Friday, January 29, 2010

Antiquities market: Celtic Armadillos, Nilotic Fish, and a Bright Blue Shabti

Maine Antique Digest (Ian McKay)

The market in antiquities is one that continues to hold up strongly in the face of what remain difficult economic times for some markets, not to mention stricter export laws and regulations on what can and cannot be sold. Sotheby's no longer holds antiquities sale in London, but Bonhams and Christies are doubtless happy to take full advantage of that, and as was the case last April, their October 2009 auctions saw healthy sales by lot as well as some strong prices. Sound, or at least old Western provenance was again a key selling point. . . .

The real surprise in the Bonhams sale, however, was to be found among the Egyptian pieces—a bright blue-glazed composition royal shabti of the 19th Dynasty, circa 1279 B.C. It was one of a number of shabtis, or funerary figures, in a property sent to auction by an American couple who began buying antiquities in the 1970's from British and U.S. salesrooms and dealers. They clearly had a particular passion for Egyptian pieces and this 5½" high figure, its back inscribed with six bands of hieroglyphs for King Menmaatre, or Seti I, an Egyptian pharaoh whose tomb in the Valley of the Kings was found in 1817 by the great Giovanni Battista Belzoni, a circus strongman and showman turned engineer, explorer, and amateur archaeologist.

Like the canine cameo, this was valued at $10,000 or thereabouts, but that possible Belzoni provenance and its association with one of the better-known pharaohs seems to have worked a potent spell.

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