About the Author
Neil Brodie is Director of Cultural Heritage Resource, Stanford University Archaeology Center
The Egyptian Predynastic site of Ma’adi was excavated from the 1930s through to the 1950s, and full publication in a series of monographs is still ongoing. Sometime in 2002, 70 artifacts from Ma’adi were stolen from storage in Cairo University. Five stone and two ceramic vessels turned up for sale at Bonhams in their October 2004 London “Antiquities” sale (lots 1–4, 6, 8 & 9), but were recognized by Egyptologist Luc Watrin who alerted Bonhams and stopped their sale. The vessels were said to have been sold to the consignor by the grandson of one Joseph Garnish, who was said in turn to have acquired them while working in Cairo for a mining company in the 1930s. Bonhams arranged with the consignor that the pieces should be returned to Egypt, and they were delivered to the Egyptian Embassy in London in February. The identity of the consignor was not revealed. Another Ma’adi piece was sold for $6,573 through Christie’s New York at their June 2004 “Antiquities” sale. It was lot 99, “An Egyptian rose granite vessel”, said to have been excavated at Ma’adi and in the Garnish collection since the 1930s. The purchaser (whose name was not revealed) offered the piece on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, whereupon the Metropolitan’s staff recognized the piece as stolen, and arranged with the owner for it to be returned to Egypt.
In 2004 a large number of Ma’adi pots appeared for sale on various websites. Part of the Ma’adi ceramic assemblage was published in 1987 (I. Rizkana & J. Seeher, Maadi I. The Pottery of the Predynastic Settlement, Mainz am Rhein: Philipp von Zabern), and on page 13 the authors state that their study of the pottery took place in 1984 and 1985, at which time the pottery was still in storage at the site. Therefore, any pottery from the publication can only have moved out of Egypt after 1983, the date of Egypt’s patrimony law. The pots offered for sale on the Internet were advertised with photographs, and sometimes an excavation number was provided, in which cases they were easy to check against the Rizkana & Seeher publication. One pot, offered for sale by Michigan-based Orpheus Art with the description “Predynastic opium poppy vase” (item no. 90069), had the excavation number 1915 and was been identified as Rizkana & Seeher plate 2.8. Its provenance was given as “Johnson family collection, excavated in Egypt approx. 1932”. All of the Ma’adi pots offered for sale had the same Johnson provenance. By 2005 piece no. 90069 had been sold, and Orpheus Art disappeared from the Internet in 2006.
An apparent link between the Johnson family and Joseph Garnish was provided in 2004 for a pot offered for sale at the Wallis Gallery of Antiquities. The previous owner was identified as the proprietor of Washington DC-based Sands of Time Antiquities, who was said to have acquired the piece in 2003. Sometime previously, it had been in the possession of Edward Johnson, who was said to be the grandson of Joseph Garner (sic.), who had acquired the piece while working on a mining project in Cairo during the 1930s. Thus the Garnish/Garner–Johnson pedigree was a false provenance constructed to cover the entry onto the market of material illegally exported from Egypt, and any object bearing that provenance must be viewed as suspect.
When the proprietor of the Wallis Gallery became aware of the question-mark hanging over his piece he returned it to Sands of Time. In turn, Sands of Time started working with the Art Loss Register to recover stolen material.