Tuesday 30 March 2010

Market Drought in Dugup Coins in the UK ?

On the Yahoo EnglishHammered [coins] discussion list, veteran collector and dealer Chris Brewchorne says:
For anyone in the UK with our devalued currency, who wants to acquire G[ood -] V[ery]F[ine] rarer Saxon/Norman coins at around book price, these are hard times. None of the main UK dealers have stock, auction prices are in fantasy land, and the currency makes buying from US or other sources expensive. I can't remember such a drought in the last 10 years.
'Book prices' are catalogue value of course, meaning prices have rocketed since the last edition of the standard price-lists. One contrtibutor suggests "Could be a good time to go searching for your own coins. Get yourself a detector and some permission on some land close to a Saxon/Norman village and your (sic) off". I am sure that is precisely what is happening. Despite this however Niall (Lombard?) adds:
It is just not Saxon/Norman coins that are in short supply.Virtually all types of English (and indeed Irish) hammered [coins] have disappeared with few exceptions: Charles I and Eliz[abeth] I silver most notably. Lists are smaller and less frequent than heretofore and I agree that auction prices for much material has entered fantasyland. Even the fact of being in Euroland hasnt helped much here as the material in unavailable in any event. Maybe I should start digging... Seriously though this drought has now lasted nearly two years. Does anyone know where the material has gone?

There are two possible explanations. The first is that there are only a finite number of accessoible sites which produce these coins and they have been deprived of them up and down the country since the mid 1970s when metal detecting began to become a very popular hobby in Britain. Since it is a finite resource, the dearth of material on the market could actually reflect the drying up of that resource is happening in our times rather than that of our children. The Heritage Action Erosion Counter ticking away is not an abstract concept, whether or not you agree with the figures (and I do), it highlights a very real problem of the unmitigated erosion of the archaeological record merely for entertainment and personal gain.

A second cause is equally alarming. The observation that there is currently a dearth of material on the British market may be a reflection of how popular the collecting of hammered coins has now become in Britain (and possibly beyond). There is not enough material to go round and supply cannot keep up with demand. Archaeological assemblages of Dark Age, Medieval and later date are being emptied out so increasing numbers of collectors can have some geegaws to trade and handle.

Is this collecting of just one type of dugup artefact an expression of an "interest in the past"? To some degree yes, but it is also and more obviously an expression of cupidity. Big Game Hunting was not an expression of interest in ecology or even zoology. Certainly neither are a form of "interest" that conservationists would like to see being encouraged.

To what extent these thousands (?) of people are all "contributing" to numismatic research (or the more holistic understanding of the past) by publishing the decontextualised heaps of coins in their collections remains to be seen. Is the scale of the "gains" to knowledge by coin collectors commensurate with the scale of losses to the archaeological record by the trashing of archaeological assemblages in search of saleable goods? Is a handful of National Grid References adequate compensation for the trashing of these sites? How do we measure "archaeological value" in such circumstances anyway? The PAS should be leading the field here, but of course such abstract theoretical notions are beyond their simplistic "look what/ how much we have found now" approach...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"the dearth of material on the market could actually reflect the drying up of that resource is happening in our times rather than that of our children."

That's a possibility that is well worth considering and one that seems to be pretty much ignored.

The policy of tolerating widespread metal detecting implies that the resource is well nigh inexhaustible which is a logical absurdity of course and cannot be seriously believed. What IS believed then? I can only assume that it is felt that serious signs of depletion will only arise in the next generation, something which takes the sting and guilt out of the current process since it is felt that "something can be done in due course before it is too late".

In truth though, none of us knows the timetable, only the final outcome, since no research exercise has been carried out (to my knowledge). It's not hard though. Take a field, add detectorists, plough, repeat, draw a graph of the finds rate over time, place on Home Page of PAS for all to see.

PAS prides itself on it's contribution to research. I suggest that "Depletion rates, micro and macro" would be an ideal subject.

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