Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Just Can't Say No...

Wayne and John can't say no to aggro....
David Knell is now the subject of personal attacks over on Wayne Sayles' vindictive "Ancient Coin Collectingr" blog for the truism: "That collecting provides most of the motivation for looting is blatantly obvious to the rest of the world". In response, comments on the blog accuse him (in the present simple tense):
 Knell is a collector of classic oil lamps of the type regularly uncovered from Roman and Greco-Roman habitation sites. Why he imagines that his collecting ethics motivate looters less, than say, other equally licit collectors, continues to be a source of humorous speculation.
and more puerile ad hominem jibes of that ilk. Wayne Sayles, posting such comments on his blog would do well to check his sources first. Knell used to collect such lamps, he has a fairly representative collection and a website which well exhibits possibilities for collecting as a form of scholarship that the coineys are always banging on about.  What is remarkable about this collection however is that it has been accumulated in accordance with a collecting policy - something most other private collectors lack:
The core of the collection was formed many decades ago and added to since. The acquisition of material is now static; attention is focused on study and research. In the early days it was easy to be certain that the lamps acquired had come from even older collections but over the years it has become far more difficult to distinguish between those and lamps that might have been excavated more recently. Due to that difficulty and a desire not to contribute, even unknowingly, to a destruction of the archaeological record caused by modern illicit excavations, any further acquisition would have to comply with the relevant section and points in the revised Code of Ethics adopted by the Museums Association (UK) and published in 2008.
Bravo for attitude. David Knell does not deserve the treatment meted out to him by the nasties of the ACCG. Unlike most other portable antiquities collectors Knell considered where the volumes of objects being offered to him were coming from, and made a moral choice when doubts began to form.

Another collector who was thinking was the young Nathan Elkins, who admitted in 2008 that he collects coins: 
after purchasing my first ancient coin for $1.75 in the mid 1990s when I was 13 or 14 years of age, I fell in love with the history and ideology celebrated by various designs on Roman coins. [...] Yet after beginning my doctoral studies in 2003 and after having discussions with some prominent scholars and numismatists (coin specialists) at the American Numismatic Society Graduate Seminar in 2004, I began to re-evaluate the ethics of ancient coin collecting. I became aware of the irrevocable destruction of information caused by systematic looting at historical sites in search of ancient coins to sell on the market. Upon being confronted with the reality of the situation, I reflected on my past participation in the trade and soon came to the conclusion that my passion for the ancient world lay not in the object itself and its acquisition, but rather in the historical information about our common cultural heritage that these coins can relate—information that is lost when a looted coin is ripped from its context. Therefore, for approximately three years, I have not purchased any ancient coin that does not have verifiable documentation attesting its existence in a collection in or before 1973, according to the American Journal of Archaeology ethical guidelines, which follows the 1970 and 1972 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Conventions. I am not alone in my views. Many scholarly numismatists of the present generation do not collect, or no longer collect, ancient coins because of similar concerns. My personal decision essentially translated into a moratorium on my collecting habits, given the fact that coins from old collections or other verifiable provenance are difficult to find and command a premium on the market. Why is this the case?
Professor Elkins has written another text containing information on the same topic:
I am myself a “collector,” though it has been a while since I have been active and that I collected in a restricted manner in the final years of being active. Personally, I have chosen only to collect objects from old collections, before c. 1970, since I know these were not the fruits of recent looting, an activity I do not wish to support. My own c. 1970 cutoff coincides with the rise of the metal detector, which modernized and multiplied the negative effects of looting and made it an even more profitable enterprise. [...] on principle, I no longer wish to purchase from certain American dealerships that provide substantial financial support for a profit-oriented lobby that refuses to acknowledge or address the indiscriminate commercial force that drives the systematic destruction of the material past and the information that goes along with it. Instead it seeks to protect and further those interests.
Now, of course while we cannot guess the identity of that unnamed "lobby", at least we can see the logic behind that collecting policy decision. There are however 50 000 collectors of dugup ancient coins in the US, most of whom see (but do they seek?) any such logic? Those 49 999 just cannot say no.

David Knell, 'RomQ Reference Collection of Ancient Lamps', Ancient Lamps, 2008. 

Nathan Elkins, 'Why coins matter: Trafficking in undocumented and illegally exported ancient coins in the North American marketplace', SAFE, August 8th 2008.

Nathan Elkins, 'Reflections on an Acquistion',  Numismatics and Archaeology, April 9, 2009.

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