The National Archives Archival Recovery Team

The 150th anniversary of the Civil War has renewed interest in artifacts from that era, and the National Archives Art Recovery Team has ramped up its efforts to track down objects which have been stolen:
 FRANKLIN, TENN. – Among the Civil War buffs wandering through the tables of muskets and faded daguerreotypes of Union soldiers for sale here are four federal agents. 
One raids houses and carries a gun. But right now he’s handing out innocuous-looking brochures to the relic hunters walking by, as the sweet smell of glazed nuts wafts from a concession stand. “Does that document belong in the National Archives?” the brochure asks. 
The agents have flown to a fairground outside Nashville to the country’s biggest Civil War show to hunt for stolen treasure – robbed right from the nation’s attic. 
Whether they know it or not, the dealers may be trafficking in stolen government property. The heist may have taken place in 1865. Or last week. Or a document may not have been looted at all, but made its way into private hands instead of the Archives. 
With the Civil War 150th anniversary drawing new interest, the trail could be warm. 
“We’re friendly,” says Paul Brachfeld, inspector general of the Archives, who has gotten out of the office this December weekend to see his team in action. For the dealers, “it’s an authenticity thing,” he says. “If you traffic in stolen documents, it taints everything.” 
The tactic illustrates the new, more aggressive approach the Archives is taking in an effort to recover treasures that have disappeared from its holdings. Porous security and open access have allowed countless items to slip out of the Archives’ 44 centers and presidential libraries, from the Washington headquarters to the Reagan Library in California. 
The missing items include telegrams written by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War; the Wright brothers’ patent for a flying machine; Eli Whitney’s patent for the cotton gin; Lyndon Johnson’s class ring from the Coast Guard; an official portrait of Franklin D. Roosevelt; and target maps for the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. 

The most recent issue of the Journal of Art Crime also featured an interview with Paul Brachfeld.

  1. Lisa Rein, National Archives hunts for missing treasures with recovery team, The Washington Post, February 23, 2011, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/22/AR2011022206661.html?sid=ST2011022300101 (last visited Feb 23, 2011).
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Coordinating Heritage Crime Prevention in England

Graffiti on Clifford’s Tower in York

Carolyn Shelbourn has drawn my attention to a promising initiative in England to help prevent and thwart heritage crime. It seeks a coordinated approach to pair the enforcement of legislation and also the prevention of destruction. The program brings together English Heritage, the Police, and the Crown Prosecution Service to “systematically tackle and reduce offences”. It is a promising initiative which aims to bring together all of the various actors to coordinate their efforts.

Specifically the initiative will rely on the principles of neighborhood policing:

The model of Neighbourhood Policing, established to tackle the crime and day-to-day anti-social behaviours most affecting local neighbourhoods, provides a useful model for tackling heritage crimes. Local communities are urged to understand the heritage assets in their area that may be at risk of irreversible damage from crime and to report suspicious behaviours to their neighbourhood policing teams. 
The profile and accountability of heritage crimes among police officers will also increase. For the first time, there will be a national lead in ACPO on heritage crimes and there will also be a dedicated portfolio holder in many police forces across the country. 
Neighbourhood Policing and community involvement is expected to contribute considerably to improved intelligence and data on the ground, both of which are lacking at present.
  1. English Heritage, English Heritage Calls on Communities to Help Tackle Heritage Crime (2011), http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/about/news/643873/ (last visited Feb 22, 2011).
  2. Robert Hall, New protection for old treasures, BBC, February 10, 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-12426854 (last visited Feb 22, 2011).
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Footnotes

The sacking of Carthage continues

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"The mask was not excavated in Missouri"

Catherine Sezgin interviews Ton Cremers for the Online Journal of Art Crime and asks about the Ka-Nefer-Nefer mask. He is named in a suit by the St. Louis Art Museum to prohibit U.S. Attorneys from bringing a forfeiture action for the object. On the Museum Security Network he argued:

There is NO doubt whatsoever that this mask was stolen from a storage is Saqqara. One does not need to be suprised that the infamous Aboutaam brothers were the ones selling this mask. They are ‘renowned’ for trading in dubious antiquities without any provenance. In this case they just made up a fake provenance: supposedly the mask had been part of a Swiss private collection. Yes, Switzerland again…

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

St. Louis Art Museum Sues the United States to Preclude a Forfeiture

The Ka Nefer Nefer Mask, acquired in 1998 by SLAM

The St. Louis Art Museum (SLAM) has sued the federal government to preclude it from initiating a forfeiture claim against the Ka-Nefer-Nefer mask. The museum was approached in January by several U.S. attorneys in January, who indicated an intention to bring a forfeiture action against the mask. Civil forfeiture was the legal mechanism under which the Portrait of Wally litigation and subsequent settlement emerged. It is a powerful tool for claimants, which uses the resources of the federal government, and a favorable burden of proof, to pursue claims for objects which may have been looted or stolen.

