Benin plaque
The Simpson Benin plaque to be offered by Quinn’s Auction Galleries of Falls Church, Virginia on October 1. It is estimated at $800,000-$1.2m.

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It comes from the estate of the tribal art collector and Manhattan gallery owner Merton D Simpson (1928-2013).

The plaque was one of more than 300 brought to the UK by Ralph Moor in 1897 following the controversial Benin Expedition. Once adorning the roof supports of a palace courtyard, they were displayed later that year at the British Museum.

As a gift from the British government, the museum later acquired 203 plaques with a remaining 101 sold to other institutions and collectors.

The 19 x 13in (49 x 33cm) plaque from the Simpson collection is believed to be that numbered 192 on an 1898 Foreign Office list pertaining to the Benin acquisition.

It depicts the single figure of a warrior chief holding a ceremonial sword or eben. The profile of a long-haired Portuguese trader, two crocodile heads and a rosette complete the composition.

British Museum photo

A 1898 British Museum photo of the bronze.

The plaque remained part of the BM’s collection until 1950, when some of the plaques were deaccessioned.

It is believed that Simpson, an African-American who began collecting in the 1950s, acquired it through a European dealer. A professional forensic examination suggests it was restored in the 20th century.

Quinn’s were chosen by New York state officials to sell the plaque and other elements of the Simpson collection after a family dispute over the estate. In response to the political sensitivities surrounding Benin works of art, Quinn’s have taken steps to confirm the plaque’s lawful status.

Benin plaque

An X-ray that forms part of a forensic report undertaken by Mark Rasmussen of Rare Collections.

In 2010, Sotheby’s scrapped the sale of a £4.5m Benin ivory mark after government officials in Nigeria condemned its sale as war booty. It was due to be sold by the descendants of Lt Col Sir Henry Lionel Galway, who took part in the 1897 punitive expedition in southern Nigeria.