This week Spotlight on a Horse brasses
Auctioneers dilemma over sale of Rhino head
Police seized hundreds of banknotes from the Ottoman era
China to clamp down on online relics trading
Watch made for Hitler birthday seized by customs officials
Burglaries target antiques in Prescott
Legal battle reveals potential art trove
Sword crime spike among teenagers

This week Spotlight on A Horse brasses
Vintage horse Martingale 5 Kings and Queens brasses

Vintage horse Martingale 5 Kings and Queens brasses

A Horse brass is a brass plaque used for the decoration of horse harness gear, especially for shire and parade horses. Used since antiquity, they became especially popular in England in the 1800s, and remain a collectors item today.

Certain types of horse brass have been in existence since before the 12th century in England. They were introduced as decorations but soon became used as good luck and status symbols. These medieval decorations however, have nothing whatsoever to do with the mid-19th century fashion for decorating the heavy, working horse, the brasses for which developed after about 1850 onwards during the flowering of the decorative arts following the Great Exhibition.

The most popular size is 3 x 3 1/2 inches of flat brass with a hanger by which the brass threaded onto a horse harness strap, known as a Martingale In England many of these items of harness found their way into country public houses as the era of the heavy horse declined, and are still associated today as a pub decoration. By the late 19th century wagons and carts were decorated with brasses of all kinds and sizes. During this era working horse parades were popular throughout the British Isles.

13 March

Auctioneers dilemma over sale of rhino head

An auctioneer from Northumberland is on the horns of a dilemma – over the sale of a stuffed rhinoceros head worth at least £30,000 to Chinese herbalists. While wall-mounted trophies have fallen out of fashion in this country, the demand for crushed rhino horn in Asia means even dusty antiques can fetch considerable sums.

But Jim Railton, based in Alnwick, is concerned the sale of the 19th century head – shot by an ancestor of a well-known, titled, local family – could put him on the wrong side of the law again. Last year he was prosecuted for advertising an antique chest of drawers which contained a collection of birds eggs. He was fined for a breach of wildlife laws intended to protect birds, despite the eggs being decades old.

Safari killing sprees carried out by the Victorians, which included this rhino, would certainly not be condoned today, but as a rule of thumb if it can be proved that the animal was killed and the head mounted before 1947 then you can legally sell such trophies.

The rhino head will be held in tight security until the sale later this month. One sold in North Yorkshire last year fetched £155,000. This specimen, whose owners wish to remain anonymous, is expected to make at least £30,000.

13 March

Police seized hundreds of banknotes from the Ottoman era

Police arrest four Palestinians in Tulkarem, seize hundreds of banknotes from the Ottoman era.
Ramallah Palestinian police seized on Sunday hundreds of ancient banknotes and cheque papers, even as the Palestinian Grand Fatwa Council issued a fatwa against the excavation and sale of historical artefacts, calling the practice haram (forbidden) and an act of treason.

The police arrested four Palestinians in Tulkarem in the West Bank and seized hundreds of banknotes which go back to the Ottoman era, and cheque papers dating back to the early British mandate in Palestine. According to a police statement, these were seized from a vehicle in Tulkarem which was on its way to deliver these items to people who had purchased them.

The statement said that a team from the Antiques and Ruins Department and the police intercepted the vehicle and seized 246 valuable items after receiving a tip-off.  The statement added that the initial investigation revealed that the vehicle owner was a trader from Nablus and was on his way home when the police stopped his vehicle and seized the banknotes and the cheques.

The police referred the suspect to the Public Prosecution.

10 March

China to clamp down on online relics trading

China’s political advisors on Thursday called for enhanced supervision over online antique trading, after millions of cultural relics were sent abroad illegally. Statistics from the State Administration of Cultural Heritage show that over one million antiquities, worth a total of more than 1 billion yuan (152 million U.S. dollars), were sold online last year.

China has lost 17 million pieces of cultural relics abroad, according to the government survey.  In 2007, customs officials found 47 pieces of cultural relics in 10 packages mailed to a French buyer by a relics dealer surnamed Liao of Wuhan, capital city of central China’s Hubei Province. Liao began selling antiques abroad via e-mail in 2005.

