Pursuing Papyri and Papyrology by Way of eBay:
A Preliminary Report to the 25th International Congress of Papyrology, 3 August 2007 (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor)
by Robert Kraft
This page is mirrored from here. Many of the links do not work locally.
In September of 2005, art collector/dealer Bruce P. Ferrini declared bankruptcy [images of news clips] after several months of trying to keep his financial ship afloat including the gradual sale of the holdings of his Akron Ohio (USA) store in an attempt to meet the demands of the lawsuits which he had lost.\1/ These holdings were extensive, ranging from very ancient items such as clay tablets[image] to very modern ones such as recently published exhibit catalogs[image]. Included were hundreds of papyri and related fragments in the usual languages of Egypt, and numerous pieces of cartonnage[image] as well. These materials began to appear on eBay early in 2005 and at some point early on, came to be brokered by an associate, Michael J. Farr.
When I learned about the situation, in the autumn of 2005, I began to monitor it by keeping track of the various items offered and by saving the frequently excellent images that appeared on eBay (although not every piece was imaged for both sides). Unfortunately, I have no consistent record of sales for the seven months prior to mid-August 2005, but by mid-June of 2007, when the papyri sales temporarily stopped (I'm told by the seller that more will be offered), I had recorded information and images for approximately 825 lots of papyri and about 100 linen hieratic pieces, plus a miscellany of other related items.\2/[image-ftn] The figures are a bit deceptive since sometimes several small pieces were included in a single lot, and sometimes an originally larger item (which I'm designating as a "panel") had been divided up by someone into smaller pieces[image], presumably to increase sales revenue somewhere along the ownership line. Also, some items are too small or too illegible to permit accurate identification of the language[image]. (I have not attempted to monitor other sales of later manuscripts[image-heb] and related artifacts, and/or cuneiform clay tablets [image-cone] by the same seller, although that could also make a significant contribution to scholarship.) In this same two year period, papyri from other sellers also were offered on eBay, but that was quite infrequent -- no more than 20 lots total, of which I purchased one lot that showed literary writing [image].
Minimal documentation accompanied the Ferrini/Farr eBay sales[image], usually in the form of language identification (although confusion between Greek and Coptic was not infrequent, and also between Demotic and Hieratic), dimensions in millimeters (with the usual problem of measuring irregular shapes), and some vague attempt at identifying content or at least of using descriptions[image] that might encouraging bidding (e.g. "business document," "secret text," "mathematical treatise"). Occasionally there would be specific information about the text, as with the hieratic linen clippings from the Book of the Dead [image] (see further below), or hier102[image]("Ex-collection Kenneth Rendell until 1997. 1997-2007 Private US collection") or the mention with cop047[image] that "These fragments came from the Gardner papyri sold at Sothebys back in the early 90's."
My inquiry to the active seller, Michael J. Farr, about the source(s) of the papyri produced the following response (to which I have added a few identification notes) [image of this text]:
What we have in our
possession is one collection [i.e. Ferrini's] made from several
purchases. There are no records and no way of figuring exactly
what pieces came from which particular purchase. There are too
many fragments and not enough past records of the transactions.
But from Mr. Ferrini's recollection he bought them from the following:
1986 from a Paris private collection [probably Guy Ladrière (dealer)]
1987 from a Paris private collection [probably Guy Ladrière (dealer)]
1990 from Sam Fogg, London [collector and dealer]
1992 Michael Sadhig [unknown; probably of Sadigh Gallery, NYC]
1995 K. Rendell (ex. James Ede) ["London Antiquities market 1960 James Ede and Kenneth Rendell, to anonymous donor 1997"; Coptic fragment; "Special Visit Ministry" site]
1998 Pars Antiques, London [dealer, with associations to Ferrini and Schoyen]
1999 Sam Fogg, London [see above, 1990]
2001 F. Nussberger, Zurich [Frieda Tchacos Nussberger // Nussberger-Tchacos; Gospel of Judas, etc.]
The papyri we are selling were a part of each of these sales, however, the sales included other more important papyri that were already sold as part of another business. We have no access to the other papyri that had been already sold nor their records.
Since it was also my intention to offer a papyrology seminar[image] in the near future (it took place in fall 2006), I began to bid on some of the cartonnage fragments, for my own research and to offer students experience in separating and conserving papyri as well as attempting to decipher the writing. I was successful in purchasing 45 lots of cartonnage (some containing multiple small pieces), at an average cost of about $35 each. These proved extremely useful as teaching and learning aids, and some of the results can be consulted on the course web page.[link] At least one larger cartonnage panel of which there is a published photo (2004) from when it was still intact[image] had been cut up by someone in the meantime and sold in separate pieces, including some split layers -- thus creating a three dimensional puzzle for any reconstruction[image]. I was fortunate enough to have purchased a couple of pieces of this panel in which the layers were all present, with the decorated plaster on one side and unpainted plaster on the other. Inbetween were six layers which I succeeded in separating[image]. Those layers contained mostly (Hieratic and?) Demotic texts, attesting the probable Ptolemaic date of the panel.
