A huge U.S. market for Greek antiquities

Marble funerary stele, 4th century BC.Marble funerary stele, 4th century BC. The lower part was excavated at Porto Raphti in Attica; the upper part was returned to Greece by Shelby White in 2008. Reconstruction by David Gill.

The US market for Greek antiquities has been strong for decades and shows little sign of abating.  Quantifying the flow of goods in an illicit market is difficult; nonetheless, a handful of important recent studies show how the US market for Greek antiquities remains robust.

In Vinnie Nørskov’s  qualitative and quantitative study of the sale of Greek vases, it is noted that  the market for Greek vases has grown steadily since the ‘50s, unprovenienced pieces making up 80-90% (see chapter 5, esp. fig74a, 75 79d). This trend can be seen to continue more recently. The half-year results  of antiquities sales from Sotheby’s and Christie’s in New York show that 2010 is ahead of the total sales for 2005, 2006 and 2009.
Nørskov, Vinnie. Greek Vases in New Contexts: the Collecting and Trading of Greek Vases : an Aspect of the Modern Reception of Antiquity.  Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2002.

Ebay has emerged as a new and rapidly growing venue of the antiquities market. Greek antiquities make up a considerable share of the materials available on the auction site on any given day. Although historically “bricks and mortar” auction houses such as Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Bonhams offer on-line auctions, their trade is dwarfed by that on the eBay site. Because of the continuous flow of auctions on eBay and because of the lack of archiving of sales, confirmed or offered, quantitative research is almost impossible.  Moreover, there is no data on the ultimate destination of objects sold on eBay, to the US or otherwise.  However, in the consideration of eBay as an aspect of the market for Greek antiquities in the US, it should be noted that profits at eBay, in the 2nd quarter of 2010, have beaten estimates, achieving record performance.

During the recent bear market in the US, some sources see Greek antiquities as a wise investment!