Harold Maker: An Ideal Provenance Distraction

Earlier today, the Institute for New Testament Textual Research published provenance information for two papyrus fragments that are connected to pieces known to have been stolen from the Egypt Exploration Society’s collection of Oxyrhynchus Papyri. The provenance information was supplied by Andrew Stimer, who is currently in possession of the fragments, and according to this provenance story, the papyrus fragments ultimately go back to a figure named Harold Maker. To be clear, I think the connection to Harold Maker is false. These pieces almost certainly were stolen from the Egypt Exploration Society within the last few years.

So Harold Maker is in all likelihood a distraction. But he’s at least a colorful distraction. In a manner very similar to the way that Professor Dirk Obbink provided “the Robinson Papyri” (a somewhat murky collection established in the 1950s in the USA) as the source of the infamous Sappho papyrus, now the story provided by Mr. Stimer leads us back to another poorly documented collection from mid-twentieth-century America. And it’s interesting that the first time I came across the name Harold Maker was when I was reading a book chapter written by none other than Scott Carroll.

Now, let me tell you a little story.

Scott Carroll has provided a written account of the building of the Van Kampen Collection of books and manuscripts, a task he carried out before he helped to build the Green Collection. Carroll offered up the following brief anecdote in the course of a somewhat confused discussion of Coptic manuscripts he had acquired on behalf of the Van Kampen Collection from a “London dealer”:

“The only clue regarding the manuscripts’ immediate provenance was a lone letter-sized envelope holding a small fragment with the following printed as a return address: Harold H. Von Maker, Stone Eagles, Montclair, NJ. I have asked the London dealer repeatedly about where he had acquired them, but he never revealed his source.” (Scott Carroll, “Biblical Treasures in Private Holdings: The Van Kampen Collection,” pp. 235-293 in John D. Wineland, The Light of Discovery: Studies in Honor of Edwin M. Yamauchi, Pickwick, 2007)

Now, Stone Eagles is an impressive historic home in Montclair. And who is Harold H. Von Maker? There is a Harold Maker of Irvington, New Jersey (about a 20-minute drive from Stone Eagles) who is sometimes mentioned as a collector and dealer of rare books and manuscripts in the 1950s and early 1960s. For instance, the name shows up in the records of Yale’s Beinecke Library as the source of a 15th century Italian manuscript and in the records of the New York State Library as a previous owner of a set of dismembered pages of rare books. The American manuscript collector John M. Lawrence has described this Harold Maker as “legendary and almost mythical.” And, indeed, I find very little online about him. But what about that “Von”? Now things get interesting. There is a figure who shows up in property law textbooks in relation to the case of Porter vs. Wertz (Court of Appeals, State of New York, 3 March 1981). The case centers on a certain Harold Von Maker (a.k.a. Harold Maker, a.k.a. Peter Wertz) who sold a valuable painting he didn’t actually own (sounds like a vaguely familiar scenario. . .).

An FBI agent involved in the arrest of Harold Von Maker wrote a book that includes a full chapter on the Von Maker episode. After his retirement from the FBI in 1994, Thomas McShane became a lawyer and in 2006 published Stolen Masterpiece Tracker, an autobiographical account of his days as an FBI investigator of art crimes. The prose of the book is almost a parody of mid-20th century TV detective talk (“the bad guy had a .357 Magnum with a massive slug that could blow the gams clear off a bony French chick with a single shot”–an actual quote from the book). Nevertheless, McShane’s account of Von Maker is a fascinating tale of fraud and deception in the art world. McShane first encountered Von Maker in the latter’s alias of Prince Harold von Hohenloe, but he also seems to have been known at different times as Dr. Harold J. Maker, Peter Wertz, and David Patterson. Here is McShane’s description of Von Maker:

“The 5-foot-9-inch, balding, pudgy, 42-year-old grifter leased various mansions, which he resided in for only a few months, rarely paying the high rent. Sometimes, he’d do nothing more than gain temporary access to one under the guise of buying it, and would hang around just long enough to have someone photograph him on the grounds. To complete the picture, he usually wore a royal blue jacket with an Ivy League family crest stitched on it. He’d then show prospective marks the photos to support his claims of wealth and power. It didn’t take long to discover his real name, the equally impressive sounding Harold von Maker. Instead of a castle in Austria, however, the 42-year-old hailed from the decidedly unimpressive city of Newark, New Jersey.”

