Friday, 1 August 2008

Questioning public stewardship

Californian coin dealer, ACCG officer and Unidroit-L listowner Dave Welsh opines:
It is my opinion that any objective study of the subject must conclude that public stewardship of antiquities has been a disaster […] It is now time to ask hard questions and move beyond the platitudes and misdirection we receive from
SAFE, Paul Barford and their fellow thinkers. Instead of the defenders of private collecting having to answer their questions, I believe that it is now time for them to answer ours. My first question is, exactly what has public stewardship of antiquities (outside the British Isles) ever accomplished that would create public confidence that this approach is superior to the social
benefits of private collecting

That’s a hoot Mr Welsh, but hardly an original joke, it’s been cracked before, hasn't it?

Just in case Dave Welsh is actually serious…. So this viewpoint would be suggesting that public collections such as museums, archives, libraries, reserves and national parks and antiquities protection laws (such as the US' own 1906 act) serve no useful purpose, achieve very little. They are “socialist (even Marxist)”, ideas espoused by elitists (eh?) we are told… (that’s funny, I thought they were supposed to be ideas from the Enlightenment – that’s what the proponents of Universal Museums were suggesting). Presumably then if we are to question the accomplishments of public stewardship of resources, the opposition would propose that the only way forward is to privatize the lot, sell it to private collectors to look after and thus allow the free market to dictate what happens to formerly public resources? In such a model, if people want access to the past they must pay for it by individually buying a piece of it for themselves from dealers like Mr Welsh. What a wonderful “cunning plan” that would be. No, this "challenge" was a joke surely? I expect the captains of whaling ships, makers of elephant ivory walking stick knobs, loggers of tropical hardwoods and property developers tell the same type of jokes about conservationists.

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