Wednesday 14 April 2010

Old Collection is not enough

I found an interesting page on the collecting of Civil War relics in the US, and its history (Echoes of Gettysburg: Civil War Relic Collecting Information). This is very enlightening indeed not only in itself, but also as a contrast to the frequent complaints by US dugup ancient coin dealers that in the case of small "common items of low value" which were produced in their thousands, it is impossible to pass on to collectors the information about where they had been dug up and through whose hands they had passed on the way to the collector. Under the guise of "protecting their sources" they make it utterly impossible for a collector of such dugups to assess whether the proffered item had been obtained licitly or illegally. Collectors of such items seem on the whole quite happy to accept assertions that go on the lines of improving documentation of the legality of origin of every item sold would bring the trade to an end (ostensibly because the dealer would spend so much time putting those vast quantities of information they have on the precise origins of each find down on paper and then filing that information properly that it would not be cost-effective). Possibly they know in their heart of hearts that they don't really "want to know" the details about how those cherished private treasures left the archaeological record and started its journey from the "source country" to their back bedroom collection. When "provenance" is offered it is some vague secretive attribution to some anonymous and vaguely-located "old X collection". It is nice to learn from this article that not all US collectors and dealers in dugups tolerate such a conspiracy of silence.

However there are relics that are affordable to everyone such as minnie balls, shell fragments, buttons, even some cannon balls and artillery shells. Even collecting minnie balls can be a worthwhile hobby as there are so many different types. A minie ball was "there" just as much as another larger or more expensive relic. One should use caution however when collecting relics. One should make sure to buy from a reputable dealer who will guarantee the authenticity of their relics, even with a signed letter if possible. This is especially the case of relics from the Gettysburg battlefield. Unfortunately there are incidents of relic dealers selling relics from Virginia battlefields as relics from the Gettysburg battlefield. Also, always try to find out as much as possible as to the origin of the relic, dont hesitate to ask questions such as how the dealer acquired the relic. It is adviseable to not be content with being told "it is from an old collection". Such an explanation is not adequate, the dealer should know the name of the collection or who had owned the collection.
He should indeed, and the writer mentions in the article examples of "minor" relics which have been in private collections since the battle took place in 1863 and the name of the original collector is still known. The collector's name is known back to 1863. So how come US sellers of ancient coins lose such information with such facility? It is not "convenient" to record the origin of the relic, or perhaps the truth is often an inconvenient one?
Photo: "Minnie balls"

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