Wednesday 5 May 2010

Yahoo's Secretive Antiquities Trade (2): Dealer Tuppenny Blue (aka Tim Haines)

In the post above I present an outline sketch of the Yahoo Ancient Artifacts group. This links over two thousand collectors and dealers all over the world in a global but hidden online network promoting the sale and collecting of dug-up artefacts and 'outing' the sellers of non-dug-ups (fakes). The group claims in the area visible to the public to be "committed to responsible antiquities collecting", and thus an examination of what goes on hidden below the surface under that description will help highlight some of the issues connected with collecting as practiced by those who depict themselves as the ones "doing it right".

It seems a useful exercise therefore would be to look at what collectors there expect of dealers, and in particular what the dealers there are offering collectors. The group's home page says that the group contains many of the "best dealers on the net", and therefore it seems worth examining their activities in detail. Before looking at some of the larger commecial concerns, it is fitting to begin the series with the activities of the person who runs the Yahoo list on a day-to-day basis and thus arbitor of what goes on there. This is Tim Haines, apparently an Evesham UK social worker and political activist who buys and occasionally sells artefacts, especially ancient Egyptian ones. This then would be typical of the proliferation of small dealers who appear mainly to be using the Internet for selling duplicates from their own collection (one presumes in part to finance other antiquity purchases). So what do these sellers do to promote "responsible collecting"? Let us have a look at one of them, using material available in the public domain.

Although not a major player in the global antiquities market, Haines has quite a transparent web presence, starting with what has every appearance of being his website (www.pennyblack. org. uk) which in itself is very revealing. At the top is - not surprisingly - an invitation to join the Ancient Artefacts Yahoo group which Haines runs (the one, we recall, "committed to responsible antiquities collecting"). Interestingly, directly under that is a link to eBay auctions under the philatellic pseudonym "Tuppennyblue" (Tuppennyblue Actions, Antiques(sic) items at low prices on - a name which Haines uses in correspondence about the group, and the "Business Seller Information" on the ebay pages links back to an email address which is part of the above-mentioned webpage. Now this is in itself odd - one of the leitmotifs of his own Yahoo group (as seen even on the home page) is that eBay is full of fakes and unscrupulous dealers in fake artefacts. Yet we find "Tuppennyblue" himself dealing in... well, they are for the most part in the "antiquities" section and not in the section devoted to modern costume jewellery. But they are not antiquities, he currently has on sale some awfully kitschy "lead-free pewter" (that's not actually pewter but a tin-antimony alloy) ornaments . An example of the things he is offering in eBay's antiquities section is an Anubis amulet to "sit on top of your monitor and guard your computer from evil influences", nowhere does it say at the time of writing in the small print that it is a reproduction (and not very good one at that). Neither at the time of writing do some gold plated costume jewellery represented as "antiquities", see here for example, and here). Perhaps (I am sure all his list members would like to believe) this is oversight, but potentially misleading, and therefore not by any means "responsible" dealing. In the past the yahoo list owner has, I believe sold ancient Egyptian shabtis from his collection (but where were they before that?), but links to these are not now in the public domain.

In Tuppennyblue's eBay feedback there are however in-your-face traces of some of the collector's own recent antiquity buying activity. He gets some of the antiquities he collects from US dealers, and as an advocate of "responsible collecting" we may be sure that before he bought them, he ascertained that all had full provenance as per the Code of Ethics on the front page of the discussion forum he himself runs. Presumably the sellers just forgot to put the details up-front on the sales offer. More worryingly, no mention is made of a British found silver ring bought by "Tuppennyblue" having been reported as Treasure before he bought it (another forgetful seller no doubt - but careless of him to forget the main selling point - that the object is not illegal - bang goes the advice in the PAS guidelines for buyers of antiquities). There is also documented in the eBay feedback the purchase by this collectors of an ancient Egyptian amulet, no provenance; a dubious shabti, no provenance; Amulet, no provenance; Coptic flask amulet, no provenance. At first sight this is not really good evidence of commitment to "responsible collecting". It looks more like a case of "the price is right" collecting. (We would all like to believe that perhaps though each of these sellers was able to supply full details establishing legitimate provenance in private communications with the potential customer before he bid on it.)

