Thursday 5 February 2009

“Little Desire to Understand the Issues or Circumstances Involved" What's new?

The ancient coin dealers’ lobby group the ACCG seems to be seeking new members and apparently feels the best way to do this is to try and stir up some (self-) righteous indignation to create solidarity within the ranks of the collectors they wish to represent. Thus it was that a few days ago Californian antiquities dealer and self-proclaimed “professional numismatist” Dave Welsh (Classical coins) started up some alarmist nonsense about German heritage authorities raiding pensioners’ homes and confiscating collections as a result of some imaginary new “import laws of September 2008”.

This started with a misleading post on Sat Jan 31, 2009 on the coin dealers’ forum Unidroit-L this was followed by other similarly alarmist posts made the next day (Sun Feb 1, 2009) on several forums such as Moneta-L, Unidroit-L and Ancient artifacts (“Collections Confiscated - Coin Collectors Criminalized”). Despite the fact that this message contained a number of factual errors it was reposted on the same day by Peter Tompa as a “translation” (it is not) of a news article on his blog (“German police run amok…). On the Ancient Artifacts forum on Tuesday I wrote a post on the ancient artefacts forum where Welsh had posteed the original message pointing out the factual errors in what he was writing and which other ACCG-affiliated individuals were now eagerly repeating. Welsh was making things up as he went along, had not checked the facts and (not for the first time) totally misrepresenting the nature of the events taking place in the heart of Europe. A similar post had appeared on this blog earlier. These are not new events, and we have all had the opportunity to find out more about the background, some of us have made use of those opportunities, but others seem not to have done so.

I therefore am “surprised” (well, having seen US ancient coin dealers in action before, actually I am not) to see that several days on Welsh is still persisting in his misrepresentation. On Wednesday he posting on his blog a text Die Wacht am Rhein holding on to the original alarmist and totally false version which he had posted four days earlier on various forums and which were there shown there to be in error. Why? Well, apparently the truth does not serve his purpose. (It seems to me a general characteristic of all those involved (as producer or consumer) to see and hear only what they want to see and hear.)

As a result of this, now Nathan Elkins has also tried to set the record straight (Police Action with Antiquities and Ancient Coins in Germany: Some Clarifications and a Call for Reason). He points out that “since American dealers and collectors have found out about these events, there has been little reason in the ensuing discussions or little desire to understand the issues or circumstances involved”. Personally, I would have put that in stronger terms, but Nathan is a polite chap. After setting out the facts of these recent stolen property cases (which are of course not at all what the Californian dealer suggests), he makes a point with which it is difficult not to agree:

When it comes to both law and ethics, "good faith" is simply not a substitute for due diligence. It is up to collectors to demand greater transparency and due diligence from dealers and/or to be more vigilant about the coins they choose to buy for themselves and where they are coming from. These events provide an opportunity for dialogue about how collectors can avoid buying recently looted and stolen goods and how they can insist on change in the current state of the "no questions asked" market. Consumers have the power to change the way the market operates.

I think we have here in a nutshell why dealers in "no-questions-asked" unprovenanced antiquities are so unwilling to see any kind of open discussion of the connection between collecting of and commerce in portable antiquities and looting of archaeological sites to produce the fresh quantities of collectables that this exploitive industry needs.

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