Thursday, July 19, 2012


Appraising and authenticating antiquities are two distinct processes which help in the understanding of the objects themselves. In the best case scenario, the appraiser and the authenticator work together to form a complete picture of what the item is, where it came from, the date of creation, the condition, and the value.


Appraisers come from a variety of educational backgrounds and possess numerous specialties. Although most appraisers are not experts in every field, they do have an understanding of how to research a variety of items to determine their origin and monetary value. Appraisers invariably spend hours scouring auction results, galleries, and libraries for the information about an object. Furthermore, they often depend on connections in academia, archaeology, galleries and auction houses to help them come to a conclusion about the items they are appraising. An appraiser’s ultimate goal is to put a value on the work which properly reflects the market. In the United States, there are three major appraisal organizations: Appraisers Association of America, American Society of Appraisers, and International Society of Appraisers. Each of these organizations has a searchable database of well trained professionals who were admitted by passing qualifying exams or other processes. Below are the most common elements of a properly prepared antiquities appraisal.

Elements of a Properly Prepared Antiquities Appraisal

• Item
A brief description of the type of item being appraised. For example, “Ptolemaic Ceramic Oil Lamp.”
• Size
An accurate measurement of the length, width, and height of the item.
• Medium
The materials used to create the antiquity.
• Signature or Markings
Any mark that might give additional information which is located directly on the antiquity.
• Date of Creation
If the exact date is unknown, dating the item to a period or a range of years. For example, “Circa 150 BCE to 50 CE.”
• Condition
Inspect the piece for rust, cracks, deterioration, and wear.
• Provenance
Research and list any known owners of the work, when and where it was acquired, and the original location and date of discovery.


Authentication of antiquities can be complicated since it takes a comprehensive understanding of scientific methods, the latest academic research, and a personal knowledge of the expected attributes. Like appraisers, authenticators come from a variety of backgrounds. They may specialize in scientific analysis, documentation, and connoisseurship. An authentication company may have a variety of experts on staff each of whom may weigh in on an item in their particular area. Below is a detailed explanation of the more common scientific and research methods.

Scientific Authentication

Thermoluminescence (TL)
This method can tell the observer how much time has elapsed since the clay was fired. In this process, the clay is heated to a high temperature. Once it reaches that temperature a faint violet blue light is emitted and then measured using a sensitive detector.
• Radiocarbon Dating
This type of dating is an absolute dating technique. It works by determining the ratio of radiocarbon against stable carbon in the sample. All living organisms are made of carbon. A very small amount of this carbon is C-14 which is unstable and radioactive. When the organism dies it disintegrates at a known rate thus making it easier for scientists to determine the age.
• Computer Tomography (CT Scanning)
Although this process does not scientifically date an antiquity it does give an overall 3-dimensional image. This information can provide information concerning previous repairs, oxidation, deterioration, and the techniques used to actually make the work.

Researched Authentication

• Provenance
Researching the original place of purchase and the history of ownership of an antiquity is important. Knowing that the piece was in the collection of a scholar or major collector helps others understand that the item is what it is purported to be. Further, documented evidence of when and where the antiquity was originally found may help establish the age of the piece.
• Scholarly References and Attributes
This step is always important but it becomes even more important if the antiquity does not have a strong provenance. Sending photos of the antiquity to an archaeologist, scholar in the field, or a dealer who regularly examines such items to verify the item has the correct attributes is an important step.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


I have always loved Antiquities. These items speak to me because they give us a glimpse into the human race, a culture that influenced our own, and a way of life that has long since vanished. When I was in college, I loved learning about the ways in which sculptors created their works, how the techniques progressed, and the way in which those techniques influenced the aesthetics of the day. Contrapposto is one of those techniques.  This term is used to describe the pose as seen in the sculpture above whereby one knee is bent, the hip is lifted, and the weight of the figure is seemingly on one leg. This pose was a breakthrough in sculpture as it was the first to express a human emotion through a physical gesture.  One can only imagine the excitement such a development caused the first time a sculptor created this type of work.

A Defensive Posture 
In the antiquities world, the buzz surrounding a special item can only be outdone by the modern spectacle of a battle between countries and cultures over who owns which items.
On May 3, an Italian court upheld a ruling that a bronze statue of an athlete, said to have been created by Alexander the Great's personal sculptor Lysippus, belongs to Italy and should be seized from the J. Paul Getty Museum. The statue, purchased in 1976 for $4 million is alleged to have been illegally exported from Italy before the museum purchased it. On the other hand, the Getty maintains that they purchased the statue legally and will likely petition the highest court in Italy. The Getty's belief that the statue was not exported and sold illegally should not be taken lightly. They have, in fact, returned 49 items which they admit were the product illegal excavations. The Getty does not believe that the export of this item was illegal because it was originally found by fishermen in international waters off Italy's Adriatic coast.


When I was a child, I was fascinated by a signet ring that my father wore.  The gold band was inset with a dark brown stone.  The stone's face was carved with the family name and crest.  Little did I know the tradition which inspired this ring was thousands of years old, and similar jewelry was being worn by men on the other side of the world during that time.

Discovering an Ancient Seal
A tiny seal measuring 2 centimeters is making a huge impact in the antiquities world. The seal was unearthed in an archeological dig on the Temple Mount in Israel and is from the late first Temple period over 2700 years ago. Seals of this type were mounted on rings and were used to sign documents during that period. According to archeologist Eli Shukrun, "The name Matanyahu, like the name Netanyahu, means 'gift to God.' These names are mentioned several times in Scripture. They are typical of names in the Judean Kingdom at the end of the First Temple period – from the late 8th century BCE until the Temple's destruction in 586 BCE."
Engraved gems were predominantly made of semi-precious stones. In the Western tradition they were usually made with images on one side. However, many Middle Eastern seals display their own traditions. In fact, in the Bible, seals with words are mentioned bearing the names of the Tribes of Israel instead of images.
Although the Matanyahu gem will likely not be sold, it is interesting to see what other gems sell for in the marketplace.  In December of 2011, Christies sold a late Roman Chromium Chalcedony Magic Gem from circa 3rd century A.D.  The stone, pictured above from both sides was described in the sale as a "convex oval stone engraved on the obverse with Chnoubis, the lion-headed serpent with his radiate head in profile to the left; the reverse with the sign of Chnoubis, framed by his name in Greek: XNOYBIC". It sold for $2,750.00. This seems a small price to pay for something of such interest and beauty.  When comparing the carved gems to other types of antiquities, the price point of many seems unusually reasonable.