Chapter 18: A Letter from Dr. Bernard Von Bothmer

In early 1971, the Mansoors had been in touch with a prospective customer in the San Francisco area. Some of their Amarna sculptures had been offered to him for sale through a mutual friend. The collector, after having heard the story of the Amarna pieces, sought the help of one of his friends, Dr. Thomas Carr Howe, former Director of the Museum of the Legion of Honor of San Francisco. Howe, in turn, wrote Bothmer (Department of Ancient Art in the Brooklyn Museum) for advice. Bothmer obliged and wrote, on April 15, 1971, the following:

Dear Mr. Howe:

Thank you very much for your letter of March 31. I wish I had it earlier . . .

First of all, I must not comment in writing because the brothers Mansoor threatened my predecessor as well as the Brooklyn Museum with a $1,000,000 law suit. Since then our legal counsel has advised us never, never to comment on any of the wares the Mansoor brothers have been trying to peddle in this country since 1947.

I am familiar with the booklet written by Messrs. Stross and Eisenlord. To my mind, it does not hold water, and a prominent chemist friend of mine went over it with the proverbial fine tooth comb and felt that scientifically it is of no value whatsoever . . .

But what is the meaning of this letter? The tone is irritable and irrational. Is he trying to cover up for one of the many blunders, by discouraging any and all prospective buyers from acquiring not just the Tell-el-Amarna sculptures, but also any "wares the Mansoor brothers have been trying to peddle in this country since 1947"?

"Wares?" It is strange that Bothmer would call Egyptian art masterpieces just "wares". These "wares" are in the Museums of Brooklyn, the Metropolitan, Wadsworth Atheneum, Detroit, Seattle, San Diego, Denver, Toronto, The Oriental Institute of Chicago, Royal Ontario, and many other museums including the Louvre, The Vatican, and Cairo.

Dr. Bothmer begins his letter by stating "I must not comment in writing" about the Collection, but goes on to do so. He also insinuates the Collection is not genuine, but he does not say why. Then, like Muller, Cooney and Derchain, he ignores the value of scientific investigation. Instead, he produces his own adviser, "a prominent chemist friend of mine went over it with the proverbial fine tooth comb and felt that scientifically it is of no value whatsoever." Who is this super chemist who could not read, interpret, understand or accept the findings of such eminent scientists as Silver, Plenderleith, Compton, Iskandar, Arnal, De Ment, to mention but a few.

But Bothmer's letter has a much deeper meaning than what it just says on the surface. It means that in the museums and universities of the United States and Europe, there are still to this day individuals who take advantage of their positions and the trust placed in them to impose and dictate their will regardless of the sound and logical scientific facts. They are elected to fill certain positions; then they begin to believe that they are the gods of their profession.

After Howe read the letter, he naturally turned it over to the prospective customer, who, after having read it in turn, gave it to his friend. His reply was that under the circumstances, and particularly because Egyptian art was not his field, he could no longer be interested in the sculptures. Disappointed, our mutual friend gave the Mansoors Bothmer's letter. It had been given to the collector willingly, therefore, it is no longer personal, it became public when it was read by at least two other people besides its recipient and the Mansoors. Four of the Mansoor brothers wrote Bothmer after they had read this ill-conceived letter, protesting in the strongest possible manner his behavior as a respectable curator of one of the leading American museums. Copies were also sent to the Director of the Brooklyn Museum.

Bothmer got in touch with Dr. Howe, the recipient of his letter, and asked him to contact the Mansoors for its return. Dr. Howe immediately threatened to take action if they did not comply; after all, howe, with whom the Mansoors had had nothing but friendly relations in the past, was not involved in the matter, and had just been trying to be helpful to a friend.

On December 18, 1971, Dr. Thomas Carr Howe wrote the following to Edmond:

The Mansoors never answered this letter, but Edmond telephoned Dr. Howe to confirm that Dr. Bothmer's letter of April 5 was now their property since he gave it away by his free will. Furthermore, he confirmed to Dr. Howe what they had written to Dr. Bothmer previously: that they were going to publish it in due time to show the public how their Tell-el-Amarna Collection is being unjustly discredited in certain museum circles. Needless to say, the Mansoors heard no more from Dr. Howe.

