Despite every best effort, many museums have made acquisition mistakes in the past and unwittingly accessioned works of art that were stolen from storerooms or plundered from archaeological sites. No museum should deaccession an object without having a justifiable reason for doing so. If, however, an investigation turns up looted antiquities in a museum collection (for example, if photographs show an object shortly after it was illicitly removed from the ground, or if its provenance documentation was demonstrably forged), then a museum has an obligation to redress the break in the chain of that object’s ownership in some way. Usually such a resolution is achieved through a financial settlement with, or physical return to, the country of modern discovery. Museums hold their collections as public trusts, and no museum should wish knowingly to retain stolen property on behalf of the public.
In August 2004, experts examined the works and found inconsistencies. Greene, who had shipped the works from his home in San Francisco, had also been unable to provide provenance and import and export documentation. The collection committee proceeded to veto the annuity deal made months prior. That same year, the de Young museum pulled out of a deal with Greene, this time in exchange for Philippine tribal art, for similar reasons.
As one of the first of his significant corporate moves, Simon sold Val Vita to Hunt's Foods in return for a controlling interest in the combined business. By 1943 he changed the company's name to Hunt Food and Industries and ran it with strict cost-controls and an unorthodox approach to marketing. During and after World War II, Simon focused on product visibility. Uncharacteristically for a food company at the time, he acquired full page advertisements in Vogue and Life magazines with full-color photos of Hunt's ketchup bottles and tomato sauce cans. His aggressive advertising ensured the company's slogan "Hunt for the best" was prominent. His marketing strategy worked, and by 1945 Hunt Foods became a household name and one of the largest food processing businesses on the West Coast. Hunt's is now part of ConAgra Foods, Inc..
When he was sixteen, Simon and his family relocated to San Francisco, where had graduated from high school in 1924. In 1925, at his father's insistence, he enrolled in the University of California, Berkeley, but left his pre-law studies within the first six weeks to start a sheet metal distribution company. He enjoyed early success and invested $7000 in 1927 in an orange juice bottling plant in Fullerton, California, which was insolvent, and renamed it Val Vita Food Products Company. He soon added other fruit and vegetables to the product lines and purchased canning equipment.
Still swirling around the market are persistent rumours that there is even more to the treasure than the known 14 pieces. Archaeologists claim that such finds always include spoons and coins, which were missing when the pieces started coming onto the market. Many believe they are still languishing in Swiss bank vaults, with the owner(s) waiting for the provenance issues to be cleared up entirely. It is to be ardently hoped that one day the whole hoard, in all its magnificence, will be returned to Hungary to be displayed together once again.
Look, I've been shot at on three separate occasions, I've had guns on my head, I've had police chasing me... To survive I have been a chameleon. As you know, I speak many languages. Also, I'm not attached to anything. It's like living near a fault line-if you hear a noise, pack your things and get the fuck out of there. Don't become too accustomed to anything. I can sleep like a baby on a little field bed.
The story came to a partial resolution last month, when the Hungarian government announced that it had acquired seven of the 14 pieces from the heirs of Peter Wilson for €15m (£12.4m). As for the Northampton part of the cache, its fate remains mysterious: Lord Northampton divorced his fifth wife in 2012 with a secret settlement said to be worth £17m: it is not known if she received part of the hoard in the deal.