by date unknown

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Antonta85

New Member
italian
Hi guys,
i have a problem with the translation of this sentence "by date unknown" regarding to the provenance of a antic object in a museum. I attach a jpg to explain better the context.
Thanks for your attention.
- A -
 

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  • entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    'By' here means "in or before (that year)": the first known owner, Forman, died in 1889; it was sold at Sotheby's in 1899. So it was known to be at Sotheby's in 1899, but they don't know how long Sotheby's had it before selling it; they might have acquired it before 1899. In any case, we can say it was at Sotheby's by 1899. They don't know when the first known owner acquired it - 'by date unknown' is a bit of a strange way to put it, but probably it's only ever used for the first entry* in the provenance. After that, they can say 'by 1899' or whatever, because it is known to have been somewhere on a certain date. No earliest date can be given.

    * No it's not, they use it again later. So it must mean they're really uncertain - as opposed to 'by 1899' which probably means more like "probably 1899, or could have been a bit before".
     
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    perpend

    Banned
    American English
    "by date unknown" does not sound idiomatic. It may have been written by a non-native speaker of English.

    EDIT: Cross-posted with EB.
     

    bearded

    Senior Member
    I propose a hypothesis: originally, a date was written, e.g. by 1890, but further studies proved it was not certain, so - using the same label - they erased the year and wrote 'date unknown' instead. At exhibitions or museums in Italy they often do such things.
     
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    Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I'm not convinced by the arguments so far. My initial reading was that it is specialised jargon used by museums, art-galleries and auctioneers. I see no evidence that the writer was a non-native speaker. It may be a term that has been used for many years.

    "By date unknown" to me means "Unknown by date". In other words, in this case, the provenance is known by location and artist but not by date for a particular period of time.

    I don't claim my idea is correct but I can't accept any of the explanations (including mine) as being correct without some evidence.
     

    Antonta85

    New Member
    italian
    I explain better: the object is a bronze horseman dated for the stylistic aspects at 540 BC. Its provenance is unknown. So, I suppose that "by date unknown" means "unknown until now, whatever the date is".
    what about?
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    The provenance is about recording of ownership, and how we know it changed hands, and when. The two known dates are the Sotheby's sale of June 1899 and the MFA purchase in December 1901, from Edward Perry Warren. They don't know when Warren got it (the second 'by date unknown'): presumably the purchaser at the 1899 auction was unnamed, as they often are. Perhaps Warren bought it then, or perhaps he got it from the purchaser; in any case, he had it in 1901, when he sold it, and he got it sometime before then - date unknown. The two instances of 'by date unknown' are both saying "we don't know which year this owner acquired it in".

    In brackets after the Sotheby's sale are some earlier dates, but with a warning 'said to be'. The people who are writing this provenance can't vouch for the history that was given by Sotheby's in 1899 - they can't confirm it's true so they can't list it as part of the current provenance. So the first known date is still 'by date unknown' when W.H. Forman acquired it.
     

    Parla

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    My guess (I have never bought a work of art valuable enough to come with a provenance statement): It's a style of expression peculiar to the world of provenance statements and probably shouldn't be analyzed in terms of ordinary English usage.
     

    perpend

    Banned
    American English
    The provenance is about recording of ownership, and how we know it changed hands, and when. The two known dates are the Sotheby's sale of June 1899 and the MFA purchase in December 1901, from Edward Perry Warren. They don't know when Warren got it (the second 'by date unknown'): presumably the purchaser at the 1899 auction was unnamed, as they often are. Perhaps Warren bought it then, or perhaps he got it from the purchaser; in any case, he had it in 1901, when he sold it, and he got it sometime before then - date unknown. The two instances of 'by date unknown' are both saying "we don't know which year this owner acquired it in".

    In brackets after the Sotheby's sale are some earlier dates, but with a warning 'said to be'. The people who are writing this provenance can't vouch for the history that was given by Sotheby's in 1899 - they can't confirm it's true so they can't list it as part of the current provenance. So the first known date is still 'by date unknown' when W.H. Forman acquired it.
    I'm not the OP, but I just wanted to say thanks, entangledbank! That's really helpful.

    Could it be paraphrased like this: The date when it was procured is unknown.

    Or, is that a stretch?
     
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