Friday, 29 October 2010

Braintree Dealer: "I got a good business 'ere, keep ya nose out!"

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An eBay seller, Tayla.Anne (I'll assume from the name it is a she) based in Braintree Essex was mentioned on this blog a few weeks ago (5th April to be precise). She is just one of hundreds of similar British small businesses which daily and weekly openly advertise sales of archaeological artefacts and other items found by metal detecting in the fields of Britain under that country's totally ineffective archaeological resources "protection" legislation. I commented on the lack of proper provenances and mentions of any reporting of any of the metal "partifacts" she was peddling and posed a number of questions about current British "policies" on this kind of exploitation of the archaeological record.

Such is the apathy that surrounds such questions, I did not expect a reaction (though I did note with some satisfaction that that particular post was still being visited quite frequently). But just the other day one "Coins 1066" joined Blogger and shot me off an "ere-you!" comment in reply to that old post:
Oh dear, If only you had asked before posting this very inaccurate information. I am a business and b[u]y my items from auctions, dealers and detectorists from all over the UK. Please remove this or at least correct it. You have no right to do this without getting your facts straight.
Sadly that is it. The person - I presume Tayla.Anne herself (though why she cannot use her real name beats me) - does not indicate which facts I have "not straight". This is typical of the milieu, vaguely accusing their critics of having distorted something but never indicating where and why what is said is a distortion. I suppose the idea is throwing mud and hoping some sticks. Well, I invite any readers who are looking at this to look at my post about this lady's business, to look at her current listings. Maybe they can see where in my discussion of what was visible in her listings when I wrote I can have given "very inaccurate" information? By the way in her current listings we see (in the "Antiques > Antiquities > British" section) a battered "Rare Viking silver wire bead" in the description of which nothing is said of its origin or the fact that it has been reported as Treasure - like the collection of miscellaneous metal detected old silver 'scrap' pieces she is selling concurrently. I asked her about both in my comments a while ago, but have not received a reply, perhaps she will write about the procedures followed in all of the potential Treasure cases I mentioned when the auction ends tomorrow.

Now not only do I not accept that in the case of a business selling off bits of the common cultural heritage to the highest bidder openly on a public internet forum that anyone coming across this kind of situation has the "right" to do this, I would say that in the case of somebody concerned about the fate of the archaeological record it would be a grievous sin to sit back and watch it and keep quiet. In the case of an archaeologist in fact I would say there is a professional obligation to do this. Which is what the final paragraph of the April post points out. Since then, I am sure many of my professional colleagues in the UK have been speaking out about the daily sales of unreported British artefacts on internet portals like eBay - just very, very quietly amongst themselves.

Just as a rough indication of what is happening: At the moment there are 1092 lots listed on the UK portal of eBay as "British antiquities" in the same section as Tayla.Anne's apparently unreported Treasure item. Some lots contain several items, many of them (but not all of course) are the sort of thing that PAS would record if it had been shown to them. Randomly clicking on a few dozen auctions did not reveal a single one this week listed by its seller as having previously reported (but most sellers give international postage rates). Let us say then that as a rough guideline each week some 2000 objects are listed for sale on the EBay portal of the UK alone. I wrote my post about the Braintree seller who buys "items from auctions, dealers and detectorists from all over the UK" in the first week of April, so 27 weeks ago. At that rate, since then, in the time it took Tayla.Anne to come back to me with a comment on my post, some 54000 metal detected items labelled as "British antiquities" will have been listed for sale on eBay without apparently more than a handful of them being shown to the PAS. Many of them have already been sold, and many of them already shipped off (many of them in unlabelled postal packages so that the customs men do not spot them I'll bet) to accumulators of personal collections scattered all over the world. Potentially up to fifty four thousand in just the time between two posts here, that is almost site emptying on an almost Balkan scale. Right there in Britain, right under everyone's noses. And they have the gall to say that metal detecting is beneficial to archaeology and they have the best system for protecting the archaeological record from looting. Well that is obviously just blague and nonsense.

[Anyone who says that what I have just written is a "distortion" or whatever, can I assume give us the official tally from the collectors-archaeology "partnership" of the scale of sales of reported and unreported British artefacts through this one (or all) internet portal in the first nine months of 2010. The public has a right to know. Thanks].
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7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Fascinating stuff Paul -

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"Let us say then that as a rough guideline each week some 2000 objects are listed for sale on the EBay portal of the UK alone.
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It's hard to see how anyone can realistically claim you aren't in the right ball park with that since the raw data is there for all to see on EBay, week-in, week-out.

