Battle for ownership of Islamic jar reaches High Court

London’s High Court has been asked to decide on the ownership of a rare, Islamic crystal jar at the centre of a legal tussle between two antique collectors.

Valued at up to as much as US$16 million (£12 million), the jar is said to date to the 10th century. Decorated with birds and flowers, it is significant for the connections it draws between Persian metalwork, early rock crystal production in Iraq and Egyptian decorative work.

Tehran-based antique collector, Ali Saatsaz Jeddi, claims to have purchased the jar in 2010 from an old friend, Naser Mohammadi, for US$150,000. Mohammadi says he bought it from a bazaar in Peshawar, Pakistan several years prior for US$7,000.

Jeddi further claims he asked collector Ali Pishvaie to sell the jar at auction at Sotheby’s in 2012 in exchange for 25% commission. In 2014, Jeddi wrote to Sotheby’s demanding the auction house return the jar to him as sole legal owner and that he no longer wished Pishvaie to sell it for him.

On the contrary, Pishvaie, who is based in France, argues he never acted as an agent for Jeddi and that his father purchased the jar in the mid-1950s. Pishvaie then went on to sell the jar to Jeddi in 2011 in exchange for an antique bronze and one quarter ownership in the jar.

In January 2012, Pishvaie took the jar to Sotheby’s to be auctioned. It was then valued at £1.5 million. Sotheby’s increased the valuation to between £5-7 million after a report from two academics at Oxford University dated the jar to the 10th century and earlier.

Sotheby’s stated that it would not support either Jeddi or Pishvaie’s legal claims and would ‘comply with any court order relating to which of the claimants is entitled to possession of the piece’. The court was due to hand down its ruling last Friday (18 May 2018) and is awaited.

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