The Red List is likely to be an effective way to help deter the trade in looted antiquities whether in London or elsewhere or even when dubious pieces re-emerge at a later stage. Most reputable dealers and galleries will be alert to the items listed and serious collectors are likely to want to do the same. Other similar records exist. The Art Loss Register (www.artloss.com), for example, is
the world’ largest database of stolen art.
More generally, however, collectors of antiquity are advised to be alert to artefacts which do not have a credible provenance and to carry out deeper due
diligence when dealing with artefacts from the Levant region. Some looted pieces which find their way to London are likely to be passed off as Greek or Persian or as having been held in a family collection for some time. Serious collectors may be able to distinguish Greek pieces from those of Mesopotamia more easily than less knowledgeable collectors but anyone looking to spend tens
of thousands or even hundreds of thousands on an ancient treasure should be consulting with art specialists or at least make reference to a specialist compendium.
Collectors should also ask to see a verifiable paperwork trail which can account or corroborate the history of the piece in question. Pricing can sometimes raise suspicions too. Many of the pieces looted in Syria and Iraq, even very small pieces like writing instruments, are likely to be worth hundreds of thousands pounds. Anything asked below these sums should immediately raise red flags in
the mind of the prudent collector.
While it may be difficult ultimately to prove provenance, buyers and collectors may want to consider that unconvincing provenance is not likely to find favour with reputable auction houses or with insurers who will most likely stay away from such pieces, making ownership of such pieces in the first place a less attractive proposition. It is certainly true that auction houses such as Christie’s
and Sotherby’s are more skillful at spotting a forgery or an archeological treasure with dubious provenance but buyers cannot assume that a purchase from an auction house offers them 100% protection. Auction houses, too, have their limits and their due diligence may be carefully caveated allowing them to avoid future responsibility should a piece subsequently be identified as looted or
In the end, the irony is that the inevitable proliferation of these rare treasures is likely to be the reason why savvy collectors and investors will choose to stay away from them. It may be difficult to prevent trade between unscrupulous dealers and reckless buyers at every conceivable corner, but collectors will be alert to the increased volume in the market of artefacts with dubious provenance
and will simply not want to take an unquantifiable risk. The market for these treasures is small at best and a reputation for dealing in looted antiquities will be difficult to shake off. It seems, therefore, that until the law can be enforced more effectively, the market will have to rely on self-regulation.