Thursday, 15 August 2013

"Numismatics is a Science" - so There! ("Gimme-gimme More Decontextualised Coinz")

Dealer Dave Welsh insists:
Numismatics is in reality a recognized science dating back to the 14th century, with a long-established formal methodology for classification and analysis cf coin types, and of the dies used to strike coins [...] Mr. Barford would do well to learn more about numismatics [...] before venting disparaging, ill-founded criticism based upon nothing better than his own prejudice against collecting.

Now, I have asked those who attempt to justify the no-questions-asked trade in dugup coins by using this tired old argument time and time again to point the way to the textbooks of this heap of coins on a kitchen table numismatics. A short booklist of the ten most informed and detailed magisterial accounts of the various approaches would be enough I think to allow us to get a grasp of this "formal methodology of its own for classification and analysis of coin types and of the technology of striking". So far, several years asking have resulted in nothing much beyond Welsh's proffered  books of  1515 and 1524 ("the first illustrated numismatic book"). I'm not after picture books, I want some detailed presentations of the methodology of heap of assorted coins on a table numismatics.

Mr Welsh refuses to admit that as an archaeologist I can have no knowledge of any kind of the artefacts that come out of ancient sites. He seems to think that coins are some kind of exceptional item that only "experts" (like he?) can understand properly. I think he is mistaken, one cannot excavate a classical site (such as a Roman one) and not know about coins. You cannot try to interpret your coin assemblage (or hoard finds) without picking up a numismatic book or two, without getting into a huddle with a numismatist and asking him or her a few pointed questions. If Mr Welsh thinks he and his collecting friends are the only people who "know about coins" or are interested in (or 'care about') coins and numismatic information, I suggest he is sadly deluded. Personally, I've been looking at coins and coin collectors for many years. My observations over that time (not "prejudices") have lead me to the conclusion that the type of coin collecting represented by the ACCG (and the type of coin collecting I discussed in the post which Welsh criticises without reading) really has no formal methodology of its own. Nothing any ACCG or any other coiney has said in response to my comments on that topic in the past has actually gone as far as to provide evidence (to document) that this is not so. Perhaps the time has come for the ACCG and its dealers to do that; either stump up the booklist for our scrutiny, or sit down and write the first ACCG book of "Kitchen Tabletop Numismatics".

This of course will do nothing whatsoever to justify the no-questions-asked market. If numismatics aspires to the status of a twenty-first-century discipline then it needs to address some serious issues about the source of the material on which it bases this study and the ethics - and wider intellectual consequences - of handling objects of potential illicit origins.  That is the key point from which - by arguing whether coin collecting is older than archaeology or not (who cares?) - the would-be polemecist is trying to deflect attention.


Cultural Property Observer said...

It looks like Dave Welsh has struck a nerve. In any event, Karl's recent work focusing on Austria questions the amount of damage detectorists actually do. As for recent erudite numismatic works by a dealer and a collector, see Italo Vecchi's work on Etruscan coinage and Arthur Houghton's work on Seleucid Coins. Most numismatists-- academic or not-- rely heavily on "decontextualized" material. Ask your friend and fellow archaeological blogger Nathan Elkins. Despite his criticisms of the trade, he relies heavily on unprovenanced coins for his own research. And let's not forget archaeology can be very destructive. It's my understanding classical archaeologists frequently burrow through layers upon layers of history just to get down to the "good" stuff.

Paul Barford said...

No, Dave Welsh has not "struck a nerve" as you put it. Dave Welsh avoids addressing the points I have made.

As have you.

I've discussed Karl's "work", find a number of issues that need addressing. Note he never did.

"recent erudite numismatic works". I do not know, is my English faulty, or your understanding of plain English?

In this post I am asking (only) for a booklist on methodology. METHODOLOGY of this discipline applied to the study of decontextualized material. Can you, as a numismatist, provide that? Why are you offering something else?

Cultural Property Observer said...

Start with a list put together for the ANS graduate seminar for archaeology students:

And of course ask your friend Dr. Elkins. I'm sue he could help you.

Paul Barford said...

Hey, it is the ACCG that is making a series of preposterous claims. When I ask you lot to back them up, you send me to the ANS and a Texas university? In other words, you actually CANNOT BACK UP YOUR OWN CLAIMS and are just saying the first things that come into your heads?

I know the ANS list, it's quite a long one, isn't it, and correct me if I am wrong, there is not a single title there that contains the word "methodology" ("terminology" is not the same), there is nothing there called " numismatic theory and practice", "propaedeutics of numismatic theory" or anything like that.

Compare that to archaeology, sociology, ethnology, historiography and a whole host of other disciplines.

The section of the ANS introductory essay on "methodology" (sic) sends the reader to short passages in more general descriptive analyses, in other words seeks a methodology in scraps of primary works, rather than referring to a ready body of theory - this can surely only suggest in this context that there is none. (Which is my point, which you lot are disputing).

In any case, look at the titles of the sections "hoards" is not a method, the analysis of hoards may require the application of certain methodological tools, so why are they not named as such? The same comment applies to the section "archaeological finds" - that is not a method of numismatics, neither is "documents" or "literature" (from a methodological point of view the difference between them, is...?).

It seems to me that you are simply dodging the question, when asked, unable to back up what you assert, fobbing me off with somebody else's work rather than putting in any of your own.

I note too in the ANS list not a single reference to ethics in collecting, what about how to go about documenting collecting histories? It seems to me from this that heap-of-loose-coins-on-a-tabletop-collecting has
a long way to go to being a fully-fledged independent discipline of the twenty-first century worthy of the name.

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