A yellow-enamelled blue and white pomegranate dish from the Ming Dynasty; one of the items due to be auctioned off on 27 November in Hong Kong

89 objects missing from Riesco collection

Geraldine Kendall, 16.10.2013
FOI request uncovers gaps in Croydon Council's records
Museums Journal has learned that 89 objects are unaccounted for in Croydon Council’s Riesco collection of antique Chinese ceramics, which is currently at the centre of a disposal controversy.

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request submitted by the Croydon Natural History and Scientific Society has shown that of the 650 items acquired by the council from local businessman Raymond Riesco, only 230 pieces remain in the council’s ownership.

According to council records, out of the original collection, 180 pieces were sold in 1970, 112 were sold in 1984 and 39 were stolen at an unspecified date.

This leaves 89 items apparently missing with no record as to their whereabouts.

Regarding the 39 stolen items, it is unclear when the theft was detected or what steps were taken to recover the objects.

According to the FOI response, the council has been unable to find any records detailing the theft, despite extensive searches, and it cannot speculate as to what happened as any employees named in records from the time no longer work for the council.

Paul Sowan, company secretary of the Croydon Natural History and Scientific Society, said: “To say they’ve got no records of any of these items is utterly scandalous and unbelievable.

“They seem to be telling us that council records exist only in the minds of staff. It’s entirely unsatisfactory.”

A council spokeswoman told Museums Journal: "Unfortunately, despite considerable research by officers, some historical records are missing and because they pre-date the knowledge and employment of the present team we are unable to provide the details being requested."

24 of the remaining 230 items are due to be auctioned by Christie’s in Hong Kong next month. The council hopes the sale will raise an estimated £13m for the refurbishment of its Fairfield Halls cultural centre. The objects are currently on a tour of Asia and the US.

Croydon Council last month resigned from the Museums Association (MA) after the MA's ethics committee ruled that the impending auction was in breach of the association's code of ethics.

Comments

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Anna Bowman
MA Member
Freelance Curator, Independant
22.10.2013, 15:55
Sadly this story is also the reason why its harder for museums to gain the confidence of donors with quality collections.
21.10.2013, 17:05
While this is sad news, I'm surprised how quick people are to cast aspersions on the Council. While they certainly have a lot to answer for regarding the recent shameful treatment of staff and the museum's assets, isn't it much more likely that it was museum staff who failed to keep these records? Lest we forget, prior to the introduction of SPECTRUM there simply was no agreed documentation standard, and even then many museums didn't take it up in full until it became a requirement of the Accreditation scheme in the 2000s. Even if common sense should have dictated that collections records are important, I have long since ceased to be surprised at their scarcity and shoddy quality in many museums prior to the 1990s/2000s.

I would be very happy if the outcome of this is that more museums take the time to assess their own documentation history and publicly acknowledge where there are gaps, rather than trying to hide them. It's potentially a good crowdsourcing opportunity for museums to add to their documentation, as members of the public often have longer memories than museum staff.
Anonymous
18.10.2013, 19:03
...I guess just like so many other council museums they went crazy for the cult that is management and got rid of all the expertise in documentation, archiving, curating under the excuse of budget cuts.
It is very simple: if you don't have the resources to do things to a certain standard, it will eventually show, you ignore the real life consequences at your peril.
The worst part is the denial of many institutions who still continue to dilute the skills and expertise of a professional museum through management and a lot of hot air talk. It is more or less the same failings that have left the NHS chasing targets and numbers and not enough time and staff to care for people in need.
17.10.2013, 16:23
Thiese latest news makes one wonder if Croydon Council and Northampton Council are swapping information on tactics; I am not surprised to hear that Croydon records were scrappy and that present staff know nothing about it. This reluctance of Croydon Council and its employees to accept responsibility just shows that after the initial successful sale in Hong Kong the rest of the collection will follow. the question is will the eventual money actually benefit the Fairfield Halls ? They were, as I remember, not I that great a shape in the mid 70s so are they worth rescuing ??? And if they are cannot grants be found or elsewhere ? or does Croydon have to come up with massive amounts on its own account.? AS far as the debacle over the Sekhemka statue in Northampton is concerned the statue is still unsold, Lord Northampton is challenging NBC to have it and the other collections back and the A tion romp has managed to alert the Art Loss Register so a sale via an auction house is unlikely
Oliver Green
MA Member
17.10.2013, 12:35
So it appears that Croydon Council are serial offenders who have been both selling off and losing valuable ceramics generously gifted to them for years. The fact that these sales and losses happened before the current museum service was established is neither here nor there. It may not have been illegal, but this looks like misappropriation of public assets even if it happened back in the 70s and 80s. The Council now seems determined to continue in the same spirit.