Buying ancient art


Aegean Neolithic marble idol from the 5th millennium BC

Buying ancient art can be a tricky operation, particularly in terms of authenticity. We asked specialist in ancient art Rupert Wace from Rupert Wace Ancient Art about some of the risks when investing in ancient art.

Complete beginners questions:

  • I love the idea of owning ancient art – and there is a period that I am particularly interested in – how should I start?

“Get started by visiting museums, pick up a few books on the subject and devote some time to finding a dealer you like and trust.”


  • How can I find a reputable dealer?

“It’s best to look for members of IADAA (The International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art). The IADAA is the international association of dealers in works of ancient art with high ethical standards.”


  • What one piece of advice would you give to someone looking to buy?

“Buy things you like!”


  • Are all old things valuable? (i.e., what affects individual values – craftsmanship etc.)

“Not always – just because a piece is 1,000 years old does not make it valuable; look instead for quality, rarity, condition and aesthetic when considering a purchase.”


  • What factors drive the price of ancient art (is the market much more stable than that of modern art)?

“Yes it is, historically the ancient art market is much more stable, but it does have its ups and downs – like any other market.”


  • When most people think of ancient art they naturally think of Egyptian, Roman and Greek works, is this a fair representation?

“As far as we are a gallery are concerned, it is a fair representation, although we do also represent northern European ancient art.”


  • Do you have a favourite piece in your gallery at the moment? Or is there a piece in your collection that you find most exciting?

“That is a very difficult question! At the moment we have an Aegean Neolithic marble idol from the 5th millennium BC (see image).”


Aegean Neolithic marble idol from the 5th millennium BC

Aegean Neolithic marble idol from the 5th millennium BC

The market and risks:


  • What is the biggest risk that buyers face? (Thoughts: storage/transport/forfeiture/fakes/tax smuggling etc.)

“The biggest risks are most likely forgery and provenance issues, apart from those the risks are the same as any other area of the art market.”


  • Are there any risks that buyers tend to forget/neglect?

“Not really, it depends on the piece in question.”


  • Are we seeing more people try and create fakes?

“It has always been an issue, but modern science can help more than previously.”


  • We all know stories of works being faked, how do you spot them? ?

“Modern science where possible can identify fake materials or dating, and the appropriate kind of serious experience is also important.”


  • Can anyone trust experts?

“No one is infallible – but some ‘experts’ are certainly better than others.”


  • How can you find out if a work has been stolen/exported illegally? (Or is simply a matter of buying from reputable dealers?)

“If a reputable dealer is to have established all good title issues before buying, let alone selling, then this should not be an issue.”


  • More countries are trying to enforce International Cultural Heritage Law (we have seen this with Egypt asking the US for import protection)  – is this a positive thing for collectors (as it makes the number of pieces in the market smaller, removes stolen artefacts from market, etc) or negative (threat of forfeiture, ability to move pieces) for collectors?

“No serious collector or reputable dealer wants to handle anything that may be illegally on the market, nor would they condone looting or smuggling.”


  • How easy is it to move pieces across borders? (i.e. someone buying in UK but living abroad – tax and shipping)?

“Tax should not be an issue and shipping is generally quite straightforward, although export licences and other relevant paperwork need to be in order. A reputable dealer can arrange all of this for the client.”


This interview was with Rupert Wace from Rupert Wace Ancient Art, if you would like more information please visit the website