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The 19th dynasty artefact was the top lot at the controversial auction of antiquities from the Charterhouse School museum last week, selling to a Geneva museum via an intermediary for £160,000.

The reputation of the antiquities trade had been given a boost on Monday when the Greek cultural attaché praised London dealer James Ede, vice chairman of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art, for handing back a first century BC stone stele, valued at around £20,000, which he discovered had been stolen from the Archaeological Museum of Thebes in the 1980s. But on Thursday the Egyptian cultural attaché, Dr Nader Matter, announced that his government was seeking an injunction on the sale of the 19th dynasty bust because it had been originally granted licence for export in 1905 on the understanding that it would never be sold for gain.

The bust had been donated to the public school by the Egypt Exploration Society shortly after they returned to Britain with a small percent-age of the artefacts excavated on behalf of the Egyptian

“We are trying to stop the sale but unfortunately the Exploration Society are not showing us the terms of their bequest to the school,” said Dr Matter. “But we are getting a copy of the original agreement made between our government and the Society.”

Dr Matter said that he did not care whether the bust went to Geneva rather than Egypt, just so long as no-one made a profit. “They (Charterhouse) are going to build a library with the proceeds. It is immoral. If they cannot keep the bust in the museum, then it should go back to the original owner or be gifted to another museum,” he said.


The controversy raises the question as to whether other artefacts traded in good faith are subject to similar conditions unbeknown to their purchasers.

The Egyptian claims were shrugged off by James Ede as “clearly ridiculous”. The London dealer suggested that attempts by honest dealers to identify stolen goods were hindered by government incompetence and the suspicion of archaeologists. He illustrated his argument by referring to the stele he had just returned. “In all likelihood the stele would not have been returned had not an academic hinted to me during the course of my research that it had been stolen,” said Mr Ede. The stele had not shown up on the Art Loss Register because the Greek authorities had not reported it missing. Bonhams, acting in good faith, originally sold the stele last year. They were reported to have reimbursed Mr Ede.