Friday, 14 August 2009

Collectors caught between the Police and the thieves

Mention of the Israeli portable antiquity collectors’ registration scheme has aroused discussion in certain collecting circles. On the Yahoo AncientArtifacts discussion list discussion now seems to be focusing around privacy issues, there is too much intrusion of the state into our private lives the collectors say. As Axel Traugott a collector and dealer in Pre-Columbian “art” from Osprey Florida puts it:

Privacy is something of which we have less and less. It is to be highly valued and protected, not something easily given up. It is becoming more difficult every day to have a private life, your privacy is being taken away from you step-by-step every day.....this is not a good thing.
In other words, these collectors claim it’s their own business what they keep in the privacy of their own home. I guess you could call that the “kiddie porn argument”. Somebody however is buying the illegally obtained artefacts from the culture-thieves, and I guess they'd all like a bit (lot) of privacy to do so. I am not so clear why the others however would be wary about being open about what pieces of the common archaeological heritage they've acquired and are accepting responsibility for the curation of.

Collectors also say it would be “too much bother” for them to supply details of the artifacts they are curating in their collections to anyone. One Nancy/Earl Keefer suggests that “perhaps Paul and his cronies who have been screaming the loudest will pony up the money” to pay for this. I wonder when local byelaws were finally introduced requiring dog owners to clean their pet’s faeces off the pavements and grass of the UK (hooray, not before time), dog owners asked those complaining to the council about the mess to buy them the poop-scoops and poop-scoop-bags. Or whether they set about complying with what was now required of them as responsible owners.

The list moderator, Tim Haines wrote:

there is a world of difference between the registration of an item before or upon acquisition, and the compulsory registration of items already held by an individual who probably acquired them with no thought that he might be required by law to catalogue and register them.
But then some means of tracing the former ownership of items has been on the cards since the 1970 UNESCO convention - which of course most collectors simply shut their eyes to and turn their backs on. If public opinion is that responsible collecting of portable antiquities requires such a record to be made, then obviously there will always be collectors who will disagree and refuse to comply. Can they though claim that they are “responsible collectors”? I think not. It’s like a dog owner complaining nobody told him there would be so many vet’s bills associated with the ownership of Little Bobby when he bought the puppy (sadly, followed in some cases by then abandoning the animal by the side of a freeway). Surely as with animal ownership, with the privileges of handling portable antiquities come responsibilities, and those involved have to recognize that those responsibilities will change with time.

Then there is the security problem, if there is a register of collectors, thieves can target their homes and steal their property. Axel Traugott boasts:

my home has an excellent system which is directly connected to the local police station less than a mile away. I am also armed and would not hesitate to swiftly dispatch an unwanted intruder, a perfectly acceptable and totally legal practice in the state of Florida”.
So he’d kill a man for wanting to take a few pots and rotted textiles (themselves probably taken from dead men's graves)? One wonders whether those arms are registered or whether that too is an intrusion of the state into a citizen’s privacy to own in his own home what he likes? Disapproval of what some collectors in this discussion portray as a police state apparently does not apply if one wants to “directly connect” their home to a nearby police station so they can keep a watch on it to keep the thieves out.

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