Saturday 27 February 2010

Collector's reaction to "Treasure Hunting 101"

Peter Tompa obviously managed ("with some difficulty") to find his way to a library, and has now seen a copy of Nathan Elkins' JFA article discussed here earlier. Today he writes on it, predictably calling his review "Elkins' "Treasure Hunting 101 in America's Classrooms:" Propaganda or Scholarship?". The general tenor of his account of it is that the issues raised by Elkins are "propaganda" having nothing to do with scholarship. There is however a noticeable lack of a deeper analysis. His breakdown of the issues consists of a few sensationalized quotations without providing the background to them. Tompa skirts over the thrust of the article completely, which is the way that ACE sources coins for its activities. He claims that there is nothing wrong with uising dug-up coins from the Balkans because the coins that are used can allegedly openly be "bought and sold" in Bulgaria. I challenge the "cultural property lawyer" Tompa to get a plane to Sofia, buy 27 ancient Roman coins in this "open market", and bring them home. Let him gleefully declare to Bulgarian customs as he passes through the border on his way out what he has in his hand luggage and that he is going to use them to "educate" US children. Let us see another ACCG "test case". If Mr Tompa is quite sure that he and his dealer mates was right over the new Bulgarian legislation (see blog posts here of September and October 2009) let him put his money where his mouth is. I think he will find the hard way that he has been misleading his readers.

Tompa dismisses the idea, expressed on this blog too, that the ACE scheme represents the exploitation of children and their teachers to seek out potential new customers for coin dealers, though he makes only a half-hearted attempt to prove that the support of the ACE by US dealers is not commercially motivated. The other supporters of ACE itself are at least more open this than Tompa:
It’s hard to imagine a better way of building goodwill toward the hobby, or of recruiting well-informed and enthusiastic supporters.
ACE’s “Take a Roman Emperor Home with You” is one tremendously popular and successful way to spread the word about the fascination of ancient coins among those who might never have dreamt of actually "owning" one.
ACCG's Mark Lehman says: "We profoundly hope these coins will serve, as intended, as a sort of "dragons' teeth" seed, sown in the hope and expectation of raising a whole new generation of collectors [...]" (the dragons' teeth of the myth as we remember were to give rise to an invincible army). Elkins discusses the ethics of the use in "educational" programmes of "erdfrische" coins which current knowledge about the trade shows will include archaeological objects illicitly excavated and illegally exported from Bulgaria. Tompa dismisses the raising of these ethical issues as mere "propaganda" - but fails to see that the ACE itself is entirely geared towards providing propaganda for ancient coin collecting. In the process, the scheme is totally avoiding discussion of the ethical issues involved in the collection of archaeological material bought on the US market.


Paul Barford said...

It turns out there is another "coins in tehclassroom" scheme of almost identical nature run by the American Numismatic Association. The teacher here buys coins from a dealer, puts them in a sand tray, gets the sytudents dig them out with plastic spoons and fill in a "coin observation reord" form (not a stratigraphical record then?) and then look them up on dealers' websites to identify them. That is supposed to be teaching Amerkian kids something - apparently.

Paul Barford said...

Alarming suggestions that by collecting coins, children can become "docents" in America are tempered somewhat by the discovery that the Webster's dictionary defines the term totally differently from its use over here in continental Europe. But it is more than just language which divides the US collector from the people of the source countries of the coiney collectable.

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