I bought a dusty old mask for £130 and flogged it for £3.6m – the elderly couple who sold it took me to court, but I WON | The Sun

AN ANTIQUES dealer who was taken to court over misleading an elderly couple over a mask has won the battle – and £3.6million.

The dealer had been brought in to clear the attic of an elderly French couple when he found an African mask that is "rarer than a Leonardo da Vinci painting".

He bought it from them for just £130 in 2021, and then sold it to an unknown buyer at auction for £3.6 million.

The couple took the antiques dealer to court, claiming that he had misled them over the real worth of the mask and demanded that they get part of the proceeds.

The dealer alleged that he was unaware of the mask's worth when he purchased it, stating that he wasn't an expert on African artefacts.

He did, however, offer the couple £300,000 when it was first valued by an auction house in March 2022.

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This offer was ignored by the couple, whose children persuaded them to sue and go after the full amount.

However, during the case the dealer's lawyer expertly argued that the couple had failed to research the mask's worth before they sold it.

The lawyer, Patricia Pijot, told French media that the couple should have been more curious before they just gave it away.

The judge concurred, stating that the couple failed to assess the historical and artistic value of the artefact.

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The lawyer for the couple, Frédéric Mansat Jaffré, said: "The judge has created a precedent.

"You or I will now need to ask a professional before then going to see another professional."

The rare mask, made by a Fang master from the ancient community in Gabon, is thought to be one of only 10 to 12 remaining in the world.

A similar mask featured on an episode of Bargain Hunt back in 2021.

Expert Sam Hanbury-Maiden revealed that, in terms of ancient African artefacts: “The big money-makers are things like the fang masks from Gabon.

“Again highly copied today, but a fang mask with a good providence today, dating from the 19th century could be a couple of million pounds.”

The contested mask featuring in the case today is presumed to have been acquired "in unknown circumstances" by the plaintiff's grandfather – a French colonial governor.

The mask had been in the couple's family up until it was sold to the dealer, and then to the unknown buyer – for a whopping £3.6 million.

Officials from Gabon attended the auction, stating stating that the mask should be returned to its rightful owner – their nation.

Some of them also attended the court case.

Solange Bizeau, from the Collectif Gabon Occitanie, said: "That mask was stolen at the time of colonisation.

"All these works of art – and so many that we see in museums – were taken.

"Today this court case is about the grandchildren of the governor versus a secondhand dealer.

"Neither of them is legitimate in terms of this mask. What we want is the restitution of this mask to Gabon.

"This mask has a soul, it was used to establish justice in our villages."

The judge also rejected these claims.

It has been estimated that there are at least 900,000 African artefacts in France.

French President, Emannuel Macron, called for these pieces of art – most of which were taken during the colonial era – to be returned in 2017.

He said: "I cannot accept that a large part of the cultural heritage of several African countries is in France."

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