November 6, 2002
A letter dating to 1811, suggesting that the Seventh Earl of Elgin had no right to remove the Parthenon Sculptures has sold for £7,000 at auction. I’m very interested to see the full contents of the letter, to find out exactly what it reveals.
Wednesday, 6 November, 2002, 18:16 GMT
Elgin Marbles letter fetches £7,000
A letter which could help to resolve the row between Britain and Greece over the Elgin Marbles has been sold to a Greek buyer at auction for £7,000.
The handwritten 19th-Century letter, bought by an anonymous bidder from Athens, fetched seven times its reserve price after frantic bidding.
It was written by the British Ambassador in 1811 to the seventh Earl of Elgin, suggesting he had no right to buy the 5th-Century artefacts.
The 56 marble sculptures, which once adorned the frieze of the front of the Parthenon, were taken from Athens to England by Elgin and are now on display at the British Museum.
Nathan Winter, who oversaw the auction at his brother Dominic’s auction house in Swindon, Wiltshire, told BBC News Online there had been “significant interest at home and abroad”.
He said: “After a bit of a tussle in the room, it went down to a fight between a telephone bidder and a commission bid, both in Greece.
“We ended up buying the item on behalf of a purchaser from Athens who had sent in a bid by fax earlier in the week.”
With commission and tax, the final purchase price came to £8,234.10.
Mr Winter was unable to identify the buyer.
He said there was speculation the man may have been bidding on behalf of campaigners seeking return of the treasures to Athens.
The draft letter, which had been expected to realise about £1,000, was written to Lord Elgin – Thomas Bruce – by ambassador Robert Adair in Constantinople (Istanbul).
It was acquired by auctioneers from the library of a family with historical connections to Lord Elgin.
The marbles have been at the centre of a row between Britain and Greece since Elgin was given permission to work on their protection in 1801 when Greece was still under Ottoman (Turkish) control.
A recent campaign, Parthenon 2004, backed by more than 90 UK MPs and public figures, called for the marbles to be returned to Athens in time for the next Olympic Games.
The marbles date from between 447 and 432 BC and depict the most formal religious ceremonies of ancient Athens – the Panathenaea procession.
Groups opposing their return say they have been saved from deterioration from Greek pollution by being kept in the museum.
Tuesday November 5, 2002 – Archive
Letter hints Elgin had no right to Marbles
A previously unknown draft letter from the British ambassador to Constantinople informing Lord Elgin that the Turkish authorities unofficially denied he had any right to the sculptures he removed from the Acropolis in the early 1800s will be sold at an auction in England tomorrow.
In a July 31, 1811 draft response to a query by Elgin concerning the shipping of his collection from Piraeus, Robert Adair notes that “the Porte (the Sultan’s Court) absolutely denied your having any property in these marbles.”
The ambassador said he had been given to understand, unofficially, that the Turkish officials who sold Elgin — a former British ambassador to the Porte himself — the fifth-century BC classical sculptures from the Parthenon and the Erechtheum had no right to do so.
The Dominic Winter auction house expects the manuscript to sell for 700-1,000 pounds (1,100-1,570 euros).
Thu 7 Nov 2002
Greek pays £7,000 for note that could settle Elgin Marbles dispute
A LETTER that could be used to settle the long-running international row over the Elgin Marbles was sold yesterday for £7,000.
The 1811 handwritten note was bought at auction by an anonymous Greek, but it is not known which side in the dispute he is on.
The letter has created great interest in the two camps fighting over the rightful resting place of the 56 marble sculptures taken from the Parthenon in Athens nearly 200 years ago.
The note from the British ambassador was written in Constantinople to Thomas Bruce, the seventh Earl of Elgin, and suggested he had no right to buy the 5th century marbles.
The sculptures, which had once adorned the frieze of the front of the Parthenon, were taken by Elgin from Athens to Britain in 1811. There were originally 115 panels on the frieze; 36 still exist in Athens, 56 are in the British Museum and one is in the Louvre, Paris. All depict religious ceremonies in ancient Greece.
In a plan that has courted controversy, the Greek government intends to place them all in a purpose-built museum at the foot of Acropolis Hill, if indeed they succeed in their quest to retrieve them.
