THERE are a great many people in the world who are interested in Egypt,
in its antiquities, and in the unfolding of its pages of ancient
history; a number collect specimens of old Egyptian art, such as
scarabs, pottery, small statues, &c., and others, when in Egypt, buy
them as presents for friends at home.
It is for this numerous class, which is year by year defrauded of large
sums of money by the plausible sellers of forged antiquities, that this
book has been written, for most of them, sooner or later, find out to
their dismay that that which they had thought was a genuine relic of
ancient days, and prized accordingly, is nothing more nor less than a
clever fraud, and, from a collector’s point of view, worthless. The
Egyptologist, museum authority, and expert collector may be safely left
to take care of themselves; a perusal of the following pages might even
prove interesting to them, although it is exceedingly unlikely that the
book contains anything new so far as they are concerned.
The selling of spurious Egyptian antiquities is not confined to Egypt
alone. London, New York, Paris, and even Algiers, are also the
hunting-ground of the makers of imitations, who often make large sums of
money by imposing upon those who do not possess the knowledge requisite
to detect the fraud.
It is interesting to analyse the frame of mind of the people who have
been cheated. As a rule, they are angry, but they are extremely careful
to keep their feelings to themselves. If you inquire, they pooh-pooh the
transaction as one of little moment, and pass it over, although, as I
shall presently show, many pounds may have been lost. But if the
conversation is not changed, and you wait patiently, you will presently
find that under the carefully repressed annoyance runs a vein of genuine
regret that the nice-spoken, honest-looking and plausible Hassan or
Mohammed had cheated them.
The subsequent history of the fraudulent antiquity is often interesting.
As a rule, it is packed up and taken home, to be presented in due course
to some friend with the cautious remark that “perhaps it is genuine.”
Then some day an unfortunate Egyptologist is brought face to face with
it, and he has to make his escape as best he may, with a certain loss of
reputation. I have heard a hostess remark sarcastically that she did not
know what post was held by her victim in the Antiquities Department in
Egypt, but it certainly did not require a clever man to see that hers
was an important antiquity.
There is no more trying moment in an Egyptologist’s life than when,
after a good dinner, while he is feeling at peace with all the world, a
charming hostess brings out an antiquity for him to pass judgment upon.
I have seen men literally squirm, and many are the subterfuges employed
by them to avoid giving an opinion. Woe betide the unhappy expert if a
mischievous friend happens to be there who will lead their hostess on to
ask questions, and who will assure her, despite mute appeals, that her
victim is an expert in the particular branch to which her statue or jar,
as it may be, belongs. And when the Egyptologist is cornered, and
huffily declares to be a forgery the object upon which he is asked to
pass judgment, the lady is, as a rule, angry or hurt; and then it is
that the mischievous friend saves the situation by murmuring, “How
shocking that these Egyptologists should be so jealous!” The straw is
caught, the hostess smiles again, and peace is restored, while the
unfortunate man from Egypt, vowing vengeance, makes his escape.
If a buyer of some specimen wishes an expert opinion upon his purchase,
he usually lays a deep plan. Perhaps he knows a man connected with the
museum, whose opinion is worth having; or, if not, he gets some one to
introduce him. Then, one day, in a casual off-hand kind of way, he
produces his specimen, and explains that he did not buy it as a “real
thing, you know,” but it seemed very clever, and he did not pay much for
it. Inquiries as to how much has been paid are met by “regrets that he
has forgotten—it was so unimportant.” Most probably it was pounds, but
the buyer will seldom or never tell you.
The expert groans, but cannot escape. The clever ones temporise, and
tell tales of the marvellous cleverness of the forgers, and explain that
it is almost impossible to distinguish some forgeries from genuine
antiquities. Then come other stories of how such and such a one was
taken in, and names are mentioned which stand high in the list of
savants. It is assumed by the expert that his friend will never mention
the matter. Then he expresses the opinion that it would be very
difficult to be certain in the case of the specimen under consideration,
that he himself would not like to say definitely, “and you know, my dear
fellow, it has become almost impossible to tell, for these things are
made by the descendants of the men who made the originals.” So the
friendship is preserved, and the subject drifts away into the safe
region of “perhaps and if.”
It does not seem to occur to the general public that so great has been
the demand for antiquities on the part of foreign museums, private
collectors, and learned societies all over the world that the supply may
threaten to give out; that the districts in which the relics lie are
carefully watched; and that the Cairo museum is a jealous guardian. So
important are the links between the past and the present times that
stringent laws have been passed against unauthorised persons taking
genuine and important relics out of the country. Moreover, the enormous
numbers of antiquities sold yearly would require extensive expeditions
to supply the demand, and few of the finds are obtained surreptitiously.
In fact, since the above was written, an even more stringent law has
been passed by the Egyptian Government, which took effect on July 1,
1912. Under this law all finds of examples of the Arts, Sciences,
Literature, Religions, Customs, Industries, &c., will belong to the
State. The definition of the term Antiquities is most comprehensive, and
covers every possible find.
All dealers will now require to have a licence, the export of
antiquities is quite prohibited unless by special permit from the
department responsible, and any attempt to evade this law will be
followed by the confiscation of the objects.
Any one discovering antiquities must notify the Antiquities Department
at once; should the articles found be of a movable nature the finder
will receive half the objects discovered or their value in money.
A licence from the Ministry of Public Works, issued with the consent of
the Director of the Antiquities Department, must be obtained before any
excavation may be undertaken.
This new law is sure to give a great impetus to the manufacture of
forged Egyptian antiquities.
There is indeed a great fascination in possessing jewels, beads,
necklaces, vases, and statues belonging to a people who lived thousands
of years ago, but it is obvious that there must be a limit to the
quantity available. As the supply becomes less, so the prices rise; for
the demand does not fall off, and to-day £30 or £40 will be paid for a
specimen which, a few years ago, would hardly have brought in as many
shillings. The intrinsic value of these antiquities is very little. They
are prized for their association with the past and as evidences of the
advanced state of culture existing in those far-off days.
