May 29, 2009

Voluntary Returns

A couple interesting returns of objects, both of which which appear to be completely voluntary.

First is a letter by Abraham Lincoln:

An extremely valuable letter by Abraham Lincoln dated November 14, 1863 -- missing from public records for maybe 100 years -- has been donated today by a private collector to the National Archives.
The brief note on Executive Mansion letterhead in the President's handwriting signed "A.Lincoln" was sent to Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase. It was written five days before Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, providing insight into the president's regard for a personal friend and his interest in West Coast politics even in the midst of the Civil War.

National Archivists discovered the Lincoln letter being sold online in 2006. It originally had been torn or fallen from an 1880 bound volume of government correspondence to the Treasury Department. There is no evidence that the letter was ever stolen, and how it went missing remains a mystery.
When contacted by Archivists, the letter's owner, Lawrence Cutler, a private collector in Tempe, Arizona decided to donate it during the bicentennial of Lincoln's birthday. Cutler  would not disclose what he paid for the letter at auction three years ago, but said a similar Lincoln letter sold for $78,000.

The next is a group of objects donated to Eton College, which have been returned to Egypt:


Four sons of Horus, New Kingdom, 19th Dynasty or later after ca 1295 B.C.
Four sons of Horus, New Kingdom, 19th Dynasty or later after ca 1295 B.C.
LONDON. Eton College, in the south of England, has returned more than 450 antiquities to Egypt, after it was realised that many had probably been illegally exported. Last month we reported that the main part of the school’s collection, bequeathed to the school by Major William Myers in 1899, is going on long-term loan to Birmingham University in the UK and Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University in the US (The Art Newspaper, May 2009, p7).
The returned antiquities had been donated to Eton over a century later, in 2006, by the family of the late Ron Davey, a London-based Egyptologist. He in turn had received most of them as a bequest from his friend, Peter Webb, who had died in 1992.

When the antiquities arrived at Eton three years ago, they were examined by curator Dr Nicholas Reeves. The donation comprised 454 items, including ushabti figurines, beads and amulets, textile fragments, potsherds, coins and other small objects.

Both the letter and the Egyptian antiquities do not seem to be terribly valuable, but the individual dealer and Eton College have both seemingly unilaterally decided to return the objects to their proper stewards.  But one wonders if either the letter or the antiquities are particularly valuable or noteworthy.  If they had been, would the decision to return them been more difficult?  I think it probably would have been.

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