Monday 10 May 2010

Getting the Pirate Antiquity Dealers and Collectors Out of the Market

I am accused of wanting to see all collecting stopped. I want instead to see ethical collecting triumph over the cowboys who buy indiscriminately - not differentiating material likely to be freshly-looted from that from old collections. I am surprised that this is treated as being agaiunst the interests of collecting. In a comment on an earlier post of mine, Californian coin dealer and ACCG Board member Dave Welsh claims that any attempt to ensure that collected items were demonstrably of licit provenance would reveal that 95% of the material on the market would not be able to be shown to be of demonstrably licit provenance. That is an astounding admission from one of the most vociferous advocates of leaving the current no-questions-asked means of antiquities trading unchallenged. Ninety five percent of the material on the market since discussions started in 1970 about illicit antiquities are without any kind of information about their status. Ninety five percent of the market is not demonstrably in licitly-obtained material. We know the scale of looting and smuggling is massive, we know that antiquity dealers like Mr Welsh fight strenuously to support their "rights" to buy in from aroad just whatsoever they please without US custoims looking at the paperwork of any of it. Just what is it that groups like ACCG (members of the board of which are now calling for a reassessment of the US accession to the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Cultural Property) are fighting so deperately to protect? A market that is currently only five percent legitimate?

Welsh says if collectors were to suddenly (whether voluntarily or by compulsion) become ethically minded and in the interests of maintaining the hygiene of their collection were to collect only material with verifiably documented licit origin, "95% of coins would be classified as "illicit"."
Trade in such coins would be [rendered more difficult] and collections would lose their value. The supply of coins available to collectors would become extremely limited, and most dealers would be forced out of business.
Only the dealers unable to say where the coins in their stck came from and why they are of licit provenance. The cowboys who never kept any records will indeed be forced to deal underground with those who flout such niceties like buying goods of licit origins. the trade would then be in the hands of those dealers who can be trusted and can provide documentation of their trustworthiness. I would say that a dealer who canot actually say (let alone document) where 95% of his stock came from is not a dealer that in the current state of this sad market can be trusted. Would you buy a used car from that gentleman?

Is this the trade that we want to continue, and in whose interests is it? The ethical antiquities collector? The truly concientious antiquities dealer? Or that of the stakeholders, the millions of non-collectors in the ravaged source countries whose archaeological heritage is being smashed and pored over to find 'collectable' items to sell to the unscrupulous people who will buy them no-questions-asked?


Anonymous said...

Mr Welsh made a further interesting assertion:

"Of course collection of material from verifiably known legitimate origin (i.e. provenanced artifacts) is laudable."

I can't fault that. But I wonder if he realises the antonyms of laudable are "blameworthy" and "shameful". I can't fault that either.

Damien Huffer said...

I continue to find it incredibly sad, but also frustrating, that so few collectors and dealers fit into that "ethical and conscientious" category... The market and those who feed/control it seem caught in a vicious cycle.

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