The love of money has always been a marked characteristic of the
Egyptian, and here the ingenuity of the descendant of the old craftsman
asserts itself. There is no doubt that he has, from time to time, been
assisted by various Europeans, but he is producing replicas of
antiquities, scarabs, figures, models, so cleverly cut and made that it
puzzles many of the best experts to say whether they are false or real.
Some of these imitations are sold for very high prices. If the discovery
of a fraud is made in time, part of the money will sometimes be
The Egyptian forger would not consider that he had done anything
particularly dishonest in deceiving a man in that kind of way. His only
regret would be that the fraud had been discovered, and he would muse
upon the unfairness of Fate, for here he had been with a fortune within
his grasp, only to lose it.
Such cases are seldom brought before the courts, for there seems to be a
tacit understanding between the buyer and seller whereby each accepts
his own risk.
Think for a moment what such a transaction means to the Egyptian.
Supposing he got £3000 for certain objects and made £2500 clear profit:
that would mean at least twenty feddans of land, probably more. These
should bring him, if he lets them out for hire, over £200 a year; or, if
he farmed them himself, £600 or £700 a year. It is a perfect craze with
the Egyptians to get rich, and perhaps our forger has been earning a
precarious living for years, receiving in pay the equivalent of a
shilling or two a day. He has always kept in mind the possibility of
making a coup such as I have described. He has worked hard and
cultivated a plausible manner and learned English with this single
object in view. If he is successful, and the fraud is not discovered
until too late, he will occupy a high position in his village and will
live happily, but always with the hope of making a further haul.
To such a pitch has the art of manufacturing imitations been carried
that I propose to give a few of the more common examples, and here I may
say that the morality of dealing in antiquities resembles, to a great
extent, that involved in the buying and selling of horses. If you go to
a respectable and responsible dealer, you pay more, but you are sure
either to get a genuine article or to have your money returned if things
go wrong. But if you go to a horse coper, you buy at your own risk.
THE making of copies of ancient gold ornaments has been going on for
some years, and is one of the most lucrative branches of the business.
The most extraordinary prices are sometimes paid for these replicas in
the full belief that they are genuine.
A gentleman who is deeply interested in the study of Egyptology was once
approached by a native, who, after some conversation, hinted that he had
some gold antiquities to sell. The interpreter, who was evidently “in
the swim,” pretended to have the utmost difficulty in persuading the
native that he might speak freely, assuring him that he was quite
safe—the gentleman would not inform against him—and that he could with
perfect confidence bring his spoils to be looked at. This at last he
agreed to do.
Excitement grew, and at the hour the man appeared—a stolid, clownish,
apparently ignorant fellah; he seemed the last one to be suspected of a
The articles were various figures wrought in gold, and after a
protracted interview, a bargain was struck. £3000 was paid for them, and
then they were brought in triumph to Cairo, where I saw them. They were
submitted to expert after expert, and then the truth came out. They were
forgeries. Part of the money paid was returned, but the remainder was
Another case occurred recently. A man from the Delta went to a dealer in
Cairo and said that one of the farmers in his district had found some
gold things in a tomb while taking soil from the ground, and now he
wanted to find a rich man to buy them, one who would keep his secret so
that the Government should not punish him and take them from him. When
the dealer agreed to go and see them, the man advised him to take £200
or £300 with him. The dealer cautiously said, “No, I shall take only
£20.” It was arranged that he should go to his informant’s village, and
that the finder of the jewels should be brought to him there.
Next day the dealer went to the village, and found that his informant
was out, collecting rents for his land, and some time elapsed before he
came back, carrying in his hands an inkpot and some papers to show how
busy he had been. The dealer asked where the farmer was who had found
the antiquities. The man replied, “I have sent for him, but he has not
“Where does he live?” asked the dealer.
The man pointed to a collection of huts in the distance behind a ruin.
“Come, let us take donkeys and ride there,” said the dealer, “I cannot
stay here all day.”
Donkeys were procured and they set off. On arrival, they found the
farmer working his land. When he came in answer to their call he refused
to admit that he had ever seen any gold antiquities, and vowed that he
had none. When pressed, he swore by all the Prophets and their beards
that he was innocent of finding anything; but, in an aside, he muttered
that he thought the dealer was a member of the secret police, who had
come to take all he had got.
Then the dealer swore to him by all the most sacred oaths that he was
not a member of the police force, so the old man took courage, and
produced one piece—a leaf of gold with two oxen engaged in a fight
stamped upon it. The dealer asked if this was all. The farmer replied,
“Well, you buy this, and when I know how you value it I will go and get
Then the dealer, doubting if the specimen was really genuine, asked the
farmer if he had found it, or whether any one had given it to him to
sell. The man swore by the divorce—the _talak bi talata_—that he had
found the things himself, and had dug them up out of the ground.
The dealer thereupon bought some stamped leaves of gold to the value of
£30, and the farmer told him to come again in two days and perhaps he
would show him some more. Then the man who had lured the dealer there
said, “Oh, I have seen in this man’s house a gold sword and a gold belt,
and lots of coins, and if you can get five thousand pounds you can buy
them from him.”
When the dealer got back to Cairo with his purchases, he showed them to
an authority on the subject, who offered to buy them for £250, but the
dealer refused, saying that he wished to wait until he could buy the
rest of the find. Then the prospective purchaser said that, as he had
not time to wait, he would ask a friend to come and buy for him.
The friend came and in the end bought the gold leaves for £250, and
asked the dealer to go and get the rest of the things. Thinking that he
was going to make a good season’s work, the dealer took £300 with him
and went back to the place. This was, in itself, a risky proceeding, as
he might have been murdered and the money stolen; needless to say, he
did not sleep that night.