Using these luxury homes as a way of establishing his financial credentials, Von Maker ran a business called Antique Investors, Inc. that specialized in the market for high-end art. But all was not as it seemed. Here again is McShane’s description:

“He had acquired art catalogues from the major auction houses and galleries, and went down the list of great masterpieces for sale around the country. He then contacted the sales agents, gave them his celebrity spiel and nifty address, and somehow convinced a few of them to send him the paintings on consignment in return for full payment within 30 days. Once he gained possession of a valuable painting, he used it in various ways, often as the centerpiece to pawn dozens of fakes he had in inventory. In this sense, he was ‘art kiting,’ stealing the concept of ‘check kiting’ which follows one good check with dozens of bad ones.”

Eventually, the FBI ran a sting operation that resulted in the arrest of Von Maker and the seizure of his inventory.

Image source: Thomas McShane, Stolen Masterpiece Tracker (Barricade Books, 2006)

Von Maker, however, posted bail, fled, and was never seen again. What caught my attention in the story of Von Maker’s arrest and the confiscation of his assets was this statement by McShane:

“We took everything I thought was good, and left the obvious junk fakes. We had to summon a truck to haul them out of there. Among the ‘treasures’ I did take was an ancient Bible manuscript that turned out to be phony. Von Maker was probably marketing it as being written in God’s own hand.”

Obviously, it would be nice to know more about this fake biblical manuscript. I tried to contact McShane a little over a year ago at an e-mail address I found online, but I never got a response.

If I understand McShane’s chronology correctly, Von Maker was 42 years old in 1973. So he would have been in his 20s in the 1950s. Is he the same Harold Maker whose name pops up in the Beinecke records and elsewhere? It seems plausible (it would be quite a coincidence to have two people called Harold Maker selling rare books and manuscripts). The New Jersey connection strengthens the probability (I note that the house in the background of the photo above closely resembles Stone Eagles in Montclair).

Earlier this year, I filed a Freedom of Information Act request to review the FBI records for Harold Von Maker. The request was denied. I appealed to the Department of Justice, but they’re otherwise occupied at the moment.

But, to bring it back to Scott Carroll: Some of Von Maker’s wares made their way into the Van Kampen Collection. And according to Mr. Stimer’s provenance statement released today, he has “another manuscript in [his] collection that also came through Harold Maker, and with it are copies of sales materials he issued in the early 1950s.” It would be interesting to learn more about these manuscripts and how they made their way into the Van Kampen and Stimer collections.

Fortunately, the papyrologist Graham Claytor has been looking into the Von Maker collection (which did in fact include papyri), so more light will be shed on Mr. Von Maker, an intriguing figure (and, for the purposes of these Oxyrhynchus fragments, an ideal distraction).

Posted in Antiquities Dealers and Collectors, Antiquities Market, Dirk Obbink, Harold von Maker, Scott Carroll | 4 Comments

Additional Papyri Stolen from the Oxyrhynchus Collection

Greg Paulson of the Institute for New Testament Textual Research (Institut für Neutestamentliche Textforschung, INTF) has just posted a note further explaining the connection between Oxyrhynchus papyri illegally sold by Dirk Obbink to Hobby Lobby and additional fragments in a collection in California. In particular, he confirms what many of us suspected, that Andrew Stimer is the owner of the “other” portions of fragments of Romans and 1 Corinthians that were among the pieces sold to Hobby Lobby by Dirk Obbink.

What is new here is the incredible provenance story that Mr. Stimer has supplied to the INTF. I reproduce it here in its entirety:

I acquired both of the manuscripts in the summer of 2015 from Mr. M. Elder of Dearborn, Michigan. He bought them the previous year, in April 2014, via a private treaty sale executed by Christie’s London. The fragments were part of a collection of texts that had been in the Pruitt family since the 1950s. Dr. Rodman Pruitt was an industrialist and inventor in southern Indiana who was known as a collector of manuscripts, books and artifacts of various kinds. He acquired his papyri from Harold Maker, a well-known dealer in manuscripts who was based in Irvington, New Jersey. I am told that the Trismegistos database lists numerous published papyri originally sold by Harold Maker. [Coincidentally, I have another manuscript in my collection that also came through Harold Maker, and with it are copies of sales materials he issued in the early 1950s.] I contacted Christie’s London to confirm that they had indeed conducted the private treaty sale of manuscripts that had passed by descent through the Pruitt family. I communicated with Dr. Eugenio Donadoni, Director of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts. He confirmed that the consignor of the collection that was sold in April 2014 was a relative of Dr. Rodman Pruitt, though he was of course restricted in the amount of information he was at liberty to provide to me. The sale included various papyri, in Coptic, Greek and Syriac. I was satisfied that the information I had been given at the time of the acquisition was correct.

