Thursday, 12 March 2015

No Intention, but What Checks are there? [UPDATED]


Classical Coins, GI2702 0170 Caracalla: AE 16 of Carrhae, Mesopotamia $100.00 Obv. IMP CAES M AVR ANTONINVS P F AVG Laur. hd. r.Rev. COL AVR METROPOLI ANTONIAN Turreted bust of Tyche r.1.62 g Sear GI 2702; SNGR 2568; LINDGREN III 1559VF
"I will say that I have no intention of acquiring or selling antiquities of the sort that ISIL is looting and destrroying" (see: "US Antiquities Dealer Condones Buying 'Endangered' Artefacts from Middle East").
This coin, where was it four years ago, and why does it not say so on the dealer's website? It was minted just over the border from Syrian ISIL-land, and is of a sort which circulated within what is now ISIL territory, so where and when was it found Mr Welsh? Given the assurance above, why would it be in your stock if you do not have this information? (Mr Sayles has one too).

and "Classical Coins", what about the Parthian and Seleukid coins? Where were they "first found"?  Where were they (the ones that are not "ex Brian Kritt coll.") four years ago?  ISIL-lands now occupy what was the eastern extent of both of the regions within which these coins were used.

Whatever indignant dealers and collectors may prefer to think, for the rest of us it is obvious that to have a clean market it is not enough for some guys to declare that they "have no intention", what is needed is for them to have the firm intention (and determination) to check. 

Vignette: Neither Mr Welsh's nor Mr Sayles'  coin, there are a lot of them about these days it seems - worryingly few with any kind of collecting history behind them verifying their licit origins. And how did Mr Kritt's coins leave the ground and the source country?

UPDATE 15th March 2015

This is my reply to the comment Mr Welsh submitted in response to the above text (his comment, as sent, can be found below this post).

Mr Welsh, my questions are reasonable, not "rhetorical", and perfectly justified, not "leading", and are posed because this is basic information which should in all cases be in the public domain, this is not "propaganda".

 The fact that this is ground that has been over "many times before" with dealers who have no intention whatsoever of dragging their no-questions-asked business out of the nineteenth century does not mean that those of us who want to see a cleaner and accountable antiquities market should give up trying. That is not "anti-collecting", it is anti-bad-business procedures. The three that died after eating a particular batch of American ice cream reported yesterday should have (and thanks to the food trade being more accountable than the dugup antiquities trade currently is do have) information allowing the source of the contamination to be traced back to source and dealt with. So it is with any commodity available for public consumption, so it should be, everyone except stubborn dealers and collectors can see, with dugup antiquities.

A coin produced in and probably circulating in the region of the borderland between Turkey and Syria is not made licit by being out of the ground before "1995". Both Turkey and Syria have legislation protecting the archaeological record from clandestine digging and unlawful possession (and export) of artefacts  going back before then. In what way did you check that the coin you acquired for your future stock in 1995 complied with the legal requirements of the source country? The same goes for the "Parthian" coins and Seleucid ones. This is not a "propaganda" question, it is one which cuts to the core of what we understand as ethical business practice when this kind of commodity is involved. A "they can't touch me for it" legitimacy is not any form of legitimacy in domestic abuse, narcotics crime, reckless driving and a whole load of other areas where daily life and the law interlock. Treating one's wife abusively in a way that leaves no physical marks is no more legitimate than beating her and leaving a trail of bruises. The fact that no charges can be pressed does not make the abuser any better a man. Making sure there is no incriminating paperwork may well be a way the middlemen who supply some dealers avoid "trouble with the law" for everyone involved, but paperless artefacts are no more legitimate than the husband who says defiantly "prove I did it - her word against mine, innocent until proven guilty".

Let us recall that in contrast to the US version of English, in UK English the word "licit" and its antonym "illicit" have a broader meaning than merely "legal". In using the word, I do so in its British (English) sense.

The fact that the information which in Mr Welsh's opinion makes a coin in his stockroom "licit" (recte "legal"?) is absent from his website is due, Mr Welsh claims, because there are no collectors at all, anywhere among his clients, who care about checking whether the coins they acquire are licit or not:
It does not "say so" on my website, because very few if any customers are interested in the provenance of such coins.
"Such coins" however are precisely the type I was discussing above "antiquities of the sort that ISIL is looting and destroying". Welsh asserts firmly that nobody in the collecting community of which he is a part is interested even as late as march 2015 in ascertaining that a coin on offer is not from a supplier dealing with ISIL looters? Really? That is astounding. Meanwhile a fellow dealer of Mr Welsh and fellow "Proud Member and supporter of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild" is apparently accused by Hugh Tomlinson in the Times and Jack Crone in the Mail of being part of the process of selling "Antiquities looted by Islamic State on eBay" because when the media are awash with tales of ongoing and recent looting of sites in Syria and northern Iraq, the figured coins they are selling are lacking any details that show one way or the other how each came onto the market. If "Daily Mail" readers can understand why that might appear suspicious, it seems US dealers do not.

This has to change.  Let us see the antiquities market defining what is kosher on the market and differentiating it from the tref items handled by the irresponsible cowboys. A truly responsible dealer will have  taken care over the hygiene of their stockroom, their reputation and peace of mind and thus has only bought identifiably and verifiably licit coins for their stock. They should be encouraged by responsible collectors and responsible dealers to make that information plain to see. If dealers in general follow the lead, then the number of items where licitness cannot in fact be demonstrated will stick out like a sore thumb, as a general pointer to the degree the market carries licit artefacts. Now, why do responsible dealers and collectors apparently not want to see that?