The intermediary entered into an agreement with the dealer that he would
take no money for introducing him to the finder, but would accept a
commission on the profits made when the articles were sold.
“I will send for the man to come,” he declared, “because people will see
us going to his house, and they will become suspicious and inform the
authorities, who will put the man in prison or punish him in some way.
Stay here, my friend. It is better so. I will send for the farmer to
“But when will he come?” asked the dealer.
“In the night, when it is dark,” replied the intermediary.
The dealer waited and waited, and between his fear of being killed and
robbed, and his anxiety to get more things, he had no sleep. Each time
the door opened—and it opened many times—he sat up and asked if the man
The reply was always, “No, not yet.”
In the early morning the dealer became suspicious and said, “Well, I
must go home now, I cannot wait any longer.”
The intermediary said, “Yes, you go home, and if the man brings anything
I will come over to your shop and bring them with me.”
After two days he came alone, bringing a gold ring with a Greek head
upon it, and asked the dealer for £10 in order to buy some more things
from the farmer, who had grown suspicious and would not disclose what
else he had. The dealer gave the money, and after two days the
intermediary returned, this time with two gold coins, some more rings
and stamped gold foil, and saying positively that they were from the
So the dealer bought the coins, rings, and some of the other things for
£80. He took them to an expert authority, who said, “This is excellent,
for now we shall know from the date on the coins the age of the relics.”
A stamp in wax was taken, and sent at once to the museum.
“May I show this coin to a friend?” asked the expert. The dealer gladly
gave permission, and it was taken to a collector of coins, who told them
that that particular coin was never found in Egypt, and, most probably,
it was not genuine.
Then the dealer said, “Well, if this coin is not real, then all the
things which I have bought are frauds; let us examine all of them.”
This was done, and after three hours’ hard work with magnifying glasses,
the expert came to the conclusion that the articles were not really
genuine antiquities, but very clever frauds. Then the dealer returned
the £250 to his patron who had bought the gold leaves. After this he
took the things straight back to the intermediary, who now declined all
responsibility, saying, “You bought from the farmer, who is an ignorant
man and knows nothing.”
The assistance of the police was invoked, and the head of the village
paid £20 to the dealer, intending to reimburse himself from the proceeds
of the farmer’s crops.
In the meantime, the dealer was not idle. He found out that a Jewish
goldsmith in Cairo had prepared some plain gold leaves and had sent them
over to Athens to be stamped. He had then sold them to the intermediary,
and this man had passed them on to the fellah, and between them they had
made this plan. They buried the things in the ground, and after a time
the fellah dug them up, thus being able to swear by the “triple divorce”
that he had taken them out of the ground. Then the intermediary had
looked about him for a promising victim, and selected the dealer, who
lost over the transaction some £60. Some time later, the forgeries were
again sold to a well-known man for £30, and were again detected. This
time the money in full was returned, and the forgeries were melted down.
* * * * *
One night, thirteen years ago, while I was strolling about in the
moonlight after dinner, an Arab came up, and after some conversation
slipped a small parcel into my hand, made a sign of silence, and went
away. I knew the man, so, after a few minutes, I made an excuse and went
indoors to look at the parcel, which was rather heavy and of a peculiar
shape. After undoing the knotted ends of a piece of native cloth, there
came into view a magnificent pair of gold bracelets made in the form of
snakes, with three rings of heavy gold. The make was antique and the
design splendid. I was young at the game then, and the beauty of the
bracelets made them attractive. I hesitated for a time, and the more I
hesitated the less I liked the idea of buying them. I could not be sure
that they were real, and an expert opinion could not, under the
circumstances, be got, to say nothing of the questionable morality of
buying them and thereby encouraging riflers of tombs and stealers of
important links between the present and ancient days. For who can say
what valuable pieces of evidence may not, in this way, be lost?
I wrapped them up again in their dirty cloth and went out into the
moonlight once more. Soon the Arab sidled up to me, and I put the parcel
back into his hand.
“You will buy them?” he queried.
“What is your price?” I asked.
“Thirty pounds,” he replied. “They are worth a hundred and fifty.”
I told him it was a lot of money. He shrugged his shoulders, and held up
his hands as if to show me that he was positively giving them to me.
Then I definitely declined to buy them.
And now, after thirteen years have passed, I hear that they were
afterwards sold for the price of the gold plus a quarter for the antique
design. Old Egyptian gold is 24 carat, and an English sovereign is 18
carat, so that the price came out at about the price of ordinary gold.
And one of those implicated in the transaction has since admitted to me
that the bracelets were forgeries.
* * * * *
Last year I was shown by a collector a small gold scarab. It was quite
hollow and made of very thin gold, and it had the appearance of having
been pressed out in a mould. I was asked to give an opinion on it, but
was able to escape without committing myself. My opinion was that the
scarab was not genuine, but as it was the first example of its kind that
I had seen, I did not care to express too definite an opinion upon the
subject. This year I have seen other gold ornaments bought at the same
place, and I have no hesitation in saying that the scarab was an
exceedingly well-made copy of a genuine one.
* * * * *
[Illustration: PLATE II. NECKLACES AND A BRACELET. 1. A necklace
composed of genuine old carnelian beads, with spurious gold bottles. 2.
Part of a necklace made of silver-gilt filigree work, with coloured
glass scarabs—bought in Algiers. 3. A bracelet made up of imitation
scarabs set in gold of a low carat. 4. A string of genuine old carnelian
and spurious gold beads.]
In Plate II are shown some interesting forged gold antiques. The
necklace (No. 2) was bought by a lady in Algiers. It was represented to
have been brought from Egypt, and was said to be composed of Egyptian
scarabs made of precious stones and mounted in gold filigree work. The
price paid for it was £16. Examination showed that the scarabs were
composed of coloured glass, very badly cut, and the setting was merely
silver gilt. The real value was under ten shillings.