The debate on the artefact trade is highly politicised, and the market operates in a particular political environment. As collector, dealer and discussion list owner, Tim Haines surely is well aware of this. Turning back to the "Tuppennyblue" webpage, at the bottom at the time of writing is a link to something called the "Campaign for Liberty" which calls for an "Audit of the Fed" which it hopes to achieve by a "Banner Bomb". Quite apart from the inadvisability of advocating the "bombing" of (US) federal government with anything these days, I really cannot see why a UK collector of antiquities and small time dealer would be promoting the idea among readers of his website. Observers of US politics will note that the Campaign for Liberty is an interesting body, founded by Ron Paul who as we know is intimately involved in the American Sovereignty Restoration Act which aims "to end membership of the United States in the United Nations". Getting the US to (again) repudiate UNESCO is of course a movement right up the street of "internationalist" (sic) collectors of [and especially dealers in] no-questions-asked ancient antiquities, and a view which has been actively propagated by Dave Welsh on the antiquity collecting discussion list run from the UK by "Tuppennyblue". Haines' expression of where his political sympathies lie with regard the US may therefore give a clue as to why he consistently supports the "internationalist" rabble-rousing of individuals like ACCG's Dave Welsh on his forum.

There is another US-related link on the "Tuppennyblue" website to something called "Luxefaire Publishing". This takes us to a very strange place: "Home Domain of Bill Gallagher, Hachita New Mexico. Quality Hand Crafted Goods: Leather, Metal and Stone work, as well as information on Treasure Hunting...", it is also a place which is probably online mecca for all the tinfoil helmetists in the western hemisphere, with its talk of gubn'mint plots against citizens, chemical vapour trails, antennae depicted on Byzantine coins (!) and weird explanations of the origin of civilizations. Mind-blowing idiocy (oh, sorry: "free speech") most of it, but "Tuppennyblue" for some reason links to it. Additional evidence that Haines himself appears to be susceptible to some "alternative history" of one kind or another is revealed by an Amazon review he wrote of a dotty book on ancient Egypt (here too at the time of writing is clear confirmation for sceptics that "Tuppennyblue" is Haines).
This book is essential for any traveller to Egypt with a mind that is even slightly ajar, let alone open.West gives an alternative account of the meaning of the monuments and antiquities to be seen in Egypt, more esoteric (though certainly not more difficult to understand) than that which is usually presented in guide books. He points out the details which brought him to the conclusion that the Giza Sphinx is in fact closer to 13,000 years old than the 4,500 years old that has been traditionally believed, and has a different viewpoint to the orthodox school in many cases.
There is at least one reference to a scroll-room below the front paws of the primevally-ancient Sphinx on the Gallagher site.

We often find the claim that collecting antiquities is a means to "keep the mind ajar or even open", to refuse to accept the version of the past created by institutional (academic) scholarship, but some kind of do-it-yourself made up personal past untrammelled by the rules of peer-review ("bound to be biased" because "archies need exacavation permits") book-learning and all the other things deemed unneccessary by the "avocational" domestic scholar with a heap of bought-and-sold dugup artefacts on the back bedroom desktop. In the antiquities section of eBay Mr Haines buys dug-up tat. He also sells other modern-made tat as reproduction' antiquities (and sometimes similar modern tat without the qualifying adjective) none of which looks anything like the artefacts of the culture they purport to represent. This is a example of the production of a commercial pseudo-past, a Disneyland simulacrum having no value for understanding that past, but merely an expression of the unthinking bastardisation of cultural elements ripped from a past context in the creation of a bland modern pop-culture. This is not even "edutainment", and - like the purchasing of decontextualised dugup artefacts in general - certainly does nothing to promote a responsible and respectful approach to the remains of past cultures.

The next post in this series will take a look at one of the larger international commercial concerns that advertises its decontextualised dugup wares through the secretive discussion list "committed to responsible collecting".

Vignette: A Twopenny blue stamp (Wikipedia commons), some collectors buy decontextualised dugups taken from archaeological sites as others collect postage stamps.



Damien Huffer said...

Maybe most collectors secretly believe that if they keep at it, oneday they'll find that perfect artifact that, by itself (and devoid of context) will overturn established chronologies or theories about a particular time or place. Eric Von Donnekin would be proud...

Paul Barford said...

A decontextualised artefact remains a decontextualised artefact, to "overturn" anything it has to have a context, surely. Any idiot could produce a copy of an inscription he says he saw in a room under the front paws of the Sphinx, but its the room that is the proof of that, not the "thing".

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