The Minister in Egypt ( Howell ) to the Secretary of State

No. 495

Sir: Supplementing my number 38 of May 27th, 6 p.m.,15 I have the honor to herewith enclose a copy of the full text of the decision rendered in regard to the Antiquities Law. I am at the same time enclosing a copy of my Aide-Mémoire on this question, dated April 22, 1924.16

I may state that on April 26th, I saw the Minister of Public Works who controls for the time being this matter, and made a strenuous effort to have this question remain exactly as it was during the year 1922–1923, but I was unable to do so. It will be seen, however, that no reference is made to the Lacau proposition, that is to say, leaving the decision wholly in the hands of Lacau to say whether or not there shall be a division of any of the articles found.

I shall be glad to discuss this question further with the Department and with the Metropolitan Museum when I am in the States.

I have [etc.]

J. Morton Howell
[Enclosure 1]

The American Legation to the Egyptian Ministry for Foreign Affairs

Aide Mémoire

The American Minister in a conversation with His Excellency the Royal Egyptian Minister for Foreign Affairs this morning, briefly outlined the situation as he understood it, with regard to the proposed change in the Antiquities Law (adopted 1912).

[Page 721]

The American Minister observed that this measure was proposed and its passage was insisted upon by M. Lacau, Director of Antiquities, one year ago and that those engaged in the work of excavation, holding concessions from the Egyptian Government representing various museums in other countries, had found the proposed law so out of keeping or conformity with the provisions which had hitherto obtained (in the Law of 1912), and at the same time prejudicial to the interests of these various museums, as to positively preclude the possibility of further work being carried on by these museums if this contemplated change was made effective.

It was held by them, and especially by the Metropolitan Museum of New York, that the work carried on by them, was wholly dependent upon voluntary subscriptions by individuals interested in archaeology and in the securement of these institutions of objects of historical interest discovered in the excavations being made here.

It was pointed out by the Minister that as he understood it, these various museums had not and would not, be technical in the division of articles found as the result of excavations; that only such articles as were, perhaps, found to be duplicates of those already possessed by the Royal Egyptian Government would be available for foreign museums; and such other objects as might be agreed upon within keeping of the Law on the fifty-fifty percent basis.

The Minister further called attention to the fact that during the course of a conversation with His Excellency the Minister of Public Works, Morcos Hanna Pasha, on or about March 25, 1924, he alluded to this proposed change in the Law of 1912, and observed that the various museums of the United States had the impression, probably derived from the agitation as to this proposed change in the law, together with the feeling which had gone forth in America regarding the Carter controversy, that work of these various museums in America was at an end. The Minister referred to a newspaper clipping of April 1, 1924, which showed that already one of the large museums in Pennsylvania, had decided to withdraw all forces from Egypt engaged in this line of work.

It was further pointed out, that as noted above, this proposed measure whereby it was left entirely optional with the Egyptian Government as to whether any articles found by those engaged in excavation work in Egypt would be subject to division, would positively put a stop to all work by other museums in America, and especially was this true of the Metropolitan Museum of New York.

His Excellency, the Minister of Public Works in his reply stated substantially, that: the Egyptian Government appreciated the work which had been done by Americans in this country and when the proper time arrived this matter referred to would be adjusted to the [Page 722] satisfaction of the American people and American museums. Later on, however, the Minister in question observed: “that all modification of the laws, depends upon Parliament.”

The American Minister, wishes finally to observe, with respect to this question, in speaking particularly of the Metropolitan Museum of New York, that its budget is made up for the year’s work, for work of this kind in Egypt, about May 15th, and it is most solicitous with respect as to what it may depend upon for the coming year; indeed, it is incumbent upon it to know upon what it may depend, if work this coming year and in future years be continued.

[Enclosure 2—Translation]

The Egyptian Ministry for Foreign Affairs to the American Legation

No. 53/7/1 (2563)


By an aide mémoire, dated April 22nd, last, the American Legation informed this Ministry of the fears of American Museums and especially those of the Metropolitan Museum of New York concerning the matter of the modifications which the Egyptian Government proposes to make in the Law of 1912 concerning antiquities.

The competent Department, which the Ministry for Foreign Affairs has not failed to address on this subject, has just advised that it cannot abandon the plan of modifying the law in question in so far as it concerns the division of antiquities found. However, it adds that it is not accurate that the Egyptian Government does not wish to give any of the objects found. It desires only not to be bound by the word “half” at the time of the division, so as to establish easily and in conformity with general scientific interests, complete and logical series of documents representing the continuity of Egyptian civilisation. This duty fulfilled regarding science, the Egyptian Government will be pleased to give foreign museums objects of equal importance which will be sufficiently representative in their collections. It desires in that way to thank and to encourage the excavators and to facilitate the study of ancient Egypt in foreign university centers.

This change may, in fact, momentarily embarrass some scientific institutions from a financial point of view, but this embarrassment should not permit the sacrifice of scientific interests.

Besides, it should not be a matter of surprise, the Egyptian Government having informed all those interested by a circular letter [Page 723] dated October 10, 1922, No. 27/2/1, of which a copy is hereto attached,17 pointing out that the system of division by halves would be applied for the last time during the season of 1922–1923.

In bringing the foregoing to the attention of the American Legation, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs seizes this occasion to renew to it the assurance of its high consideration.

  1. Not printed.
  2. This enclosure was inadvertently omitted from the despatch, but was forwarded with despatch no. 513, July 31 (file no. 883.927/48).
  3. Not printed.