An antiques dealer who sold a rare African mask for $4.6 million won a legal battle with the elderly couple who sold it to him for $165 without realizing the treasure’s actual worth.
A French couple in their 80s obtained the wooden mask from an ancestor who was a governor in Africa, according to CNN, and kept the family heirloom in their second home in the south of France along with other African artifacts.
When the 88-year-old man and his 81-year-old wife — identified only by their initials in court documents — went to sell the home, they held a garage sale.
Among the items up for grabs was the “Ngil” mask once owned by René-Victor Edward Maurice Fournier, who had served as a colonial governor in Central Africa during the early 20th century, when significant parts of the continent were under French colonial rule, per CNN.
A second-hand antiques dealer scooped up the piece for a mere $165, along with some other small items like lances, a circumcision knife, a bellows and musical instruments. The couple believed at the time that the price was fair, according to court documents.
Yet just six months later, the couple learned mask’s true value after reading a newspaper article.
When it went up for auction in Montpellier, France, auctioneers described the mask as “an extremely rare 19th-century mask, property of a secret society of the Fang people in Gabon,” in Central Africa, per the Daily Mail.
it was scooped up by an unidentified buyer for a staggering $4.6 million.
The French couple swiftly filed an injunction to cancel their original sale of the piece, which was just one 10 such objects still in existence once used by an ethnic Bantu group.
The couple argued that there had been an “authentication error” at the time of the sale, and insisted the dealer cheated them for being “aware of the mask’s real value” at the time of the purchase, according to the Daily Mail.
A judge rejected the couple’s request, saying that their “inexcusable negligence and frivolity” is what caused their troubles, as they failed any attempt to get the mask valued before selling it and thus were not owed any money.
The court ruled that the couple was not taken advantage of in the transaction, either, as the dealer himself was no expert on African art, the Daily Mail reported.
The dealer even offered the couple some $330,000 — the auction’s starting price — but their children turned down the offer, opting instead to take the matter to court.
The Post has sought comment from Frederic Mansat-Jaffre, the couple’s lawyer.