Saturday, 24 September 2011

"he calls us coineys"

There is a really telling exchange of views on the Unidroit-L discussion list at the moment about - in effect - "why Paul Barford should not be allowed to participate in any discussions on heritage on this list while his blog is closed". Apparently list members are incensed that I "take what we say out of context" (in other words the context of closed antiquity collecting interest groups and bring it into a more public forum?) and I use what list members concur are pejorative terms such as "dugups" (a collective noun I in fact borrowed from the parlance of certain dealers in bulk uncleaned lots of ancient coins) and "dodgy dealings" (an adjective which I use for what- given the circumstances- in my mind can only be called "dodgy").

Most upsetting for them all seems to be the shorthand terms I have used for certain groups of collectors which (because they are the noisiest in the cultural property debates) I write about here a lot: "coin fondlers" and "coineys". These are thought, by those who feel the term refers to them, to be wholly offensive. In particular Alfredo De La Fe (a Cuban) considers that calling an action "coin fondling" equates it with paedophilia. I think he's getting muddled. I do indeed make the parallel between closed access antiquity collecting discussion lists and kiddie porn websites. I see no reason why discussions on responsible collecting with a responsible attitude to the material collected and its origins needs to be closed off from public scrutiny as if something illicit was going on there. The need for transparency is very clear.

"Coin fondlers" was an extension of the idea "a piece of history in your hand" which is often used by antiquity sellers to encourage buyers. In other words it is argued that it is not enough to see ancient finds on the TV, in books, or through the glass of a museum case. Holding it in your hand is what gives the "experience of the past". Furthermore it's what those radical archaeologists allegedly want to prevent (the public "getting their hands on" artefacts). Clearly, the sense of touch is the important thing here. Coin collectors talk about the difference between seeing a specimen (for example one the authenticity of which is in dispute) in a photo or "in the hand". Some collectors talk about having a "pocket piece", a collectable coin they carry around with them in their pockets and can feel when they put their hands in their pockets. Others wear coins as personal ornament in close contact with their bodies.

In general collectors will say they cannot possibly "do numismatics" based on photos or scans of coins, they must have the specimens in their own collections, in their hands. Hence the idea (admittedly a bit tongue in cheek) of "coin fondling". I really baulk at the idea of calling all who accumulate dugup Greek, Roman and Biblical" coins "numismatists". I have a narrower definition of what numismatics consist of than being able to work eBay.

An unforeseen problem is I am British, I speak the language of the Queen. Now, Her Majesty and I see nothing untoward in the word "fondling". We may speak of a nervous passenger fondling his pocketwatch as he waits for a train, a gentleman might fondle the ears of his dog. If it was the downstairs parlour maid in which he was interested, the word in UK English is 'grope'. I was quite surprised to find that in US usage the word seems to be used almost exclusively with sexual (though not wholly paedophilic) overtones. This might therefore lead to some misunderstanding I suppose. So let me clarify, I use the verb to "fondle" to mean " to handle tenderly, lovingly, or lingeringly". Are coins not handled tenderly by their owners, with love and lingeringly and reflectively?

This brings us onto "coiney/coinies". It's a rather vague term I must admit. Most of the time I use it to mean:
English-speaking collectors of dugup ancient coins based generally in the USA and firm supporters of the ACCG.
ESCDACUSAACCGS seems a bit of a lengthy acronym to replace it.

In fact there are lots of
collective nouns ending "-ies" in use. For example there are: Tekkies (UK metal detectorists) and they hate/love "Archies" (UK Archaeologists) who might be "Lefties" (slightly left of the middle politically) and may even be "Trekkies" (fans of a particular TV Science Fiction series). Many of those I know are serious "Foodies" (yum yum). And so on. Now if one is a bearded woolly-jumper-wearing bicycle-riding whole-food and environmental activist social worker, being a "lefty" is something you might be proud of. If you are a gun-toting, tea-partying, FEMA-suspecting Republican Birther from Wisconsin, the term would be used as a pejorative one.

Now, what I do not really see is why somebody who actually is an English-speaking collector of dugup ancient coins from Wisconsin and a fully paid up supporter of the ACCG, would see the term "coiney" in itself as offensive?

The quite separate issue is the general characteristics which it seems to me can in general be ascribed to many, if not most, of these people. If they are led astray by the crass and all-too-obvious ACCG propaganda, they only have themselves to blame that they are ridiculed for it, just the same as if they believed a claim that the President had been abducted by aliens and replaced by a Reptilian.

f course the argument "we'd start considering collecting responsibly if people like Paul Barford stop calling us rude names" is also one we've heard before. The PAS, David Gill, Derek Fincham, SAFE and Heritage Action are for putting the argument politely, I don't see why one of us should not say it in stronger terms.

Vignette: Ralph Wiggum

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