|Artefact decontextualised by |
The dealer activist claims a special status for coin collecting, a sort of numismatic exceptionalism. He brashly describes it as "a learning discipline that is older than any university in the world". To replace fantasy by fact, I doubt very much that coin collecting can actually be shown to have become systematised as a "discipline" still less a "learning discipline" before the reputed date of the foundation (850 AD) of the University of Karueein in Fez, Morocco, or that of the University of Bologna, Italy, in 1088 - or even the Jagiellonian University in Cracow, Poland (1364).
Regular readers may recall the disgruntlement that met my labelling of heap-of-loose-coins-on-a-table collecting on this blog as "coin fondlers". It is therefore interesting to note Sayles' own characterisation of the "discipline" as one that gives its ("passionate") adherents "their tactile learning experience" and "that remarkable experience" the experience of feeling-up ancient metal discs. In other words, coin fondling, as I said. A collector "experiences" the past through touching old things, rather like "celebrity contamination" from Elvis's tie or St Benedict's left big toe.
In further claiming a special status for his clientele, dealer Sayles apparently cannot raise his eyes further than the edge of his coin cabinet and interprets the wording "vested stakeholders in preserving the past" in a wholly object-centric manner, ignoring the obvious fact that Dr Kersel is discussing sites and landscapes. If sites were preserved, the artefacts (archaeological evidence) they contain would still be in the ground, and not in Waynes Sayles coin cabinet for him to kid himself that by buying undocumented artefacts he is somehow "saving them". All he is saving them from is being bought by some other carefree collector who does-not-give-a-damn. In other words "saving" is here a euphemism for pure and simple selfish greed.
|Targeted digging by artefact hunters whose activities are enabled |
by dodgy middlemen and the no-questions-asked approach of
a major part of the international antiquities market
It is therefore utterly ridiculous for a dealer whose stock comprises on the whole artefacts with not even rudimentary collecting histories showing how, where and when they entered the market to claim: "While few of them [collectors] ever interact directly with looters, they clearly suffer the consequences of looting as much as anyone else who has a love of the past". Collectors in the US buy from dealers and the dealers are not saying where they got the constant flow of freshly-surfaced artefacts from. They want us to believe that the expanding modern market is solely fed by the recycling of material coming from the dismemberment of personal collections of a much smaller population of collectors of a mythologised byegone golden age.** The ability of dealers today to obtain a constant flow of fresh stock (almost all of which 'just happens to have lost' all documentation tracing it further back than the catalogue of the last auction where it was bought) is noteworthy. It does not take much imagination to wonder quite seriously about the link between that remarkable phenomenon and the increasing numbers of holes in productive sites documented by people like Morag Kershaw (see the photo above)* to ask whether the collectors' "love of [buying relics of] the past" from foreign countries is not leading to the products of that looting ending up in their personal artefact collections and coin cabinets. In other words this would mean, contrary to the denials of interested parties such as coin dealers, that far from "suffering the consequences of looting", the no-questions-asked coin trade is fuelled by it.
Apparently, though, coin dealers like Mr Sayles, with all their whining and special pleading, seem to lack that imagination. They imagine something else, they apparently believe in Coin Fairies taking away the stuff from the holes we see in the photos so some Disneyesque 'Happy ending' never-neverland, while Coin Elves supply the market with kosher provenanceless artefacts made by elven magic for dealers like him to sell to his clients. I leave it to the reader to decide for themselves where they think the freshly-surfaced coins coming onto the no-questions-asked market actually come from, artefact hunters or elves.
* An image of looting episodes — holes — at Fifa in Jordan, taken by a fixed wing drone in 2013 as part of site documentation and monitoring by archaeologist Morag M. Kersel, an assistant professor at DePaul University. Image: Austin “Chad” Hill of the Follow the Pots Project
** The American Numismatic Association has a membership today of about 24,000 members. To see how this relates to the number of collectors around before 1970 it would be useful to know how many members it had in each decade of the twentieth century. Can anyone provide those figures for us?