Real or not, eBay oaths not treasure, say historians

The eBay seller ‘itaska90’ claiming to be auctioning off a unique calligraphic folio of the swearings-in signatures of Latvia’s first presidents Jānis Čakste, Gustavs Zemgals and Alberts Kviesis, could at best be in custody of a “document of great artistic value, however very little historical value”, Latvian Radio learned from National Archive head Māra Sprūdža Friday.

The photographed copies of the document show an artistic rendering of the Latvian coat-of-arms as well as several pages of oaths with the three presidential signatures.

Sprūdža told LR there were no records of such oaths in the state archives. However, she acknowledged the field was barely researched and that it was not even widely known whether such documents were created during the twenties and thirties of the last century.

“Most likely some state chancellery worker grabbed the document in 1940 and took it home for safe-keeping, and heading away into emigration took it along with them, if it truly is an original” she suggested as to how such an artifact may have traveled across the ocean.

The seller is located in the southern US state of Florida.

In her view, a document like this would have only had a representative or ceremonial function, but from the perspective of the state, if it is genuine, it probably should be housed in one of Latvia’s museums.

She explained that promulgated laws and presidential decrees in the archives testify to the authenticity of Latvia’s first presidential signatures.

She stressed that it would be worth officially verifying the authenticity of the works, if even for their artistic value alone. Moreover, it may be possible to prove that they remain a legally effective object of state ownership.

Professor Antonijs Zunda of the University of Latvia, a former presidential advisor on historical issues, scoffed at the suggestion that a state agency, or museum might wish to pay for such a questionably valued object. The oaths of presidential authority are perhaps artistically attractive, but they have no real meaning compared to the original draft of the Satversme (Constitution).

“If you asked me, I wouldn’t buy it,” he said.

“If I were a collector of oaths – we have seven presidential swearing-in papers – well then I’d consider buying them, but not for that kind of money,” he added.

“Maybe the President’s Chancellery might wish to buy it, maybe former president Guntis Ulmanis – he’s a wealthy person – wants to do so and donate it further on to a museum, if it really is an original,” the historian concluded.

Each of the experts surveyed by LSM however stressed the need for the state to finally set the order by which it responds to such potentially significant historic artifacts popping up in the commercial market.

For instance, about ten years ago the Culture Ministry initiated a drive to retrieve two suitcases full of Latvian Legion 15th division documents archived and stored away in Germany, procuring tens of thousands of euros to obtain the firsthand evidence of battle orders and other detailed documents of the wartime.

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