Wednesday 28 April 2010

The ink had hardly dried: Coin Collecting "and that blog"...

Coin dealer Dave Welsh complains that "the ink had hardly dried upon my post about a letter from the Italian Numismatic Society opposing addition of coins to the existing MOU with Italy, before a sneering comment appeared in a certain fanatical archaeologist's blog". Since he gives no link for readers of his post to check what was being discussed and in what tone, I expect most coineys are at a loss to know what he is on about. As am I, because (as the link shows) this particular archaeologist was commenting on what Peter Tompa had made public on his blog rather than Welsh's clumsy repetition of it on a couple of collectors' forums. (Why not actually give a link to this blog Mr Welsh? Scared that coineys might read it?)

In his post, Welsh urges:
It's time for all concerned (including the US State Department) to understand that a degree in archaeology does not make anyone an expert in numismatics, cultural property law or the relevance of ancient coins to any nation's cultural heritage.

I think it is time for all concerned (including the US State Department) to recognised that having an accumulation of decontextualised bought-and-sold little pieces of ancient bric-a-brac does not make anyone an expert in numismatics, cultural property law or the relevance of the archaeological record to the cultural heritage in general. According to Mr Welsh, the preservation of the archaeological record:
is not necessary for preservation of national cultural heritage, nor is it part of the rationale justifying enactment of the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

Actually part of being an archaeologist (as embodied in the type of Code of Ethics discussed here earlier) does indeed require knowing the legislation concerning cultural property in the region in which they work (in my case the EU) or have dealings. I would have said that this applied to an ethical dealer and an ethical collector of archaeological artefacts. As Welsh observes, I am not an expert in numismatics, just as I am not in palynology, dendrology, malacology, petrology, metallurgy, sfragistics, the typology of Greek Red-Figure vases, nor can I read hieroglyphics. This does not mean that I, or anyone else for that matter similarly unskilled in these disciplines, cannot assess the relevance of the results of the work done by those who are on ancient material. The study of the past through its material remains is a multidisciplinary activity, and it would be a rash scholar that would suggest that just one discipline can take over from all the others. But that is exactly what the coin dealers and collectors are saying that "numismatics" (aka coin collecting) should be allowed to do. I simply cannot agree for a number of good reasons that this is a reasonable proposition.

Welsh adds:
If archaeologists want to address preservation of the stratigraphic record as something of vital importance to society, which justifies restrictive legislation affecting existing rights of detectorists, coin collectors and others whose activities they view as dangerous to their interests, the fair and right way to pursue that concern is to seek legislation addressing preservation of the stratigraphic record. The argument that the stratigraphic record is somehow essential to cultural heritage has now been taken very far beyond its true merits, and it is past time to get back to reality and cease this unjustified attempt to disguise the interests of archaeologists as altruistic devotion to preservation of national heritage.
I agree totally with Mr Welsh, that in the face of the many threats with which the surviving fragile and finite portions are faced from many quarters, there should be stronger legislation everywhere addressing preservation of the stratigraphic record, legislation such as Italy already has. I think nations such as the US should come to an agreement with other nations to help uphold the legislation that exists to protect sites and to punish unethical traders who do deals with law breakers. Will the Ancient Coin Collectors' Guild be willing to help these efforts, or will the no-questions-asked dealers within the organization not permit them?

Vignette: Logo of the Società Numismatica Italiana cocking a snook at the legal coin trade?

1 comment:

Paul Barford said...

I see Mr welsh "does not do irony". When I was saying I think nations "should" have laws to protect archaeological sites from looting I was making the point that they do (independent of the additional measures embodied in UNESCO 1970). Now Welsh says that:

"if something serious were done to bring about a more acceptable legal regime for antiquities collecting in the USA, such as the regime that now prevails in the UK, it would be appropriate for the collecting community to consider supporting such legislation". But the point is that the legislation in Britain concernng exploitation of archaeological sites as a source of collectables does NOT protect sites from being exploited as a source of collectables. Neither does it give any protection to potential national treasures such as the "Anglo-Saxon stone" discussed here this week from being sold off and exported.

"In reexamining the 1970 UNESCO Convention (and the 1983 CPIA which implements it in US law), I think it would be appropriate to include
addressing this sort of "stratigraphic record" legislation, and I invite Mr.
Barford to participate in that discussion and champion that cause. "

Hmmm. So the people I would be discussing this new legislation with would be the likes of Alfredo De La Fe, Eftis Paraskevaides, Kevin Neve, Farhad Assar, Phil Davis and assorted coin-collecting braying jackasses with which the Unidroit-L "discussion" list (I use the term loosely) is populated? Hardly a very tempting offer.

The USA already has such a law it iscaled the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, but it certainly could do withexctending and strengthening to give more protection to archaeological sites in the US. Would ACCG collectors support that?

Anyway, antiquity collectors do not seem to be in a hurry to open the discussion on Unidroit-L on "reexamining' the UNES1970 convention. Could it be that it is only CERTAIN dealers that have problems with a Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property? That responsible collectors would prefer not to be buying illicitly exported and illicitly acquired cultural property and see a need to have a convention to prohibit and prevent it?

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