Thursday, 16 July 2009

A US collector poses a question to US collectors' rights advocates

Robyn, the US author of a blog on ethical collecting as the result of a post she made there (‘Silence’ - about the refusal of the collectors' rights lobyists to acknowledge her earlier comments) has recently been the target of the usual slimy smear attacks from certain elements of the pro-collecting lobby. The one that attacks anyone who question the effects of the no-questions-asked market. Given they really have no other real arguments, this is part of the strategy of the pro-collecting naysayers, to shout down any potential opposition to the one-sided picture they wish to impose. Such behaviour can of course only reflect badly on the collecting milieu as a whole and – usefully - reduce public sympathy for their cause.

Anyone who has been involved in debating these issues with foul-mouthed collectors and their supporters tends to become hardened to it. Being faced with such aggression might however be a daunting and off-putting prospect to any ethical collector who might be considering putting pen to paper to express their concerns and doubts.

Robyn however gives as good as she gets. Faced with a barrage of the usual sneering comments (including accusations of being me in disguise!)and challenges from the former ACCG President Peter Tompa, a Washington lawyer with an ancient coin collection, she kept the upper hand in the discussion about the ACCG/PNG/IAPN illegal coin import stunt with which he is involved.

Tompa justifies the actions of these coin dealers by stating “the ACCG really just wants to preserve the rights of American collectors to import unprovenanced ancient coins JUST AS Cypriot and Chinese collectors can do”. Robyn pointed out that US citizens demanding the same rights (with none of the responsibilities I would add) to Chinese and Cypriot archaeological material as those of citizens of the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of Cyprus really is stretching the point. She then asks a question I think we would all like to see the Ancient Coin Collectors’ Guild answer:
Given the scale of damage done by commercial diggers to ancient Native American burial, sacred, and other sites which are protected by law, would you also oppose an MOU between the US and another country that restricts the import of Anasazi pots (such as the ones in the Blanding case) into another country? Or would you welcome their help in enforcing our own cultural property laws? After all, it's not illegal to own Anasazi pots in Egypt. Would you support their "right to collect" them, even though they were illegally dug up here?
The reply of a US cultural property lawyer on this topic would be very interesting. The ACCG is a group concerned with collectors “rights” in general. Ancient coins do not occur in the soil of the USA, but there are ancient objects to be found there and collectors that collect them, but also preservationists who are concerned about the preservation of the archaeological record and laws which reflect those concerns. Those laws are the same as those in the source countries whose archaeological record is exploited and damaged to produce the items Mr Tompa and his fellow "coineys" like to collect and US antiquity dealers like to sell. The problems involved are the same. A minority group of US collectors of portable antiquities are fond of talking about their "rights" as collectors and US citizens, let us see the discussion extended to the rights of all US collectors of portable antiquities, pot-diggers, lithics collectors, and the dealers that supply the whole antiquities market in the US and in its US context.

Of course we will not actually see a proper answer to Robyn's question. I am sure in "lawyer school" they teach about Karl Popper, perhaps even in "coin collecting school" they do too. In a nutshell, Popper says that the validity of a model is tested not so much by the facts which seem to confirm it, but those that falsify it. I think Robyn's question quite neatly falsifies the whole ACCG model, the paradigm on which the whole pro-collecting structure is erected. I think the "coineys" deep in their hearts know that too. This is why when I raised the topic on Moneta-L the discussion on what to do about looting was brought to an abrupt end by the moderators, the question has been asked before and no collector has taken up the gauntlet to try to answer it. I really do not think they will, because the answer to this question requires admitting too much (though if the Washington lawyer wants to try it and address it properly, it should be a fascinating piece of text). While however the collectors' (actually dealers') "rights" advocates refuse to respond to it, it seems worth asking it again and loudly, it will give people pause for thought, why it is not being answered.

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