Monday 18 March 2013

US Petition to Suppress Antiquities Fraud, "Not a Witch Hunt"

Over on an antiquities blog near you, Dealer Dave tries ('A Petition to Suppress Fraud', Ancient Coins, March 17, 2013) to convince his thirteen readers that an investigation of a New York dealer being hounded by rival dealers and some collectors "is not a "witch hunt" and is not unfair to those being investigated". I would disagree, only one business is mentioned in the petition, which does not so much request an investigation into the truth of allegations, but outright - and I would say libellously - accuses its victim of fraud and much else. That is rich coming from such a milieu and if I were the victim of these public allegations, I'd have my lawyer on some of the signatories like a shot for some of those comments.

The irony of the situation is made visible by Dealer Dave's suggestion:
An extensive discussion of this issue and the petition has been carried on in the AncientArtifacts group and [...]  Readers are invited to join both groups, read their message lists and then decide whether they have an interest in participating in this petition.
well, of course the former has an exclusion policy, not everybody can access this group, especially if they have a belief that "responsible collecting" involves taking certain things into consideration and not simply blandly asserting "I am a responsible collector" when that is as far as it goes. The group's moderator himself has been known to sell reproduction antiquities in the antiquities section of eBay for example, so it is entirely hypocritical of him to host a discussion of the hounded dealer for allegedly doing the same. The trade in fake artefacts thrives on the lack of transparency (and expectation of transparency) in today's no-questions-asked antiquities market, and the fact that the Yahoo group discussing the trade is closed off to outside view is an expression of that same lack of transparency and expectation of the lack of transparency. 

Dealer Dave - like all his fellow dealers (and collectors who have a lot of cash invested in the potential resale value of antiquities they buy) - considers that "defrauding of novice collectors by unscrupulous sellers of fakes is a very serious problem  in the antiquities trade". The prevalence of fakes on the no-questions-asked market "discourages the victims from continuing their interest in collecting". Obviously these victims can only be cheated by a trade which encourages them to believe that the only way one can buy antiquities is through suspending all your critical facilities and questions about the origins of items and "trusting the dealer". Of course it need not be like that, a dealer that has done their due diligence and ascertained the licit origins of the items he sells has no reason to hide that information. Only the dealer who has not and cannot does.  The only person who needs to hide their knowledge of the manner in which an item came onto the market will be those dealers who know there is a high chance that what he knows will suggest the object is potentially of dodgy provenance, or who simply have done no checks whatsoever to satisfy themselves (or have very low thresholds of such satisfaction) that the object is kosher, of licit origins.

It is therefore not at all true to state as does Dealer Dave that:
This case, which is only one of many similar examples, presents convincing evidence that the only effective approach to preventing novice collectors from being defrauded is criminal prosecution of fraudulent sellers.
That is only one way to deal with the problem. As we know, in this type of market actually getting a conviction for perpetrating fraud under normal commercial conditions is very difficult. One dealer's subjective opinion against another's is hardly the sort of 'proof' that a US court will accept. The only effective approach to preventing collectors in general from being defrauded (both through the representation of a fake antiquity as authentic dugup, or the representation of an illicitly obtained dugup smuggled out of the country of origin as one of licit origins) is closer attention paid to transparency of the market and supplying the buyer with as full information as possible of the collecting historyof the items offered by honest, reputable dealers and information about their passage through the hands of previous expert collectors who took care to ascertain the hygiene of their collections. Is there anything illogical in the above statement? Of course there is not. What stands in the way is the dealers' solemn assurances that "it cannot be done" and then a long litany of supposed reasons why not, most of which look like special pleading and based in self-interest and their lack of willingness to do anything about their own endemic carelessness.

It is clear that the petition serves as a medium to try and remove a rival (and apparently quite successful) dealer from the US market without drawing attention to the fact that the sole reason one can get away with selling fakes as authentic dugups is that the market functions only on the grounds that no collector, no buyer, no client of the majority of the dealers selling antiquities (including those signing this petition), is going to ask for precise and verifiable details of the origins of the goods offered.

Cleaning up the antiquities market and imposing more stringent requirements for transparency is the only responsible and appropriate method for determining whether sellers of objects whose value depends upon authenticity and provably licit origins are defrauding the public.

So, laying all the ills of the current form of the market at the door of one man is not a witch hunt? "You could of fooled me" as the metal detectorists say...

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