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Forgery: Modus operandi (British History)
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Mick Harper
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I had an argument with Hatty about whether fine art auctioneers are in category two or not. She pointed out, quite correctly, that their standards are far higher than museums or academics when it comes to authenticating things -- they have to refund the purchase price if they get it wrong. I argued that they must know that a lot of their gear is hooky (up to half, some reputable sources say) and if they do, they shouldn't be in the business in the first place.

Rising to a crescendo I said would airlines buy planes that are up to fifty per cent likely to fall out of the sky? Well, if you're the Luftwaffe you probably would but that's a different argument. My overall point is that Sotheby's (so, sue me) are in a business where A wins, B wins and Sotheby's wins (overall) and nobody loses. Except maybe some theoretical concept of fidelity in art. C, D, E ... n who trot along to art galleries are also winners even if half the stuff they are oohing and aahing over are fakes. Even I agree that the fakes are as good as the real thing when it comes to oohing and aahing and I'm all in favour of maximising art galleries. You can't send the kids round to Aunty May's every weekend you've got custody of the little darlings.

So, where's the beef?
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Mick Harper
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even if half the stuff they are oohing and aahing over are fakes

Except they are all fakes. At least they are in certain circumstances. We tend to think in terms of buyers and sellers -- again this idea of a zero sum game between competing parties -- but, if you think about it, there are only buyers and artists, and artists notoriously are not in any game apart from some weird one of their own. If you are a buyer on the grand scale -- as for instance would be a nineteenth century museum or a twentieth century billionaire collector -- you would be foolish to enter into any kind of arrangement with artists. Much better to enter into an arrangement with an art supplier.
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Wile E. Coyote


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Hatty wrote:
François Guyot was a type caster in Antwerp from the 1540s until his death in 1570, and the main caster for Plantin Press from 1555 onwards. Plantin also printed and reprinted books by our favourite forger, Franciscus Junius.


I note the above as an old manuscript in the Museum Plantin-Moretus is the 9th-century illuminated manuscript containing the Carmen Paschale of Caelius Sedulius, and the Epigrammata of Prosperus.

This was made in around 860 and decorated in a Liège scriptorium. So they claim.

In 1581 Christophe Plantin inherited this manuscript from the humanist Theodoor Poelman, along with other Latin manuscripts. Poelman added annotations to the texts, but others before him had already added notes in Anglo-Saxon and Old High German. (eh?)

Christophe was a bookbinder who later went on to specialise in Emblem books.These books feature emblems (allegorical illustrations) with accompanying explanatory text, typically morals or poems. This category of books was popular in Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries. An emblem book is a bit like an illustrated manuscript.......
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Mick Harper
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Fruit doesn't fall far from the tree, does it? All these 'early medieval' tracts come from the magic triangle of Greater Burgundy and then, lo and behold, they pop up all over again from the same place eight hundred years later. If only we could nail down which side Plantin was playing for. Have we already got this Poelman character tagged as the author of various Classical works? Hatty will know.
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Mick Harper
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But onwards and downwards with our forgery bulk buys. A vast array of London's finest, both at the V & A and at the BM, comes from the Soltikoff sale of 1861 in Paris. We have established, to our satisfaction if nobody else's, that this is La Grande Shop Window for a forgery ring headed by, possibly fronted by, a bloke called Baron de Seillières. In other words, everything in it is fake. All (I think) some 20,000 items.

But all museums regard it as kosher, i.e. everything in it is genuine (unless some bad apples have managed to creep in). What this means in practice is that the idle drones at the V & A and BM can just put 'Soltikoff, 1861' as the provenance for anything and then go out for a long lunch. Should, oh horror! anything turn out to be non-kosher then that would be one of the bad apples and it can be quietly withdrawn to the vaults. But nothing ever will be because when it says 'Soltikoff, 1861' on the label, nobody's ever going to check anyway.

I suppose it would be open to us to challenge the museum world (Soltikoff pieces are found the world over) to prove one item to be genuine, but that ain't never gonna happen either.
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Hatty
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Mick Harper wrote:
Have we already got this Poelman character tagged as the author of various Classical works?

Not much detail is given for Theodor Poelmann (ca. 1510 - 1580). According to a sparse German entry, he was a 'corrector' rather than an author

Poelmann: Theodor P. , mostly called Pulmannus , philologist of the 16th century.

