Antiques dealer who made $4.6 million profit from African mask wins legal battle

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An antiques dealer who sold a rare African mask for $4.6 million has won a legal battle with the elderly couple who sold it to him for $165 without realizing the actual value of the treasure.

A French couple in their eighties obtained the wooden mask from their grandfather, who was a ruler in Africa, according to the Mirror website. CNNThey kept the family heirloom in their second home in the south of France, along with other African antiques.

When the 88-year-old man and his 81-year-old wife — identified only by their initials in court documents — went to sell the house, they held a garage sale.

Among the items to be seized is a Nagel mask once owned by René Victor Edouard Maurice Fournier, who served as a colonial governor in Central Africa during the early 20th century, when large parts of the continent were under French colonial rule. Per CNN.

A used antiques dealer acquired the piece for only $165, along with some other small items such as spears, a circumcision knife, a bellows, and musical instruments. The couple believed at the time that the price was fair, according to what was reported by “The Sun” website. Court documents.

An elderly couple sold this African “grass” mask to an antique dealer for just $165, not realizing that it could actually be worth millions. AFP via Getty Images

But just six months later, the couple learned the mask’s true value after reading a newspaper article.

When it was put up for auction in Montpellier, France, the auctioneers described the mask as “an extremely rare mask from the 19th century, which is the property of a secret society of the Fang people of Gabon” in central Africa, according to the British newspaper “Daily Mail”. daily Mail.

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It was acquired by an anonymous buyer for a staggering $4.6 million.

The couple filed for an injunction to cancel their initial heirloom sale, but the court rejected their appeals and said they failed to evaluate the mask before selling it. AFP via Getty Images

The French couple quickly filed an injunction to cancel their original sale of the piece, which was just one of 10 such pieces still in existence by the Bantu ethnic group.

The couple argued that there was an “authentication error” at the time of the sale, insisting that the merchant deceived them because he “knew the true value of the mask” at the time of purchase, according to the Daily Mail.

The judge rejected the couple’s request, saying it was their “negligence and unjustified recklessness” that caused their problems, as they had failed in any attempt to value the mask before selling it, and were therefore left with no money.

Auctioneer Jean-Christophe Giuseppe of Montpellier Auctions hosted the mask sale, which started at about $330,000. AFP via Getty Images

The Daily Mail reported that the court ruled that the couple should not be exploited in the deal either, because the dealer himself was not an expert in African art.

The dealer even offered the couple about $330,000 – the starting auction price – but their children rejected the offer, choosing instead to take the matter to court.

The Washington Post requested comment from Frederick Mansat Jaffrey, the couple’s lawyer.




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