Indonesian shipwreck auction fails for lack of bidders

A high-profile auction of rare treasures from an Indonesian shipwreck was expected to go for at least $80 million, but in the end there were no bidders. While there was interest expressed by 12 parties from around thw world, it seems that the high deposit required (US$16 million) in order to bid and the short wait time was one of the reasons no one came forward to bid. The 270,000 items were recovered by a private company with a 50-50 sharing agreement with the Indonesian government. The government is now looking into setting up a second auction, while at the same time local archaeologists and royalty are expressing disapproval over the sale of such a tremendous hoard. Given such a high-profile failure, it would be interesting to see how this auction (and later developments) will affect salvage work in this region. Most countries don’t have the resources to conduct their own underwater archaeology or salvage operations and thus have to outsource the work to private companies; but if the salvage can’t even be sold, is there any profit for such work in the first place? Or is this a case of bad logistics and management on the part of the auction organisation?

Ancient treasures set for auction in Indonesia
AFP, 02 May 2010

Little Interest in Indonesian Treasure
AFP, via Jakarta Globe, 04 May 2010

Indonesia treasure auction fails to attract bidders
BBC News, 05 May 2010

Sunken Treasure Auction Flops
Bernama, 05 May 2010

Government Requests UNESCO’s Help in Auctioning Treasures
Tempo Interaktif, 05 May 2010

Indonesian Auction Of Ancient Treasures Falls Flat
AP, via NPR, 05 May 2010

Auction to go ahead despite mounting protests
Jakarta Globe, 05 May 2010

An auction of a 10th-century treasure trove worth an estimated 80 million dollars was in doubt Tuesday after Indonesian officials said no potential buyers had paid the hefty deposit required to bid.

The gems, crystal ware, gold and porcelain salvaged from an unidentified wreck off Cirebon, West Java, in 2004 is due to be sold in one lot by the Indonesian government in Jakarta on Wednesday.

Expressions of interest have come from collectors around Asia but none has paid the 16-million-dollar deposit, or 20 percent of the minimum sale price of 80 million dollars, by Monday’s deadline, officials said.

“There are 20 interested participants, including some from overseas. Those from abroad come from Singapore, Beijing, Hongkong, Malaysia and Japan,” Maritime Affairs Ministry official Sudirman Saad said.

“So far none of the interested parties has put down the security deposit but we will still hold the auction tomorrow … If there are no buyers we’ll propose a second auction.”


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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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