The marbles have been the subject of an on-going dispute between the British and Greek authorities since Elgin was given permission to work on the marbles’ protection in 1801 when Greece was still under Ottoman (Turkish) control.
A recent campaign, Parthenon 2004, backed by more than 90 British MPs and public figures, has called for the marbles to be returned to Athens in time for the next Olympic Games. The former US president Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary, are among the campaigners backing the marbles’ return to Greece. But others have argued the marbles have been saved from deterioration from Greek pollution by being kept in the museum and fear a “repatriation” will spark the stripping of countless other museum exhibits.
In the 1930s the British Museum was heavily criticised for its treatment of the marbles. At the time, Lord Duveen ordered their honey-coloured patina be scrubbed off by untrained workmen with chisels and wire brushes to make them “whiter than white.” There was also criticism more recently when the Duveen Gallery, where the marbles are displayed, was hired out for corporate entertainment for £35,000.
The letter, sold yesterday at Dominic Winter Auctions in Swindon, Wiltshire, was expected to fetch only about £1,000.
Freddie New of the British Committee for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles said they had a member observing the auction. “We don’t know who this gentleman is or what his position is, but we’d be very interested to find out.
“Although the argument has now moved away from the legality issue, it is still very satisfying to see now that we were correct about Elgin’s right to remove them.”
He said the latest talks were focusing on a possible loan of the marbles instead.
Friday, 1 November, 2002, 17:17 GMT
Elgin Marbles letter for sale
A letter that could fuel the long-running international dispute over the ownership of the Elgin Marbles is to be sold at auction for an estimated £1,000.
The handwritten note will be sold at Dominic Winter Auctions in Wiltshire on 6 November and is thought likely to spark interest among both sides in the argument between the UK and Greek authorities.
The letter was written in 1811 by the British Ambassador to Constantinople (Istanbul), Robert Adair, and addressed to Thomas Bruce, the seventh Earl of Elgin.
It suggested the earl had no right to buy the 5th Century marbles.
The sculptures, which originally adorned the front of the Parthenon temple in Athens were taken by the earl to England in 1811, and are now housed at London’s British Museum.
Dominic Winter’s valuer Chris Albury said the letter was a significant find but that its contents could be open to historical interpretation.
“What is clear is the content of the letter fuels the campaign for the restitution of the Marbles from the British Museum to Athens. < "As far as we have been able to ascertain it is a unique document. It is likely to be seized upon by both sides of the argument," he said.
The marbles date from between 447 and 432 BC and depict the most formal religious ceremonies of ancient Athens - the Panathenaea procession.
The Earl of Elgin was given permission to work on the marbles' protection in 1801.
Greece was still under Ottoman (Turkish) control and the sculptures' fate was considered in jeopardy.
The UK and Greek authorities have been arguing over whether the marbles should be returned to Greece since then.
The campaign Parthenon 2004, backed by more than 90 UK MPs and public figures, is calling for the marbles to be returned to Athens in time for the next Olympic Games.
The Greek authorities are building a specially designed display “case” for the marbles on top of a £29m museum to show the frieze in its original situation.
And those calling for their return to Athens have included high-profile figures.
Lord Byron wrote a poem, The Curse of Minerva attacking Elgin’s “looting” of the marbles and more recently Hillary Clinton has been asked for their return.
Supporters of the lobby to keep the marbles in the UK say housing them in the British Museum has saved them from deterioration caused by pollution in Greece.
- New opinion poll shows increase in support for return of Parthenon Marbles : October 15, 2002
- Did Greece fail to protect the Elgin Marbles? : January 15, 2004
- High quality of the marbles that Elgin left behind : November 25, 2004
- British Museum officials to attend New Acropolis Museum opening : June 15, 2009
- Sotheby’s didn’t sell the Elgin Marbles – they sold a marble sculpture that was legally purchased by Lord Elgin : December 12, 2012
- Greece calls for return of disputed Parthenon Marbles from Britain : December 17, 2007
- Why Greece should be trusted to look after the Elgin Marbles : January 14, 2004
- Bringing back the Elgin Marbles : June 6, 2010