper
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If I wanted to pass off a carpet as antique I'd make sure I didn't use modern chemical dyes but perhaps this wouldn't seem important to someone in the 19th century.

But would there be such a thing as a carpet forger in the 19th Century? Fancy carpets are not easy to make in the first place and there was no art market, in our sense of the word, of any kind in the nineteenth century. You could pick up stuff for a relative song. It only started taking off after the Second World War and by that time you couldn't use any kind of dyestuff without leaving post nuclear testing radioactive evidence. Presumably Paul Getty could afford to test for that.

My guess is that this is not a nineteenth century 'copy' but a nineteenth century carpet made in Persia or thereabouts for the export or domestic gentry market. They always used traditional designs and, I am prepared to bet, used traditional dyestuffs. My Iranian girlfriend gave me somesuch -- modern but still worth £500 in the sixties when £500 could buy you a couple of years worth of drugs and still have enough left over to come down. It was later stolen by the then Home Secretary's daughter. If that's any business of yours, which it isn't, so why ask?
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Ishmael


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Someday, i want to have a beer with you and hear all of your stories.
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Hatty
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Israeli archaeologists are reporting a Neolithic stone mask has been found by a settler out walking: 9,000-year-old mask found in the Hebron hills

The mask was spotted lying on the surface of a field late last year by a settler who had gone out for a walk, said Ronit Lupu, an archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority robbery prevention unit. Speaking to Haaretz, Lupu did not reveal the exact location of the find or the identity of the settler but she said there was “no reason” to believe there was any wrongdoing or attempted looting involved in the discovery.

Since its discovery, archaeologists have been surveying the site where the mask was purportedly found and have been testing the artifact to confirm its authenticity and provenance.


The outlook isn't good. This one sounds a definite Fake.

Only 15 other Neolithic masks have been confirmed as authentic, and almost all surfaced already in the hands of private collectors around the world rather than in archaeological digs, meaning experts cannot glean much information about their provenance or function. Rare prehistoric artifacts like these masks are a prime target for looters and forgers, and can fetch up to 1 million dollars each on the antiquities market, says Omry Barzilai, an IAA archaeologist and expert on prehistory who studied the find. The trade in bootleg antiquities is keenly frustrating to archaeologists because of the resulting difficulty in proving an artifact's authenticity, and the loss of opportunity to seek associated objects at the site.
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Mick Harper
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If they're not sure, let's call it a quarter of a mil.
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Mick Harper
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One for our world records department. I present to you the smallest known book of late antiquity. I don’t know of any from early antiquity but we’ll let that pass. https://twitter.com/Calthalas/status/1070261409605394432

Scroll down a bit to be introduced to the usual mystery figure, a Herr Doktor Anton Fackelmann and the amazing cigar box. Scroll down further to discover it's now dated to three centuries later (and maybe back again). How time flies in Ye Olde Manuscripts Retail Park. Scroll down further for the ritual 'they know not what they say' quote

Given what happened to extra-canonical texts, it's kind of a miracle that this survived at all.

Shortage of cigar boxes was the big problem.
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Hatty
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The Times of Israel reports that the Israel Museum is terribly excited about its newest (or as may be, oldest) exhibits

Opening ahead of the Jewish holiday of Purim, which is traditionally celebrated with masquerade, “Face to Face: The Oldest Masks in the World” features 12 limestone cult masks from the Neolithic Age that have never been displayed together before.

Twelve masks... not found by hikers this time but lent by Jewish American collectors and one that was owned by Israel's most dashing war hero

Two of the pieces hail from the Israel Museum’s collections (including one donated by Moshe Dayan that still has his name inked on the inside), while the remaining 10 were lent by private collectors Judy and Michael Steinhardt of New York.

The Steinhardts, suspected of owning artworks stolen from Greece and Italy, had their New York home raided earlier this year but the police were not presumably looking for stone masks which anyway would have already been sent off.

So far no-one has apparently done any tests on these masks. Stone isn't dateable of course but a bit of pigment on them would be useful. The Times of Israel again
They were likely painted in antiquity, but only one has remnants of pigment.

Rather uncharacteristically the Israeli experts seem to be going all New-Agey

Because the masks predate writing by at least 3,500 years, there is no record of their usage. Based on years of attribute analysis of their iconography, however, Hershman believes that the carved limestone masks were used as part of an ancestor cult, and that shamans or tribal chiefs wore the masks during a ritual masquerade honoring the deceased.

I suppose if you're setting a record for 'the oldest masks in the world' it's pretty much required to have some ritual and cult

“They are the first glimmerings of existential reflection,” said James Snyder, the museum’s director. He noted that the masks possessed a “striking connection” to 20th century artwork, saying they looked like something Picasso might have created.

What about the find spots? They all came from the region of Judea this time round according to the professor in comparative microarchaeology from Tel Aviv University

By examining the type of stone and the patina on the surface of the masks, Goren determined that all of the artifacts originated from an area of the Judean Desert and Judean Hills approximately 50 kilometers (30 miles) in radius.

It doesn't say if the masks were found together or scattered over the area.
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Mick Harper
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Judy and Mike ought to be a little bit careful. As Jews they are entitled unconditionally to avoid the New York D.A. by fleeing to Israel but may not want to if the Israeli authorities want a word.
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Hatty
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The most popular museum artefact of 2018 is the Winfarthing Pendant, Anglo-Saxon, 7th century

Norfolk Museums Service’s Winfarthing Pendant has been named as the winner of Britain’s favourite work of art acquired for a museum with Art Fund support in 2018.

