Saturday, 19 September 2009

"A badly Flawed Market"

Derek Fincham writes on the International Law Observer blog
If one were to devise a badly flawed market, one would be hard-pressed to surpass the antiquities trade. The reasons for this are numerous, but can be attributed to two main factors: a restricted supply and a trade plagued by anonymous buyers and sellers often shielded by auction house practices and traditions.
well, just how "restricted" is the supply after centuries of the movement of archaeological objects out of the ground (from the days of Petrarch we are tld) and into ephemeral private collections? How much more do collectors want? Where has it all gone? It seems to me that a study into this would be a very useful thing to have, but how on earth to do it with all those objects with lost provenances and the endemic secrecy?

I'm all for "tradition", but of course the bulk of the trade in portable antiquities today is being done through a very untraditional medium, the Internet. There seems no inherent reason why the Internet business should be run on the same lines as one of those stuffy old traditional auction houses. Let's have some more openness and transparency, an information culture in the forward looking and responsible antiquities trade.

I'm hoping that the last sentence of Fincham's text is a typo. "The challenge for heritage advocates (including archaeologists, dealers, auction houses and others) is to organize and implement an effective and workable heritage management framework". I hardly think that dealers and auction houses really count as "heritage advocates", they are in it to make money out of the commercialisation of selected bits of heritage. You might as well say battery chicken farmers are animals rights advocates.

Secondly this is the "it's up to the Others to do it for us" argument of the antiquitist lobby again. So, where in Mr Fincham's statement of challenge are the collectors? It is in the hands of the client of the dealers and auction houses to make them change their ways by boycotting those that do not come up to the standards they, the collectors, set. It is in their hands to stop the looting, within a very short time if they'd get their act together and refuse to buy an ancient artefact which the dealer cannot supply documentation has already been on the market for a certain number of years. Faced with a firm and consistent standpoint from the majority of their clients, no dealer is going to buy a bucketload of fresh dugups without any documentation that he cannot get rid of - unless by forging the documentation [but of course we "know" that no antiquities dealer would do that and get away with it, for they are all honourable men, are they not?].

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