Monday 16 September 2013

Who is a Modern Antiquities Collector?

Dorothy King, PhDiva, goes "In Search of the Modern Antiquities Collector", and by "modern" it seems she mainly means "not geriatric" and who collects both legally and ethically. Her list is a short one, though it has to be said that she makes it more difficult/easy - not sure which - for herself by limiting the search for collectors of 'serious antiquities' (i.e., really, really expensive ones), coineys need not apply. She mentions that she was prompted to write this text after being approached by someone looking for "a solid blog about collecting antiquities", a good one on the pro collecting side:
There are a lot of bad blogs written by people in favour of collecting [...] Although there are lobbying groups broadly against collecting, there is no reputable pro collecting group at the moment to put the other side of the case. 
Quite so. There is indeed a dearth of sensible blogs and sensible comments from the collectors (see post below this).

Dorothy King has some interesting informed comments about  the collections of the late Leon Levy, and  his wife Shelby White, also a few words on the secretive buyer and hider of the Crosby Garrett Helmet and rather a lot on Christian Levett, though she's "not sure whether he should be counted as a collector" in the strictest sense.
If we suspend Levett from the very short list of one he was on, we seem to be left with no non-retirement age serious collectors of antiquities who are happy to publicise the fact that they collect. And this is a problem because traditionally collectors were the ones, like Leon Levy and Shelby White, who would fund museums, excavations and archaeological research. There are collectors who prefer to keep a low profile about their own collections [...] The lack of a passionate collector of serious antiquities under the age of 60, who is willing to go 'on the record' as being a collector worries me a great deal. 
PhDiva is worried that "increasingly collectors are withdrawing from contact with many academics". Of course there is also the phenomenon that scholars are also distancing themselves from collectors (all except in England and for the moment Wales, where archaeologists embrace metal detectorists most cordially). She suggests that ("rather than making gross generalisations about looting and collecting"):
I believe we'd be better off helping collectors to collect ethically material which is legally on the art market and not looted from an archaeological site that was destroyed in the process. 
First of all the point I'd make most forcibly is that "material which is legally on the art market" is by no means "ethical" in every sense of the word, our laws allow all sorts of things, the dealers (the ones that get upset about what's in this blog) will say anything not illegal is therefore legal, and I do not think we should agree to this. The second point is that she'd have to first have all collectors wanting to be helped. The evidence which we see around us is that they - as a broad group, not the half dozen she mentions- do not. In fact, they all deny, to a man/woman that they are doing anything wrong, and when you start suggesting that there are certain issues we could discuss there, they get all humpity and start calling you an "enemy of everyone who cares about personal liberty and the right to pursue happiness in one's own way". Just for asking a few difficult questions about whether that "happiness" could not be satisfied applying the principle primo non nocere.

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