Wednesday 24 February 2021

Product Placement and Plugging: "The Searcher", The PAS and the Trade in Unreported British Artefacts (Updated)

The Portable Antiquities Scheme publishes in the detectorist magazine the Searcher, alongside other material. The Pipeline has picked up an interesting case, a Later Iron Age harness-brooch reported as being found in Buckinghamshire by detectorist Ray Pusey and placed on sale  (Andy Brockman, 'The Antiques Woad Show: TV Auctioneer Sells Rare Iron Age Brooch that [Almost] was Not Reported to PAS' February 25, 2021). The auctioneer Hansons has been mentioned on this blog in connection with some other questionable sales. On Fri July 29th 2016, Mr Hanson assured Nigel Swift of Heritage Action that he'd be "taking due care" not to "accept any metal detecting finds that don't include both PAS documentation and landowners' consents".  Has he? The lack of a PAS number in this case too suggested that the object had gone directly to the auction house, without the opportunity of a proper record being made. If so, Hanson's would be selling the products of irresponsible metal detecting.

This object (later accorded 'nationally important' status) appears as Lot 1 in the 25th February auction of "Coins, Banknotes & Antiquities". In order to hype the forthcoming sale, the March 2021 edition of metal detecting magazine The Searcher published an article about the same harness-brooch ('Chieftain Chariot Brooch' and featured on the front cover "while lacking archaeological detail, the account in The Searcher indulged in a little product placement, namechecking the metal detector and software package Mr Pusey said he had used"). This appeared under the byline of Adam Staples. This is the same Adam Staples that has been mentioned in this blog a number of times, and who is an employee of Hanson's. The handling of this object in this manner raises a number of questions about Mr Staple's status as a "responsible metal detectorist" (though, oddly, the official code makes no mention whatsoever of playing a part in the antiquities trade).

Certainly the article at the very least mirrored the Hanson’s catalogue and, given the ease of locating the object on the auction website, effectively forms an advertorial for an object valued well into the thousands, for which it is also in the interests of the finder and the auctioneer, to drive up interest among potential bidders. However, neither The Searcher article, nor the catalogue acknowledges the shared text. Neither does The Searcher declare Mr Staples' affiliation with and pecuniary interest in, Hanson’s as his employer.
Andy Brockman identifies a number of ethical issues about the sale of this harness-brooch that seem to have bothered neither Mr Staples or the Searcher.
We also questioned The Searcher over the magazines failure of the article to mention the Portable Antiquities Scheme or the Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting, asking, “Does The Searcher consider that this failure to mention the PAS and the Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting, sets a good example to metal detectorists, especially when the artefact concerned is clearly so important?” Up to the time of publication The Searcher has not responded to our questions.
Mr Brockman says there are legitimate questions to be asked about the journey the harness mount made from the soil of Buckinghamshire to the catalogue of a Hansons auction, and addressed these questions to the auctioneer too.
Up to the time of publication Hansons have not responded to these, or any of the other, questions we raised about the sale. However, in a late twist to the story, within days of the auction going ahead, the Hansons catalogues was suddenly revised to include a catalogue number from the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Noting that the PAS records that the find was made as long ago as October 2020, the PipeLine can only question why the recording of the find was left so close to the date of the auction?
In fact the record DENO 2BAD49 was made according to the footer "three days ago" and updated "one day ago" although the harness-brooch was found on 17th October last year. Inconsistently the details are visible on the thumbnail: "Created on: Sunday 21st February 2021 Last updated: Tuesday 23rd February 2021". The findspot is given as "To be known as: Buckinghamshire". What is actually very odd, apart from the fact that this record was made on a Sunday, is that its author (someone called "Michelle Ray") made only this one, single database entry this year. As we all know, Hanson's Auctioneers is based in Etwall, Derbyshire... and that abbreviation DENO is... not Buckinghamshire, but Derby City Museum, on a Sunday. Note the entry says "Grid reference source: From finder Unmasked grid reference accurate to a 1 metre square". Did Ms Ray meet (liaise with) the finder on a Sunday in the middle of the pandemic? The record suggests she did: "Subsequent action after recording: Returned to finder". I note she also gives this parameter: "Weight: 169 g". So, did she weigh it? Well, in fact, I suspect she did not. If we compare the PAS database text with the description of Lot 1 in the Hanson's sale, we are surprised to see that
the main part of the PAS database entry corresponds, almost verbatim with the central part of the text in the Hanson’s sale catalogue. The relationship between them is highly suggestive that the PAS text has been copied directly from the Hanson’s one, and not the other way around. Why is this not indicated in the PAS entry? This is plagiarism. It seems even the weight is taken from the auction catalogue. There is nothing in the DENO description of this item that could have been gained only from in-hand examination of the object. It is just a copy of the saleroom staff's description (which Andy Brockman suspects was the work of Adam Staples). It would be interesting to speculate whether there is some kind of connection between Mr Staples and Ms Ray. 

What were the circumstances of the creation of this database record. I wrote to the Derbyshire FLO this morning to allow that to be ascertained. Watch this space. 

UPDATE  26th Feb 2021
Not without significance might be the collaboration between Hanson's and Derby Museum a few days earlier: Derby Museums, 'Thousands raised in virtual auction for Derby Museums’ Endowment Fund' (17th February 2021). Is it possible that Mr Hanson gave his help to the Museum to auction stuff to raise money for them, and the museum reciprocated by helping Mr Hanson raise money by auctioning off an archaeological artefact that he needed to be provided with some paperwork to accompany the article in a metal detecting magazine? Is it? 

According to Hanson's social media, the catalogue was being put together or had been put together by 14th January 2021 and already featured the harness brooch on its cover. By the 28th January, the March 2021 number of the Searcher magazine article had been printed with the object on the cover. Photos of the first page show what Andy Brockman was saying about the identity of this text and the Hanson's catalogue entry. 

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