Friday, 10 July 2009

Antiquity Seller Claims "Bulgarian Bonanza is over"

A few weeks ago I discussed here the eBay seller „the oddest thing” who said he’d been a US Navy Journalist aboard the USS Springfield (CLG-7) based in Villefranche-Sur-Mer on the southern coast of France in 1966-8. He was selling antiquities he claimed he’d bought while in the region alongside objects which were in fact for the large part imported more recently from Bulgaria. These included a large number of what seemed to be fake antiquities. See my discussion here.

Since then, the gentleman has had a change of heart and the merchandise he is currently offering is of a different nature (well, some of it is the same as before, but he has changed his description of where he gets it). Now he writes:
About Bulgarian artifacts: While Bulgarian law does not consider treasure hunting a crime, they also don't consider the manufacture of artifact reproductions as a crime either! The Bulgarian Bonanza, as I used to call it, is apparently over! The question of authenticity has placed a black cloud over all
Bulgarian imports, so I will no longer offer artifacts imported from Bulgaria.
Now, the first part of the quotation is as untrue now as it was when he claimed it earlier. While objects are represented and sold as “reproductions”, they are legal more or less throughout the world, the moment they are sold as authentic originals problems start, as it seems Mr Oddest-Thing was experiencing.

What however is more interesting is the term “Bulgarian bonanza”. By this the seller obviously means the flow of bulk lots of metal-detected antiquities from ancient sites in the Balkans, principally exported through Bulgaria along the same routes as other illicit commodities. The archaeological record is however a finite and fragile resource, it would seem that even this eBay seller has realized that one cannot keep taking multiple kilogrammes of metal artefacts annually from that resource without it ultimately becoming depleted to the extent that there is hardly anything left in the more accessible places. This is when the faking began. As far as I am concerned, it is not the “question of authenticity” which “has placed a black cloud over all Bulgarian imports” of portable antiquities, it is the destruction that has been caused to the archaeological record in the name of a particularly odious form of commerce.

A further point may be added. As Nathan Elkins has shown in a number of papers and blog/forum posts, a large part of the US ancient coin trade is based on illicit exports from the same Bulgarian suppliers that are providing the metal detected artefacts to eBay sellers like "the Oddest Thing". If these supplers are having the same problems then we may soon be seeing signs of a severe destabilisation of the ancient coin trade, and a search for new sources of saleable material. As this process goes on coin dealers' lobby groups such as the ACCG, PNG and IAPN are likely to get louder in their protesting of the innocence of the o-questions-asked market in antiquities and that "in any case coins are not archaeological artefacts".

UPDATE 12.07.09
Now "the-Oddest-Thing" is listed on eBay as "not a registered user"

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