Couple who sold African mask worth $4.6 million for mere $160 wants it back

An elderly French couple — who ignorantly sold an "extremely rare" African mask from Gabon for a mere €150 (about $160), only to find out it was worth a bit more when the new owner sold it for €4.2 million (about $4.6 million) — lost in court when they tried to stop the sale. (See image of mask below, in an X post by BBC

The Paris-based couple, both in their 80s, had sold the inherited 19th-century artifact to a secondhand dealer, who says even he was surprised by the high price it fetched when he sold it at an auction. When the couple balked, he offered to pay them the mask's starting price of €300,000. But when they refused and then lost in court, he rescinded the offer.

And now, as the couple plans to appeal the court's decision, the government of Gabon is weighing in, saying neither party should have the Ngil mask — of which there are reportedly only about 10 in existence— as it belongs to Gabon and should be returned.

From The Guardian:

The auctioneers described it as "an extremely rare 19th-century mask, property of a secret society of the Fang people in Gabon", an ethnic Bantu group, with only about 10 such objects still in existence. One auction house official told French TV: "This type of mask is even rarer than a Leonardo da Vinci painting."

The couple promptly filed for an injunction to cancel the original sale, arguing there had been an "authentication error". They also claimed that the mask's buyer was aware of its real value at the time of the purchase.

But the court rejected the request, saying the couple had failed to make any attempt to get the mask valued before selling. …

Members of the Gabon community in southern France attended the auction in protest, saying the mask should never have been put up for sale in the first place and must be returned to the central African country.

Earlier this year, Solange Bizeau, of the Collectif Gabon Occitanie, who had protested against the auction with other members of the Gabon community, told the Guardian: "Today this court case is about the grandchildren of the governor versus a secondhand dealer. But neither of them is legitimate in terms of this mask. What we want is the restitution of this mask to Gabon.