Sunday, 26 December 2010

"The Numbers" and Diligent Research Show that Coin Elves Really Do Exist?

In the comments to an old post, one NormanW has joined the discussion on looting and coin collecting. As is typical this is a fresh profile giving no information about the poster, so we really do not know who this Norman "W." is though he boasts that he not only knows shoot-to-kill Texan Pastor Scott Head, but is also "personally acquainted with more than one European coin hunter who only metal detects on private lands" (a bit difficult not to in Europe I would think where all land has an owner). ["Coin hunter"?]

Mr "W." reckons that he believes that I have "overgeneralized" about the relationship between the bulk lots of what are quite clearly freshly-surfaced "minor artefacts" circulating on the antiquities market and the commercial looting of archaeological sites. He states - though without entering into the specifics - his belief that:
your claim that the bulk of uncleaned coins currently available on the market are the product of looting is not true. The enormous number of uncleaned coins entering the market annually is far beyond what could be produced by the number of archeological sites being looted. Diligent, open-minded research reveals that the numbers simply do not add up. There can be little doubt that some illegally obtained coins do end up in uncleaned lots, but they constitute a tiny fraction of the whole.
So once again we see recourse to the coin elves argument (12 April 2009, 'To all you young collectors out there'). According to collectors who believe in this model, bulk lots of so-called uncleaned, unsorted coins just materialise magically from thin air. Kilogrammes and kilogrammes of them. Mr "W." however does not explain where his "diligent, open-minded research" determines the coins and other kilogrammes of artefacts are coming from, he is simply in denial of the most obvious explanation, that these are the leavings of the coin dealers who cherry-pick the products of commercial artefact hunting of archaeological sites in various areas of the ancient world (most notoriously in Bulgaria). There was even an article on coin cleaning forums explicitly stating the origin and bearing every sign of having been written by somebody who knew what she was talking about (Susan Headley's 'The Saga of an Uncleaned Coin' discussed by me here 1st march 2010). This was distributed in multiple copies a few years back but as far as I can see every last copy has now been removed from the internet.

Mr "W." talks of the "enormous number of uncleaned coins entering the market annually" so where are these fresh coins "surfacing" from, if not underground?

It really is a huge stretch of credibility to claim that the dirt encrusted coins now being sold as bulk lots had at some stage formed part of some "old collections". Old collectors, not even brown-skinned non-American ones, did not buy mahogany cabinets to store thousands upon thousands of unsorted featureless and muddy coins. In fact such coins were not on the market in the days before metal detectors and internet-trading. There are a plethora of "how to" guides to coin collecting from pre-metal-detector days (I have a few in my own library) and I would be interested if somebody could post on the Internet an extract of even one of them which talks about the bulk lots before the 1970s. I have certainly never seen such a reference. So where were these coins before 1970 if not still in the ground?

Mr "W." suggests that the "enormous number of uncleaned coins entering the market annually" is far beyond what could be produced by the number of archeological sites being looted". Since archaeological site looting is an illegal activity and therefore for the large part a clandestine activity, how on earth can our putative Texan say what is the scale of site looting in in various parts of the coin-producing ancient world? How "many" sites does he think are looted (and how does he define that term)? Perhaps we should turn that round and suggest (since no other origin has been determined for them) the "enormous number of uncleaned coins entering the market annually" is in fact an index of the amount of commercial archaeological site looting that has been and is going on. Mr "W." also omits the fact that bulk lots of coins are just part of the picture, we also have bulk lots of "partifacts" on sale by US dealers such as Empire Danny who used to be more candid about where they were coming from. They are less so now, so goodness knows where their clients "believe" (like Mr "W.") that they come from. Perhaps instead of clinging to baseless beliefs, the collectors of such items should take a close look at the wider context of the activity and think a little harder about the consequences, which brings us back to what I was saying about the blogging pastor whose dismissal of the issues was the basis of my original comments.

I would say that if they were to do this, they would indeed conclude that "diligent, open-minded research reveals that the numbers simply do not add up" and they'd have to abandon both the "coin elves" and "old collection" models as an explanation of the origins of commercial offers of bulk lots of "uncleaned coins".

Its the no-questions-asked collectors of ancient artefacts who are putting money into the pockets of the looters.

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