From “Trust, Concern, and Respect” to Trafficking Antiquities

Hello! I’m Jenna McKinley, a rising junior. I’m spending the summer working with Haverford’s collection of Ancient Greek vases, in preparation for an exhibition in the fall of 2014.

An alum from the Class of 1940 donated the vases to us upon his death in 1989. Some of them, he bought at estate sales, auctions, and the like, but most of them were bought from Robert Hecht, Class of 1941, an infamous and influential antiquities dealer. In the early 1970s, Hecht sold a vase (the “Euphronios krater”) to the Metropolitan for $1 million–almost ten times more than any other object of its type had ever sold for. The high price drew attention, and it was soon discovered that the vase had been allegedly looted from a tomb in Italy, though his trial ended on a technicality and he was declared neither guilty nor innocent. Do our vases have a similar history?

Later investigation unearthed a complex network of conspirators ranging from Italian grave-robbers to curators at the most prominent museums, with Robert Hecht at the top.

A piece of paper, seized in a 1995 raid, which depicts the organization of the trade in looted antiquities. Note the prominence of Robert Hecht's name at the top.

A piece of paper, seized in a 1995 raid, which depicts the organization of the trade in looted antiquities. Note the prominence of Robert Hecht’s name at the top.

Hecht had a reputation within the field as a dangerous man. He earned the nickname “Mr. Percentage,” because even people who sold objects directly to museums, without using him as an agent, would give him a cut of the profits. He supposedly would threaten his rivals with exposure if they upset him, and there have been a number of anonymous “tip-off” calls to the police which many attribute to Hecht.

I can’t help but find it incredibly ironic that of all the people to achieve infamy and become the kingpin in an international looting conspiracy, it just HAD to be a Haverford grad.

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