Real and Fake Antiquities Expert Jerome M. Eisenberg Dies at 92

Jerome M. Eisenberg, one of New York’s leading antique dealers who, in the murky world of grave robbers and smugglers, stood as a guardian against the illegal import and sale of ancient art , died July 6, his 92nd birthday, in Manhattan.

His son, Alan, said his death, in a hospital, was caused by complications from pneumonia.

Mr Eisenberg started a mail-order antique coin business with his father when he was 12 and over the years has sold around 40,000 ancient artefacts – he insisted that he had never knowingly sold any of suspicious provenance – and evaluated countless others for prospective purposes. buyers and insurance adjusters. He has testified as an expert witness in numerous lawsuits on the value and source of antiquities.

As founding editor of Minerva, an archaeological journal, he disputed the authenticity of several important relics. One was the Phaistos Disc, a clay artifact six inches in diameter and adorned with mysterious symbols, which was discovered in 1908 in Crete; another was the serpent goddess of Knossos, which was discovered around the same time and, like the disk, displayed in Crete at the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion.

Mr. Eisenberg, a forgery expert, wrote in 2008 that the Phaistos Disc and its undeciphered symbols, not linked to any known script, had been tampered with by Luigi Pernier, the archaeologist who said he discovered it during an excavation at the Palace of Knossos. 100 years earlier. His analysis is still debated.

Often described in the press as the dean of New York’s antiquities dealers, Mr. Eisenberg founded the Royal-Athena Galleries in Manhattan, specializing in classical Greek, Roman and Egyptian art, in 1954, after being discharged from the army. In 1970, he created Collector’s Cabinet, a natural history gallery displaying minerals, shells, fossils and butterflies. He then expanded Royal-Athena, opening branches in Beverly Hills, California, and London.

He retired and closed Royal-Athéna in 2020, when he was 90 years old.

Jerome Martin Eisenberg was born July 6, 1930 in Philadelphia to Gertrude (Roberts) Eisenberg, a teacher, and Samuel Eisenberg, a printer. He grew up in Revere, Massachusetts, and fell in love with the ancient world during a childhood visit to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

He returned to Philadelphia as a teenager to attend the prestigious Central High School and lived in the city with an uncle. He received a bachelor’s degree in geology from Boston University and later took courses in art history at Columbia University and Pennsylvania State University.

In 1953 he married Betty Weiner; she died in 2018. Besides his son, he is survived by a daughter, Chelsea Roberts, and two grandchildren.

A student of archeology (he studied under Czech curator Jiri Frel, who was later fired from the J. Paul Getty Museum in a tax evasion scheme), Mr. Eisenberg specialized in Etruscan bronzes and Roman sculptures.

He was the editor of Minerva from its founding in 1990 until 2009. In 1993 he was a founding member of the International Association of Ancient Art Dealers. In 2012 he received the Order of the Star of Italian Solidarity for his contribution to the promotion of Italian culture.

Mr. Eisenberg exposed unauthorized excavators who looted ancient artifacts, smuggled them to other countries and sold them on the black market or covered up their provenance.

He went so far as to leave the antiques business for a while and turned to natural history artifacts, his son said, because he no longer believed it could be done ethically. He wrote “A Collector’s Guide to Seashells of the World” in 1981.

When he returned to the business, Alan Eisenberg said, what meant most to him was “doing it ethically and persuading others to do it ethically.” He describes himself in his catalogs of antiquities as “a leader for many years in promoting the ethical acquisition of antiquities by museums and collectors”.

But while he was proud of his ethics, Mr. Eisenberg understood that as different countries changed their standards and laws, the definition of ethical behavior could become blurred.

“I have tried diligently to comply with all US regulations and international treaties governing objects of cultural significance,” he wrote. I am unfortunately both an idealist and a hypocrite, as I have no doubt unknowingly purchased many objects legally from galleries and auction houses in England, Germany, France and Switzerland which were once illegally exported from their country.

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