Wednesday 24 August 2011

US Kitchen Table Numismatics and Numismatic Scholarship: A Summary

This seems a good place to summarise some scattered posts on several blogs looking at the question of the degree to which Kitchen Table Numismatics (heaps of decontextualised coins bought by collectors) can constitute a discipline as that term is usually understood. Coin collectors, and especially US dealers, claim that the collecting of coins has an academic value which far outweighs the degree to which the trade in dugup artefacts depletes the archaeological record. They claim that if the flow of "freshly surfaced" coins is in any way disrupted, this will be to the detriment of "numismatic scholarship" affect our ability to "understand the past". Furthermore anyone who is not a "professional numismatist" cannot, by definition, "understand" (collectors love playing the misunderstood victim) and simply has no business saying anything about the trade in illicitly obtained and the smuggling of antiquities.

I made such a comment when US dealer Scott Semans suggested that "now" to get coins through US customs they will "have to be" labelled as something else. In other words smuggled. My questioning that prompted another dealer to interrogate me somewhat impudently issues (DW: Sunday, August 21, 2011, Clean Trade according to Barford ) on my "credentials in professional numismatics". Now note the emphasis here onpaper credentials (see below):
"Well, Mr. Barford, it now seems appropriate to inquire a bit further into the question of who you are [...] I have three questions I would like to ask, not that I really believe there is any possibility you would respond with an honest factual reply. First: Do you hold a baccalaureate (or higher) degree in archaeology from any accredited university?" etc.
What in other words ACCG's Dave Welsh was suggesting was that only if I were another "professional numismatist" (ie US dealer) would I understand why coins "have to be" smuggled into the US. Well, I am not, and it is true I do not understand why anything"has to be" smuggled into (or out of for that matter) the United States. But I was annoyed by the attitude of superiority and entitlement displayed by the dealer and responded in like tone, subsequently asking the same questions of the numismatist who had asked about mine to reveal the qualifications by virtue of which he constantly represents himself as a "professional numismatist" (Sunday, August 21, 2011, 'The "Science" of the Clean Trade ?'

The reply to this was rather pathetic. I really should not have asked, and it turned out that behind the bluster was a few popular magazine articles in his youth, some rather superficial stuff on his website and he'd sold a lot of coins and was able to tell one from another (DW 21st August 2011: 'Numismatic Qualifications'
"Coin dealing" (as Mr. Barford puts it) can indeed become a scientific activity, to the extent that one involved in it goes beyond simple commerce and becomes involved in making numismatic discoveries and educating collectors. I have discovered several coin types previously unknown to science. Here is one example:
(I asked him in a comment to explain why he thinks finding this new variety is so significant but this so far has gone unanswered). This long post raised a lot of issues. I dealt with the side issues on my subsidiary ("ghetto") blog:
(PB: Sunday, August 21, 2011, 'Dealer Dave not Happy', [about speaking out about conservation issues, and a look at what he presented as his 'research'] and on the same day: 'Dealer Dave's Numismatic Qualifications' [looking at what he'd presented as his own qualifications after attacking mine] These posts were written more in retaliation and do not add much to the argument which is why they are on that blog and not my main one). What is important here is Welsh's assertion a dealer in America is a "professional numismatist" because there are few opportunities to be a numismatist professionally in any other way there (which is not something that I'd have expected).

In the post on my main blog therefore something starts to sketch itself out (Monday, 22 August 2011, 'Qualities of a Professional Numismatist'). Welsh has all along accused me of total ignorance about anything connected with coins. In this post I reveal that far from what he thinks, I have indeed had contact with and worked with numismatists, both in an academic context as well as collaboration in editing a numismatic journal. It seems Welsh was unaware of that. In explaining that, it slowly dawned on me that what I was familiar with as "professional numismatists" was totally different to the way the ACCG coineys were using the term, because they are based in the US where the system is different. It gave me immense pleasure to find one area where my poor little central European Republic which I so heavily criticise at times was actually for once superior to the mighty USA. For the first time (because looking at it 'from the inside but from outside') I appreciated how comparatively neatly numismatics fitted into the general scheme of things over here (easy to take for granted when its around you I suppose) compared with the situation over the other side of the Atlantic. We are talking about two entirely different systems of doing numismatics.

