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Royall Tyler to Mildred Barnes Bliss, August 15, 1930

41, Bishopgate,
London, E.C.2
15.VIII.30Friday.

At last I’m out of Budapest, dearest Mildred, and the business there may come off after all. Anyway, all my efforts there won’t be wholly wasted.

Great excitement here: the Durlacher Lombard treasure is a fake!Durlacher Brothers, an antiquities dealership based in London and New York. In 1843, Henry Durlacher founded the London firm that would later be known as Durlacher Brothers after his two sons, George (ca. 1859—1942) and Alfred. The New York firm opened in the early 1920s and was managed by R. Kirk Askew. He became the owner of Durlacher Brothers in 1937 and ran the business from New York until ca. 1969. The Durlachers’ Lombard gold treasure was shown at the Burlington Fine Arts Club exhibition Art in the Dark Ages in Europe (circa 400–1000 AD) in 1930. See Reginald Smith, Treasure from a Lombard Chieftain’s Grave (London, ca. 1925); Otto Kurz, Falsi e falsari (Venice: N. Pozza, 1960), 252–54; and Dafydd Kidd, “Fakes of Early Medieval European Jewelry,” in Fake? The Art of Deception, ed. Mark Jones (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990): 173–76. Zimmermann has pointed out that that elaborately ornamented plaque is a shuffled copy of a visor of a helmet (Lombard, and also gold) in the Bargello.

I can’t honestly say I suspected it, but I had only the briefest opportunity of seeing the things, at Durlacher’s by artificial light. As you know, I always thought them hideous—and the farther I go the more I tend to trust that sort of impression. Of course they are wrong: that treacly enamel, all of one colour, running in grooves all over the gold, is something the like of which has never been seen on any good barbarian object.

Reginald SmithReginald Arthur Smith (1874–1940), an archaeologist and keeper of British and medieval antiquities at the British Museum in the 1920s. and the rest of the British Museum crowd are in an awkward position. I haven’t seen any of them, and I’m leaving today for Antigny, but I’m told R. Smith still sticks to it that the Durlacher things are genuine. He hasn’t had much luck of late: appearing in print on the Durlacher things in that splurgy catalogue, just after having bought from Mauthner,László Mauthner, a Hungarian antiquities dealer. via Spink, a fake gold ‘Scythian’ stag, which I warned him against before he bought it. It’s annoying that John Hugh SmithArnold John Hugh Smith (1881–1964), an American expatriate banker, art collector, Francophile, and friend of Henry James and Edith Wharton. He was the director of Hambros Bank in London. His collecting interests were similar to those of Royall Tyler. He gave a fragment of a French Gothic sandstone Crucifixion (M.10-1955) to the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, in 1955 and Bronze Age and eighteenth-century weapons in 1956. After his death, the Fitzwilliam Museum received the Hugh Smith Bequest, which included ancient Egyptian carved stone vessels (E.1-5.1964), fourteenth-century pottery and alabaster Persian bowls and sculptures, two French Romanesque limestone capitals (M.1 and 2-1964), a late twelfth-century marble sculpture of a man’s head (ascribed to the Master of Cabestany; M.3-1964), a head of the Bodhisattva Avolkitesvara, and paintings and sculptures by Rubens, Gericault, Hogarth, Pissarro, Renoir, and Matisse. said from the beginning that he suspected the Durlacher things. In great haste, dearest Mildred, but I had to give you these news.

R. T.