Thursday, 4 August 2016

Explaining the term 'Illicit' to Collectors

PAS can't explain it to them,
the only way through to them
It's an uphill battle explaining anything to collectors, metal detectorists in particular. Get them together and cognitive mayhem results. That's probably why the PAS has never tried it in any sensible form. Over in California, both I and Professor Simon Mackenzie are being accused of allegedly misusing the word "illicit" in connection with portable antiquities. I cannot speak for Professor Mackenzie, or any of the other luminaries pompously attacked by a shopkeeper and metal detectorist in that blog. I will however dispute that I have in fact used the term in the way alleged. If we look, dealer Dave Welsh has published on his "respectable venue" (blog) the following comment about me (among a lot of the usual metal-detectory ad hominems, fallacies and other insults):
A typical example is his [Paul Barford's] misinterpretation of the word 'illicit' when applied to [...] artifacts whose origin is unknown, and for which there is no evidence (or reasonable basis for suspicion) of illegal export.
The only "question" that arouses is its writer's ability to read and analyse what he has read. I challenge Mr Welsh and the metal detectorist to search this entire blog and find a case where I have actually said such a thing explicite. Otherwise I would propose that it is these two who are being cavalier with facts.

Perhaps the nitpickers could understand the issue better if it is presented as pretty coloured pictures. Dealer Dave wants US dealers to be able to sell coins both singly and bulk lots like apples and potatoes. So lets look at three pictures of some apples.

This is an apple
some apples
more apples
They are all apples aren't they? For the sake of the argument, lets call apples "antiquities". The top two pictures show just apples, but in fact they are a specific type of apple. They are rotten apples, Are you keeping up Davie and Johnny? Rotten apples. Let's call them for the sake of the argument "illicit antiquities". Got that Davie and Johnny? And in the middle photo there is an illicit antiquity among the antiquities. Here, you can see it in the middle, it's a different colour. But you can only see it if you have the light on in the apple cellar. Lets call that light "verifiable documentation".  Now the bottom photo shows apples too, but you cannot see them because they are being transported to be sold in a bag.  Lets call them "unprovenanced antiquities", you simply do not know what you've got. Now Davie and Johnny I think you can see that the bag (unprovenanced) could hide anything, cant it? Sound apples and rotten apples/ licit antiquities and illicit antiquities.

It is illogical to assert that the whole bag contains rotten apples (that all unprovenanced antiquities are illicit). I do not believe I personally have ever asserted that. What however is the problem is if you buy that bag of apples from a third person who cannot say where they came from by a dark roadside at midnight with just a glance with a keyring torch at the top layer, you might be buying a bag of trouble. There may be rotten apples in there. Indeed the very fact that a dealer is offering them to you presented in an (unprovenanced) bag in the dark such a way, instead of the apples laid out in an open tray for inspecting in full daylight (ie my allegory for the proper documentation demonstrating total licitness) it  certainly would arouse suspicions in me at least.  Maybe Mr Welsh would carry them gleefully home to sell in his shop pleased with the price. I would not.

The analogy goes further however, it concerns the proverbial apples in a barrel. It the rotten apples are left in the barrel (an analogy for the no-questions-asked market) then, indeed the whole market becomes tainted. Anyone who has not checked the apples are not bad but tries to sell that barrel of apples - sight unseen - as containing guaranteed sound apples is pulling a fast one. Is that a licit business practice?

More to the point, surely it is in everybody's interest - dealers too - to remove those rotten apples (illicit antiquities) from the barrel (pool of antiquities entering and on the market) - not sitting around denying that they are there and that "archaeologists' are not able to identify them like the experienced dealers 'with a hunch'.

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