Monday, 23 February 2015

Now that's what I call a mark-up!

Authentic lamp (Christie's)
Ancient lamps made from "bronze" (or to be more technically accurate, copper alloy) can fetch a good price on the antiquities market but real examples that allow the trade a reasonable profit margin can be hard to come by. However, one "leading" antiquities dealer in London - Artemission, owned by Antoine Karawani, a committee member of the Association of International Antiquities Dealers (AIAD) - seems to have chanced on a remarkable supply. It must be a pretty large and pretty old supply because they have been selling a substantial quantity of their distinctive bronze lamps with a curiously uniform 'patina' for some years. Unfortunately for their customers, there is a slight hitch  ...

The Bulgarians have been making fake Roman bronze lamps for years. At first, they tried selling them as the real thing on eBay and other outlets - but most of them are blindingly obvious rubbish, buyers eventually got wise to them, and many are nowadays openly sold as "replicas" (though of course for much lower prices than real ones).

They are very recognisable. Here's one of them, sold for $24.99 in 2011 ...



An amazingly similar lamp turns up in Artemission's magic supply. All they have to do is plunk it on their posh website selling "Antiquities and Ancient Art", describe it as "Roman Bronze Oil Lamp ... c.1st Century A.D." and ask their customers for $1,800 ...



Not bad - but Artemission can do better than that. Here's another Bulgarian bronze lamp on eBay - sold openly as "modern" ...



And here's another one (though this one was mistakenly offered as genuine and crazily priced) ...



The eBay example failed to attract any bids at $99. But not to worry, Artemission come across a more refined version (the Bulgarian repertoire offers slight variations) in their legendary supply. Okay, it's still got big unarticulated eyes, tiny pointed ears, and that silly meaningless* lug on its forehead - so still pretty obvious it's rubbish - but it's got a nicer base. Add a little elbow grease and the fake patina is much prettier too. Just plunk it on the posh website, describe it as "Roman Oil Lamp ... c.1st Century A.D." and for this one, ask your customers for $2,500 ...



Hey, that's not bad at all. Assuming Artemission bought them at the going rate - or maybe a bit cheaper with trade discount - so far that's a profit margin of about 97% or over $4,100 profit on just two lamps alone.

Sadly, life is not always so good and sometimes the dealer has to be less ambitious. Well, let's be honest, this Bulgarian monstrosity (below) is even less convincing than the first two and even a punter with one glass eye and a patch over the good eye ain't going to be fooled by it. Even the Bulgarian sellers ask only around $25 for this sort of grade. But Artemission innocently grab one from the uglier part of their supply, plunk it on eBay instead of their website, describe it as "Byzantine Bronze Oil Lamp ... c.6th-8th Century A.D." and ask a mere $500 ...



I'm not vindictive but I do get tired of seeing this rubbish from them year after year. We have to be charitable and assume either that despite his "over 40 years" in the business, Karawani is astonishingly naive or that his eyesight is no longer what it used to be. Of course, there is a possibility that if his customers ever find out he sold them fakes at high prices and suspect he actually knew very well what he was doing, they may take a somewhat dimmer view.

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* The lugs on real lamps are meant for hanging chains from; thus they tend to be flat and of course pierced. The central protrusion on the hair of the genuine lamp shown at top left is in fact a lidded filling-hole, so not a lug at all in this case.

Note: Apart from the first lamp shown at top left, ALL the lamps illustrating this post are demonstrably modern. 


4 comments :

Pieter Hendriks said...

Greetings

This Artemission company is maybe a big business with many employed there and maybe Mr Karawani he is not very “hands on” and mistakes as you show are made by others who work there who not have so much expert knowlege??? Another possibility, he must surely be very expert after so many years in the business and could be these Roman oil lamps are good. So, to be fair, invite him to respond? Who knows, maybe he can bring forward good evidences and show that these are not forgeries.

Best regards,

Piet H.

David Knell said...

Piet,

I wouldn't dream of condemning a dealer's stock as fakes on my blog unless I was absolutely 100% certain that they are. Nor would I make it public unless it was a persistent trend and not just an occasional slip-up. Sadly, the three lamps I chose are only the tip of a problem that has persisted for years in this case.

I doubt that Artemission employs more than one or two staff and I'm sure the owner would vet any items for sale. My blog post has been prominently announced on an online list that Karawani frequents; he is more than welcome to respond.

Cora Berger said...



Very good and informative article. Artemission not only sells fake bronze lamps with great success and high profit, but has had over the years a well-stocked supply of the Bulgarian and Far Eastern replica manufacturers in its range. His profit in nearly all counterfeits was and is still astronomical. And all under the cover of AIAD.By the way the AIAD was informed but shrouded in silence. Cora from Germany

Pieter Hendriks said...

Greetings again,

I follow up on my comment from before . I made enquiry by contacting some many collectors and have now been shown many photographs and screenshots. Also there is new evidence on the Yahoo Ancientartifacts discussion group. http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Ancientartifacts/

So I must now take back my suggestion to invite him to defence of these artifacts . There are only two explanations. He either knows very little about ancient artifacts and has not the ability to tell a forgery from an authentic one, OR the many opinions I have heard of fraud are true.

I have now my own conclusion and it is a bad bad feeling it leaves with me. He is one of the executive committee members of the trade organisation A.I.A.D http://aiad.org.uk/about-us/aiad-executive-committee/ which sells itself with such good words as “AIAD is an association of dealers in antiquities ……whose aim is to promote responsible antiquities dealing and to provide a support network and means of exchanging relevant information about fakes, forgeries, fraudulent misrepresentation ……” This is bad bad bad.

Best regards,

Piet H.

PS: Here another lamp you missed out from. Made in Bulgaria? In last decade. Made so bad is "home- made"??

http://www.artemission.com/ViewItemDetails.aspx?ItemNumber=23.20329

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