Back in the autumn of 2014 when we were deep in preparation for the December Antiquities sale, I received a call from Elias S. David’s son, asking me to visit him in Florida. ‘I guarantee it will be worth your while’, was his cryptic promise.
Elias S. David (1891–1969) was a prominent antiquities dealer, active in the industry throughout his life. Masterpieces of ancient Near Eastern art passed through his hands and are now in some of the greatest museums in the US, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art. His son informed us that he had inherited his father’s stock, pieces that had been in storage since 1969. It was of course a dream scenario for us.
When I arrived at the Florida house I was shown many boxes, their contents wrapped in crumbling materials which had not been touched for decades, all attesting to their provenance. Even better, his son had an inventory dated shortly after Elias’s death.
‘When I arrived I was shown many boxes, their contents wrapped in crumbling materials which had not been touched for decades.’
The strength of the collection is the many cylinders, barrels, cones and tablets, chiefly of terracotta but also bronze and stone, all inscribed with cuneiform texts. Among the highlights of this group is a large Neo-Babylonian terracotta foundation cylinder dating from the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II, 605–562 B.C., which commemorates his re-building of the temple of the god Lugal-Marada at Marad. A terracotta barrel from the same period tells us of Nebuchadnezzar II’s restoration of the Ebabbar Temple of Shamash in Sippar, while a rare bronze tablet from the Isin-Larsa Period, dating from the reign of Rim-Sin I, 1822–1763 B.C., records that the king’s wife built a temple for the goddess Ninegal.
Other objects from the Near East include silver and bronze vessels, small-scale sculpture and a large group of early amulets and seals. There are also some rare Egyptian items, among them a wonderful group of gold and faience amulets, some small bronze statues and a small alabaster head of Ptolemy. While I had been forewarned about the Near East and Egyptian pieces, I was quite surprised to find some beautiful works of art from the Classical world, including several Archaic Greek carnelian scarabs. Preliminary research has shown to our great delight that one of them was previously in the collection of James Carnegie, 9th Earl of Southesk, which was first published in 1908. It is one of a small group where the back of the beetle has been carved with a figure in low relief, in this case a siren. The underside, which would have been used as a seal, depicts a warrior. The type is thought to be the product of a Western Greek workshop. As our research continues over the coming months, we will undoubtedly discover many other such surprises.