Early in 2006, I created a file with accompanying images and the coded identifications of the eBay purchasers (with the seller's permission) [note3 file] and placed it on a temporary web page, in an attempt both to keep track of where the pieces of papyri were going, and to to assist in contacting buyers to find out more about the earlier sales that had taken place before I became involved. Unfortunately, in July 2006 one of the buyers (actually an agent for others) objected to this exposure, and the seller thenceforth removed all identifications of buyers from the sales information. Thus I have no way of knowing who the purchasers were from July 2006 onward, except for a few with whom I did establish contact on the basis of the earlier information.
One of the early purchasers, David Howell, had special interest in the hieratic linen pieces, and has been able to show that many of them originated from the right side of a large piece of the Book of the Dead which had been pictured intact[image] in the earlier exhibition books from as recently as 2004. Howell's overlaid image of the right side[image]shows how extensively this material was mutilated for the sales (at least 19 pieces) Whether the left side[image] of the original piece went to Ferrini's litigants (or was held in court-ordered custody) or perhaps was sold as such by Ferrini remains to be determined. I also made contact with another earlier buyer, Alexander Mihaylovich of Los Angeles, who successfully bid on a group of small fragments[image] in which I was able to identify, through the eBay image, a scrap of Homer's Iliad, and the new owner has given me permission to publish the fragment (which can be seen[image] on my web page -- including the undeciphered other side). It is the only Greek literary fragment to be identified thus far from the images, although not the only neatly written Greek hand represented [grk030r].
The Coptic pieces, and especially the small brittle fragments of literary hands (often only parts of a letter or two! [image]), sold for more on average than the Greek, probably because it was rumored that Ferrini still possessed pieces of the Gospel of Judas, the Epistles of Paul, and some other Sahidic works of similar value. Bids went as high as $260 for a group of three small scraps[cop094], with the average winning bid on the 58 "literary" lots being $ 53.61 (the lowest winning bid was a mere $05.50 for three small scraps[cop127]).\3/ One buyer of scholarly orientation with whom I am in contact, Ernest Muro, has identified a small Coptic fragment of Paul's letter to the Philippians[cop045] among his purchases, so there may have been some truth to the rumors.
The Philippians fragment
Other Coptic pieces, mostly obviously documentary or paraliterary, ranged in price from $ 08.50 [cop046-2] to $141.38 [cop081], with an average price of $42.33 (on 79 pieces). They include part of a note from a monk, reconstructed from three cut pieces[cop24-26], which fortunately is in the hands of someone (E. Muro) who plans to publish it, and what appears to be a folded and wrapped page[cop 014], in need of careful flattening. Another note mentioning personal names ([cop111a] "I MAROUTI ... and I PAMOUNT[I]") is more extensive (and more legible) than many of the other fragments. An interesting Greek monastic piece[image] advertized as "Coptic" and offered by another seller is also worth mention.
Some Demotic pieces also often brought relatively higher prices, and one large Demotic documentary panel[image] that had been cut into at least 22 pieces that I can document (and probably a couple of additional pieces unknown to me) cost the various buyers (including myself, for one inexpensive token piece) a total of $761.72 , for an average price of $34.62 (from a low of $13.08 to a high of $84.00).\4/ What the panel would have fetched when it was still intact is anyone's guess, but I suspect it would be much less than the $760 plus that was realized through the dismemberment.
Nearly 90 lots of what the seller described as "magical" text -- which resembles what has been classified in other collections as artificial or "fake" writing, although not necessarily of modern origin [see Arabic on verso of fake28] -- were purchased by various bidders, for prices ranging from a low of $02.45 [fake59] to a high of $371.00 (one hopes it was an unintentional bid [$37.10 makes more sense?], soon corrected?) [fake37], but on average only $27.60. These, like the hieratic linens, appear to have been cut from larger panels[fake74+] and the $2400 total for these sales was undoubtedly much more than the original small number of panels of disputable significance would have brought if sold intact!
Which brings us to the Greek materials -- about 250 lots, with some understandable confusion between Greek and Coptic fragments. The winning bids ran from a bargain $2.25 [gk144] to $399.00, an uncleaned Ptolemaic piecefrom Sam Fogg's collection [gk239], with the average cost of $39 per lot. The seller sometimes put a "reserve" price (e.g. $299, but as high as $1000) on what were thought to be the more valuable pieces, but usually did not find bidders willing to spend that much. (Higher reserves also were sometimes put on the line drawings[image] on some Hieratic linens -- this one finally sold for $400, after twice failing to meet the $1,000 reserve -- and lower reserves on some other items in each language group.)
