“If the issue is one of conservation than the entire archeological lobby has done a very poor job of it on a whole. I would wager than more antiquities disintegrate on a yearly basis due to improper storage and handling because of lack of funding than those that enter into the antiquities and numismatic trade.
The solution is actually quite simple. […] museums have BILLIONS of dollars worth of antiquities and coins that are otherwise disintegrating or will never be studied or displayed within my lifetime or even my great grandchildren's lifetime that could be sold and used to PROPERLY preserve and study mankind's history.”
“give us what is rotting in your museum stores and we’ll not have to buy looted antiquities”.In this community, the accepted response is then the chant:
“if they won’t let us have what’s rotting in museum stores then they cannot blame us for buying looted antiquities, can they?”In fact, as Coggins (1995, 61,67) notes the proposal of an unrealistic notion that the release of ‘duplicates’ would satiate the current and future market is simply a "smokescreen for inaction". One of many, I think, in the world of antiquity dealing.
I’d like to know just how much of the material archived in the archaeological stores (actually often kept in very good conditions), even of major museums, a dealer like Mr De La Fe could actually make “billions of dollars” on. I wonder if he really has any idea what sort of material makes up the bulk of the archives from modern excavations. Take Poland’s museums at the moment, boxes of prehistoric and medieval pottery and other material from large excavations on the projected route of motorways. Very little of this, aside from a few decorated ceramic spindlewhorls and a few brooches and pins is the sort of thing one would find in a New York antiquity dealer's sales offer. Or as another example I am familiar with, the excavation archive from the famous multi-period excavations at Mucking, Essex currently housed in the British Museum. I expect some of the Anglo-Saxon grave goods from the two cemeteries of the latter might find a US buyer if the price was sufficiently low to be attractive, but not all of the artefacts from the cemeteries are attractive collectables (hundreds of iron nails and other corroded – but now conserved and stabilized - bits of iron objects for example). How many sherds of Bronze Age cooking pot could Mr De La Fe actually shift a year? What is the size of the US collectors’ market for smithing slag samples, crucible sherds, fired clay oven fragments, roman tegula fragments, froth flotation residues and charcoal? What about the wet timbers from a well that were removed from a site near me in 2006 and undergoing conservation? Would a US collector want it now, or when the conservation is finished (and would he pay for that too)? How would he display it? How would they look after it? After all, in the Mike Pegg video mentioned yesterday we the manner in which one collector of sensitive ancient metal objects was keeping them.
Typically De La Fe does not go further and outline what he would consider to be the “proper preservation and study of mankind’s history” which would result from selling off the more commercially desirable bits of public collections. Obviously this "preservation" would therefore not be in a Universal Museum like New York’s Metropolitan just down the road from Mr De La Fe.
C.C. Coggins 1995, 'A licit International Trade in Ancient Art: Let there be light', International Journal of Cultural Property 4,61-80