No. 1 shows a combination necklace composed of genuine old carnelian
beads and spurious gold bottles. This was a fashionable form of necklace
in the ancient days, and the present specimen is extremely well
calculated to take in the unwary. The price asked for it was £18. The
man had two others of a somewhat different design with him. The prices
were £12 and £6 respectively. In each case the beads were old, and the
gold had been covered with a kind of lacquer which gave it the
appearance of age. So clever were the gold imitations that at first I
really thought that they were real, and proceeded to bargain for them.
We did not agree upon a price for the two largest necklaces, but I
bought the smaller one (No. 4) for twelve shillings.
No. 3 is a bracelet made up of imitation scarabs set in real gold of a
The seller also showed me a heavy gold ring, fashioned like the ring of
Akhnaton, but lacking an inscription on the face of it. For this he
asked £8, but I remembered a tale told me by an excavator to the effect
that in December of 1900 a man of Qus took a gold ring to his camp at
Derr-el-Ballas. On the face was the name of an eighteenth-dynasty queen.
Careful examination showed that the ring was a forgery. Four months
later the excavator saw the same ring in the shop of a dealer in Luxor,
who had paid £5 for it, and this made me cautious. The following day the
man returned with a friend, and again we proceeded to bargain for the
two large necklaces. Hamid Ibrahim, to whom I am much indebted for his
assistance, and in whose shop the transaction was taking place, was
suspicious and uneasy. Time after time he examined the necklaces with a
powerful magnifying glass. The men watched him calmly, never showing by
the quiver of an eyelid that they minded his examining them as much as
he liked. We had narrowed the transaction down until now there was
little separating us in price, when again Ibrahim took up the bottle
necklace, and began looking at it with his glass. Suddenly he made a
quick movement which I understood at once, and then he laid the necklace
down. Silently he handed me the glass, and pointed out a bottle. I took
up the necklace, and there on the bottle he had indicated, was a very
fine line where the gold had been folded over. I handed the necklace
back to Ibrahim, who took a needle and ran it along underneath the edge
of the gold, which he thus turned back. Then we saw that it was no
thicker than a sheet of thin paper, while the bottles had been cast in
plaster of Paris, and the gold foil very cleverly folded over them. I
did not buy the necklaces, but I obtained the loan of one of them (No.
2, Plate II).
As I have said, the men made no objection to our examination of the
bottles. They looked us frankly in the face; they would have cheated us
if they could, but they had failed. They did not consider that they were
in any way to blame for their attempt. They told us frankly, after we
had found them out, that the gold forgeries were all made by one man,
who was such a wonderful artist that he had been offered a high rate of
pay to go to Europe to work there, but that he had refused. It is
certain that more will be heard of this man’s work, for, said my
informant, “There is no one in the world so clever as he is in making
I have purposely refrained from describing the gold forgeries made and
sold by Europeans in Egypt, preferring to keep entirely to the Egyptians
and their work.
GENUINE lapis lazuli figures are extremely rare, and generally small,
the most valuable ones in the museums being only a few inches high. It
was thought at first that it would be impossible to make imitations
which would pass for the real stone, but on the demand arising it has
I was riding from Deir-el-Bahari down to the river one day when a youth
rose up from the side of the road, and shuffled forward to speak to me.
“You buy antīcas?” he said in a whisper, casting a sidelong glance of
apprehension at a mounted policeman who was following at about seventy
I told him to show me what he had, whereupon he produced a blue bowl of
earthenware with a pattern of the lotus flower on it. Porcelain, he
called it, “and very fine work, sir. I dig in the tombs, sir.”
Now if there was one thing that this youthful Ananias did not do, it was
to dig in the tombs. It is one of the worst offences in Egypt to dig and
take away antiquities without permission. This constitutes a crime not
to be expiated without years of imprisonment in the Tourah stone
The price of the blue bowl was £3. This at once betrayed it, for no one
knows better than these sellers of antiquities the value of the genuine
article. £20 or more would not have bought it, had he really dug it up
out of a tomb. When I declined to buy the bowl, he produced various
fragments of alabaster vessels which were genuine enough, and then some
odd Ushebti figures, genuine but very poor in make and colour, and not
worth the trouble of taking home. When these were declined, he still ran
alongside of my donkey for perhaps half a mile, from time to time
casting hunted looks at the mounted policeman not very far away.
Presently he cast an agonised look at me and made a sound indicative of
silence; then he produced a statue bound up in old rags, thrust it on my
saddle in front of me, and with exceedingly well-acted fright, implored
me not to let the policeman see it. Our conversation was carried on in
Arabic, so that he knew well that I lived in the country, and yet he
looked me straight in the face, and with his hand on his heart, lied.
I unrolled the rags, and there was a wonderful statue of Horus, about
six inches high, beautifully moulded, in what was apparently lapis
lazuli, with most natural cracks and fissures running through the
substance. It was the first time I had met with this particular
imitation, and for a moment I was dumfounded. I thrust the statue under
my coat, and turned to look at our friend, the policeman. He was still
at the same distance away, watching us, but the smile had broadened on
his face, and this gave the whole thing away. He had evidently witnessed
the same play a dozen times before, and perhaps a dozen people had
thrust that statue under their coats, and turned to look at him; so that
he knew at once the stage which the negotiations had reached. Sometimes
the young man would bring off the coup, when, no doubt, they would
celebrate the occasion in a manner which would recompense the policeman
for his non-interference.
“How much?” I asked.
“Thirty pounds,” was his reply.
“But it is very dear,” I objected, “and it does not seem to be a genuine
“By the Prophet,” swore the boy, “I dug it up myself in the tombs.
Please, gentleman, do not let the policeman see.”