Now, the first person mentioned here, “Mr. M. Elder,” provides a direct connection to Dirk Obbink. Over the summer, investigations by Candida Moss uncovered documents showing that an antiquities trading company called Castle Folio was jointly owned by one Mahmoud Elder and Dirk Obbink:

Incorporation documents for Castle Folio (dated 31 October 2014); image source: Candida Moss’s Twitter feed

It seems almost certain, then, that these two fragments were also Oxyrhynchus Papyri taken from the Egypt Exploration Society and sold by Dirk Obbink to Christie’s, then bought from Christie’s by his business partner. Christie’s, with its well-known secrecy policies, effectively laundered these stolen goods somehow transferred from a party with access to the Oxyrhynchus Collection to Mr. M. Elder [[Update 17 October 2019: A couple correspondents who have more knowledge than me about the inner workings of auction houses tell me that this is not how private treaty sales work. So, apologies for my confusion on the matter. Christie’s, for their part, does not deny that a private transaction took place, but they do deny that the two manuscripts in question were part of that transaction. They are quoted in an update to Candida Moss’s article in The Daily Beast as saying the following: “Christie’s documentation from a private sale transaction of a group of Coptic papyrus fragments may have been used to verify, inappropriately, the provenance of two different papyrus fragments in a subsequent transaction in which Christie’s had no involvement.” This seems to be in tension with Mr. Stimer’s report that “I communicated with Dr. Eugenio Donadoni, Director of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts [at Christie’s]. He confirmed that the consignor of the collection that was sold in April 2014 was a relative of Dr. Rodman Pruitt.” It seems there is more to this story.]] It would be good to learn more from Mr. Stimer about the other “various papyri in Coptic, Greek, and Syriac” that he bought in this transaction.

But then what about the rest of this story, which must be entirely fictional? It’s quite a remarkable tale. I don’t know anything about “Dr. Rodman Pruitt,” except that he seems to have been a real person (27 January 1904 – 11 July 1963) who lived in Seymour, Indiana. I know nothing of him as a collector of antiquities. But I have encountered the famous Harold Maker. I am convinced he is in this instance a red herring and has nothing to do with these papyri, but he is definitely worthy of a closer look in his own right. A post on Harold Maker will follow soon.

Posted in Dirk Obbink, Oxyrhynchus Papyri | 8 Comments

How Many Oxyrhynchus Papyri Have Been Sold?

Now that the Egypt Exploration Society (EES) has found that Oxford Professor Dirk Obbink has clandestinely sold papyri from the Oxyrhynchus collection to Hobby Lobby, several questions arise. It will take a while to process this. But let’s make a start. Here is a brief excerpt from the longer announcement made earlier today the EES:

“With the help of photographs provided by the MOTB [Museum of the Bible], the EES has so far identified thirteen texts from its collection, twelve on papyrus and one on parchment, all with biblical or related content, which are currently held by the MOTB (see the attached list). These texts were taken without authorisation from the EES, and in most of the thirteen cases the catalogue card and photograph are also missing. Fortunately, the EES has back-up records which enable us to identify missing unpublished texts…The MOTB has informed the EES that 11 of these pieces came into its care after being sold to Hobby Lobby Stores by Professor Obbink.”

There is so much to unpack here. The sale of the manuscripts and the attempt to cover it up by removing records is almost unbelievable. But the first thing to note are the words “so far.” We don’t yet know the full extent of this. More items may well have been sold to Hobby Lobby. It will be interesting to learn who was involved in the sale of the 2 of the 13 pieces that were not bought (directly) from Professor Obbink [[Update 14 October 2019: Mike Holmes of MOTB confirms that the seller of the other two pieces was Khader M. Baidun & Sons/Art-Levant Antiquities of Israel–Candida Moss’s investigations have shown that the Baidun family runs in the same antiquities marketing networks as Prof. Obbink]]. But did Professor Obbink sell pieces to anyone else besides Hobby Lobby? I can say with reasonable certainty that some additional Oxyrhynchus pieces have been sold to other buyers. Items 9 and 10 on the list of stolen pieces are described as follows:

9. Romans 9-10:  P.Oxy. inv. 29 4B.46/G(4-6)a.   [PAP.000425 one part]
10. 1 Corinthians 7-10:  P.Oxy. inv. 106/116(d) + 106/116(c). [PAP.000120 three small fragments]

During public presentations over the last couple years, Scott Carroll has displayed what he claimed were additional fragments of these two items. Below are two slides from his presentations:

Slide from a talk by Scott Carroll showing fragments of a papyrus of Romans; upper portion was part of the Green Collection (PAP.000425), lower portion was not; image source: “Stones and Scriptures”
Slide from a talk by Scott Carroll showing fragments of a papyrus of 1 Corinthians; portion shown on the left was in the Green Collection (PAP.000120), portion on the right was not; image source: “Stones and Scriptures”

According to information inadvertently made public by the Institut für Neutestamentliche Textforschung and announced on the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog, the non-Green Collection pieces shown here are now said to be part of the Stimer Collection, probably meaning Andrew Stimer, a collector in California and associate of Scott Carroll.

What this most likely means is that there are other Oxyrhynchus pieces sold from the Egypt Exploration Society collection that have made it on to the antiquities market and are currently circulating. It also suggests continued cooperation of some sort between Professor Obbink and Scott Carroll even after the departure of the latter from the Green Collection / Museum of the Bible organizations. The size of this problem is not yet fully known.

[[Update 14 October 2019: In connection to all this, I should add that Professor Obbink seems to have had access to the Egyptian Exploration Society’s collection of mummy masks, and thus the EES collection might also be a source of the masks dissolved by Scott Carroll and others in recent years.]]

Posted in Antiquities Dealers and Collectors, Antiquities Market, Dirk Obbink, Green Collection, Green Collection 1 Corinthians, Green Collection Romans, Oxyrhynchus Papyri, Scott Carroll | 12 Comments

Breaking: EES Stolen Manuscripts Update

The Egypt Exploration Society has just released a statement regarding manuscripts owned by the EES but sold to Hobby Lobby. So, 13 such manuscripts have been identified. 11 of these 13 manuscripts are said to have been sold by Professor Dirk Obbink. The Museum of the Bible has agreed to return the items. The list is here:

Read the full EES statement here. More to come. Thanks to Mike Holmes for the tip.

Posted in Antiquities Dealers and Collectors, Dirk Obbink, Oxyrhynchus Papyri | 17 Comments

Arthur Hunt, Harold Idris Bell, and Edward Maunde Thompson on the Date of Codex Sinaiticus

When it comes to the question of assigning palaeographic dates to Greek literary manuscripts of the Roman period, British papyrologists in late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries seem to show some different tendencies. One of the most respected of the early palaeographers, Arthur S. Hunt (1871-1934) tended to favor relatively wide date ranges and often allowed for somewhat later dates for particular manuscripts than did his contemporaries. The equally esteemed Harold Idris Bell (1879-1967) and Frederic Kenyon (1863-1952) tended to approve of narrower ranges and earlier dates (a related point is discussed with regard to a particular cluster of early Christian manuscripts in Roger Bagnall’s Early Christian Books in Egypt, pp. 10-16).

This usual difference between Hunt and Bell makes their evaluations of the writing of Codex Sinaiticus all the more interesting.

Arthur S. Hunt, Harold Idris Bell, and Edward Maunde Thompson; source of images: National Portrait Gallery, London, U.K.

It is worth noting that these opinions were probably expressed when neither man had seen the actual manuscript itself, but only facsimile images. In the preface to his facsimile volume of the New Testament in Codex Sinaiticus published in 1911, Kirsopp Lake reported Hunt’s opinion of the writing:

“Dr. Hunt, indeed, expressed the view that if it had not been for the evidence of the Eusebian apparatus he should have not regarded the third century as an impossible date.” (p. x)

Bell, on the other hand, in a passing remark made in a 1909 publication, simply described the codex without comment as “early fifth century”:

“It is noticeable that…the Codex Sinaiticus of the Bible (early fifth century) has four [columns to the page].” (p. 307)

Bell would of course come to regard Sinaiticus as a product of the fourth century after the British Museum acquired the manuscript and Milne and Skeat had carried out their detailed study of the codex. In this earlier statement, Bell was probably just following a common opinion of the time, namely that the writing of Codex Sinaiticus was not quite as old as that of Codex Vaticanus, which was assigned to the fourth century. The opinion of Edward Maunde Thompson (1840-1929) expressed in his Handbook of Greek and Latin Palaeography of 1893 is representative:

“The Codex Sinaiticus, Tischendorf’s great discovery, is probably somewhat younger than the Vatican MS. and may be placed early in the 5th century.” (p. 150)

But note the shift in Thompson’s opinion 20 years later in An Introduction to Greek and Latin Palaeography:

“The Codex Sinaiticus, Tischendorf’s great discovery in the monastery of St. Catherine of Mount Sinai, is generally regarded as somewhat younger than the Vatican MS…The period of the MS. may be the latter part of the fourth century.” (p. 200)

It is instructive to recall how fluid opinions about the possible date of Codex Sinaiticus were in those days.