In 2009, another dealer surnamed Ding of Chengdu, the capital of southwest China’s Sichuan Province, was caught selling ancient coins to foreign buyers through his shop on eBay.com, a well-known e-commerce website. Ding sent 66 precious coins abroad by registered mail, including two under State protection.

Chinese law forbids the free trade of relics except through certified stores and auctions. The law also prohibits cultural relics dated before 1911 from leaving the country. There are no specific regulations on internet-based relics trading. The cultural relics department is prepared to examine the operating qualifications and to regulate the transactions of over 200 existing websites involving the dealing of cultural relics and antiques.

Customs authorities in 16 provinces and cities have set up special mechanisms for border exit inspections of cultural relics, while other provinces and regions are still lax in checking outgoing relics, including courier services, which leaves many loopholes for smugglers.

8 March

Watch made for Hitler birthday seized by customs officials

Customs officials in Grzechotki, northern Poland, have seized a limited edition commemorative watch created to mark Adolf Hitler’s birthday in 1936. An agitated Russian man aroused the suspicion of Polish officers whilst he endeavoured to cross the border by car into Kaliningrad. To the officials’ surprise, it turned out that the man was carrying two antique watches, one of which was emblazoned with swastikas and other Nazi insignia. The watches were confiscated, as it is illegal to export pre-1945 antiques from Poland without a permit.

The Hitler pocket watch, made by the firm Junghans, still functions as a timepiece,  and it has now been handed to the Warsaw seat of the Museum of the  History of Poland.

The provenance of the pocket watch is unknown.

8 March

A hoax $83M winning bid on Chinese vase

The fine art world has been agog over the $83 million auction price achieved last year in England by a 1740 Qing Dynasty vase painted with images of leaping goldfish. The “winning bidder” in the Nov. 11 auction, which was conducted by Bainbridges Auctioneers, reportedly was a Chinese industrialist whose bid was lodged over the phone. Now it appears that the “bidder” had no intention of purchasing the vase, and the euphoria that has followed the record-setting sale has turned to a deafening silence. The beautifully decorated 16-inch porcelain vase – which would have set the record for most expensive Chinese artwork ever sold – remains in limbo for now, with reports that its consignors – heirs to the estate that produced the vase – may have been victims of a Chinese government plot to sabotage the sale.

The March 7, 2011 edition of the London Sun newspaper says the vase has not been paid for. Experts suspect the bid originated from Beijing as a protest against the sale of historical treasures looted from China.. Although there is no proof as such, there is speculation that the vase may have been taken out of China at the end of the Second Opium War in 1860, when the Summer Palace was ransacked.

At the time their relative’s modest estate was valued, the vase was estimated by an entity other than Bainbridges to be worth around $1,300. Inland Revenue, now having seen the “price realized” at Bainbridges’ sale, have notified the consignors that they must pay a revised inheritance tax based on the auction price.

Meanwhile, the vase that took 30 minutes to sell – culminating with a jubilant auctioneer Peter Bainbridge banging the gavel so hard it fell apart – is being kept away from prying eyes in a secure warehouse. The consignors, quite understandably, are in seclusion, as well.

7 March

Burglaries target antiques in Prescott

Recent burglaries in Prescott are targeting antiques and unusual items in people’s yards as well as other unsecured valuables. In the past few weeks, suspects stole items including a non-operating Model A Ford from a sideyard, an antique Union 76 gas pump weighing 400 pounds from a fenced yard and an Orange Crush Soda Machine that had been placed for sale on Craigslist.com that was sitting outside a home.

But in some cases even fastening items to buildings with chains didn’t stop determined suspects who stole items such as three pedal cars chained to a wrought iron fence, antique wheels chained to a front wall of a home and an antique neon sign attached above the front door of The Motor Lodge in Prescott.

The Motor Lodge is offering a $500 reward to get back their historic sign, created by A & B Signs here in town more than 50 years ago. At the same time, police are reporting an increase in suspects entering unlocked vehicles and stealing valuables.

