Sunday, 10 January 2010

Zealots and the rest of the world

Californian coin dealer Dave Welsh has posted his New Year's resolutions on his blog. While most of us are resolving to be nicer to our fellow man, lose weight, learn a new language give up smoking or whatever, his are all coin-related. He's going to add more contextless dug up coins to his commercial offerings ("To add new coin listings to my online stores more frequently: ") and
"to make improvements to the educational and numismatic content of the Classical Coins website". An odd one that. How many firearms salesmen include educational material on their websites do you think? What about used car salesmen, cut-price "Rolex watch" salesmen? So why an ancient dugup coin salesman - almost as if he's trying to prove something - or maybe draw attention away from something?

Now Mr Welsh reckons he is going to find time to do this by making use "of time I had been wasting in [...] dialogue attempts ...." who with, pray? Aha, Welsh's New Year's resolution number two is:
To make no further attempts toward dialogue with anticollecting zealots. It has now become abundantly clear that such ideologues are not open to reasoned discussion, and that no possibility of any cooperative settlement exists. They will presumably continue their misguided, unrealistic campaign against private collecting, seeking imposition of drastic restrictive measures on international trade in ancient coins and other artifacts - which they naively imagine will miraculously safeguard archaeological sites from looters - regardless of real and very serious injustices such measures would inflict upon private collectors and upon the ancient and honorable science of numismatics. "The end justifies the means." Further discussions on this subject will now take place where perhaps they can accomplish something useful: in court and in the halls of legislatures.
Mr Welsh's "attempts at dialogue" can be seen on his Unidroit-L discussion list. I think we can all see that there has been no dialogue there whatsoever, and a few moments trawling through the posts (mostly by Mr Welsh) will show why, and why nobody much has been in any hurry to try and discuss his "ideas" about why collecting contextless dugup antiquities is such a "good thing". His blog is very much in te same vein. This is thoroughly typical of the entire milieu of dealers and collectors. A series of (as I have tried to show here) half-brained "arguments" which do not stand up to any scrutiny and fly in the face of logic, supported by glib chauvinistic and xenophobic statements about why non-white citizens of the "source countries" cannot be trusted to have a heritage all intended to persuade the reader that it is all (the saleable bits that is) better off in the shops of the likes of Mr Welsh.

Now of course the people to whom he is referring as "zealots" are not against collecting as such, but the type of irresponsible collecting which refuses to attempt to differentiate artefacts which have found their way onto the market by legitimate means and those that have not. For the careless collector the mere fact that they are on the market means they are OK to buy. I really do not think that those who urge a development of responsible collecting which ascertains the legitimate origins of the acquired items really can be called "anti collecting zealots". Responsible collecting advocates, yes. So, from that entirely reasonable point of view, what dealer Welsh is in effect saying is that he refuses to enter any kind of dialogue with responsible collecting advocates. The dealer specifically refuses to help responsible collecting advocates find a cooperative solution to the problem of looting driven by the current form of the market. He is only interested in meeting them in a court room (which actually I would be very glad myself to see). The dealer simply denies that the placing of a market value on and selling of contextless artefacts in any way encourages their further production (that goes against the whole notion of supply and demand).

I would say that the possibilities for any kind of dialogue with somebody who holds such a view are limited. Actually it is not Welsh and the other dealers that is making "attempts" at dialogue with collectors, but the side he so adamantly opposes. The Portable Antiquities Scheme, an initiative of British archaeologists and museums staff is just such an attempt, is it not? What - precisely - have collectors of dugup antiquities in Mr Welsh's country done (or "attempted" to do) which is the equivalent? Unidroit-L? That's a laugh.

The reason why the collecting advocacy wishes to cast responsible collecting advocates as "anti-collecting zealots" who will not listen to their arguments in favour of a continuance of a no-questions asked trade are obvious. The dealers and no-questions asked collectors in fact have no arguments in favour of continuing this sorry and damaging trade in the second decade of the twentyfirst century - not ones that stand up to scrutiny. Instead of defending their position, dealers like Welsh and other pro-collecting bloggers are currently tending to back down and pretend it is the "other's" fault that discussions are getting nowhere. The fault is clearly with those that are in denial about the nature of the damage done by the no-quetions asked trade in portable antiquities and current modes of collecting.

Mr Welsh and his fellow antiquity dealers can huff and puff and indulge in setting up dodgy "test cases" and threaten court action and other such measures as much as they like. If they refuse to take part in public debate then public opinion will, we may be sure, turn against them. Not before time. Let us see what we can achieve before this decade is out.

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