Saturday 15 May 2010

The Naive Coiney and the Dealers

The discussion of the ACCG on Moneta-L takes on more and more the flavour of a cock-fight as blood and feathers fly. (Accusations of “you are a Barfordian” too). Sayles and Witschonke are crossing swords over how many illicitly obtained coins are on the market (“I have very clearly stated, at least a hundred times if not more, that I believe the market is overwhelmingly licit” says Sales without backing it up).

Into the ring steps naïve numismatist, Tim Johnson who is careful to note that he is a collector. He apparently still believes that numismatics is some kind of scholarly discipline in which honesty and integrity and open and frank discussion and exchange of opinions are seen as virtues. Subsequent events were to disabuse him of that. Anyway, he had a bright idea:
I hope in this topic we can quantify and date and generally identify recent illicit hoards that were illegally exported to dealers and collectors around the world? I see them come and go over the years, but getting real information about them has been difficult for obvious [reasons]. Regardless of your politics on this issue, could you help us all by listing as best as you can recollections of recent 'illicit' hoards? I'll start, this is the only one I definately know about.
1970, 10,000 denarii […] from Nero to Severus found in Prestina [sic]. I remember this hoard because it lowered the cost of mint state Severan rarities I collect (actually at the time people were saying the hoard was much bigger I recall a number over 100,000)Also after the Soviet and subsequent NATO invasion of Afghanistan. A steadystream of Bactrian and Greek coins came from that country. Bactrian coins are now relatively common or were they always so?I really wonder what is the approximate percentage of new find versus old collector coins currently sold?

Oh, so do we all Tim, so do we all. That is also a fact that the real stakeholders in the cultural heritage, the general public, should have access to.

Well, there was not actually a clamour of tiny numismatic feet beating a path to the speakers’ stand, in fact apart from the mud-slinging in Sayles’ corner and a suggestion how we could determine how many 'blue chip' items were circulating from one collection to another, not much happened… Then coin dealer Dave Welsh hurried up to the stand, placed his thumb below his lapels and intoned magisterially:
While I understand the spirit of scientific inquiry that motivated this message, everyone on the list should realize that any data published regarding illicit hoards will almost certainly be used by the likes of Paul Barford, Nathan Elkins, SAFE and the AIA to justify demands forimposing import restrictions. It will also be worked into academic papers about illicit export of coins by Elkins and others. Open discussion of this topic on Moneta-L is giving aid and comfort to the enemy.
Also giving the public the information antiquity collectors and dealers especially would like to keep from them.

Ross Glanfeld then raised another reason why this will not happen, collectors who know that they are buying material from illicitly exported hoards and say so in public might be exposing themselves to being sued for defamation:
by the fine and upstanding who flog thecoins from these hoards, pretending of course that they know nothing about their origin. In practice it is unlikely that these dealers would proceed with such actions, as they would have to expose themselves to cross-examination in court (what a delicious thought)
adding that for example the flood of illicitly excavated and smuggled material from Bulgaria "has clearly greatly increased the total amount of late Byzantine bronze coinage on the market, as is evidenced by the number of new types and varieties that have come to light" (of course having lost totally any aerchaeological context and associations that would help better understand it).
Well, that was obviously too much for the dealers who moderate the list. Robert Koktailo steps in:
W[hy] don't we turn this discussion around a little. I will start it off.[… shock-horror pot-smashing tale …] There are archeologists on this list, and I am certain some of them know of other cases. So please come forward and give us the details of other examples of en-ethical archeological behavior. It should be an interesting discussion.
Once again we see the same mechanisms operating as always in this milieu. Look at the dynamics of this discussion so far.
1) Collectors question whether the aggressive stance of the ACCG fighting against moves to enhance the abilities of US customs to counteract illegal imports is in the long term interests of collectors.
2) There is first a phase of aggressive responses (mainly from dealers) saying how dare collectors criticise the dealers who run the ACCG.
3) Then there is a phase of denial that it is dealers running the show, how dare anyone suggest such a thing (actually again mainly dealers saying it).
4) Then that there is no need to curb illicit imports because they are not really all that prevalent (dealers).
5) Some collectors mumble something that their perception is different, and somebody (collector) asks, well, let us see how not really prevalent they are.
6) One dealer steps in and warns that “the Enemy” is watching, another to change the subject.
And thus the discussion of the ACCG and its aims and methods and relation to what would really be of benefit to collectors, rather than sellers, loses its focus, and the short attention spans of collectors of dugup artefacts switch to other shiny topics like unethical behaviour by archaeologists.

Chris W. (drumax@tribalsoup - full surname kept hidden from prying eyes) warned Monetans a few days ago
The sad part is, Barford makes it seem like us stupid collectors are led around by the nose by people like this (I am not, I see this rhetoric for what it is) but sadly these people who are supposed to be representing us (out of the kindness of their hearts alone I am sure of it and we should all be on bended knee!!) must think we are morons as well, as they seem to have little respect for our intelligence.
He is talking about the lie that was being spread about to get coiney to fax-bomb the feds that intimated that if coins are mentioned in the Italy MOU extension, "no doubt" the Italians have asked for ALL ROMAN COINS in the entire world to be considerd as Italian cultural heritage. Yes, in my opinion, any coiney believing that is indeed a gullible moron. A lot of them seemed to believe it and 2000 faxes were sent off.

Actually, it is not me that manages to make anyone “seem” anything. Anyone can log onto a collectors’ forum and look in on their discussions and see how uncritically the majority of the contributors accept what they are told by a small group of people who set themselves up there as the “know betters” who guide the discussion in the direction they want. Anyone who disagrees and stays silent is complicit in the process. The above thread is a very good example of that.

No beginner collector will learn from this thread anything about the degree to which illegally exported hoards (or other finds) do or do not play in the modern coin market. That of course is the intention of the dealers that are trying to deflect the attention to other topics. They know the average collector has a short attention span and is not likely to want to delve deeper. It happens time and time again. The people who have advanced themselves to positions of “authority” in the collecting world do indeed seem to have little respect for the intelligence of the people they lead in their fax-sending campaigns against government measures to clean up the antiquities trade. Perfectly valid questions have been raised about US "collectors' rights", and not just by me, see the further parts of Chris W.'s message cited above. The "collectors' rights" advocates however simply pretend they have not heard the question.

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