Monday 13 December 2010

Is My Coin a "New Dug-up"?

The coin collector hiding under the pseudonym "Drumax" challenges:
Here, lets use an example, here is a very common coin: Is this coin a "new dug-up"?
Here is the coin he ventures. Sadly there is no description to tell us what we are looking at, what the condition of the surface is, what is in those crevices. Let us assume that the obverse and reverse are indeed of the same coin (apparent different blank shape may be due to manipulation of the image and lighting).

This is precisely the kind of coin I discuss (the 'second coin') in Holes in History, for what? .

The owner of the pictured coin surely should be in a position to tell us when the coin entered his collection and where it came from. What steps were taken by the buyer to ensure that it was of legitimate origin and had not been removed from an archaeological site by clandestine excavation and then illegally taken out of the source country?

Where was it dug up? The 'SMK[' mintmark tells us it was minted in Cyzicus. LRB Coins of Cyzicus were in circulation right across the Empire, but were of course more common in assemblages from some regions (and at some periods) than others. Despite the collecting of hundreds and thousands of these coins however the fact that they pass into numismatic collections without findspot data means that there are probably few studies
of these patterns by private heap-of-coins-on-a-table numismatists. They are more concerned to have a "piece of the past" to fondle and look up in the many typological catalogues. Published hoards and coin assemblages from archaeological sites

Where it was dug up of course is important in ascertaining what was done with it. The manner of cleaning used on ancient coins as they passed on to the trade may give a clue. Since coineys have been collecting material since the days of Petrarch, one might expect that there would be literature on this (such as that in region x, such and such a method of cleaning was used in the 1920s and 30s, but then they started using method B, which we know had been used in other regions since the 1890s). Sadly such information does not seem to be available yet. It is difficult to see from the muddy colours of the photo what the surface of this object now consists of. It looks very much as if it has been stripped down to the bare metal and maybe after that "toned" for aesthetic reasons. Certainly this is no crusty corrosion layer. The way the photo suggests that crevices are eroded out suggests some kind of chemical or electrolytic cleaning was used. Beyond that, from the evidence of a muddy photo one cannot say more.

So basically from the information Mr "Drumax" presents about his coin, one really cannot say
whether it was or was not a newly dugup object or anything about how it gort from the ground onto his website. It is an anonymous decontextualised piece of metal. The point is however that all over the region where such coins were in circulation we (and collectors) may assume there is ongoing looting of archaeological sites, in the coiney market world-system there is illegal movement of antiquities out of so-called "source countries", to the markets of other countries. Therefore surely the only responsible thing for an ethical coin collector to do is only admit to his collection items which come with verifiable documentation of legitimate provenance. Otherwise they make a collection of decontextualised bits of metal of undefinable provenance, and in the process do nothing to halt the destruction of evidence about the past through the workings of the no-questions-asked market.

It is not up to me, Mr "Drumax" (and here the collector's own anonymity may be noted) to say whether a particular coin in your collection was looted five years ago on such and such a site or not. It is up to you surely, to justify why you felt comfortable adding that particular artefact to your collection. It is up to the ethical collector to acquire artefacts which guarantee the hygiene of their collection. Who would want to risk adding tainted objects to their collection, bringing them into his home, asking a bank maybe to look after them? What kind of a person would do that?

Photo: "Drumax's" Cache Coins website.


Charles the Bold said...

So you cant tell me if it was dug up yesterday or 100 years ago? I can guarantee if you had the coin in hand or if you actually knew much about the subject save what you find on numismatic websites it would make little difference. If it was dug-up 50 years ago, is a collector unethical in having it in a collection? If its been in a family collection for almost 100 years, passed down through the generations (but who found it and were is not known), would that make the owner unethical? If it was bought at an old estate auction in Belgium would it be unethical?

Of course if it was dug up 100 years ago, how could one get this coin a pass from PAS and if the only ethical coin one can own is one that has the blessing of the PAS, what should be done with the millions of coins that predate the PAS? If a coin doesnt represent a little dot on their map its lost every bit of value to a numismatist I assume?

Some of us are genuinely interested in the answers to these questions since we are relying on your inerrant moral compass to tell us what is ethical and what isnt. Should all collectors toss out any coin that predates the PAS? Maybe we should give them to the museum to store with all the other loot and coins they no doubt acquired in a very ethical way. We can put it with it all the other coins they dont show because no one cares about an old ratty and common late Roman Bronze.

I can honestly say that I understand the value that can come from mapping out even the most seemingly insignificant finds as such information can lead to serious finds.

Paul Barford said...

"So you cant tell me if it was dug up yesterday or 100 years ago?" Not from a photo no. That is the point I made about hygiene.

Your approach to the issues is artefact-centred. My viewpoint is that we should be seeing this in its wider, rather than narrower, context.

It is not true that "nobody cares about" the digging up and selling off of "an old ratty and common LRB". The archaeological sites of the Late Roman Period are just as deserving of preservation from looting as those of earlier periods, whether or not they more commonly contain coin finds.

So far all you have done is criticise the approach I take to how collectors and dealers can help combat the erosion of the archaeological record by artefact hunters looking for geegaws like your little "ratty" coin to collect or sell.

What you have not of course done is to contribute an alternative viewpoint about how they can.

"We don't know and we don't really care enough to help" may work on the coiney forums, it's not a view I personally accept as a valid one. That's where our viewpoints are in fact opposing; its the difference between apathy and taking responsibility. Artefact collectors are refusing to take any responsibility - but then the PAS which you all praise so highly and quote at every available opportunity was set up to encourage responsible collecting, was it not? Somehow the coineys at least tend to ignore that totally when mentioning some of the more superficial aspects of it in support of this or that piece of naysaying.

Anonymous said...

