Monday, 7 December 2015

Self-Absorbed Dealers and the place of coin collecting in Historiography


The "professional numismatists" in the US seem to think that they can bamboozle us with empty claims. Perhaps airhead collectors are happy to accept what these people say as some kind of "fact", but there are more enquiring minds beyond coin fondling. We want to see these "facts' demonstrated. One of the least self-critical of these shopkeepers has attempted to dismiss an earlier post of mine. As part of what I assume he imagines is some kind of counter-argument he gaily announces that "numismatics is a primary source for the development of history", while other disciplines are not - but like Mr Berk declines to show that this is the case with state quarters. A bag full of California state quarters,  taken as an historical source. The floor is open for any collector or dealer to tell us about them, using only numismatic evidence. Put your money where your mouths are.

I trust there is no real need to demonstrate that the material culture, even in the form of a rubbish dump, interpreted using the applicable methodology, has an immeasurably greater deal to say about US society than discs of metal stamped with some pictures and the disjointed words "California," "John Muir," "Yosemite Valley" and "1850", meaningless without extra-source information. Just one small part of that material culture is the coinage (though in fact the less temporally-durable paper money is equally if not more significant culturally). Coincidentally James Dixon (Senior Archaeologist, Museum of London Archaeology, Planning,) has an interesting paper on this "Is the present day post-medieval?" - funnily enough, the words "coin" and "numismatics" seem to feature nowhere in it.

3 comments:

Daryl Davis said...

Dear Paul,

Would you be kind enough, sir, to dispel the apparent contradiction between your first having objected rather harshly in a previous post to Berk's attempts at educating a wider public on the charms of coin collecting -- because, as you say, "...when it is not accompanied by rigorous diligence to ensure the artefacts come from licit sources,...much history is destroyed by artefact hunters, middlemen and greedy dealers putting that one geegaw into an American hand..." -- and then secondly, in this post, your having denigrated the place of coins in Historiography, describing them as "...discs of metal stamped with some pictures and the disjointed words ..."?

Thank you,
Ralph

David Knell said...

Funnily enough, while archaeological research has frequently played an invaluable part in compiling studies of past interiors in my own sector of social history, I'm scratching my head trying to recall when coins played any part at all.

There should be awards for silly remarks ...

Paul Barford said...

Mr Davis, It seems to me obvious that by digging anything, willy nilly, out of a site you are destroying the evidence of the past which could have been documented if done another way. Can you not see it?

 
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