Problems at The Art Loss Register

I'll blog this properly when I'm back on a laptop, but I recommend this article highly to anyone interested in Cultural Property. Two journalists from the New York Times finally did an expose of The Art Loss Register:


My experience of them has been a joke.

Last year I found a Greek vase that had been stolen decades ago from a small museum in Britain.

I Googled the description and it came up on an art dealer's web site.

The 'return' of the vase was slightly complicated partly by an academic who had written their thesis on the painter saying that this was the other of two vases by him with this subject - ie the one that was not stolen - which turned out to be incorrect.

And mostly by The Art Loss Register.

I wanted to go through Interpol if the dealer wouldn't return the vase - although both he and the Swiss dealer than had sold it to him were going out of their way to co-operate. The Art Loss Register like to give the impression that they are the police. They are not.

Luckily they 'saved the day' in this case and got the vase returned to the museum.

Did I mention that they had charged the museum to list the vase in their database? AND that they had charged the dealer to buy a certificate of them to 'prove' that the vase was not in their database? (Most dealers' associations require certificates from the Art Loss Register for items over a certain value).

The best bit? They charged the museum to negotiate for the return of the vase.

The police don't charge people to help with crimes. The Art Loss Register repeatedly charged the museum and the dealer over one small vase.

My favourite part? I love the way the ALR claim they found the vase not me.


  1. I can understand your frustration. But it might be worth thinking a bit more about the notion that the police don't charge people to help with crimes. Technically that is true, but you, I, and everyone else are charged -- in the form of taxes to pay for the salaries etc. that are required to enable the police to exist and be able to fight crime, art crime included. Unfortunately, our politicians have not seen fit to adequately fund the police to pay for the kind of information-gathering that they could otherwise do instead of the ALR. The solution has to be some better funding mechanism than the privatized one the ALR represents. One answer, which I have been beating drums for for several years now, would be to impose a "user-fee" tax on sales of antiquities above a certain threshold price, with the proceeds dedicated to improved policing of the market (including a registry, but also one hopes including things like providing bullets to site guards in Egypt, where as I just noted in my blog someone reported the guards ran out of bullets and were driven off by a gang that is now looting the site).

  2. I will do a fuller post, and hopefully answer some of your questions in it. This is a very quick via Blackberry reply, and only meant to be rude about the ALR and not your question (just to be clear):

    I gave a specific example of the ALR messing up repeatedly, and charging people more money to fix the mess they had created - and billing people for MY work.

    I find it vaguely amusing when people setting up a database try to imply credit for themselves for my work at Loot Busters - and yes, I could cite an example, but would rather ignore the idiots. I find it dishonest when a profit-making business not only claims the credit for my work, but bills people for it. So in my book, that makes the ALR crooked.

    Yes, I am aware of another database in the works, but since it is funded by a dealer that I would trust as far as I can throw, I assume others will see through it soon enough.

    I know you joined one of the Libyan archaelogy groups on Facebook and were asking questions about Cyrene etc a while back. ( Also, I would have hoped that you would have given up on the idea that the US should police the world, but then I worry about putting bullets in the wrong hands, and I guess political differences make the world go round). I had hoped you would have seen in that group that that looted head was easily returned when real academics in the UK (Hafed Walda, me) put in the work, not pseudo-faux cops.

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