Sunday, 25 November 2012

WGS: "a guarantee of authenticity and of clear title" - Not enough

Mr "WGS Antiquarian" sells coins.  He falsely says I "endorse" his website. For the record, I do not. This is for the very simple reason that all he is prepared to offer up front is that
"each item on the WGS Store is sold with a guarantee of authenticity and of clear title".
He says store practice in this regard is is "in keeping with [his own] recommendations posted on this blog last year". Those recommendations however begin "ACCG members have asked what they can do to assure that the purchases they make are legal" - bla bla.

As is quite clear from the pages of this blog, given the current utter hopelessness of the majority of legislation concerning commerce in dugup antiquities, I am less concerned with mere staying-within-the-law legality than with issues of responsibility and ethics among those that commercially handle  archaeological artefacts. This, it should be clear from the pages of this blog ("the context"), is for me the key issue in the trade in such a specific commodity as dugup antiquities.  It should therefore be obvious to all but a simpleton that I am not going to "endorse" anything which does not uphold the same values. From all that he has shown us so far, it is my opinion that the WGS online coin store falls well short of what I would be looking for in a dugup dealer if it were desirous of winning my "endorsement".

"Who" Mr Sayles is is neither here nor there, what matters is where each individual item he offers have come from, how they left the source country and through whose hands they passed. Mr Sayles admits that he can only give "a "best knowledge and belief" statement" and this is because "ancient coins do not come with a title like an automobile". Well, wait a second, if he cannot ascertain (from the item's documentation) that he has acquired dugup antiquities of foreign origin without the ability to actually guarantee title (because he has not been able to determine with 100% certainty whether the coin has legally left the source country), then any dealer's 'word' that the purchaser has acquired a licit coin from him is simply not worth the paper it is written on. It's just empty words of an old man expressing wishful thinking and expecting everyone to believe him and not ask any questions.

We note that Sayles  in the recommendations that he wrote to support his brand of commercial activity Sayles says: "The prospect of seizure of coins from law abiding rank and file collectors is remote and is not a cause for undue concern". Is that it? All he's doing is guaranteeing that whatever else, US authorities will not raid the homes of "rank and file" (eh?) coin collectors who have a piece of paper signed by a "retired" dealer who is not-really-retired? That is he is offering "they cannot-touch-you-for-it" free title"? This is his definition of "responsible collecting" - a responsible collector leaves no traces to incriminate himself (and buys from dealers who keep no documentation to incriminate themselves)? It should be obvious that this is not a definition of "responsible collecting" of items such as dugup archaeological artefacts that the author of this blog would endorse, far from it.  

I am sure Mr Sayles will correct me if I am wrong, but it seems to me that what he is offering is certification that by choosing to buy coins from "WSG Antiquarian", purchasers have  "a reasonable expectation that title is clear and transferable before purchasing" a dugup antiquity from him. That's what the executive Director of the ACCG will give them a piece of paper saying. This is what he is telling his customers gives them 100% immunity under US law from having their coins seized. Then in the next breath he tells us that some of the coins he is currently handling come from a collection formed by "buying from major auctions in the U.S. and abroad as well as from bourses primarily in the Midwestern U.S.". But that in itself tells us nothing. It primarily through such venues and their no-questions-asked practices down through the years that illicitly-obtained coins enter the market and continue to circulate within it, laundered by the anonimity offered by no-questions-asked dealings. (Presumably Mr Sayles will deny that, assigning the blame to "coin elves"). So, if Sayles cannot obtain from his supplier precise information about how those coins entered the market, how they ended up in those "auctions in the US and abroad" and 'bourses", then the coins he buys from them are tainted and he has no business guaranteeing that they are of licit origins when he is unable to actually ascertain that.  

So I ask again, what does dugup coin dealer Sayles understand by "guaranteeing clear title" in the specific case of selling dugup ancient antiquities?
1) The laundered- (missing)-collecting-history  "they"-can't-touch-you-for-it based on the trade obscuring origins?

2) Or the one based on transparency "I have checked the documentation of this particular item's collecting history (and pass on a copy to you, the buyer)  and give you a 100% unconditional guarantee that this item is of wholly and uncontestably licit origins - take a look at the documentation here yourself"? 
There is a HUGE difference between the two, as I am sure everybody with an IQ over 85 can see.

Certainly I would endorse any seller that can legitmately (verifiably and consistently)  make the latter claim, that is after all what one would understand by the term "legitimate market in portable antiquities". Anything LESS than that would not get my endorsement as a seller of dugup antiquities. Nor, would I imagine would it get any kind of endorsement from many an archaeologist, whether they collect antiquities or not.  

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