His intense anxiety was well acted. I looked at the statue again. It was
the work of an artist, made in glass, with all the characteristics of
the precious stone, and then sand-blasted to give it the appearance of
age. Its value, had it been genuine, would have been many hundreds of
pounds. Its actual value was a few shillings. Then we proceeded to
bargain. I could have bought the figure for £3, but lower than that he
would not come down; so I wrapped the statue up, and gave it back to
him. Again he tried to sell me the blue bowl, offering this time to take
ten shillings for it. When I said that I had no change, he produced a
bag with a considerable quantity of gold and silver in it, and extracted
an English half-sovereign. His perseverance was so marked that in the
end I bought a few imitations, so that he might not have had his long
run for nothing.
On returning to Luxor, I found in a shop a large head of Horus in blue,
apparently lapis lazuli. It was in a glass case, and was evidently
considered to be very valuable. I asked to see it, and inquired from the
dealer what it was. He, decent old fellow, smiled, and, turning his
hands upwards, mentioned the name of a well-known Egyptologist,
connected with the museum, and said, “He says perhaps it is lapis
lazuli.” As a matter of fact, it was glass imitation.
At the last Agricultural Show in Cairo, there were several stalls for
the sale of antiquities. At one of these I was shown Hathor, the sacred
cow, and the figure of a man. The price asked was £40 for the cow, and
£30 for the figure of a man. They were both wrapped up in pieces of old
rag, and only brought out after I had seen most of the antiquities on
the stall. After informing the man that I knew they were only glass
imitations, I tried to buy the figures, but it was impossible to get
them for a reasonable sum. The lowest amount he would accept for the cow
was £8, and £4 for the man.
[Illustration: PLATE III. WOODEN USHEBTI FIGURES. Made at Gurna.]
Later on, an itinerant vendor offered to sell me the figure shown in
Plate X., No. 4. When we had agreed that it was imitation, and made of
glass, I asked him to name a price. The lowest that he would take was
£3. I was somewhat puzzled by the consistent high prices asked even for
a fraud which had been detected, and after a great deal of argument, the
man indignantly informed me that some men from America come each year to
Cairo, at the end of the season, and purchase these blue glass figures
for sums ranging between £3 and £7. They take them back to America,
where they are sold for very high prices—my informant mentioned £50 and
£100 each. This would quite explain why they refused to sell them to me
at their intrinsic value.
* * * * *
There is a very considerable market for old iridescent glass. A small
bottle will fetch from £1 to £3, and good specimens from £2 to £8. There
is a moderate quantity of these bottles found in a district called
Rakah. The bottles are extremely fragile, but good specimens are very
beautiful objects and find quick buyers. There is a demand, and the
ingenuity of the Egyptian is keenly exercised to meet it. Imitations are
being made by pouring a chemical on the inside and the outside of
specially made thin bottles and glasses. This forms a film which gives
an appearance of iridescence; but in many cases the film can be detached
with the point of a knife, and thus the fraud is made palpable.
One day a youth brought an iridescent bottle for me to buy, and as I
happened to be out he sat down in the sun and waited. Upon my return he
came up and began to explain that he had brought a beautiful bottle to
sell to me, but had sat upon it and smashed it. Now he would sell it to
me very cheap. Bottles made of iridescent glass are very thin, and the
fragments were quite useless, but day after day the boy haunted the
place, wanting to sell me the broken bottle “very cheap.” I much
regretted the unfortunate accident, for the bottle, though small, had
been of perfect shape and beautiful colour. At last I offered to buy
another should he have one for sale, but he walked sullenly away and
never came back.
IT was the custom in the ancient days to place small statuettes made of
wood, stone, porcelain or composition in the tombs. These were supposed
to do the work of the dead in the Underworld, and are called ushebti,
funerary figures, or answerers, because they were expected to answer the
call made on the name of the dead, and to stand in their place.
Nos. 1, 2 and 5 of Plate III are very cleverly carved, then dipped in
liquid plaster of Paris, allowed to dry, and coloured to represent the
ancient models. All these figures are made by a man who lives at Gurna.
I expressed to him the desire to have a figure in a boat. Three days
after he returned, bringing with him the object in the centre (No. 3),
which he called a dahabeyah, that he had made in the interval.
This man could never understand how it was that I was able to detect his
forgeries, and time after time he asked me to tell him. He would look up
with a sort of admiration and say, “Nothing is hid from his Excellency.
He knows everything, even the mind of his servant.” Later on, when I
told him that the smell of the wood of which the figures were made was
new, and not old, he looked me straight in the face without changing
countenance and exclaimed, “Allah kerim! [God is merciful.] I said well
that nothing was hid from his Excellency. If he does not see that which
is false with his eyes, he smells it with his nose.” Then he clasped his
hands together, as if there was nothing more to be said or done, and
shortly after took his leave.
[Illustration: Model of funerary chamber; complete object.]
About a week later, my servant told me that “the man belonging to the
antiquities” was waiting to see me. It was my friend again, and he said,
“This time I have an antiquity of the highest value.” We proceeded to a
room to examine it, and there he produced a bundle of paper which he
began to unroll; and as he neared the end, a most appalling stink arose,
a curious, penetrating, abominable odour. I drew back while he finished
the unwrapping, and presently he held up the wooden figure of Anubis
(Plate III, No. 4). It was extremely light, and evidently made of
mummy-case wood, which is occasionally used for these wooden figures.
But the smell was so awful that I quickly pushed it as far as possible
away from me. All the time the man watched my face without the flicker
of a smile on his own.
“It is indeed an antīca,” he assured me.
“I have my doubts on that point,” I replied.
“Then will not the gentleman apply his test and smell it?” asked my
friend, with the ghost of a smile on his face.
No, the gentleman would not smell it. The odour pervaded the whole room
as it was, and I verily believe the old scoundrel had boiled down a
piece of mummy and painted the statue with the liquid, either to hide
the smell of the new wood, or to play off a joke upon me. Finally I
bought the thing for three shillings, although he had asked £14 for it;
but I had to cover it all over with varnish to seal up the smell before
I could keep it in my room. For that reason it appears rather more shiny
than the other figures.