Bagnall, Roger S. Early Christian Books in Egypt. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009.

Bell, Harold Idris. “Early Codices from Egypt.” The Library 10 (1909), 303-313.

Lake, Kirsopp. Codex Sinaiticus Petropolitanus: The New Testament, The Epistle of Barnabas, and the Shepherd of Hermas. Oxford: Clarendon, 1911.

Milne, H.J.M. and Theodore C. Skeat. Scribes and Correctors of the Codex Sinaiticus. London: Trustees of the British Museum, 1938.

Thompson, Edward Maunde. Handbook of Greek and Latin Palaeography. New York: D. Appleton, 1893.

Thompson, Edward Maunde. An Introduction to Greek and Latin Palaeography. Oxford: Clarendon, 1912.

Posted in Codex Sinaiticus, Codices, Palaeography | Leave a comment

Palaeographic Dating: Graphic Difference Does Not Always Mean Chronological Difference

In a few days, I hope to complete a post on the date of Codex Sinaiticus. It has been educational for me to revisit the arguments for the dating of this codex. One quotation that I found especially eye-opening was this admirably forthright comment from H.J.M. Milne and T.C. Skeat’s classic, Scribes and Correctors of the Codex Sinaiticus (1938):

“…the dangers of judging age on grounds of style are nowhere better illustrated than in the Sinaiticus itself, where the hands of scribes A and B present a markedly more archaic appearance than that of scribe D; did we not know that all three were contemporary, D might well have been judged half a century later than A and B.”

Let that sink in for a minute. The quite subtle differences between the writing of copyists A and B and the writing of copyist D would, in other circumstances, have led Milne and Skeat to assign copyist D to a period a full 50 years later than A/B, even though they are in fact contemporary.

This example is a good reminder that minute differences in the appearances of samples of Greek writing of the Roman era are not necessarily indicative of differences in the ages of the writing samples. Other factors, such as the personal tastes or skills of the copyist, could very well account for such differences.

Samples of writing from Codex Sinaiticus: Copyist D, Matt. 16:22 (left) and Copyist A, Mark 8:32 (right); image source: codexsinaiticus.org
Posted in Codex Sinaiticus, Codices, Palaeography | 4 Comments

A New Article on Palaeographic Dating of Codices

The latest issue of Journal for the Study of the New Testament contains a group of articles that emerged from an SBL session in 2016 arranged by Roberta Mazza on problems of dating ancient manuscripts. In addition to Roberta’s introductory essay, which discusses some of her work on the Rylands collection, there are articles by Malcolm Choat (“Dating Papyri: Familiarity, Instinct and Guesswork”) and by the Ancient Ink Laboratory at Columbia University and New York University (“Dating Ancient Egyptian Papyri through Raman Spectroscopy: Concept and Application to the Fragments of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife and the Gospel of John”).

My own contribution is “Palaeographic Analysis of Codices from the Early Christian Period: A Point of Method.” Here is the abstract:

It is often said that palaeographic analysis of Greek literary manuscripts from the Roman era has progressed from an aesthetic judgment to more of a science, thanks largely to increased data (in the form of newly discovered papyri and parchments from Egypt) and to more sophisticated ways of describing similarity and difference in handwriting. This progress is frequently taken to mean that we may now use the analysis of handwriting to assign dates to undated manuscripts with much greater precision and accuracy than was possible a century ago. This article questions this conclusion by focusing on neglected methodological points that specifically relate to the problem of palaeographic dating of codices, namely the size and character of the corpus of securely datable samples to which the handwriting of undated codices is compared. This problem is especially relevant for early Christian books, the surviving examples of which tend to be copied in the codex format.

For those with institutional subscriptions, the articles can be found online here. Otherwise, for a copy of my article, contact me via e-mail.

Posted in Codices, Codicology, Palaeography | 5 Comments