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Gary Stover
Provenance, Provenance, Provenance
Fri Jan 11, 2019 10:39

There are as many mistakes made over misdiagnosed provenance as there are over mistakes made by experts examining an object. At the same time, provenance on the photo of Wyatt and Bat we've been discussing is not only unknown, it has been fabricated as cover by someone. Yet, we do know that it depicts those 2 gentlemen. Belief in the power of provenance led western researchers to conclude that the 2 Charles Dearborn photos were Wyatt and that the Arthur Mitchell photo was Urilla Sutherland. They were misled by a belief in the power of provenance. I've spent a lifetime buying and selling pre-Renaissance Italian paintings. Sometimes a painting comes up for sale that was commissioned for a church in the 15th century and is still in the same chapel in that church today. Perfect provenance, right? Problem is that no one stood guard over that painting night and day to ensure someone didn't come in and replace it with a copy. There are cases where the consensus is that that is exactly what happened, possibly as long ago as in the 15th century.

Because I've now done about 500 programs on antiques on Youtube I receive inquiries from people all over the world who are convinced they own a rare antique. Rarely is it true. The first job of the researcher is to examine an item to determine if it's genuine. Had that been done with the Dearborn and Mitchell photos, then provenance would not have come up. Because researchers often lack the tools to conduct a thorough enough examination, they resort to provenance, which has as many pitfalls as the examination itself.

Fakes and reproductions abound, but it's not a new phenomenon. There's not an expert alive who would sign off on a Salvador Dali print without rock solid provenance. The fakes are that good. It's nice to have great provenance, but thousands of antiques get sold every day with no provenance whatsoever. Often times we can tell by thorough examination of an item whether or not it is right. Sometimes that analysis can be augmented by provenance, not just to make a stronger case but also to show that the item has not been stolen. But sometimes provenance is lost to history. That doesn't mean that the piece is not right. If just means that we don't know how it got to the place where it now resides.

It's not only FRT that is enhancing our ability to make sounder judgments. We can now examine paints and other materials non-invasively to determine chemical composition. We have access today to these as well as many other tools that no one dreamed of 40 years ago, and these tools can help us take another look at long held beliefs, which is obviously what we should do.

In the end people make their own judgments, and the market decides. I wouldn't have paid $200,000+ for the "Wyatt" pistol from the Boyer estate. Would you? Someone did. John Boessenecker wrote a long description for Heritage Auctions for a Virgil Earp reversible Constable badge. It didn't sell, although someone told me John bought it in the after market, thus standing behind his authentication. I wouldn't bet against John Boessenecker, but I didn't bid on the Virgil badge, either. There are no real rules in this game. Each case is different, and each player values his own judgment over all others. Looked at from this point of view, there really ain't nothin' new on planet earth.

  • Re: FRT Wayne Sanderson, Thu Jan 10 23:25
    Students of the history of criminology and law enforcement will tell you that this matter came to a head over a century ago and it was settled then in favor or more reliable means of identification.... more
    • Provenance, Provenance, Provenance — Gary Stover, Fri Jan 11 10:39
      • Re: Provenance, Provenance, ProvenanceWayne Sanderson, Fri Jan 11 21:50
        I understand the point you are making, even as you use an example that does more to make my point than yours. The provenance that tends to support the authenticity of an apparent work of an old... more
    • Re: FRT Anonymous, Thu Jan 10 23:26
      I had meant to post a link for those who wanted to see for themselves what Bertillon was. Here it is.... more
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