Of Coin  #0170 in Mr Welsh's stockroom, he says:
I have no idea where or when it was found. It is one of the 95% plus of all ancient coins for which provenance beyond my own notes has never been recorded.
Then they have no business to be in the stock of any dealer who is claiming he is responsibly filtering out coins that came on the market illicitly (illegally). If he has bought a whole load of dugup artefacts without knowing where as many as 95% of them come from, then I think all of us can see that Mr Welsh cannot by any stretch of the imagination make that claim.

The US coin trade is loud in its support of the  benefits of the "British System" and the PAS, every single one of the several hundred thousand coins that have passed through the hands of the PAS has a record of who found it where, how and when, and what subsequently happened to it. It is notable that so few of the artefacts offered by the very same US dealers promoting this as a 'way forward' come onto the market with information that they come from this premier source of documenatably licit artefacts, with PAS (or disclaimed Treasure) number and an export licence according to the transparent and liberal UK law on antiquities. Why is that? What does this tell you about their 'anything goes' attitudes to filling their stockrooms?

Welsh ends:
I know of no dealer in ancient coins anywhere in the world who conducts his business in the manner you are deceptively attempting to present as being ethically required. 
There is nothing "deceptive" in that. It is inherent in (among others) Articles 3 and 10 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention  which, like it or not, the US is a state party of. If Mr Welsh sold potatoes, shampoo, beefburgers or products from endangered species, or pancakes from a roadside stall, he'd have to have the appropriate documentation of origin and health certificates of each batch of products he handles. Why cannot antiquities dealers accept that there is no place for a secretive, opaque, no-questions-asked free-for-all cowboy market in any commodity in today's world?

4 comments:

Dave Welsh said...

Mr. Barford:

Replies to your questions:

1) GI2702 0170 Caracalla: AE 16 of Carrhae, Mesopotamia $100.00 Obv. IMP CAES M AVR ANTONINVS P F AVG Laur. hd. r.Rev. COL AVR METROPOLI ANTONIAN Turreted bust of Tyche r.1.62 g Sear GI 2702; SNGR 2568; LINDGREN III 1559VF

"This coin, where was it four years ago, and why does it not say so on the dealer's website?"

This coin was in my inventory, where it has been since being licitly acquired in the USA in 1995. It does not "say so" on my website, because very few if any customers are interested in the provenance of such coins.

2) " what about the Parthian ... coins? Where were they "first found"? Where were they ... four years ago?

Information as to "first found" has never been recorded for such coins and is not available. Their location four years ago depends upon the individual coin, but most (if not all) were acquired long ago. For example, #2177 was licitly acquired at auction in the USA in 1996. #3374 was licitly acquired in the USA by private treaty sale in 2007.

3) Concerning #0170: "... where and when was it found Mr Welsh? Given the assurance above, why would it be in your stock if you do not have this information?"

I have no idea where or when it was found. It is one of the 95% plus of all ancient coins for which provenance beyond my own notes has never been recorded. Very few ancient coins have ever reached the market for which specific find information was recorded, the few exceptions normally being those from particularly notable hoards.

Your questions are rhetorical, and leading, and posed for propaganda purposes. We have been over this ground many times before.

I know of no dealer in ancient coins anywhere in the world who conducts his business in the manner you are deceptively attempting to present as being ethically required.

Paul Barford said...

I'll answer that in an update to the post above.

Dave Welsh said...

Mr. Barford:

You use words in such a manner to posit that they have meanings which are not generally accepted. The word "licit" is an important example.

To you, "licit" apparently means something along the lines of "having a provenance trail proving discovery and/or export in accordance with the antiquities laws of the source country."

To those involved in collecting ancient coins, and supplying collectors, and also in general usage, "licit" means "in accordance with the law." That of course means the law in effect in the jurisdiction in which an act occurs, in this case acquisition or sale of a coin.

When I use a word such as "licit" it is used in the sense of its generally accepted meaning, not the posited meaning which you attempt to give that word.

There are not very many archaeologists in the world, compared to all those who use plain English with its normal and universally accepted meanings for words.

If you expect people to understand your posited meanings, you should provide a dictionary of archaeological jargon, or at least explain that your blog is written for archaeologists and not the general public.

Paul Barford said...


Hmm, we seem to be going off on a tangent... quelle surprise.

There are a number of accepted varieties of Englishes in the world. I specify that I use the version current in the UK, and specifically the English part of that. In that variety of English (as I said, but Mr Welsh seems
not to understand) the word licit" has a broader meaning than in the US version.

In fact we went through this before - Mr W. and I - in exactly the SAME context on the Unidroit-L list which he 'moderates'. It seems he took in very little of what I wrote then. The archives of that
list are difficult to search, but that would have been about 2009 I guess.

The attentive reader will see that Mr Welsh returns to the issue again at least once: 'English Lessons for Antiquities Dealers (1) - the word "illicit"
PACHI  Wednesday, 25 September 2013. There again I spent time putting down how the term is used, not just by me. And again it seems I wasted
that time, he did not take anything away from that -and seems to forget we discussed it. A pity.

So, instead of telling him yet again, let him read Simon McKenzie's explanation "Why
the use of ‘illicit’ rather than ‘illegal’ or ‘criminal’ in the literature when talking about the international market in looted antiquities?
"
in the Trafficking Culture encyclopaedia. Let Mr Welsh learn it this time, for goodness' sake. I suggest if Mr Welsh wants to argue with the way a word is used, he needs to keep up with the discussions where it is used.

 
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