Tuesday 28 April 2009

Hans Brinker, Horatius and the US ancient coin market

We saw earlier that in the view of the Executive Director of the US ancient coin dealers' lobby:

The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild might be compared to the legendary Dutch Boy with his finger in the dike (sic).
Well, it might be, but the story itself is not a part of the Dutch heritage but a purely American invention imposed by them on the Dutch. It was a literary invention by the New York born writer Mary Elizabeth Mapes Dodge (1831-1905), for by her children’s novel 'Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates', dating from 1865. There is no trace of it earlier than that. Hans Brinker is an American conception of the völkisch virtues of the forebears of the Dutch settlers more than it is associated with attributes the Dutch assign to themselves.

We have heard ad nauseam from portable antiquity collectors (and the myth-making ACCG in particular) that no-questions-asked collecting of ancient artefacts is allegedly "a good thing" for society because it allegedly spreads knowledge of Classical values in an otherwise poorly educated public. So one might ask why, instead of a fictional Dutch boy made up by a New York writer, does Sayles not liken himself and his fellows to Horatius Cocles on the Pons Sublicius holding off the forces of Lars Porsena?

I, with two more to help me, will hold the foe in play.
In yon strait path, a thousand may well be stopped by three:
Now, who will stand on either hand and keep the bridge with me?
Then out spake Spurius Lartius; a Ramnian proud was he:
"Lo, I will stand at thy right hand and keep the bridge with thee."
And out spake strong Herminius; of Titian blood was he:
"I will abide on thy left side, and keep the bridge with thee." *

Of course the bridge was totally destroyed and Horatius was then left stranded standing alone on the wrong side of the river...

I suppose it is quite symptomatic that ACCG's Sayles and his coin gathering fellows envisage themselves reinforcing an impenetrable wall between them and the changing context of portable antiquity collecting in the twenty-first century, while a number of years ago other collectors urged the construction of a bridge - leading to the formation of the PAS and the attitudes that go with it. While I may have issues with the latter, it is obvious which type of strategy is likely to be most effective and workable for collectors in the long run. It is not the "cold dead hands/numbed finger in the dyke" one.

*Thomas Babbington, Lord Macaulay "Horatius" (http://www.tom.womack.net/epic/horatius.html)

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