Well, Welsh was having none of that (DW: Monday, August 22, 2011, 'The Gospel According to St. Paul Barford')
In responding to my last post it seems that archaeoblogger Paul Barford may have actually taken leave of his senses...
. Of course, he argues, the American system is BEST, he presents the view that all those Polaks obviously don't know anything about the material, their "paper qualifications" and titles are worth nothing, they are just external expressions of some contemptible foreign "academic rituals". But that is not the case. This is more chauvinistic bluster and tub-thumping, because the truth is, the Mr Welsh who considers his webpages "scientific research" in all probability has very little first hand knowledge of the current state of Polish numismatics.

Obviously Welsh had not actually understood what I wrote, so I tried again. The crux of the matter seems to be that Welsh seemed to misapprehend what I had said:"Mr. Barford is apparently afflicted by what is at best confusion, and at worst delusions, as to what really constitutes professional numismatic expertise and qualifications". I had pointed out that academic numismatists as I know it from Poland is more holistic and integrated with other disciplines in its approach, is analytical, far from merely telling one coin from another which it seems to me is the main emphasis Welsh was putting on the discipline. So I pointed out (again) the distinction (PB: Tuesday, 23 August 2011, 'US Coiney "Numismatics" : An Analytical Discipline or Merely Ordering Raw Data?'). Obviously at issue here are two views of what constitutes numismatic scholarship, and its not a matter whether the person doing it has letters after their name or teaches students or not. But then the conclusion is that if one model develops from another (so Poland was where it seems the study of ancient coins in the US seems to be way back in the 1930s) then although it consumes by the dealers' own admission, a vast proportion of the freshly-surfaced coins on the global market it seems there are grounds to ask, comparing the two models whether (PB Tuesday, 23 August 2011), 'Professional Numismatics in the USA Underdeveloped?'. I think from having listened to what the ACCG dealer has to say (and been notified of some of the rants ongoing on the forums from which I am blocked) there do seem to be grounds supporting this - somewhat surprising I must admit - assertion. It would however explain a lot of what we see.

Mr Welsh clearly does not understand (again). He the went off on a tangent (DW: Tuesday, August 23, 2011, 'Who owns Numismatics?'):
In a recent rant in his blog, anticollecting archaeoblogger Paul Barford confirms that he simply does not know what he is talking about regarding the science of numismatics, Numismatics is not and never has been defined or controlled by academia or archaeologists.
What he now writes about bears no relation whatsoever to what was being discussed. He is simply now trying to deflect discussion onto some sidetrack, as is usual amongst collectors when you look too deeply into something. I tried to get discussion back on the original topic which is the nature of the "numismatic scholarship" which allegedly would be endangered if it was only done with curated material and objects legally exported from the source country (PB: Wednesday, 24 August 2011, 'What Kind of Question is "Who Owns Numismatics?"...'). It turns out (a point I admit I'd not actually registered before) that the ACCG coineys do not include institutional numismatic scholars in their presentations of the current state of numismatics in the USA. This is weird, and something worth exploring further.

Basically therefore, we are back to square one again, with an interesting difference, this whole string of posts was begun with Welsh demanding details of my PAPER qualifications for daring to make any attempt to assess the effects of the commerce in dugups on the archaeological record. For the past three posts he has been stressing that paper qualifications mean nothing. So what on earth was that initial challenge all that about then?

It seems to me at this stage, ten posts on the 'same topic', I am wasting my own time and anyone who actually set out to read any of this. Instead of discussing an issue, we are arguing round in circles with no real focus any more. I have found that Coineys in general seem to have problems focussing on an issue, and looking at it in more than a superficial knee-jerk manner in a wider context. Mr Welsh seems to exemplify that trend to an inordinate extreme. This thread is a pretty egregious example of that trend. Its exhausting, (very) time consuming and frustrating trying to cut through the crap to the issue in hand. Despite all the sidetracks, I have however found it helpful to get a few ideas straight in my head and given me something to explore further, I neither at this point know or care whether Mr Welsh has gained anything at all from it. But thanks anyway.

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