Saturday, 24 June 2017

The Dealer and the Heritage Debate

Hans Memling, a man
with an earnest expression
 and silly hat holds an
archaeological artefact
'What happened to the Debate?' asks a US dealer and activist for the no-quewstions-asked antiquities trade. He thinks that the reason for there being a lack of debate is the fault of cultural property professionals:
After founding the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild in 2004, I started attending U.S. State Department hearings of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) in Washington DC.  My intention was to establish a dialogue with Archaeologists who opposed the 600-year tradition of private ownership of ancient coins and members of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs that was then becoming proactive in adding ancient coins to designated lists of material restricted from importation into the United States. 
Really? What kind of a 'dialogue' would that be, and about what? I would say that by authoring and publishing an article called 'Archaeology, a wolf in sheep\'s clothing' Sayles hardly made a start in establishing his credentials as somebody members of the discipline would want to talk with, and does nothing to show that he actually understands the point archaeologists are making - and without that understanding there is no debate.

The problem is that the CPAC is not in any way engaged in debating (still less opposed to)  'the 600-year tradition of private ownership of ancient coins'  (since 1404). That statement shows a clear misunderstanding about the role of the CPAC and the CCPIA.

As for the adding of ancient coins 'to designated lists of material restricted from importation into the United States', again the narrow focus of the dealer distorts his view of what the CCPIA does. Ancient coins are just as much archaeological artefacts as glass beads, bronze fibulae and all the rest when it comes to the pillaging of the cultural heritage of the country concerned. No manner of weak self-serving arguments conjured up by the coineys to suggest they and the things they collect are in any way 'exceptional;' will hold water.  Burt the very fact that they expect them to immediately makes them a tiresome partner in any form of debate ("yes, everybody else should follow the rules, of course, but not us"). They then go from that to calling into question what exactly US lawmakers really deep down in the back of their consciences had in mind when they wrote the CCPIA.

In fact, the CCPIA is only about undocumented artefacts/cultural property. It establishes the need to have documentation of the licit origins of items a dealer wants to import into the US. In true Disney-bred fashion, the requirements are not in fact onerous. But even for the no-questions-asked dealers Sayles represents, this is too much bother.

But then where is the debate? The CCPIA sets out a procedure for importing certain items into teh US, ACCG challenge this. Tha arguments are rather like the Russian delegation to a meeting to discuss the principles of exploiting mining minerals from the Moon demanding recognition of their claim to be exempt from the treaty because "Russian astronmers discovered the Moon in 1404".

Sayles quotes an anecdote which to his mind epitomises the arrogance of the professionals:

I had in fact sent a formal letter to Prof. Jane Waldbaum, then president of the Archaeological Institute of America, suggesting that our respective organizations had common interests and might explore areas of potential cooperation.  [...]  I never did receive a reply (in retrospect, no great surprise).  At one of the CPAC meetings about six months later, while waiting in the lobby for clearance to enter, I happened to recognize Professor Waldbaum standing alone in the room.  I walked over and introduced myself.  I mentioned that I had recently sent her a letter and wondered if she had received it.  She looked me straight in the eye and said "yes", then without another word, turned and walked away.  At that point, I had a pretty clear indication where we were headed. [...] I had by that time become fairly well recognized in the field of Numismatics as an author, publisher and collector advocate.  She knew very well who I was and who I represented. 

Indeed, and probably recognized that there was nothing she wanted to say to this impudent little man. We do not know which areas Sayles had presented the idea that his dealers' lobbying group shared any 'interests' with the AIA. Obviously it was not all that convincing - my guess is that it contained a reference to a 600-year tradition of doing it like in the fifteenth century, and this is in some way supposed to convince an upstart discipline like archaeology (though they are all wolves in sheep's clothing) that it is worth discussing things with the loony fringe of coin fondling.

I would say that what the story indicates is the arrogance of the dealers and their lobby, demanding exemption from measures to clean up the antiquities trade because they are in some undefinably unique way special, and also 'interested in the past (like archaeologists)'. that's a pretty pathetic arguing point - especially when it is intended to cut across and trump all other arguments about why we should clean up the antiquities market.

There is one area of potential co-operation from coin dealers and coin collectors which would interest us, and that involves only handling items with the documentation required to show individual items are of licit origins. No other offers of help or 'friendly advice;' from these clowns is needed. Ithink we all need to turn our backs on their whingeing until they actually get round to getting their house in order and cleaned up their corner of the market. When they've shown they can do it, we can co-operate. But co-operation will not be built on us saying: "all right, you lot carry on as if it was still the fifteenth century".

The coin dealers have worked hard to alienate themselves from any discussions of how to bring coin collecting kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Take for example the disgusting way they (Sayles and Tompa included) treated any suggestions by one of their own number, Nathan Elkins. I do not think we have to look very far from an answer to the question posed disingenuously by the ACCG, 'What happened to the debate?'. The ACCG happened to the debate.

No comments:

Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.