Sunday, 23 May 2010

The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) and Archaeologists

What is it with the ACCG obsession with archaeologists and feebly trying to please them (see my previous Reaching out?)? The archaeologists and other preservationists saw the real audience years ago and vaulted over the dealers straight to them before the ACCG was even founded. To mimic Clinton's election mantra: it's the public, stupid!

But I don't think that the ACCG is stupid for one second. I suspect rather that the idea that the ACCG is trying to win the approval of archaeologists is merely a pretence, a deliberate smokescreen. Anyone with a functioning braincell knows that the archaeological profession would never accept the ridiculously flawed proposals of the ACCG. The ploy seems designed to give the impression that the ACCG is really trying very hard to please but the poor things cannot progress - when in fact the reality is that the ACCG deliberately chose an impossible goal as a delaying tactic, a way to keep the status quo while pretending to be concerned.

ACCG officer Dave Welsh rather let the cat out of the bag with an unguarded post on an antiquities forum. When archaeologist Paul Barford suggested registering what is "already on the market in order to create a watershed beyond which it will be increasingly difficult to insert freshly dugup material" as a way to avoid contributing to ongoing looting, Dave Welsh made it clear in his reply that he would have no interest in such a scheme because all he wanted was a "system for recording provenance which you and others in the archaeological community will accept as proving that an item is licit".

Huh? Only magic could suddenly produce the 1970 provenance required by archaeological institutions out of thin air. In other words, it seems this ACCG officer deliberately set an impossible (and irrelevant) requirement because he had zero interest in establishing such a system for its own sake - to curb looting.

Cut the pretence, ACCG. It won't wash. If the ACCG genuinely wanted a solution it would take a different approach...

Forget the AIA. Forget archaeologists. Talk to the same people they are talking to: the general public. They are the people whose opinion matters most and the people who ultimately cause new legislation. The public see the problem of looting. They want a solution. If and so long as the only solution the public hears is that proposed by extremist elements in the archaeological community, that is the only one they can consider. Give them a sensible and workable alternative.

The public want to see someone actively working to diminish looting and the carnage of archaeological sites. That 'someone' doesn't have to be an archaeologist. Wouldn't it be ideal if the action came from dealers and collectors?

I quickly drafted a proposal for an International Antiquities Registry last year. It addresses the suggestion made by Paul Barford. It needs a few creases ironing out but it is achievable - and it has the potential to create a superb image of dealers and collectors who really do care. It has met with stony silence.

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For the record: I am very much in favour of collecting ancient coins. It is a fascinating and stimulating hobby. Likewise, I support responsible dealers in the ancient coin trade; I just think the ACCG is doing a hideous job of representing them. The ACCG might do better if it didn't underestimate the public's intelligence and their ability to see through transparent tactics.

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