In the meantime, only Edgard received an answer to the four letters. It was signed by the Secretary of the Ancient Art Department of the Brooklyn Museum, A. Glasser, saying:

To dispel any doubt that such a letter indeed existed, the Mansoors sent the Brooklyn Museum a photocopy of Bothmer's letter to Howe, to prove that their letters to Bothmer were not based on a mistake. The Mansoors heard no more from the Brooklyn Museum nor from Bothmer himself. reproduced below is a copy of the letter which Alfred, Vice-President of Eureka Federal Savings, sent to the Director of the Brooklyn Museum.

Let it be known that the Firm of M. A. Mansoor was established in Cairo, Egypt, in 1904. Since then, the Mansoors have enjoyed the finest reputation for knowledge of ancient art and for integrity, they have been deeply involved in the study of Egyptology, and have faithfully served countless Egyptologists, museums, kings, heads of States, art collectors and connoisseurs for more than six decades in Egypt, Europe and America.

Peddlers of "wares"? Two British authors mention the Mansoor name and their Tell-el-Amarna Collection in their books. One wrote:

The most famous jewellery shops pale in comparison when one remembers Mansour's jewellery and antique shop in the main hall of the hotel, with its scintillating gems, the Fabérgé masterpieces, objets de vertu or the exquisite Egyptian gold filigree work. The shop was a favourite of ex-King Farouk, whose possessions when he abdicated were compared to the contents of Versailles in 1793. Probably the most valuable statuettes bought by Farouk from Mansour, were a number of delicate limestone figures wrought about 1376 B.C. during the reign of Pharaoh Akhenaton, and worth a fortune." (Nelson, Nina. Shepheard's Hotel. London: Barrie and Rockliff, 1960, pp.5-6).

The second author, a historian wrote:

Realised in conversation with unusual young Copt how little some of us know about the value of precios stones, or even the order of their worth.Thousands of visitors to Egypt have passed the shop kept meticulously by Mansoor at Shepheard's. His son, Edmond, age twenty-four, today gave me a splendid lecture on antiques and stones here, amid civilization's heirlooms. He spoke modestly, and with infectious assurance. There was no hesitancy in his phrases, and an affection for the shining subject that communicated itself to me.

. . . Edmond came into the business at seventeen, when he wanted to learn all about hieroglyphics. So he spent a year at Liverpool University under Professor Aylward Blackman, the Egyptologist.

Farouk often comes to the shop. Six weeks ago he arrived with two Egyptian friends. Edmond was there alone and he found it not only a privilege but a joy to do business with his sovereign, for 'he really is a collector and lover of antiques.' The best pieces they sold to Farouk, for thousands of pounds, were eleven Tell el Amarnas. These represented the reign of Akhnaton, three thousand years ago. They were small sculptures of King Akhenaton and his wife, in limestone, still in a superb state of preservation and came from Tell-el-Amarna. The collection, 105 pieces, was found by an Arab who sold it to his father. In this his father sank his fortune. "He could not buy the collection at one time, so over eighteen years, he secured two or three pieces every few months."

Lord Moyne was a regular customer, and came to the Shepheard's museum two or three days before he died." (Bilainkin, George, Cairo to Riyadh Diary. London: Williams and Norgate Ltd., 1950, pp. 152-153).

This British historian called one of their Galleries in Cairo a "museum." And Professor John A. Wilson of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, wrote to the Mansoors when they first came to the U.S., saying: "Of course I remember my visit to your shop last year. It was a very interesting and rewarding experience."

The Mansoor brothers and sisters are ten. Two sisters are housewives; one is a prominent member of the Salesian Order (Rome) since 1955; two brothers are Vice-presidents and Managers of two great California financial institutions; one is a teacher of art and history, and chairman of the social studies department in a California educational institution; four are antiquarians and jewelers. What they are saying loudly today is merely what has been whispered behind the scenes for many years now. They stand firmly as one against the absurdities and the defamatory accusations of some of the Egyptologists mentioned in this book; against those who through incompetence, false pretense, then prejudice and obstruction continue to mislead the public, to waste time, in order to cover for their misdeeds and those of their colleagues. The Mansoor family is not against museums or Egyptologists. That would be absurd. All their life they have been museum goers. Many of their friends are museum officials. Egyptoplogists have been, and still are, their friends and teachers.

