So what is due diligence?

So what is due diligence?

How do those buying antiquities protect themselves and the public?

Anyone buying items online needs to ensure that what they are paying for is genuine and that the seller has the right to sell them. That’s true for ordinary household goods and consumer wares, and especially true when it comes to the trade in antiquities.

The two trade associations supporting the Antiquities Forum, the UK-based Antiquities Dealers’ Association (ADA) and the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA), have long pioneered policy on this. Having a clear and effective crime-prevention policy is the best way of safeguarding their members and their members’ reputation, as well as boosting confidence in the trade among the public. It is also essential for preventing ancient artefacts being exploited by the unscrupulous.

In doing this, the two essential considerations are Provenance and Due Diligence. But what do they mean?

Provenance is the history of an object, tracing its ownership back as far as possible to ensure that it remains an item that can legitimately be traded. The ADA sets out a detailed summary of the different types of provenance an object can have, what that means and why it is important, on this website.

Due diligence, meanwhile, is the process which trade professionals undertake to ensure that the items they are handling are authentic and can be traded legitimately. It is important to remember that in the event of any legal dispute, the effectiveness of the due diligence undertaken by those responsible will be taken into account.

Effective due diligence is a vital part of protecting traders’ good reputations, which are essential for success in business.

What the associations have to say

The ADA sets out the process of due diligence for its members as follows:

Before offering property for sale, members must be satisfied that they have conducted the level of due diligence required to establish that the property they are handling is authentic and that there are no known legal obstacles to selling and passing title.

The ADA requires members to adhere to the relevant domestic and international laws that govern the markets for archaeological and ancient property and, in many respects, ADA standards go beyond the legal requirements.

If members are not certain as to the laws of a particular jurisdiction, or their application to a specific item, please consult the ADA Council for advice.

Members must act in good faith throughout all transactions.

Members should record each transaction with diligence and keep records for a minimum of 6 years.

Where a member is buying from another dealer or an auction house then the member should record the transaction and note the provenance as provided. Some items will have more detailed provenance than others.

Where a member is buying from a person other than a dealer or an auction house then the member should establish the identity of the vendor. Unless the vendor is well known to the dealer, where an item is worth over £3,000 then member should request photographic identification and if practical take and retain a copy of it. Members should obtain in writing:

  1. The name and address of the vendor;
  2. A warranty that the vendor has good title to the objects;
  3. Confirmation of where, when and how the vendor obtained the objects, as can be provided by the vendor;
  4. Where the vendor acquired the objects outside the United Kingdom, confirmation that the item has been exported or imported in conformity with local laws and where available evidence of that.

In addition, wherever possible members should arrange payment by a method that leaves an audit.

Lawful Trading

Members undertake to carry out due diligence, as set out under this Code, to ensure, as far as they are able, that objects in which they trade were not stolen from excavations, architectural monuments, public institutions or private property and are lawfully on the market for sale.

Members will make all reasonable enquiries to ascertain earlier ownership history of any object they are considering purchasing, mindful that the illicit removal of archaeological objects from their original context is damaging to our knowledge and understanding of the past.

Members have a duty to record and preserve relevant prior ownership history of an object along with any evidence supplied.

Stolen Art Databases 

“It is a condition of membership that all goods acquired at the purchase price of £3,000 or more be checked with an appropriate stolen art database, unless they have already been so checked.’

No system is perfect and many items have very little documented information establishing a detailed history going back decades or longer. This does not necessarily mean that there is anything wrong as there can be a number of valid reasons for this: for instance, paperwork may have been lost or not kept – in the past, such information was not deemed important, as it is today.

As can be seen from the due diligence requirements set out above, however, a higher level of checking is demanded for higher value items.

Market professionals also tend to have effective antennae for picking up ‘red flags’. Remember, just like anyone else, they do not want to hand over ready money for something that may later turn out to be a problem.

Additional things they look out for include items that are significantly under-priced, as this may point to someone handling stolen goods trying to offload them. Another thing to check is how credible the seller is as a source of the material being offered.

The ADA and IADAA have both been proactive in developing due diligence over the years. Indeed, UNESCO’s code of conduct in this field was based on the earlier code published by IADAA.

Both the ADA and IADAA provide further advice on their websites at and