Investigators urge people to lock their vehicles, take valuables out of their cars and into their homes at night and keep items out of plain view as ways to avoid being a victim of theft.

7 March

Legal battle reveals potential art trove

In the early morning of Aug. 29, a Cessna corporate jet from Santiago, Chile, touched down at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood airport. One of the passengers was Dr. Alfred Bonati, owner of a Pasco County spine clinic. Another was John McInnis III, scion of a well-known Alabama road and bridge building family. The pair quickly drew attention. As they made their way across the tarmac, a U.S. Customs Service agent saw that McInnis had a gun at his waist. Bonati carried a painting loosely covered in fabric.

And it wasn’t just any painting. It was titled The Ballerina, and Bonati said it was the work of the great French artist Edgar Degas. Bonati said the painting had been in his family more than 100 years. He planned to take it on to New York where he had an appointment Nov. 4 at Sotheby’s, the international auction house, to have it evaluated by a Degas expert flown in from Paris.

But customs seized The Ballerina. Bonati hired the Miami law firm of Diaz, Reus & Targ to get it back. And, the firm claims, to help him bring in 26 other paintings, purportedly by such masters as Da Vinci, Rembrandt and Picasso, worth, by Bonati’s estimate, more than $1 billion.

What started as a lawyer-client relationship based on beautiful art has degenerated into an ugly dispute over fees. It gives a glimpse into the high-stakes world of art authentication — a world in which expert opinion can mean a painting is worth a few hundred dollars. Or many millions.

Edgar Degas is often called a founder of impressionism, the revolutionary 19th century art movement known for paintings with quick brushstrokes and bright colors. But he and others thought the impressionist label too limiting for a man of his prodigious talents.

In 2008, Danseuse au Repos, a Degas pastel of a ballerina stretching on the floor, sold for $37 million, a record for the artist. It is among the 1,700 Degas paintings that have been identified and catalogued.

Joaquin Pacareu Gay, an antiques dealer in Santiago, Chile, met Bonati 10 years ago when the Pasco surgeon came into his shop. Pacareu said Bonati’s grandfather acquired The Ballerina decades ago while traveling around Europe. Along with works by South American artists, the painting hung in Bonati’s 22nd-floor Santiago condominium until Feb. 27, 2010, when a devastating earthquake knocked it off the wall.

The 71-year-old Bonati, who didn’t respond to several calls for comment, founded the Bonati Institute in Hudson, where thousands of patients have undergone minimally invasive spinal surgery since 1981. Though many people say they have been helped, Bonati has been the target of malpractice suits and was put on probation in 2002 for two years in a case involving a dozen patients. He currently faces a complaint by the Florida Department of Health, alleging he misdiagnosed the cause of a patient’s pain.

In August, a pleasantly cool month in Chile, Bonati was in Santiago, where he and McInnis boarded the chartered, nine-seat Cessna. The plane refueled in Ecuador and landed in Fort Lauderdale after the 4,000-mile flight. As the men headed for the terminal, they drew suspicion because of what the law firm later called their “bizarre” conduct. Bonati carried the multi-million dollar painting in his arms as the pair made their way across the tarmac. Bonati was also carrying in excess of $10,000 in cash on his person, a sum which he did not declare to U.S. Customs as required by law.

Paintings and other original works of art also must be declared, though most are allowed to enter the United States duty-free. But with art theft a major international problem, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has stepped up efforts to ascertain the ownership of potentially valuable works. In January, the agency returned to France a Degas painting stolen from a museum there in 1973. It resurfaced last fall in the catalog of a Sotheby’s auction in New York.

Within a day of the The Ballerina’s seizure, Bonati hired Diaz, Reus & Targ to get it released. He agreed, the firm says, to pay $90,000 plus a $150,000 bonus if the painting cleared customs by Oct. 1. While lawyers negotiated The Ballerina’s release, the firm says, Bonati and John E. Harris Jr., who is in the aviation business, sprang a surprise: They said they “possessed numerous other rare and valuable paintings” by such masters as Goya, Raphael and Van Dyck that they wanted to bring into the United States. The law firm said that as further inducement to free The Ballerina, the men promised to pay a $1 million retainer for the firm’s help in transporting the other paintings and clearing them through customs once the Degas had been authenticated.