The Mansoors have been unjustly and senselessly accused of being dishonest and peddlers of "wares," and yet I find in their records, literally scores of letters addressed to them by Directors and Curators of American museums thanking them for the fine acquisitions obtained from their Firm; for their donations and gifts of ancient works of art; for contributions to exhibits of ancient art in museums; and for lectures and talks on ancient history and art. They also have letters and the necessary evidence to attest to the fact that they were the first, some forty years ago, to approach the leading American museums, the Egyptian Ambassador in Washington, D.C., and the Egyptian Minister of Public Instruction, His Excellency Dr. Taha Hussein, in a matter in which antiquarians do not usually indulge, and which resulted, in later years, in the exhibition of a part of the Treasures of Tut-Ankh-Amon in several museums of the United States. These and other efforts on their part can only prove their genuine and sincere desire to serve the museums as well as the art loving public.

I quoted earlier a few letters concerning the Mansoor's involvement in the Tut-Ankh-Amon exhibit; other letters refer to exhibits and lectures in some American museums.

On July 20, 1954, Mr. Thomas B. Robertson, Director, The Fine Arts Gallery of San Diego, Balboa Park, San Diego, California, wrote the following to William: "Let me express warm thanks for the fine talk you gave here at the gallery and also for the exhibition, which continues to attract enthusiastic attention."

On January 17, 1950, Mr. Richard F. Howard, Director, Des Moines Art Center, Iowa, wrote: ". . . We will be very happy to have the Egyptian material here during the month of April and I think that the tenth would be an excellent time to start . . ."

On August 25, 1950, Mrs. Louise B. Clark, Director, Brooks Memorial Art Gallery, Memphis, Tenn., wrote: "This is just a reminder that we are counting on the Egyptian Exhibition, and hope you will communicate with us on your return to the United States . . . ."

On January 14, 1950, Mr. Jerry Bywaters, Director, Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, Dallas, Texas, wrote to William: "I have not had the opportunity to write to you about the proposed exhibition . . .We are looking forward very much to having the exhibit March 5th through March 26th . . ."

On December 20, 1949, Mr. Richard S. Davis, Senior Curator, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minnesota, wrote: "This is to thank you for your generous loan to our exhibition, Masterpieces of Sculpture. The exhibition was a great success, and your loan created a great deal of very favorable comment...."

On January 17, 1950, Dr. Otto Karl Bach, Director, The Denver Art Museum, wrote: "On behalf of the Trustees of the Denver Art Museum I wish to thank you for your great kindness in lending such a fine group of Egyptian art objects to our present exhibition. The exhibition is proving to be a very successful community educational project and I am sure that thousands of citizens and schol children will have had their first direct contact and real understanding of the greatness of the Egyptian civilization and its art...."

I could also mention letters from other museums such as Joslyn Art Museum, in Omaha, Nebraska; The Isaac Delgado Museum of Art, in New Orleans, Louisiana; The Detroit Museum of Art, Detroit, Michigan; and Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York.

In return, what have the Mansoors received from the American museums when they appealed for only justice and understanding? They have asked the Boston and the Brooklyn Museums for a re-examination of their sculptures of Tell-el-Amarna in the light of overwhelming scientific evidence contributed by numerous internationally renowned scholars in the fields whose endeavors have developed the highest technical knowledge available in this age. Surely the opinions of such giants of science as Professor Leon T. Silver, Dr. Harold Plenderleith, Professor Francis Turner, Professor Paul Kirk, Dr. Zaki Iskandar, Professor C. Osborne Hutton, Dr. Jack De Ment, Professor Eliot Blackwelder, and many more must be favored over the word-of-mouth or irrational statements of Messrs. Cooney, V. Bothmer, and H.W. Muller.

If we were to judge the Abbé Drioton on the merits of his innumerable and scholarly works, publications, number of years spent in Egypt (over fifteen years), and the highest position he occupied in Egypt and France, against the combined efforts and writings of Messrs. Cooney, Von Bothmer and Muller, who would have the greater understanding of the Egyptian mind? Who would have the greater understanding and appreciation of Egyptian Art? Who would be the greater style expert of Egyptian Art? Do I have to remind Egyptologists that Dr. Drioton was an active member of the "Artistic Council of the Museums of France"?

Though he was one of the greatest scholars of Egyptology of this century, Dr. E. Drioton was modest. He accepted the value of qualified scientific investigation. The other three accepted only their own authoritarian opinions, whether documented or not. They want us to believe that Egyptology is their very private domain. They not only ignored the value of qualified scientific investigation, but they criticized it.