A public poll saw more than 5,000 people vote for their favourite. The nationally-significant Anglo-Saxon gold treasure, was found by archaeology student Tom Lucking while metal-detecting at Winfarthing, near Diss, in December 2014.


Lucky it was a student who didn't do what most detectorists would do and dig to see what was down there. He left it alone and contacted the Find Identification Recording Service

Instead of digging it out he left it and covered it back up, understanding that a bronze bowl like that was most likely to have been buried in a grave. He then contacted Gressenhall, which is where our Find Identification Recording Service is based.

With a bowl like that, the chances are it’s buried at the feet of an east/west burial, and sure enough, they found the rest of the grave and with the bowl was a whole series of other grave-goods.

If you think that's a piece of good fortune, a gold and garnet pendant was discovered 'nearby'

With the Helps of the Friends of Norwich Museums, the Art Fund and the National Heritage Memorial Fund, we acquired the complete contents of the excavated grave and one find from nearby, which was a small gold and garnet seventh century pendant.



The Winfarthing Pendant is currently in the British Library as part of their Anglo-Saxon exhibition

Such technically sophisticated items of Anglo-Saxon jewellery are extremely rare, with only a few comparable examples ever found. The quality and size of the piece suggests an owner of aristocratic or royal status. Two further pendants made from Merovingian coins, two gold beads and a gold crossshaped pendant inlaid with delicate filigree wire were also found in the grave. The crossshaped pendant suggests the woman may have been an early Anglo-Saxon Christian convert.
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Mick Harper
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I'm inclined to vote Find rather than Fake. It is true that 'archaeology student' and 'metal detectorist' tend not to be found in the same field but you have to apply Bayesian statistics here. In any period of time what is the probability of an archaeology student/detectorist making a valuable find? I agree adding a world record i.e. "Britain’s favourite work of art acquired for a museum with Art Fund support in 2018" stretches things a little bit, but not to breaking point.

Plus, unless he's a mature student there's no chance of him thinking up and executing such a scheme and watching the Magic Roundabout.
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Ishmael


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Mick Harper wrote:
Plus, unless he's a mature student there's no chance of him thinking up and executing such a scheme and watching the Magic Roundabout.


He might have been recruited?
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Mick Harper
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I thought of that but decided that a serious forgery gang -- as this one would have to be -- would send one of their number off to become an archaeologist in advance. This is a significant possibility because we are so accustomed to regard archaeologists as poor but honest that we take their word for what they find. Thinking aloud, what they really should do is steadily colonise an entire archaeology department and that way control whole digs.

That would explain a lot actually. It's lucky the AEL has been steadily infiltrating Scotland Yard's Art & Antiques Squad.
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Hatty
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Following on Ishmael's musings over historically important letters, one from Alexander Hamilton to Lafayette written in 1780 turned up in an auction house in South Carolina.

The 1780 letter, addressed to Hamilton’s good friend the Marquis de Lafayette, came to light last November when an auction house in Virginia notified the Federal Bureau of Investigation after a South Carolina family tried to consign it for auction

No need to try to come up with a convincing text as the letter can be read by anyone in the online archives. It says

[Preakness, New Jersey, July 21, 1780]

My Dear Marquis
We have just received advice from New York through different channels that the enemy are making an embarkation with which they menace the French fleet and army. Fifty transports are said to have gone up the Sound to take in troops and proceed directly to Rhode Island.

The General is absent and may not return before evening. Though this may be only a demonstration yet as it may be serious, I think it best to forward it without waiting the Generals return.

We have different accounts from New York of an action in the West Indies in which the English lost several ships. I am inclined to credit them.2

I am My Dear Marquis   with the truest affection   Yr. Most Obedt

A Hamilton   Aide De Camp

The background is that a bundle of letters had been purloined by an archivist sometime in the 1940s and sold to rare-books dealers. As far as I can tell this is the only one that's been recovered.

This is the provenance

In 1950, a former Massachusetts Archives employee was arrested on charges of stealing and selling documents, including the Hamilton letter and original papers of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and other founding fathers, to rare-books dealers when he worked at that institution between 1937 and 1945....

In the 1940s, Hamilton’s letter ended up in the possession of a rare books and documents dealer in Syracuse, who sold it to a now-deceased relative of the South Carolina family that tried to consign it last year with an auction house in Virginia, the complaint said. The family said it had inherited a collection that included the Hamilton letter.

Dealers always say works of arts/documents 'have been in family x's collection for decades/centuries'. Buyers always buy it. But why has it been put up for sale at this particular time?

Aside from its intrinsic historical value, the letter is likely worth more now because of Hamilton’s newfound prominence after “Hamilton” the musical, a pop-culture phenomenon, debuted on Broadway in 2015.

Hamilton was not widely understood before the 2004 Ron Chernow biography on the first secretary of the Treasury, and the Lin-Manuel Miranda musical it helped inspire, Dr. Freeman added. In 2017, a collection of hundreds of Hamilton letters and manuscripts sold for $2.6 million.

The unnamed 'family' is reminiscent of the procedure followed by Franks when authenticating his Casket, in that case there was a need to have a plausible backstory for the years between 1789 and the 'find date', a similar stretch of time as it happens.

I think the letter is probably a very good forgery. After all you would expect rare-book dealers to be a little more careful about to whom they sell stolen docs. Or maybe most of the artefacts they deal in are stolen or as good as.
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Mick Harper
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The letter is a forgery? Don't you mean the "hundreds of letters and manuscripts" sold in 2017 are forgeries? It would have taken at least two years from 2015 when the musical had added a nought to the value of all Hamiltoniana.
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