But what fascinates me is this: 2000 a week being sold compared with 5,500 a week being found according to the estimate on the Heritage Action Erosion Counter, i.e. 36% of what's found gets flogged.

As you know, artefact hunters all say the HA figures are ludicrously over-stated, but as you also know they all tell us that only a tiny proportion of their finds are sold (as it's only the History that matters to them).

That's OK then, let them claim HA's figures are too high, but for every bit they reduce our figures by, the percentage of their finds that appear to be being sold on EBay rises. Hoisted and petard spring to mind!

Even Roger Bland reckons our figures lack credibility (but doesn't say by how much he thinks they are overstated). Let me help him. Let me suggest our figures are grossly over-stated and should show detectorists find not 5,500 artefacts a week but 2,000 (in other words, a fifth of an artefact each!) then the implication is that detectorists flog everything they find on EBay! Is that PAS's contention?

Or maybe PAS contends HA's figure should be lower still, in which case detectorists sell MORE than they find?

In my view the moral of all this is that once you start spinning you are in danger of creating a tangled web in which your various statements just don't hang together. I'm very glad you made this posting, it has directed another shaft of logical light into a murkey corner that neither detectorists nor their supporters wanted the public to see - or think about.

Paul Barford said...

Well, another point is that this is just artefacts and NOT coins (which are sold on eBay in a separate section). But the point is if the 10 000 UK artefact hunters are "just" finding two thousand artefacts a (statistical) week, it means they are not collecting anything themselves, doesn't it?

So are they just digging this stuff up for sale? To make a profit? Is that what the PAS is supporting? And if that WERE the case, legal or not, why cant we call it "looting" just the same as nicking the copper cables from railway lines for resale value?

Personally I think most UK artefact hunters themselves collect the majority of the finds they take home from the fields, and the portion going onto eBay and V-coins is only part of their "haul".

So I really have no problem at all with HA's "erosion counter" figures.

Anonymous said...

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So I really have no problem at all with HA's "erosion counter" figures.

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Nor I.
Or at least, since I don't believe for a moment that 36% of what's found appears on EBay, I think it must understate what's found.

But then, we both know that since we deliberately pitched it very conservatively, aware of the inevitable knee-jerk "too high" reaction that would greet it.

It's easy to forget, amongst all the poo-pooing of the HA estimate (290,000 items a year) that the CBA estimated the erosion at 400,000 a year. Maybe that's closer to the truth, since it would imply only 25% of finds end up on EBay.

25% still seems too high to me though, and I doubt there's a metal detectorist or PAS official that would disagree!

Paul Barford said...

Hi, further to my last comment, it seems that if you look at eBayUK at "coins > Ancient" (so that's not coins/Roman and coins/British which are separate categories) and select the just "sold from the UK"

http://coins.shop.ebay.co.uk/Ancient-/4733/i.html?rt=nc&LH_PrefLoc=1&_catref=1&_dmpt=UK_Coins_Ancient_RL&_fln=1&_trksid=p3286.c0.m283

today you'll find 4031 items on sale. Now in that category are books, foreign coins, and FAKES (on the first page right now being auctioned, a dozen bids) but nevertheless a figure of coming up to 3000 UK-metal-detected coins on sale there this week probably would not be at all out of the question (bearing in mind the other two categories).

Anonymous said...

Dear Lord, well I won't bother to offer suggestions on the size of Operation Resource Removal (UK) which that appears to imply, or the scale of the commercial benefit that's being extracted from our fields with official support since it's plain for all to see that something awful is going on, and will be denied.

Suffice it to say that it's about to get much much worse thanks to the new Minelab machine that will find stuff twice or thrice as deep and which therefore will open up the sub-ploughsoil archaeological levels to collectors near (and especially) far.

"Yipee! One in the eye for the retentionist pinko foreigners" as they say in California and "Gr8 M8!" as I've seen said over here! I wonder what PAS will say? "Used responsibly, and with restraint, these machines will add enormously to our knowledge"?

;)

Paul Barford said...

More like an embarrassed silence I suspect. Nothing new in that!!

Paul Barford said...

The Viking silver bead was not withdrawn as a result of PAS "monitoring"of Treasure sold on eBay (I think they've stopped doing it) but sold for a knock-down price of just under eighteen pounds.

 
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