Elderly Couple’s Minor Sale Turns Major: Rare Fang Mask’s Rise from $157 to $4.4 million Unleashes a Tidal Wave of Legal Controversies in the French Art World

People often fight for love, but in my opinion, even more fight for art. An elderly couple who sold what they thought was a worthless African mask for $157 later discovered two startling facts. First, the mask wasn’t worthless, and second, the buyer was now auctioning it for a staggering $4.4 million.

The unnamed 81-year-old woman and her 88-year-old husband found the African mask while clearing out their second home. They sold it to a local antiques dealer for roughly $157 in September 2021. Later, they learned that it was a rare Fang mask, used in rituals by an African secret society. This revelation came to them from a newspaper article that reported that their mask was being auctioned for an incredible $4.4 million.

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Instead of lamenting over the lost treasure, the octogenarians decided to sue the antique dealer, believing he had deceived them. On June 28th, an appeals court in France froze the sale proceeds while the case was ongoing. The couple is confident that the dealer knew the item’s true value. Notably, he did not display the mask in his shop but chose to contact auction houses Drouot Estimation, Fauve Paris, and Montpellier. These houses estimated the value of the mask at $130, $650, and $450,000, respectively. The mask eventually fetched $4.4 million at an auction in March 2022.

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“This piece of kaolin-coated cheesewood is therefore exceptional in terms of its rarity, as only a dozen or so other reference specimens are known to exist worldwide, in Western museums and collections,” according to court records reviewed by Artnet and translated from French. The case is now open, with the appeals court re-ordering the seizure of the proceeds of the sale. The husband’s grandfather, a colonial governor in Africa brought the mask to France.

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With over 15 years of experience in luxury journalism, Neha Tandon Sharma is a notable senior writer at Luxurylaunches. Her expertise spans luxury yachts, high-end fashion, and celebrity culture. Beyond writing, her passion for fantasy series is evident. Beginning with articles on women-centric gadgets, she's now a leading voice in luxury, with a fondness for opulent superyachts. To date, her portfolio boasts more than 2 million words, often penned alongside a cappuccino.