Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art.

Antique Dealer Admits Museum Artifact Is a Fake: Report

A man says he forged a museum artifact in Connecticut that was once described as a "treasure to behold for art and history buffs alike."

Massachusetts antique dealer Harold Gordon tells The Hartford Courant he turned a plain writing desk into the "Bingham Family Civil War Memorial Secretary." The piece was said to be a gift given to a Civil War veteran in honor of his brother who was killed at the Battle of Antietam.

Gordon said he sold the piece to a Connecticut antiques dealer because he needed the money. The dealer showed the piece at a 2015 Winter Antiques Show in New York, where it was purchased by the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art.

The museum said in a statement Monday it has been offered a full refund.

Following is the full statement from the museum:

“As stated clearly in our mission statement, we hold our collections in trust for all people, and we are dedicated to advancing knowledge and inspiring everyone to experience and appreciate excellence in art and culture. To realize that mission, we work to acquire items for our collections. In the acquisition and accession process we strive to confirm the authenticity of every item in accordance with our Collections Management Policy.

“In late 2016, we received an anonymous report that one of the items acquired for our folk art collection in February 2015 – a piece of antique furniture adorned with relics of the civil war at the time of the American centennial, 1876 – was fake. We began to investigate and in 2017 took the item off view at the Atheneum until the investigation could be completed. One of the steps we took was to engage a materials scientist to try to determine the age and timeframe of the adornments. Other steps included a thorough review of a wide variety of historical sources and our own records in an attempt to scrutinize the authenticity.

“This week, we learned that a Massachusetts antiques picker and craftsman has reportedly confessed to adorning the antique secretary himself, forging the provenance documentation, and misleading the dealer to whom he sold the piece. That dealer, who sold it to the Atheneum, has offered the museum a complete and total refund. We are also in contact with the appropriate authorities to follow up on this matter.

“While it can be difficult to authenticate folk art of this kind, and this was by all accounts a masterful forgery that fooled a number of experts in this field, we will review our accession process and make every effort to ensure that art we acquire is what it purports to be. 

“We thank the concerned individuals who brought this to our attention and pursued this matter to this conclusion. We take our role as a steward of the public trust to be paramount and appreciate your support. Collections are fundamental to this institution’s identity, essential to its core function as a place for art and public engagement, and a defining element of our present and future plans. We will continue to do our best to identify, authenticate, acquire, preserve and present culturally significant works of art in our collections.” 

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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