Sunday 20 September 2009

Collectors' advocate: "Society owes me...."

In the discussion going on on an antiquities forum at the moment on registration of portable antiquities coming from the market to prevent freshly dugup material being passed off as "from an old collection" objections are being made by dealers that it is awfully difficult to find the material actually from old collections and they need some kind of help from archaeologists who should give them stuff from museums to make up the shortfall. (!) I expressed the opinion that it is nobody else's responsibility to obtain licit supplies than a trader who wishes to sell them. That seems logical to me, you cannot open up an electrical goods dealership and realise that you have no way of supplying yourself because you have no contact address for the factory, so you are reduced to selling goods that "fell off the back of a lorry". Californian antiquities dealer Dave Welsh says:
Absolutely wrong. If society wishes to have a licit market in some commodity, then it is essential to provide for a licit source of supply.
This is just a ridiculous position. We are constantly told somewhat aggressively (I have discussed these assertions here a number of times) that the market in antiquities is flooded with the huge resource of licit articles already out there from old collections. That's what the dealers say when you assert that there is a huge amount of looted material on the market [they assert its not true, it is not them buying the looted finds coming from the big holes looters dig, but the pixies, or the Japanese, just "somebody else"].

On the other hand, when you are discussing a mechanism that would (they can see) prevent frshly dug illegally exported items entering their market, then suddenly we observe an about-face and we see the aggressive demand, that if "we" cut off their access to these "new finds" (note the euphemism).then FIRST "archaeologists" (or "society") should assure the dealers access to other material they can sell!

I am sure I am not alone seeing the double standards implicit in those two standpoints of the antiquity dealing community. Disgusting.

In answer to my question why he thinks society owes it to him to make a living selling off pieces of somebody else's past, the coin dealer's reply was even more bizarre and illustrative of the mindset of the people involved in this trade:
Society owes me and others in the collecting community a great deal, including freedom, equitable treatment by government, and due process of law. In the present instance, you advocate significantly restricting the freedom collectors presently enjoy to collect antiquities including coins, and the freedom dealers enjoy to supply them. Society does not have the right to arbitrarily do that without making sensible provisions to ensure that the market in collectible antiquities is not thereby disrupted.
Really? Is it in society's interests to see the no-questions-asked buying and selling of archaeological artefacts which shields the trade in illictly obtained items promoted or disrupted?

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