"if the only ethical coin one can own is one that has the blessing of the PAS, what should be done with the millions of coins that predate the PAS?"


Dear oh dear Drumax, you're interchangeable with your British suppliers who retreat into "misunderstanding" what is being said.

I didn't say pre-PAS dug-ups ought to have PAS numbers, I said recent ones ought to.

Your deliberate misinterpretation of the blindingly obvious tells it's own tale.

Look, let me say it yet again so you and any of your fellows who take Mr Welsh et al as founts of truth about what happens in "source countries" have no room for misinterpretation, misrepresentation or misbehaviour -


Please spare us the denials.

Paul Barford said...

Ah, but then that is the crux of the matter, that word "knowingly".

If they don't ask the dealer the question "and where did you say this came from my good man?" they can claim ignorance of origin and that way they then say "well, how can anyone know when my coin was dug up? (Prove to me that it is looted)".

That is the whole essence of the problem and why I talk of "no-questions-0asked collecting" and not just collecting in general. Of course to expect a coiney to see that not-so-subtle difference is expecting a little too much of them, but the rest of us should be able to work it out without too much bother...

Charles the Bold said...

I see, so you were not at all referring to the millions of coins that predate the PAS, most of which the place they were found cannot be known now. I must have misunderstood you when you said the only ethical way to collect is to only buy coins that have a PAS number or those coins whose complete provenance is known by the seller beyond a shadow of a doubt. The PAS website does not explain this clearly as it states only a coin in which the dealer can identify exactly where and when it was found is okay to buy, are they are only referring to newly dug coins? I guess you are saying that to buy and sell these millions of coins that predate the PAS and lack this information is acceptable and can be traded freely without being deemed unethical even when the place of origin is not known now. This is good news. Thanks for the clarification although I have a feeling I am still missing something concerning this completely black and white issue.

Now our friend who calls his or her self 'heritageaction' and posts so passionately and authoritatively claims that the only ethical collector is one who knows exactly where and when a coin was found and if the dealer doesn't know then you shouldn't buy it and they are the same as looters if they don't have this information for all coins (or only newly dug coins I guess?). I was told by this person that to refuse this is unethical because there are ethical ways to collect by buying a coin with a PAS number. I am a curious fellow and I certainly, like most collectors, would love to have this information with all my coins (ancient or otherwise) so I did a search to find all these coins open to collectors to purchase, coins with a PAS number. I couldn't find a single coin for sale with a PAS number, would you know where these coins are being offered? Can anyone find one for sale? I might have missed all those coins being offered to ethical collectors with PAS numbers as I might not be searching correctly. They must be out there as I was told that without doubt a collector can maintain their ethics and continue to collect by buying coins with a PAS number and certainly this person wouldn't tell me this is possible if there are no coins for sale that meet this criteria.

Charles the Bold said...

Its funny, for a guy who is, in your eyes, a mouthpiece for Mr. Welsh and simply towing his line, why is it that the last interaction I had with him he labeled me 'Barfordian' because I questioned his sky is falling dishonest, attack dog rhetoric and dared to question anything he says or maybe suggested that there are things we can do as 'coiny' people to address this very real problem or asserted that yes, I do believe looting does happen and colleting might have some affect on this. Or is it that you are just like him, if anyone questions you, you label them 'Welshians'. I think you guys have a hell of a lot more in common with each other than you might think. If you do not agree with me 100%, you are the enemy.

Let me say I think the PAS is a great thing and cannot fathom why anyone who is out finding new coins wouldn't take the time to quickly report this info to the PAS. I certainly would. After reading about British amateur archaeologist Major Tony Clunn and how he discovered the site of the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest using scattered reported coin finds, this information needs to be known. I completely agree that all new finds, however seemingly insignificant, should be reported, its the least one can do as it may aid in finding an important historical sites. We should pay back any government that makes allowances for collectors instead of simply labeling us all as criminals and looters with honest support. I do lament that people, even when given a chance, might not take just this minor step. I do not however think that any coin MISSING this information is automatically unethical to own. Nor do I think they have lost all value, numismatic value, if they are missing this information however unfortunate it is, they still are important pieces. There are many pieces in museums that lack this information but they are still important. As you know, there was a time when archaeology was a race to loot the most for your national museum from those nations your empire oppressed; we wouldn't just toss those pieces in the trash as worthless simply because some archaeologist stole it long ago.

Paul Barford said...

Mr "Drumax" it seems to me black and white that a coin which can be documented as above ground in the 1920s does not have to be recorded by the PAS (but it could be) to be regarded as kosher. A coin whicjh is not associated with such information is not.

It helps nobody for all the dealers and all the collectors to claim that ALL their coins were pre-PAS or otherwise explain away the lack of their inclusion on the PAS database (in which coins predominate by the way).

"the only ethical collector is one who knows exactly where and when a coin was found" Absolutely. How would you define ethical collecting of anything when the market is known to be or suspected to be contaminated by items of illicit provenance? How could an ethical collector prevent their cash going to culture-criminals?

So what do you think it means if metal detected coins from Britain are being sold without PAS database references? What kind of people are putting them on the market? From what kind of people are no-questions-asked collectors buying them?

Anonymous said...

Drumax, I tire of this. I will answer just one of your "I can't act ethically but it's not my fault" claims and then that's me done.

PAS numbers aren't on recent dug-ups for two reasons -

(1.) most British detectorists (and the vast majority of British detectorists that sell stuff) don't get PAS numbers because they don't tell PAS what they find. (Which makes you, who buys the stuff, what?)

(2.) There's no demand for PAS numbers from the purchasers (you).
You could, of course, ASK for a PAS number but it is clear from what you say you never have (which makes you what?)

Quite how you'll fit the above facts with your ethical collecting claims I really can't imagine, but good luck with it and thanks for the chat.

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