[Illustration: Horus Hawk]
Plate III, No. 6 represents a Nubian of an early dynasty. There is a
cartouche and an inscription on the base. It stood in the window of a
shop in Luxor in company with several other wooden figures. The dealer
told me a long story about his brother having died, and how he had taken
over the antiquities belonging to him, and was selling them at a very
cheap rate. The man assured me that the statue was a genuine antiquity,
but I had my doubts about it. Our bargaining was not a long process, and
I bought it for a small sum. As I went out of the shop, the man said “I
hope you will have good luck with the antīca,” which at once told me
what I had already suspected, that it was indeed a fraud. And yet it is
cleverly made. The nose has been rubbed down to flatten it after the
manner of the ancient statues. The back is beautifully moulded, and the
splitting of the wood very cleverly done, but the sculptor had not taken
the pains with his work that the ancient Egyptians were accustomed to
do. The ears are badly shaped and the hair should have stood up a little
further from the forehead. The legs are too short, the ancient Egyptian
Statues being remarkable for small heads, broad shoulders, fineness
about the hips, and long powerful limbs. The feet are badly moulded, and
not up to the standard of ancient work. The cartouche on the base is
poorly cut, and in the inscription on the side one of the letters is
placed upside down.
The removal of a small piece of wood with a knife showed it to be deeply
stained, but underneath the staining the wood was white. The most
important test, however, for wooden reproductions is the smell of the
wood. The hawk here represented is about one foot in height, carved out
of wood and painted. The wings are a dull green and the breast and back
a light brown, with a decoration upon the back. As a rule these figures
have a crown above the head, but in this specimen it had been broken
off. These figures are frequently to be met with in the Mousky.
[Illustration: PLATE IV. FUNERARY FIGURES IN WOOD AND PLASTER.]
Plate IV contains some other funerary figures. No. 1 is a composition
figure, part of which is old and part new. The white foot of the statue
is new, while the remainder is old.
[Illustration: Bes Made of soft white composition and painted black]
The head and chest have been repainted.
No. 5 represents a small mummy figure, and is composed of old rags
covered with plaster of Paris, and painted. The red paint used on the
figure is correct, but the artist has made the mistake of using Prussian
blue. The use of this colour was not known until the eighteenth century,
therefore it could not have been in use in ancient times. The red is
derived from the oxide of iron found in the desert. On the front and
also on the back of the figure there is a passage from the Book of the
Dead. The modelling is good, but the use of the Prussian blue gives it
entirely away. Nos. 2, 3, 4, and 6 represent also the funerary figures
which used to be placed in the tombs to do the work of the deceased in
the Underworld. The specimens shown are made from pieces of old mummy
cases so as to give them the appearance of age.
[Illustration: Figure of a Nubian, made of slate]
The plough in No. 2, Plate V, is a very clever imitation. The shaft is
long and exactly proportioned, and the end takes the form of the head of
a snake. There is a ridge a quarter of the way down the shaft, to which
was evidently attached the collar of the oxen. The model was made, then
dipped in liquid plaster and faintly coloured a reddish-brown. The
artist made the mistake of tying the pieces together with modern string
instead of using raw hide thongs as the ancient Egyptians did. On the
end is a figure representing Min, the god of the harvest.
All the wooden figures in the illustrations are made by the man at
Gurna, who told me with many a chuckle that he had sold one plough for
£4 to an eminent Egyptologist, and that he had obtained £2 for another
model from the representative of a foreign museum.
Plate V, No. 1 represents a paint-box of the early dynasties; it is made
of new wood, covered with plaster, and coloured. On the top of this has
been applied some size, and then some rough dirt has been thrown over it
while still wet. There is a long slit for rush brushes, and three holes
for the colouring material, one of which contains some colour. Its
companion, No. 4, is light, and made of old wood dipped in plaster, then
covered with size and cleverly coloured reddish-brown in places with
bars of deep green round it. Two knobs, one for opening the lid, and the
other for holding the case, are to be noted. It contains four wooden
sticks for writing. There are four holes, each containing a small amount
of colouring material.
As already mentioned, there is a way of detecting these forgeries. In
addition to the smell of the new wood there is the sour odour of the
size with which the artist covers them before sprinkling them
artistically with various dusts. In the case of the boxes, they are too
short and the sticks are wrong; they should have been rushes or very
thin reeds teased out at one end and made into a brush. It was owing to
the use of these rush or reed brushes that the letters of the ancient
writings were usually made in the same way.
No. 3 of the same plate shows a reproduction of a dove, in wood, the
colouring copied from an original.
ONE day an up-river man offered for sale some small stone figures, and
told me that he had others. I appointed a day to see them at Ibrahim’s
shop. The man, accompanied by a friend, came in before I arrived there,
and showed them to Ibrahim, to whom he swore by Allah that they were
genuine antiquities, and well worth buying. Failing in his attempt to
get Ibrahim to buy them, he asked his help to persuade me to do so,
offering him a commission out of what I should pay for them. Ibrahim, in
order to lead him on, said he would do his best.
When I arrived, a few poor specimens of worthless antiquities were taken
out of the many receptacles which these men have about their clothes.
These were put aside in silence, as unworthy of consideration. Then
there was a pause.
“What else have you?” I asked.
One by one the things were brought out, until all the objects shown on
Plate VI were lying before us.
The stone head (No. 1) is composed of green basalt. It is supposed to
represent a royal personage, possibly Akhnaton. It is peculiar in that
the eyes show a distinct oriental tilt. The sculpture is poor, the ears
badly made, the uræus—the sign of royalty—is cut in, instead of being
raised, as in all the old examples of sculpture, and the sculptor has
not placed the centre of the uræus in a line with the nose. These are
mistakes of which the ancient sculptor would hardly have been guilty.
The second head (No. 3) shows a different tilt of the eyes. The work is
by the same man, is also in green basalt, and is no better done.
