2016 : April Notes From An Appraiser

I received a telephone call from an individual that wanted to donate a collection of Chinese Neolithic (8000 – 2000 BC) pottery to a charitable 501c organization. This seemingly innocent request for an appraisal for charitable contribution tax reporting purposes led me, and my client, down an interesting cobblestone path.

To donate Chinese art dating to before 907 CE, to a charitable 501c organization in this country, one needs to have imported it into the US before 1970.

To explain the 1970 date, that is when the notorious UNESCO Treaty on Cultural Patrimony was enacted in Paris. The US did not ratify it until the late 1980s (1989?) but the two Museum Organizations, Association of American Museum Directors (AAMD) and the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), have taken the most conservative approach to the issue, apparently to avoid any appearance of impropriety, and any chance of legal hassles, that could generate bad publicity for the museums and their Board of Directors.

There is an odd group of material dating to before 907 CE that was imported into the US legally after 1970 that can be:
(a) legally sold,
(b) legally exported
(c) legally imported, and
(d) legally donated to a foreign museum,
in return for a US Tax deduction.

This odd group of material is legal, but cannot be donated to US museums because the Association of American Museum Directors (AAMD) and the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) have passed “regulations” prohibiting their members from buying, taking as donations or even taking on loan, any Chinese material that was not legally imported into the US before 1970. One term used for this large group of material is “Orphan Art”.

Legally donated to a foreign museum in return for a US tax deduction? Really? Yes. For example, there is the American Friends of Shanghai Museum http://www.shanghaimuseum.org/index.htm. That organization is legally able to give an individual a US tax deduction (based on the owner getting an appraisal) and then they (American Friends of Shanghai Museum) either ship the material back to China, or they sell it at auction. My client’s property was not unique compared to the material Shanghai Museum already has so it would be sold.

How does this effect value? The material imported that dates to before 907 AD, exists in a state of limbo. When sold at auction, value is a third to a half less than if import could be dated to before 1970. The same is true at galleries. An informed collector would stay away from this orphan art. It also presents difficulties in scholarship and research. I was told by a scholar of Chinese bronze, not to bother contacting him if the material did not have proper documentation and provenance. The legal issues abound.