- In 2021, an elderly couple were vacating their second home when they found an African mask.
- They agreed to sell it to a local antiques dealer for $158, according to court records.
- Now the couple accuses the merchant of deceiving them after he sold the mask for millions.
A couple sued a local antiques dealer after learning that an African mask they parted with for $158 was later sold at auction for about $4.4 million.
The couple — an 81-year-old woman and her 88-year-old husband — were cleaning out their second home sometime around 2021 when they found the mask.
according to Court records reviewed by InsiderThe couple went to a local antiques dealer to sell the piece.
The two parties agreed on the price: 150 euros, or about $158.
The couple’s lawyer said that his clients mistakenly believed that the mask was “worthless,” according to what was reported by the British newspaper “Daily Mail”. Le Mondea French news outlet that was first to report on the lawsuit.
But the mask turned out to be a rare piece of African art – a 19th-century vetiver mask used in the rituals of the Fang people of Gabon, of which only a few exist.
About a dozen or so other specimens are known to exist around the world, in museums and Western collections. Court records stated.
After the antique dealer sought some appraisals and radiocarbon dating, the mask was put up for auction for $315,000 to $420,000.
In March 2022, it was sold for 4.2 million euros, or about $4.4 million, court records show.
Now the couple is suing the dealer for nearly $5.55 million, alleging that they deceived them by withholding knowledge that the piece was valuable.
According to court records, the dealer did not list the piece in his store, but instead contacted French auction houses Drouot Estimation and Fauve Paris. Both were estimated to be worth less than 600 euros.
The mask was put up for auction only after the dealer requested a third opinion and radiocarbon dating.
“Only someone with complete knowledge Art market “The company was able to conduct a sale through an auction house after requesting Carbon 14’s expertise and hiring an expert on African masks,” the lawsuit said.
The couple claimed the dealer also reached out to their gardener to obtain more information about their family and ancestors to conclude the authenticity of the lot before consulting auction houses, court records said.
According to the lawsuit, the merchant split the sale money with the gardener.
The antiques dealer tried to settle the case by paying the couple $315,000, but according to the lawsuit, their children opposed the settlement.
A lower court initially sided with the merchant, ordering the couple to pay about $3,200 in damages and fees. But the couple appealed the result and the case remains open.
Meanwhile, the appeals court seized the money from the sale, about $3.3 million after sales and capital gains tax, court records show.
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