Saturday 22 September 2012

Wartenberg Kagan "Collecting Ancient Coins will be Different, but will not die out"

Dr Arnold-Peter Weiss’s text is preceded in the ANS Magazine by another text by Ute Wartenberg Kagan (‘An editorial comment on Caveat Emptor’, ANS magazine 2012, issue 3,  pp 32-3). She stresses “the views and opinions expressed [..] are Dr Weiss’s and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the ANS”. She points out however that the ANS has recently revised its acquisition policy which goes beyond the guidelines offered by Dr Weiss.

In her text, Wartenberg Kagan too focuses on the collecting (rather than dealing) aspects of the issue. She dismisses the alarmist claims of "members" (I bet they are all dealers or those who are led by them) that better ethics will lead to the demise of collecting. “Keeping provenances and the history of a coin available is crucial in this changing world of collecting […] Collecting ancient coins will be different, but will not die out”.

 She notes that Dr Weiss concentrates on the hoards to the exclusion of other types of coin deposit, “however the problem of looting within sites or across entire landscapes is arguably even worse […] by large scale metal detector operations. The information that we lose by such activities is very significant". It would seem that Weiss is unaware of the studies of such finds by German and British colleagues of precisely such finds which “have been among the most interesting numismatic works of recent years”. But “little if anything is left about the historical record when coins are just collected by metal detectorists and then appear as clumps of uncleaned coins on the market”. Without the proper excavation of groups of coins with proper attention to their associations and taphonomy “research will be stuck where it has been essentially for the last fifty years” (she cites the earliest electrum coinage which she herself is researching). And this is directly the fault of the no-questions-asked antiquities market.

She concludes somewhat idealistically:
The reality is that we all have to do a better job of acting responsibility and with care going forward. We cannot change the past, but we can start on a new path of responsibility, careful research, and best practice to enhance numismatics and the responsible collecting and caring for ancient coinage and history. This effort should be a joint one among all interested parties and, in the end, will strengthen our knowledge base. Ultimately all serious collectors, dealers, and archaeologists share a common goal: they want to understand the ancient world and I would argue that we should not destroy one part in order to preserve the other. 
Hmm, whatever they say, dealers are mostly interested in making a profit out of other people’s desire to learn about the ancient world, but the last point is one some of us have been making insistently for a long time. So how many more arrests do we need before these sentiments become more than just fine words?

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