He was born in Cranenburg in the Duchy of Cleve on the Dutch border in 1510, learned the cloth weaving mill in Antwerp, but was brought here to study the old languages ​​and then found a position as a corrector in the book printers founded by Christoph Plantin in 1550 in Antwerp and Leyden. Partly in these, partly in Basel, he published a large series of small manual editions of old writers from 1551 onwards, which of course are now only of historical interest, but were widely disseminated in their time and were often published. A. also the Virgil and Horaz. Around 1580 he went to Spain and died there soon, probably in Salamanca.

https://www.deutsche-biographie.de/sfz99453.html

I think 'Horaz' is Horace, it's a machine translation. The entry doesn't state which 'old writers' were being published, they may have been humanist works with which Plantin's name was associated. Either way, the set-up seems to have been intentionally archaic

While most printing concerns disposed of their collections of older type in the eighteenth and nineteenth century in response to changing tastes, the Plantin-Moretus company "piously preserved the collection of its founder."
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Mick Harper
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I don't know why but I'm getting a Jewish flavour. It may be no more than fond remembrances of S J Perelman, the Marx Brothers' scriptwriter, but certainly Perlmann would be Jewish today. (Somebody write in and say it's the fourth most common German surname.) Anyway we might push it and see. The 'old languages' of Humanism are Hebrew and Greek so there should be some -- I would think -- Sephardis around. Surely nobody would want to end up in Salamanca except a Converso. To start off in the rag trade and end up a philologist...mmm. As for Plantin himself

The "Antwerp Polyglot" was speedily denounced by Spanish obscurantists, who objected to its philological, rabbinic, and kabbalistic preoccupations, but it was cleared of suspicion in 1580. Plantin also printed Hebrew Bibles for export to Jewish communities in North Africa (1567) and may have issued the anonymous Hebrew prayer book which appeared in Antwerp c. 1577.

We haven't really investigated the coincidence of the Spanish Expulsion and the Renaissance.
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Mick Harper
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I'm doing some stuff on Soltikoff over on the Remarkable Forgeries thread for people with one track minds.
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Mick Harper
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But to return to our theme that forgeries always come in massed bands. Academics and curators are fond of the 'one rotten apple' theory whereas we go for the 'curate's egg' principle. Here's one reason in support of our version. Suppose you go out and get yourself a genuine medieval reliquary. Price: £20,000. This is not for your collection but so you can pop into your workshop and order three more made using it as an exemplar. Cost for labour and materials: £1000 per. You set up your Medieval Reliquary sale.

Do you offer all four or just all three for sale? You're only going to get your money back with the genuine article so there's no pressing reason to sell. Hell, keep it as an investment, for future use, for your own collection. There are no pressing operational reasons to include it because it does not lend legitimacy to the other three. People may know about it, people may know you've recently purchased it, but the three stand or fall by their own qualities, not by association. Rather the reverse since 'Why's he ditching all his medieval reliquaries all of a sudden? Does he know something we don't know?"

But you know they are associated. And you don't control who buys what at a public auction. Do you really want to run the risk of someone out there being in permanent loving possession of one real one and one fake one, both with your name on it? One that bears close examination and one that might not? It's just not worth the risk. They can lovingly compare two fakes all they like, and even if they do conclude they're fakes, hey! you were duped as well. Fruit of the same poisoned tree. It's a jungle out there. But best avoid two poisoned trees.

A private sale later, I think. Though there is something to be said for destroying the original. It is potentially dangerous and you're still well ahead of the game.
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Mick Harper
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But the real clue is to be found in yourself. Are you an honest person or a dishonest one? I don't mean an honest person who occasionally cheats on his taxes or a dishonest person that occasionally pays his taxes, I mean an honest person or a dishonest person. Let's take the average museum curator. Do they lead an exemplary life but just occasionally accept a bribe to put a fake onto their shelves? Even an authentic but stolen item for their shelves? The idea is preposterous. (Not impossible, but preposterous.)

Let's take the same curator and show them five medieval reliquaries that are on their shelves and that all passed through Frederic Spitzer's hands. Then show them overwhelming evidence that Spitzer made medieval reliquaries in his workshop. The curator will say, "Yes, but there's no direct evidence that these particular reliquaries were made in his workshop, is there?" And you'd have to agree with them. Are they being honest or dishonest? Neither, it's just cognitive dissonance.

