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Antiquities Trafficking Remains Under-Reported

April 5, 2018

 In Parts I, II, and III, we recapped Nancy Wiener’s case, examined the art market, and analyzed the due diligence processes that accompany any transaction involving antiquities. On April 3, Wiener returned to court, the judge continued her bail, and scheduled her next appearance for September 12, 2018. We will add additional information as soon as it becomes available. Here, we offer some concluding thoughts on the illicit antiquities trade.

The illicit antiquities trade is an issue that deserves greater and wider public attention than it currently receives. Besides the public perception that the trade in illicit antiquities is a “victimless crime,” most of the ink spilled on the topic of is dedicated to high-profile cases of Nazi looted art or terrorist financing for organizations like Daesh (ISIS). Yet arguably, the lifeblood of the contemporary antiquities trade stems from artifacts like the ones sold by Wiener: commanding high values (but rarely so astronomically high as to grab headlines), sold “clean” to end-buyers on the legitimate art market through prestigious auction houses and otherwise reputable dealers to museums and private collectors, and originating from far-flung areas of the world (the so-called “Wild East”) to which the general public has little cause or want to pay close attention.

This year Asia Week has reached its highest sales totaling $423 Million, with over $406 million from Sotheby’s New York, Christie’s New York, Bonham’s New York, Doyle New York, and iGavel, Inc. This festival is an important part of celebrating Asian art and culture on an international level. However, in the past, we’ve seen that it has also proven to be a conducive environment for the illegal, profiteering actions of those engaged in the illicit antiquities trade.

We should also not let bad actors taint the fundamentally optimistic, collaborative spirit behind Asia Week and similar events. However, amidst the gleeful reports of ever-increasing sales records, let us take care to ensure that we are not complicit in the destruction of the very cultures we claim to celebrate and value.

This is a guest post by our intern Nicole Ong. Nicole is currently a student at Georgetown University, earning a degree in International Relations. If you’re interested in interning with the Antiquities Coalition, please email