Young made a forgivable mistake through ignorance. then he was presented with overwhelming scientific evidence proving him wrong. He could have re-examined the sculptures. He even could have found them to be genuine. Perhaps, he selfishly thought of himself, his reputation, and what everyone would think of his methods, his past work. He refused to re-examine. He became a prejudiced individual. He continued to mislead others. He stoood in the way, this became his greatest error.

Cooney made a mistake, which he had done before. This again is forgivable. He was not competent in his stylistic examination of the sculptures. He relied on the opinion of Young, an inexperienced "technician" or "scientist" who was just experimenting with a new tool and could not even identify the material at first, as natural limestone. Cooney thought Young's report allowed him to take a strong stand, to become the champion of the dissident Egyptologists. He was often shown logical opinions (stylistic and scientific), but he remained adamant. That was his error.

Indeed Bothmer's letter had a deeper meaning than just its ill conceived and ludicrous statements. It is in essence the expression of the incompetence and prejudice of the dissident group. Sooner or later, the truth will prevail.

In the face of the overwhelming scientific and stylistic evidence, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and its trustees should have reconsidered a re-examination of the Mansoor Collection for the sake of truth, art, and Egyptology.

It should be noted here that the report by Mr. William J. Young was obtained on an official basis in 1949, and the Boston Museum of Fine Art was paid for this service.

The Mansoors consider this report "defective merchandise" and they have not seen any sign in the Boston Museum saying "All sales are final!"

The Mansoors wonder why are the museums (in particular the Boston, the Brooklyn and the Metropolitan) afraid to re-examine the sculptures of their Amarna Collection. To protect their own? Persons like Young, Cooney, Bothmer, Rorimer? If these individuals had made mistakes, and were covering up for one another, and if these mistakes became public knowledge, would it not reflect on their judgment of other works of art as well?

Every year donors and art patrons offer lavish gifts to museums. These gifts worth tens of millions of dollars, allow most donors to claim substantial tax deductions. What would happen if the Internal Revenue Service went to each museum, especially the Boston Museum, and demanded re-examinations of art objects - scientific examination - accepted as donations or purchased by Cooney, Bothmer, etc., and the list is long. Some of these objects could individually be worth only a few dollars as forgeries, when so much has been declared as their value. Pandemonium!

It is a well-known fact in the art world that William J. Young made several serious mistakes through his unscientific methods of examination and his blind reliance on the ultraviolet lamp. How many more were there?

On June 9, 1987, Professor Norman Herz, a prominent scientist, Director of the Center for Archaeological Sciences, University of Georgia, wrote to Edmond:

First of all, about Mr. Young of Boston Museum: I agree with Professor Turner that he is not competent in fields that are essential to evaluate antiquities. I volunteered to analyze the Boston Museum's relief, allegedly part of the Ludovici relief in Rome, by isotopic methods. The Italians say the Boston piece is a forgery, but Young did a variety of meaningless tests to demonstrate that it was authentic. Needless to say, Mr. Young refused to send me any material to analyze, adding that he had proven authenticity beyond any reasonable doubt.

. . . experience has led to a rather low opinion of the knowledgeability of stylistic experts and professional connoisseurs. Some of these people insist that their subjective and private 'gut feelings' should carry more weight than disinterested and objective scientific tests.

The Mansoors are fully aware that they will incur the wrath of many highly placed persons in the museum world. This is unimportant to them. They and their father, as well as scores of Egyptologists, scientists and art connoisseurs, have fought for this Collection for more than forty years. It is not now that they will relent or relax their efforts. Others yet, they are convinced, will join in this fight to prevent the incompetent and the prejudiced from throwing dust in the eyes of the public. The Truth cannot and will not remain hidden forever.

In "J'Accuse" Emile Zola wrote:

Did Rorimer, a past Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, refuse to allow Dr. Pease to examine the sculptures in the Museum's laboratory because Young was his friend?

Did Sherman Lee write his letter because Cooney had a position in the Cleveland Museum?

The museums, as the American Museums Association tells us, are to serve the interest of the public, of art and learning. They are not to serve, at any cost, the interest of the incompetent and arrogant few.

Dr. Bernard Von Bothmer, supposedly a respected figure in the world of museums and Egyptology, should have known all this before he wrote his letter to Dr. Thomas Carr Howe.

Copyright © 1995 Christine Mansoor

Go back to chapter 17

Go to chapter 19

Return to The Scandal of the Century: The Mansoor Amarna Exposé