Craft retailer Hobby Lobby has amended its complaint against Christie’s to include the alleged prior owner of a cuneiform tablet dating from approximately 1600 BCE and bearing an inscription with a portion of the Epic of Gilgamesh. In May of last year, Hobby Lobby filed a complaint against Christie’s, accusing the auction house of fraud and breach of warranty. According to the May complaint, Hobby Lobby accused Christie’s of selling the tablet, knowing that it had been looted and its provenance faked. On February 1 of this year, Hobby Lobby filed an amended complaint that names the prior owner of the tablet; however, there does not appear to be any evidence that the prior owner knew that the provenance was fake. In addition to naming the prior owner, the amended complaint also includes a new claim against Christie’s that it had knowingly sold Hobby Lobby a 10th/11th century CE gospel manuscript that had been looted from a Greek monastery during World War II.
It will be interesting to see if Hobby Lobby’s claims prevail. While the auction industry has often been in the spotlight for its role in the trafficking of looted items, Hobby Lobby is hardly an innocent victim. The company has a tarnished reputation of its own regarding knowingly smuggling looted items into the United States on behalf of the Museum of the Bible. The Museum opened in 2017, and according to the Art Newspaper is already looking to return over 10,000 items that were looted from their country of origin. This in addition to the tens of thousands of artifacts that it had seized by US officials or voluntarily returned. (And we won’t even get into those items that have been proven to be fake.)