After the heads were finished they were dipped in a kind of thin
plaster, and then buried in a manure heap, where they remained for a
time. The price asked was £1 each, and I eventually bought them for
No. 2 shows a bottle of steatite. This was made in two halves, one of
which broke. The fragments were embedded in a soft cement and moulded to
correspond with the other side, and then coloured. This is a favourite
way of faking various bowls or bottles. I have had small granite bowls
offered to me, one part of which was whole, but the remainder was
composed of small fragments embedded in a coloured wax, so soft that you
could indent it with your nail. In addition to this it had the smell of
Plate VI, No. 4 represents a ushebti figure, bearing the cartouche of
Thothmes III, and a passage from the Book of the Dead. It is composed of
ordinary Nile mud, and made in a mould. It was then taken out and left
to dry, and later on blackened over a charcoal fire. In many of the
houses in the vicinity of Gurna and Deir-el-Bahari, in a little hole
above the door, or in some other convenient place, these statues may be
seen, lying in their roughened condition, just as they have been taken
out of the mould.
The price paid for this was one piastre, or twopence halfpenny. Many
hundreds of these figures are sold all over Egypt during the season, and
many a museum, no doubt, considers itself enriched by the possession of
what is nothing more than a very crude modern model of a funerary
No. 5 represents a woman with a wig. She should not have been
represented carrying cylinders in her hands. The maker has mixed two
periods, the predominating one being probably the twelfth dynasty.
No. 6 is composed of serpentine, and represents the work of about the
twelfth dynasty, and possesses the dolichocephalic features of the skull
which, according to Elliot Smith, are characteristic of the ancient
Egyptian race. This, however, is not apparent in the illustration.
Generally speaking, the artist has not quite conformed to the Egyptian
style. The ancient sculpture at all periods acquired its distinctive
features from being produced in conformity with a canon. As everything
was done by rule, there was an absolute certainty that each article of
the period would have the distinguishing marks of this rule upon it, and
that no stroke of the chisel, however rough or hastily applied, would be
tentative. The effect would be produced rapidly and surely, and the
amount of labour expended upon these statues would have produced a
greater amount of detailed modelling.
[Illustration: PLATE V. WOODEN ARTICLES. Representing objects found in
1 & 4. Paint boxes. 2. A model of a plough. 3. A dove.]
Plate VI, No. 7, is a copy of a ushebti of the nineteenth dynasty, made
of soluble composition, probably plaster of Paris, with a weight inside,
and representing basalt. The materials are very fine, and hold tightly
together. It was roughly modelled first, then trimmed and cut. The maker
has observed ancient modelling sufficiently to make the ears large, but
he has not carried his observation to the point of studying by what
conventional strokes of the chisel the details of the ears and the
features of the face were produced. All Egyptian features were produced
by conventional means with hardly any variety. The tools were held and
the strokes made in the same manner, or the same effect could not be
A favourite price with these men is £40, and this is what the man asked
for the first figure he brought out; £20 for the mummy figure, and £10
for the other. I offered £1 for the three. On hearing this he very
scornfully packed them up again, and we proceeded to bargain for the
smaller antiquities he had brought with him. Then the touch of the money
in his palm seemed to quicken his desire for more. Quickly some black
beads, a forged wooden paint-pot, alabaster pots, scarabs, and various
other things changed hands for a shilling or two each. Then I prepared
“What you give for these?” demanded his companion, indicating the
“They are frauds, and useless,” I replied.
“But you are well known. You buy new things.”
“Yes, at a price.”
“What you give then? You say something.”
Eventually for £2 15_s._ I became owner of the statuettes and four other
things, for which they had, in the first place, asked nearly £100.
* * * * *
A few years ago a large hotel was erected near Cairo, and Italian
workmen were brought over to make scagliola, or imitation stone, for
pillars, &c. There is no doubt that the Egyptians seized the opportunity
to acquire further knowledge, which has been applied to the forging of
The maker of these stone forgeries is an up-river man with a keen,
clever face. The skin of his left hand is soft, but that of his right
hand is much harder; the fingers and thumb of this hand are bent back,
showing that they have been used for hard pressure. He informed me that
he always copied from a genuine antiquity or from one of the ancient
carvings upon a temple wall.
A collector was approached one day by a young man who offered some small
objects for sale. These were worthless, colourless scarabs and sacred
eyes. Some were real enough, but broken, and of no value. The collector
bought a few, and the man hinted at a statue, and gave certain vague
particulars about it. A time was appointed, and in a hole in a room,
which had been covered up by boards, the statue was seen, standing
upright and at least two feet in height. It was taken out, and the
collector examined it carefully. It seemed to be a splendid piece of
work. The features were finely chiselled, and it was apparently the work
of one of the best periods.
“Let me show it to the museum authorities,” said the collector. But the
“No,” he said. “They will keep it, and send me to prison for having it.”
In the end a bargain was struck for £220, and the money paid. One day
the collector showed it to a friend, who after some time made a remark
which aroused the owner’s suspicions. He then sought the advice of an
expert, who was extremely guarded in expressing his opinion. After a
long and careful examination, however, he pronounced it a forgery.
It is only fair to say that in this instance the money was returned. The
seller was willing to do this rather than run the risk of a prosecution,
which would give him a bad name, and possibly a long term of
I saw recently a forged granite statue which was of quite good
workmanship, and another which had a fault, in that the face was turned
ever so slightly to one side.
In Plate VII, Nos. 1, 2, 4, 5 are supposed to represent the sons of
Horus. They are made of bone and have some plaster sticking on the
reverse side. Badly cut, they are not even correct in form, as the faces
should be those of a man, a dog-faced ape, a jackal, and a hawk.
No. 3 is an Osiris figure of unusual form.