On Oct. 25, customs released The Ballerina — to the law firm. A dispute erupted almost immediately when Bonati tried to cancel the $1 million retainer agreement. With just days left before the painting was due at Sotheby’s, where “private collectors were eagerly awaiting its arrival,” Bonati said, he sued the law firm. He said it had refused to release the painting or honor his request to terminate the $1 million agreement.

A judge ordered the law firm to turn over The Ballerina by Nov. 1, on the condition Bonati post a $1 million bond with the court. According to firm’s countersuit against Bonati, the painting actually was released to him on or about Nov. 4 — the day it was supposed to be in New York. The law firm claims Bonati and Harris made it impossible to meet the original Oct. 1 deadline for The Ballerina’s release, thus costing the firm the $150,000 bonus. Not until after Oct. 1, the firm says, was it allowed access to a Bonati relative in Santiago who could attest that the painting had been in the family for years. The law firm also claims that Bonati, Harris and others never intended to pay the $1 million retainer. Instead, it says, they were using the The Ballerina as a “dry run,” trying to tap the firm’s knowledge and contacts so they could bring in the other 26 paintings themselves without the firm’s help. In talking to the firm’s private investigator, “Bonati and Harris proposed outlandish, unconventional and surreptitious methods of transporting these precious artworks from Chile to the United States, including suggestions such as … transporting them into the U.S. through the Bahamas in order to circumvent more stringent Custom’s in-country inspection standards,” the law firm says in its countersuit, filed last month in Miami-Dade circuit court.

Named as co-defendants are Harris; McInnis, who has a construction-related company in Gulf Shores, Ala.; Cameron Price, a West Point graduate who works for McInnis; and David Neely, a pilot who sometimes flies for Bonati. The law firm says all four had agreed to “participate in and fund financially the larger scale scheme to bring the other paintings into the United States for appraisal, evaluation and potential sale.” Neely said he was not the pilot on Aug. 29, has never been to Santiago and knows nothing about the paintings. McInnis did not return calls, and Price and Harris wouldn’t comment.

6 March

Sword crime spike among teenagers

DUBAI. Violent crimes involving swords are rising at alarming rates among teenagers, according to senior police officers and judges. Dubai Juvenile Court Judge Omar Karmastagy said he had seen a “remarkable” increase in the number of cases, most of which involved boys aged 14 to 17. The weapons were easily available, he said, and could be purchased without restriction at shops across the emirate, from outdoor souqs to grocery stores and malls.

Although exact statistics were not immediately available, several high-profile cases have surfaced in Dubai courts in recent months. Last month, three men were charged with assaulting a driver in Al Warqa, attacking him and his vehicle with swords. Two weeks earlier, a fishermen and two of his friends were accused of charging a group of men sitting outside their home with swords.

In late January, a salesman lost a finger and suffered nerve damage in his arm after he was attacked by the fiancé of a woman he had met. And in Ajman, a police officer was killed in a sword attack last month, prompting a month-long campaign there against the weapons.

In 2008, the Federal National Council’s Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs attempted to include bladed weapons in the UAE arms law. But according to Ali Majid al Matrooshi, the head of the committee, the Ministry of Interior removed the stipulation, saying it preferred the items to be under municipal control.

The boys who were involved in the killing of an Al Rashidiya schoolboy early last year used a sword they had bought from a busy Dubai market, along with an army knife from Saudi Arabia. Swords are largely sold as antiques or traditional items, especially in the Northern Emirates. But although they are dull in the stores, it is easy to have them sharpened. Tougher regulations and inspections have to be implemented by municipalities and economic departments in different emirates.

Since 2006, the municipality has banned other similar items from the market, such as BB guns. Law enforcement agencies have taken measures to guard against the proliferation of swords.

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Comments
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  2. What a nice blog! very informative and educational. it was really, really an antique. Continue posting an informative blog.

  3. […] Read the rest here: The Antique Trade March Blog « The Antique Trade Blog […]

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