Thousands of exhibits in the British Museum passed through Sir Augustus Franks' hands and he was a crook on a magisterial scale. As far as I know (I'd love to hear different) not a single one has been shown to be a fake.
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Hatty
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The British Museum has a fake Moorish tile donated by Sir Augustus Franks, an "English imitation of Moorish. Made of white glazed pottery" but still listed as thought to have been made in Tetuán, Morocco, Africa. It's no longer on display.

There's also the case of an Elephant Medallion coin 'copied from a mould taken of the first known example that Sir Augustus Franks donated to the British Museum'. The copies, which are in national museum and private collections, were only found to be fakes quite recently, in the 1960-70s, and all modelled on the same 1877 Franks specimen.

In 1880, in the midst of the First and Second Afghan War between the Russians and the British, a great horde of antiquities was discovered in the Oxus River (border of ancient Bactria and location of a Greek settlement of Alexander's time). Through a series of thefts, smugglings, and ambushes, the Treasure of Oxus makes its way from the mountains, to the market places in central Asia, and eventually, to the British Museum. It is here that a particular coin donated by Sir Augustus Wollaston Franks, a museum official, attracts the interests of archaeologists.

The accepted version says the original (genuine) coin-medallion would have reached the bazaars of Rawalpindi at about the time of the Oxus Treasure and sold to 'a knowledgeable buyer', i.e. Franks, at the highest possible price. After which Rawalpindi dealers kept the mould to produce a series of fakes to sell to less expert buyers. The underlying disquiet is hard to miss for, as we've discussed, it's impossible to accurately date inscribed metal objects without a verified genuine exemplar for comparison. Alexander the Great is of course the perfect choice of subject because there is no contemporaneous information about his life and times.
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Mick Harper
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Using a crime to cover a crime is a standard technique. Most scams work because the mark thinks he is getting something genuine but stolen, and therefore cheap. He is actually getting something fake and therefore cheap. No sensible crim would place evidence of his crime in the hands of a civilian. That's why there are fences.

As you say, we've covered the Oxus Treasures extensively. For non-backsliders, this was an imaginary hoard 'found' on the banks of the fabled river (though the actual site had a tendency to meander) and then as each bit got 'excavated' had to go through more and more barriers to onward progress -- brigands, tribal chiefs, customs officials, alerted governments -- which accounted for all sorts of damage and missing bits and 'restorations' and the rest of the tricks-of-the-trade before what was left finally made it to safety in the museums of the west.

Or, as we would say, Paris traffic and cross-channel steamers are murder.
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Boreades


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Would it be true to say that the further west the forgeries could be trafficked, the higher the price they could reach? If so, would there have been a "race to market", like the old clipper ships?

I'm leading the witness(es) towards an AEL remake of a classic film.

Murder On The Oriental Forgery Express.
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Mick Harper
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Well, the entire Oxus Treasure was made (best candidates) in Lyons or the Paris suburbs or Bruges (though that last may be me being 'filmic') so location costs can be kept to a minimum. "They were all in on it" can be retained as Albert Finney's last words to camera.
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Mick Harper
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Since it has rather fallen into my lap I will demonstrate beyond peradventure that the whole thing is a fake. Two macro-indicators first

The Oxus treasure is a collection of about 180 surviving pieces of metalwork in gold and silver, the majority rather small, plus perhaps about 200 coins, from the Achaemenid Persian period which were found by the Oxus river about 1877-1880

Caches are found at one time. Forgery streams extend over several years.

The British Museum now has nearly all the surviving metalwork, with one of the pair of griffin-headed bracelets on loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum, and displays them in Room 52

Caches that, for whatever reason, have taken several years to 'uncover' end up in museums all over the world. Forgery streams tend to end up all at the same place, the place where the head of the ring operates. Or in this case the two places where he operated.

The group arrived at the museum by different routes, with many items bequeathed to the nation by Augustus Wollaston Franks

My guess would be that 'many' refers to the smaller items. Still, it's interesting to have it on record that one of the 'different routes' went via Franks' private collection. On a curator's salary too!
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