Home > Stories by TimeLine Auctions

Stories by TimeLine Auctions

“Ils ne passeront pas!”


Several times each year, echoes of that rousing declaration strengthen the resolve of TimeLine Auctions Expert Vetting team as they gather around a boardroom table at TimeLine’s offices. They are about to embark on the mammoth task of minutely examining each potential lot vying for a place in TimeLine’s forthcoming auction. Vetters must prevent fakes and forgeries reaching the bidding room. Their determination to win that battle matches the French army’s resolve when it repulsed the Boche at Verdun in 1916.

Many weeks before those Big Guns of the core vetting team train their fire power on the potential lots that win through to the final showdown, a smaller force of senior TimeLine management staff will have seen action at the company’s initial barrier to fakes and forgeries – the reception areas at TimeLine HQ. That’s where potential consigners arrive with lots they hope to enter for the next auction. Think of this consignment receiving desk as the Pass of Thermopylae, held by a resolute band of Spartans who would sooner pay the ultimate price than allow a fake to slip past their watchful eyes. The receivers include Dr Raffaele D’Amato; CEO Brett Hammond; and COO Aaron Hammond. The three officers examine items offered for consignment; and, after discussion between themselves, make an initial judgement on each item’s suitability for inclusion in a TimeLine sale.

In our workflow chart, we have now reached Stage 2 - Weighing and Measuring - which sounds somewhat mundane; but for our online purchasers especially, dimensions and weights are important, not least when it comes to calculating shipping costs.

At Stage 3 our Cataloguing team starts its painstaking work to find academic parallels and to further research provenances to ensure accuracy of catalogue descriptions. The team includes: Stephen Pollington; as well as the Head of TimeLine’s Antiquities Department, Dr Raffaele D’Amato; and other independent consultants. Backed by our extensive library of over 20,000 reference works and auction catalogues, plus online resources, our cataloguers’ knowledge of the industry provides a point of authentication in our processes; and ensures the accuracy of information given to prospective purchasers, in the opinion of our experts.

Stage 4 – Photography and Storage. Open any of our archived Auctions Catalogues and you will see at once that TimeLine maintains as high a bar when illustrating its lots as it does when vetting them. The dedicated work of photographer Michael Healy and the catalogue design team leaps out from every page on publication day. Meanwhile, the photographed lots move on to vaults within our secure warehouse storage where plenty of work still awaits other important members of our Provisional Vetting Team:

Stage 5 – Dr Ronald Bonewitz will leave no stone unturned in his determination to root out fakes. He is a respected member of the industry, and author of the identification book, Rocks & Minerals: The Definitive Visual Guide, a publication endorsed by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, the world's largest museum complex. For TimeLine, Dr Bonewitz will study stone lots, regardless of size. It can take him up to ten days to complete the physical examinations; and he may also write scholarly notes on some pieces. At this stage several other experts with specialist scientific and archaeological knowledge are also invited to TimeLine’s HQ in order to vet objects. If any of these specialists has concerns with any of the items, they will reject them. The items will be removed from the sale and returned to the vendor at this stage, and not examined by the remainder of our vetting team.

Stage 6 – Every object that progresses from that point is also examined and pre-vetted by a prominent member of the antiquities trade; and a key member of the Antiquities’ Dealer’s Association (ADA); British Numismatic Trade Association (BNTA); and LAPADA. This person abides by the strict standards and codes of conduct set by those associations when undertaking pre-vetting for TimeLine. If they consider an item may not be genuine and authentic, they place it in a designated box to await further inspection by TimeLine’s Expert Vetting team, who will be aware that this expert has already questioned the status of items in that box.

Stage 7 – Third Party Checks. Every lot with a low estimate of £1,500 or above is checked against the Art Loss Register’s extensive records of stolen, looted and fake items. Furthermore, we pay an extra fee to have The Art Loss Register check all Western Asiatic lots, regardless of our estimate levels. Additionally, lots with a low estimate of £2,000 and over are also checked by TimeLine on the Interpol database of looted and stolen material. We believe this enhanced level of good practice to be unique within the industry.

Stage 8 – When the Expert Vetting Team gathers around its assigned board room table at TimeLine offices, work begins on all remaining items: those not eliminated during pre-vetting. Every potential lot is identified by a bar-coded label which identifies the items culture, short description, date, and guide price. After scanning each item into TimeLine’s vetting program, staff bring the items into the room (unless size and weight requires the team’s members to vet the items in our warehouse, or in reception.) Each object is then passed around the table of currently twelve archaeologists and specialists, passing from one vetter to the next, to allow each vetter to inspect it. During the circulation of items under scrutiny, the vetters openly discuss and debate each item; challenging each other’s opinions, and sharing their expertise. If any member of the vetting team takes issue with an item, it is placed in a rejected items box which sits in the middle of the table. If an item is inspected and accepted unanimously by every member it is placed in a separate accepted items box at the end of the table.
Many metallic items are also checked with an X-ray fluorescence machine (XRF) which provides a breakdown of all metal elements present in the item. Items that fail our XRF testing are always removed from our sales and placed in the rejected box.

Stage 9 – After the accepted lots have been lotted into the sale, members of the Expert Vetting Team are invited to re-check the accepted items once again by checking them online before the final publication. At this stage several additional experts are asked to study and vet sections of the sale. This last layer of TimeLine vetting process infuses further specialist knowledge, and adds a final layer of due diligence. The current cost of vetting is in excess of £25,000 per sale and steadily rising. It is nevertheless an extensive and fundamental process in our business. They are worth paying in our ongoing battle against fakery.

Tanja Maijala, TimeLine Auctions, 3rd January 2024