No. 6 shows a ram’s head in red Aswan granite. This was the first
example of forgery in granite that I had seen. The work is crude, and
the features are not well brought out, but it is a remarkable example of
the length to which these natives will go, and the trouble they will
take in order to impose upon the credulous and get money. There is no
doubt that a large number of the Egyptians have learnt to work the
harder kinds of stone while employed in building the Aswan Dam.
No. 7 is a small stone hawk of incorrect shape.
No. 8 represents a frog cut in serpentine.
No. 9 is a crocodile made of slate. Part of the tail is lacking.
Nos. 10 and 11. Few people buy these as antiquities now. Their principal
use seems to be that of paper-weights. They are made of plaster of
Paris, and coloured. The price is about 1_s._ or less, but there is no
doubt that some years ago they were freely sold as genuine antīcas.
[Illustration: Sandstone Tablet and kneeling figure]
The figure on page 54 shows the statue of a kneeling man holding a
tablet. It was said to have been taken out of a serdab, but the
inscription has no meaning. The statue was some fifteen inches in
height, and the maker had reproduced the old colours very cleverly.
The history of this tablet is somewhat curious. It was bought at Luxor
for £50, and brought down to Cairo, where a doubt was cast upon its
authenticity. A corner of the tablet was cut off with a saw, and it was
found to be composed of sandstone. Eventually the owner became convinced
that it was not a real antīca, and being unwilling to burden his luggage
with so heavy a weight, gave it away. I found it standing in an
out-of-the-way corner, with its face to the wall. It is an undoubted
On another occasion a Jewish collector of antiquities was approached by
a Bedouin who said that he had some things to sell. A day was arranged,
and they proceeded to inspect the find. There was a large stone statue
and some small, almost worthless articles. After long haggling, a price
was agreed upon, £75 for the lot, apportioned in the following way. The
small articles were priced by the Bedouin at £35, £30, and £5
respectively, leaving £5 only as the price of the statue.
The Arab seemed very stupid and it was hard to make him understand, but
eventually the bargain was struck, and the relics were taken to the
Jew’s house. There photographs of the statue were taken, and sent to
Paris and Berlin. After a time, the reply came back that the statue was
The Jew made a great outcry, but the Bedouin, who no longer appeared
stupid, pointed out that no question had been raised about the
genuineness of the smaller objects, nor could there be, as they were
real, and that only £5 had been paid for the statue. To show his good
faith, he would return the £5 and let the Jew keep the other antīcas at
the price he had paid for them, and this was eventually accepted.
[Illustration: PLATE VI. STONE AND COMPOSITION FIGURES. 1 & 3. Heads cut
in green basalt. 2. A bottle made of steatite. 4. Ushebti figure made of
Nile mud and blackened. 5. Composition figure representing granite. 6.
Statue made of serpentine. 7. Statue made of plaster of Paris with a
Here is a curious story about another statue. There were two very clever
men who lived in a village not far from the Great Pyramid. Both sold
antiquities, but for some reason one was under the suspicion of the
Government Department. A beautiful statue came into his possession, but
he was afraid to offer it for sale himself, so he applied secretly to
his _confrère_ for assistance.
Shortly afterwards his people called me in to see him medically. At
first sight the case was a perplexing one. There were no evidences of
disease, and yet the man was sunk in a profound depression; he could not
sleep, nor take any interest in the affairs of his family. He sat,
sighing and silent, clasping and unclasping his fingers, day after day,
surrounded by his sympathising men-friends, who smoked and drank coffee,
as their custom is. The action of the heart got weaker and weaker, and
his stomach would not “walk well,” while he said that he was very tired
and thought he would like to die. One day I ordered all his friends out
of the room, and then, after rolling out a verse of the Koran, asked him
what it was that was taking “the blood from his heart”?
At first he would not answer, but after I had pointed out to him that he
was walking with his eyes open towards the tomb, where the angels Munker
and Nakir would not be so gentle in questioning him as I had been, he
gave way and told me the whole story.
He had bought a statue from some of the fellaheen who had dug it up out
of their fields. They had been hard to deal with, but he had sat for
days, threatening them with the police and the wrath of the Antiquities
Department. In the end he had bought the statue for the price of a
feddan of land. He was as innocent as milk of doing wrong things, but
some _kelb_ (dog) had told the Department of Antiquities lies, and now
he could not conduct his business without fear. It was best to be
honest, as he had always said, but what could one do with men whose
breath poisoned the air around them? Life was hard, and only fools went
out of their way to seek for trouble. Therefore had he called in his
neighbour to assist him in disposing of his treasure. His neighbour had
taken the statue into his house, and in a week came an up-river man, who
stayed there for a time. After many weeks, his neighbour had sent back a
statue which was not the original, but a good copy, made by the man from
up the river. Now, he could not take an action in the Courts to recover
his statue, which was worth many hundreds of pounds, and meant, as the
Pasha would understand, many acres of land, so “it is finished.”
Sorrowfully he rocked himself to and fro in the most abject misery as he
told the tale, and looked appealingly at me for sympathy.
It was difficult to treat a man hit so hard as this man was. It was “his
chance,” which comes only once in a lifetime, and he had missed it.
Bromides procured a little sleep, but the patient wasted away, and
seemed not to want to live.
Then one day came some news. His neighbour had sold the statue to a
museum in America for a large sum. It had been discovered to be a fraud,
and had been returned; the money had had to be refunded, and the man had
lost the cost of making the second statue, also his good name, and
incurred sundry other expenses.
When the patient heard this, his eyes brightened forthwith. He got up
from his bed, called for water, and ordered food to be prepared. Then he
washed and prayed, and after that he ate a hearty meal.
Later I found that he had inspected his land, ordered alterations to his
house, and given his wives extra money. I came across him in one of his
fields, and he told me the news with many pious sayings. When we parted
he clasped my hand warmly, saying, “Good-bye, oh Doctor Pasha. Allah
kerim [God is merciful], and we are all his children; but, as my father
said, it is always best to be honest.”