Sunday, 25 June 2017

Seller Sayles Demands 1417 Methods of Dealing with Art Traffickers

This is how they dealt with things in 1417
Dealer Wayne Sales has a go at the participants of the hearing on The Exploitation of Cultural Property: Examining Illicit Activity in the Antiquities and Art Trade" in the US House of Representatives. He calls it 'A Sad Day for America' (Ancient Coin Collecting, Friday June 23, 2017) and takes a tub-thumping populist stance:
it may say something about the very nature of representative government and who is actually represented versus who the electorate is. The three bureaucrats testifiying before Congress in this hearing presented one point of view. They [...] essentially blamed that loss on private ownership [of artefacts].
Well, no they do not. They place the blame on the business methods of the antiquities trade, the trade which Sayles is part of and party to. The blame is on the dealers who fail to take adequate steps to avoid trade with illicit sources - "traffickers". It may be argued that if all dealers and collectors took these steps, there could be a substantial reduction in trafficking. Sayles wants to see the blame placed on those no-good foreigners:
Nobody in the room talked about the failure of law enforcement worldwide to stop "trafficking". [...] Academia and Bureaucracy have no actual control over foreign governments, so they turn their attack instead toward the innocent who are blameless. [...] The failure of governments and law enforcement in foreign lands to eliminate looting and wanton destruction has become a harpoon in the side of law abiding Americans who love the past.
I really do not see any dealer or collector who buys portable antiquities on today's contaminated market without ensuring that the items they handle have documentation of licit origins as in any way 'blameless'. On the contrary, it is precisely this no-questions-asked approach which is responsible for the ease with which freshly surfaced objects of illicit origin (stolen, looted, faked or smuggled) can be monetised by being clandestinely slipped onto the undiscriminating market. The no-questions-asked approach is to be directly lamed for the existence of a market for illicit antiquities. That is a fact that must be obvious to all (it seems) except excessively unreflexive people like Mr Sayles. He whinges on:
How is any buyer in an international market able to distinguish between an object recirculating in a vibrant and venerable trade from one stolen yesterday? That is not the "buyer's" job, it is the role of law enforcement [...]

No, it is a function of the market's functioning based on verifiable evidence of the legitimacy of each object surfacing on it. If no verifiable evidence is available that an object is of licit origins (even in the 'absence of direct information that it is not'), that object cannot be acquired - because due diligence cannot be applied. This means producing a proper and verifiable collecting history on any object offered for sale by a reputable (repute-worthy) dealer, even in the case of so-called minor antiquities. This is the only reasonable response to the recent flooding of the international market by the products of cultural crimes such as theft, looting, falsification and smuggling.   Relying on a 'gut-feeling' that an object 'does not look like a freshly dug antiquity' is quite obviously not enough. In such a situation as the contaminated market of the 21st century, the burden of proof that something is licit quite clearly remains with the seller.

Henry V - king of England 1414-1422,
not known to have collected coins
Who gives a tinkers how long people have been collecting antiquities in the same way as '600 years ago'? This is the pathetically weak justification of the dealers today - they want to carry on doing things like it was still 1417. I doubt there are many other professions (apart from thatchers, fletchers and coracle builders) who'll use the same kind of argument. Yet the whinging goes on:
What those few elected representatives in Congress present did not hear [...] was the six-hundred-year-old story of how private collectors of antiquities have saved countless objects from loss through physical destruction for intrinsic metal value (for example, melting down silver and gold coins) or the countless museums worldwide that are populated with cultural property donated by private collectors. Why was that perspective not made clear? [...] The actual truth is that private collectors do far more to save the past than the loose-lipped academics ever dreamed of doing.
Mr Sayles needs to take a deep breath and a step back to reflect that the topic of the meeting was not 'antiques and antiquities in culture today', but specifically Collection-driven Exploitation of cultural property, and specifically, 'Examining Illicit Activity in the Antiquities and Art Trade'. Collection-driven exploitation of historical sites destroys culture. Rows of headless buddhas, the sources of the loose heads in many a western 'art' gallery, are just one expression of this. Dug-over sites which produce the type of metal artefacts Mr Sayles sells are another.

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