But in this case, rather than waiting for the forfeiture action, the museum has decided to try to preclude a suit by the U.S. attorneys, arguing that from December-January of 2005-06, the U.S. was a party to several communications regarding questions with respect to the history of the mask. They use as examples, posts and emails sent by Ton Cremers, of the Museum Security Network. He sent at least two emails to Bonnie Magness-Gardiner of the FBI, INTERPOL, as well as James McAndrew at Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The Museum’s complaint quotes emails from Cremers, which were published on the Museum Security Network:

  1. “So I should think that if the Egyptian Government lodged a complaint or request with the USA Government and the FBI Crime Team (to which I am copying this), then the Museum would be obliged to answer the questions.”  
  2. “The FBI is just waiting for Egypt to file a complaint.  A [sic] soon as Egypt files a complaint [sic] the FBI is expected to act.” 
  3. “Maarten Raven, a Dutch archaeologist, saw the mask in the Saqqara and is VERY positive that the mask in the SLAM [Museum] is the same as . . .the one stolen in Saqqara . . . .

The SLAM argues in the complaint that the relevant U.S. government officials had knowledge of the potential claim over five years ago, and the five-year statute of limitations period has expired under 19 U.S.C. § 1621. A court will decide whether these emails, and queries the Museum sent to INTERPOL in the 1990’s about the mask are sufficient to have given the U.S. government actual or constructive knowledge of the potential claim. The Museum seeks a declaratory judgment under the Tariff Act that the action is barred by the statute of limitations.

Even if successful, this suit would only preclude a suit by the U.S. government. It would not bless the circumstances surrounding the acquisition of the mask. The mask was acquired in 1998 by SLAM from Phoenix Ancient Art for a reported $500,000. The Museum has attempted to demonstrate its diligence in a number of ways when it acquired the mask.

  • It sent a letter to Mohammed Saleh, the retired director of the Cairo Museum asking about the mask or the existence of similar objects. 
  • The Museum contacted the Art Loss Register, INTERPOL, and the International Federation of Art Research.
  • In 1998″counsel for the Museum requested a Swiss attorney to conduct a background investigation of Phoenix, its owners, and Jelinek.  Museum counsel received responses from the Swiss attorney on February 18 and March 31, 1998, confirming a Suzana Jelinek resided at the address provided by Phoenix, and confirming Phoenix’s company existence, Dun & Bradstreet rating, and that there were no liens or encumbrances on business property belonging to Phoenix.”
  • The Museum also sent a letter to the Missouri Highway Patrol requesting a search of the Interpol database.
So these are efforts to look at the history of the object, but certainly are not the best efforts. The Museum did not contact the Supreme Council of Antiquities or the Culture Ministry. The SLAM has told the public and Egypt that they would return the mask to Egypt if they were presented evidence that the mask was looted or stolen, yet Egypt has not presented this evidence. We know that the mask was acquired by the Museum in 1998, and was excavated in 1952. Both Egypt and the Museum have very different versions of the subsequent history of the mask. We are not certain what happened in the intervening years. But given what we know about the antiquities trade we have strong suspicions. The Museum argues the U.S. government has waited too long to pursue its claims that the object was stolen. 
  1. Joe Harris, Museum Sues USA Over Mummy Mask, Courthouse News Service, February 16, 2011, http://www.courthousenews.com/2011/02/16/34223.htm (last visited Feb 16, 2011).
  2. Jennifer Mann, Art museum sues to keep Egyptian mummy mask, St. Louis Today, February 16, 2011, http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/article_6a5937bc-0ea6-50ca-94ab-aa45697af009.html (last visited Feb 16, 2011).
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Yale and Peru Finalize Agreement

On Friday, Yale University signed an agreement with Peru over the disposition of objects removed from Machu Picchu nearly a century ago. The agreement, which will avoid continued litigation will create a joint Center for the Study of Inca Culture in Cusco, Peru. The center will preserve the artifacts, make the objects available for study and display, and promote research. This looks to be a beneficial agreement for all the parties involved. There will be a new joint research center in Cusco, pairing Yale University with the University of San Antonio Abad del Cusco. And though the objects will no longer be in Connecticut, the objects will be available for future study, and will still be cared for. And finally, Peru’s suit against Yale is no longer necessary to resolve the dispute. A memorandum of understanding was created in November, but Peru had backed out of agreements in the past with Yale. This time though, the dispute looks to be resolved for good.

As always, the best place for coverage of the dispute is the Yale University paper, and reporter Sarah Nutman is writing a series on the returns:

Since Yale and Peruvian officials signed a Memorandum of Understanding outlining the return of the objects last November, both sides have been eager to underscore the goodwill between the two parties. The document, they say, allows Peru and Yale to move beyond the mistrust that has often characterized their interactions over the century-long struggle — it has eliminated any underlying disagreement. 
For the most part, the two sides agree. Peru will repatriate thousands of pieces. Some will arrive in time for the centennial this July; the rest will be in Peru by December 2012. But there remain aspects about which Yale and Peru tell very different stories. For instance, how the pieces came to stay in New Haven for so long, and why, after nearly a decade of bickering, Yale simply offered to cede them to Peru.

  1. Sarah Nutman, Yale and University of Cusco sign collaboration agreement, Yale Daily News, February 11, 2011, http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2011/feb/11/yale-and-university-cusco-sign-collaboration-agree/ (last visited Feb 14, 2011).
  2. Sarah Nutman, Returning to Machu Picchu, Yale Daily News, February 14, 2011, http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2011/feb/14/returning-to-machu-picchu/ (last visited Feb 14, 2011).
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com