Elderly couple find African mask worth millions in their attic and sell for £130

An elderly couple who discovered an African mask worth millions in their attic have lost their case against a second-hand dealer who bought it from them for just £130.

The mask, which is said to have been brought back by a relative from the central African nation of Gabon in 1917, had been left to gather dust in a home in France.

When a couple asked a man to clear the attic space of any items he might find interesting they were offered around €150, or £130, for the mask.

However, the headgear has turned out to be a rare example of a Ngil mask, made by the Fang people of Gabon, of which there are thought to be only 10 in existence in the world.

Now the second-hand dealer has won a case to keep £3.6million in proceeds from the sale of the mask at auction. He had been sued by the couple who claimed he had misled them over its true value.

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The BBC reports a judge in France disagreed saying instead the plaintiffs failed to understand the worth of the item in their possession.

Ngil masks were worn by an ancient order who would travel across Gabon searching for suspected sorcerers, something like medieval witch hunters in Europe.

According to the BBC the 19th century mask was probably acquired “in unknown circumstances” by René-Victor Edward Maurice Fournier, a French governor and relative of the couple who sued the dealer.

It’s reported the dealer who profited from the sale had said he did not know the value and had offered the couple £258,000, which was the original auction valuation of the mask. The offer was withdrawn after the couple sued.

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French media reports the man’s lawyer Patricia Pijot argued the couple selling the mask should have been “more curious before giving it up”.

A judge ruled in favour of the dealer stating the people who owned the mask should have evaluated the “historical and artistic” value.

The BBC reports Frédéric Mansat Jaffré, lawyer for the couple, said: “The judge has created a precedent… You or I will now need to ask a professional before then going to see another professional.”

Gabon, a former French colony, had demanded the sale of the mask, which went to an unknown buyer, be halted on the grounds the item was culturally significant to the nation. However, the court rejected this argument.

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