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Couple Sue Antique Dealer For Buying Their African Mask At S$216 & Selling For S$6M

Elderly French Couple Sue Antique Dealer Over Sale Involving African Mask

Having sold their African mask to an antiques dealer for €150 (S$216), an elderly couple from Nimes, France, is filing a lawsuit against him.

This is after the dealer resold the item at an auction in Montpellier for  €4.2 million (S$6 million).

The lawsuit is currently ongoing, with the proceeds from the sale frozen for the time being.

Elderly French couple sue art dealer over African Mask

According to ARTnews, the couple discovered the mask while clearing out their property for a garage sale.

They put it aside to sell it to a local antique dealer, who agreed to purchase it for €150 (S$216) in September 2021.

Source: Daily Mail

A few months later, they saw in the news that the mask had exchanged hands for millions at an auction house in Montpellier.

The listing described the artefact as a traditional Fang mask from Gabon, Africa, for use in weddings, funerals and other rituals.

Source: Daily Mail

The mask is reportedly rare outside of the country, with less than a dozen in museums across the globe.

ARTnews states that the husband’s grandfather was a colonial governor in Africa and had brought it to France.

The dealer, after purchasing it, sold it for £3.6 million or €4.2 million (S$6 million), the Daily Mail reports.

Couple’s claim well-founded in principle

The lawsuit against the dealer for the resale of the mask is currently ongoing.

However, on 28 June the appeals court in Nimes ruled that the couple’s claim appeared to be “well-founded in principle.”

Source: Daily Mail

As such, they ordered for the proceeds of the auction sale to be frozen until the case was over.

The couple have argued that the dealer did not reveal his suspicions about the true value of the African mask.

Instead of displaying it in his shop, he reached out to three auction houses in France to receive an estimate of how much it was worth.

He also apparently contacted a specialist in African artefacts, who put the mask under analysis using carbon-14 dating and mass spectrometry.

The tests determined the mask to have originated in the 19th century. An ethnologist expert then took a look and said that Ngil, a secret male society within the Fang people overseeing judicial matters, used it.

Following this, the auction house listed it for sale between €300,000 (S$432,360) and €400,000 (S$576,480).

In March 2022, its potential buyers bought it for more than triple the estimate, ARTnews stated.

Lawsuit against dealer ongoing

Prior to the lawsuit, the dealer allegedly offered to give the couple €300,000 (S$432,360) as compensation at first.

After their children stepped in, however, the couple rejected the offer.

A judicial court in Alès then ruled that they should receive a protective seizure of the proceeds that resulted from the sale, which they did in May 2022.

Shortly after, a lower court reversed the move and the dealer got the funds back again.

The case is still currently under review by a higher court in Nimes.

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Featured image adapted from The Daily Mail.

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