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Responsible Collecting

The ethical approach to your interest in antiquities

No other area of the international art market attracts more critical scrutiny than antiquities. This is both good and bad: good, because it means that those who wish to involve themselves in this area of the market legitimately, as a dealer, auction house specialist or collector, must uphold the highest standards of honesty and probity; bad, because whilst no walk of life is immune from criticism, many of the brickbats aimed at antiquities dealers and collectors are unwarranted propaganda, emanating from those who disapprove of the private ownership of ancient artefacts and will do all they can to put an end to it, regardless of the facts.

Many of the world’s most valued historical artefacts come from what are now conflict zones. As we have seen in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, refugees and those active in the conflict needing to raise money have every motive to exploit the cultural heritage of those regions. Any looting or illegal exports that result not only damage the heritage and cultural fabric of those countries, they also blight the rest of the world as they risk infiltrating the legitimate market.

Where tainted property merges with artefacts that have been honestly acquired, the taint spreads. The nature of antiquities and long history of collecting means that many items either never had or do not retain documentary evidence tracing them back to their source, detailing excavation, original sale and the trail of ownership since. That does not make them illicit, but these ‘orphan’ works, as they are known, create a flashpoint between the trade and the worlds of academia and archaeology. Academics and archaeologists argue that ‘orphans’ mask the illicit trade in stolen, looted and illegally exported items, as well as fakes. Many on that side of the argument want to reverse the default human right of innocent until proven guilty when it comes to antiquities; in other words, they say, artefacts should be considered stolen or fake unless it can be shown incontrovertibly, using documentary evidence, that they are genuine and have been honestly come by.

While this debate has raged for decades, it has come ever more into focus in the fight against ISIS and other terrorist organisations setting out to exploit the lands they have conquered in the Near and Middle East.

All of this explains why the Antiquities Dealers’ Association has spent so much time and effort raising standards, working with politicians and law enforcement, as well as with the industry’s sternest critics, to lead the way in defeating the wrongdoers. No one else has more incentive to do so, because it is the reputation of honest dealers, auction house specialists and collectors that suffers when the criminals prosper.

We ask you to take all of the above into serious consideration when starting or developing a collection of antiquities. This website has a wealth of helpful information and advice, such as in the Frequently Asked Questions section, that you can use to ensure that your approach to collecting is safe, responsible and ethical.

Those who are interested in collecting antiquities are generally attracted by their historical and social significance. The ADA wants that to remain the focus of collecting in this sphere. Source your purchases from reputable dealers that are members of an association like this one that enforces a Code of Conduct as rigorous as that published on this site. Do your utmost to establish a clear provenance for the items you buy and keep clear records of their history of ownership. Take appropriate professional advice when you need it and acquaint yourself with the rules that govern the field you are interested in.

Conduct your collecting along these lines and you should have an enjoyable and rewarding time of it. Meanwhile, our work towards further improvements continues so that a responsible, ethically driven antiquities market prospers for a long time to come.

As our website home page states, the ADA

  • has a passion for antiquities
  • is dedicated to protecting heritage
  • has a respect for scholarship

We also work with parliament and law enforcement because WE WANT TO PROTECT THE PAST FOR THE FUTURE.