Finally, the handful of Arabic pieces also exhibited the now familiar slicing of a larger panel into multiple items [Arab02+03], which in this case together brought the seller $53.38 from the two different bidders. Another Arabic fragment sold for $102.50 [Arabic01] while the rest were more modestly priced.
These heterogeneous materials contain many interesting items, especially for students of documentary evidence. Fortunately, the images supplied on eBay are usually adequate for detailed study, although it will seldom be possible to identify the current owners. (Many buyers seem to be agents for others, or themselves owners of antiquarian shops, purchasing for resale.) For papyrologists who enjoy puzzles, there is much to be done here, and some of the reconstructed panels (such as the large demotic panel [image]) will prove to be worth closer examination. The cartonnage painted pictures and designs[images] may also have some value for art historians, while the layers of papyrus to which they adhere will probably carry their mysteries, and/or treasures, into obscurity, with a few exceptions. Hopefully many of the widely distributed items will ultimately find their way into publicly accessible museum and library collections, but that will probably be for later generations to discover and explore. Meanwhile, the electronic image library remains as our main link to these scraps of ancient activity, and I hope interested parties will take advantage of it as another aspect of papyrological research. [end image]
A complicated affair. Three private collectors -- Ferrini, Lee Biondi
(a California antiquities expert) and William H. Noah (physician)
-- had put together a traveling exhibit called "From the DSS to
the English Bible" (or similarly), which ran in Dallas in 2003 under
the sponsorship of the company "HisStory, LLC [Limited Liability
Company]" created to handle the exhibit. One of the partners, William
H. Noah, sued the other partners (Biondi and Ferrini) for his share of
the profits from the shows, and the company filed for bankruptcy in
February 2004. Other creditors also sued. The bankruptcy court took the
exhibit in hand when it opened in Akron in April 2004 and prohibited
Ferrini from further involvement. Meanwhile, Biondi, who had never
officially signed on as a partner in "HisStory LLC," organized his own
exhibit after the breakup, using a similar "Dead Sea Scrolls" title [image],
also started his own traveling exhibit, called "Ink
& Blood."[weblink or
book image] Ferrini later filed for bankruptcy, in Sept 2005.
According to reports of the filing, he owes nearly 100 creditors
between $4.6 million and $10 million -- $2.7 million of it to Akron's
First Merit bank. His separated wife, Pamela, also filed for bankruptcy
and Ferrini put his expensive house in Bath Ohio up for sale in 2006.
Ferrini had led a successful career as an art collector and dealer, but
apparently was both careless and deceptive in his flamboyant management
style, and also suffered a crushing personal blow with the tragic death
of his son Matthew in 2001. His involvement in the saga of the Gospel
of Judas and associated papyri (Sahidic “First Apocalypse of
James” and “Epistle of Peter to Philip,” LXX Exodus, Sahidic
Epistles of Paul, Greek "mathematical treatise") is vaguely
described in various connections [e.g. Pearse
weblink, see also],
although the full story is yet to be uncovered and recorded.
\2/ The breakdown is as follows (figures are approximate as are average costs):
150 cartonnage [+ especially Demotic layers, sold as Demotic]; $47 average
250 Greek [and/or ambiguous "Coptic"]; $39 average
140 Coptic [58 literary + 79 other images]; $54 and $43 respectively
175 Demotic [including some cartonnage layers]; $52 average
115 Hieratic (mostly on linen, but a few on papyrus); $37 and $31 respectively
009 Arabic; $45 average
094 Ancient Fakes (sold as "secret text from a religious sect"); $28 average
075 Aramaic inscribed on lead (often illegible)
006 "Magic Bowl" fragments (pottery)
\3/ The pieces that seem to be "literary" and/or from a codex include:
[c019]cop13 [cod lower mg] = 7366537739- @ $ 40.99
These fragments came from the Gardner papyri sold at Sothebys back in the early 90's. (28fe06)cop050-2 = 7393570568 0??x?? [r uncial grk?] @ $ 66.99 (04mr06)
-cop097 = 120065553903 023x09 [r, uncial] @$102.50 (23de06)
-cop098 = 120066783423 018x14 [r,
-cop099 = 120067055525-2 015x01 013x13 [r,r cd] @$ 21.86 (27de06)
-cop100 = 120067375474-2 015x08 [r,r? uncial] @$ 16.27 (30de06)
-cop101 = 120068597656-2 012x03 [r,r ?? uncial] @$ 59.00 (06ja07)
-cop102 = 120071330012 015x07 [r uncial] @$129.50 (10ja07)
-cop121 = 120090621986-3 015x07 [r&v] @$ 50.00 (02mr07)
-cop122 = 120091714014-3 015x07
@$ 21.50 (05mr07)
-cop123 = 120093152265-2 015x07 [r&v] @$ 34.00 (09mr07)
This page has been accessed by people since 4th April 2009
Return to the Manuscripts Pages Return to Roger Pearse's Pages