Friday, 4 July 2014

A way forward?

My previous post about the response to an article in Biblical Archaeology Review has received a lengthy comment (split into two parts) from Rasiel Suarez, the coin dealer whose remarks I focused on. Rasiel has clearly spent some time composing his comment and rather than leaving it in relative obscurity, I have attempted to highlight his main points and reply to them properly in a new post. (The entire unedited comment is here.)
"I should probably know better than to write in defense; given the tone it's clear your perception of me and other ancient coin enthusiasts is long past the point where reasoned debate has any prayer of swaying opinions. All the same, I'll make an exception."
It is in the hope of "reasoned debate" that I am highlighting your comment in a post of its own. In that spirit, I have overlooked some of your less constructive statements rather than attack them and tried to focus more on the positive points you raised. Any "tone" you may perceive in my previous post was caused by the sheer frustration of apparently hitting my head against a brick wall.
"Your "solution" did not meet with stony silence as you say. It met with rightful ridicule. Let me reiterate: there is no such thing as a market where one may buy faultlessly provenanced coins."
Rasiel, you're inventing 'straw man' arguments again. The main goal of those of us concerned about archaeological sites is to protect them from current and future looting. That's it, nothing more. It's a simple and realistic goal; let's not confuse it with the higher ethical standards set by museums and institutions. We are both agreed that in the majority of cases coins in private hands cannot be "faultlessly provenanced" back to 1970 or whatever to meet those standards but that has nothing to do with the goal we are seeking to achieve. As I said in my previous post, all dealers need to do in order to discourage current and future looting is properly record the coins that have been around for many years so people can distinguish them from fresh loot. It's really not rocket science.

Recording coins need not involve "official-looking writeups, licenses, stamps and concomitant minutiae of bureaucracy". By "record", I mean simply document the coins in a way that is not easily open to abuse and forgery. The primary objective is to 'date-stamp' them. I proposed a system for doing that nearly five years ago.

Of course, it is not an ideal solution from the viewpoint of those seeking to redress real or imagined past wrongs - nothing can magically create a genuine 1970 provenance out of thin air - but that is not its goal and it is a huge step forward in the right direction. It sounds as if its basic concept is not too different from what you set up on your own website (I haven't seen your version in detail since it requires a log-in): "a free service that timestamps a record of your coin along with pertinent information (including provenance) which at the very least lets the world know a date of possession..." That sort of thing is precisely what is needed and I applaud you for setting the ball rolling.
"Whether freshly excavated or recycled from a hundred previous auctions what the collector ultimately cares about is filling a hole in his or her collection."
What the rest of society ultimately cares about is filling gaps in the knowledge of their history and protecting the means of doing so from collectors who think of ancient coins like baseball cards. There will always be collectors of that mentality around but there is a limit to the time that the rest of society will pander to them.

The figures in your market barometer are interesting but irrelevant. Regardless of whether the market is growing or shrinking, the fact remains that coins are still being looted from archaeological sites and most dealers provide no means of distinguishing them from coins that have been around for years.
"... you've already admitted to owning coins you know DAMN well came from some location you'd rather not dwell too much on ..."
Nope, I don't feel guilty at all. I've already dealt with the guilt aspect in my previous post. What I'm trying to discuss is the prevention of current and future looting. You're conflating two different issues.
"On the other hand, looking at things from your perspective, you know that if there is no current "neat" solution to acquiring what the public desires then that demand will still get met one way or the other."
Indeed, but which "public" are you ultimately more worried will pose a greater threat to your business and coin collecting in general? If you mean the few thousand or so people who collect ancient coins, then yes, a proportion of those collectors will do anything to get their goodies. If you mean the millions of other people who care about history but don't give a toss about the people who collect coins, then they will gladly back any legislation that protects what matters to them - even if that legislation is unnecessarily harsh and bans collecting altogether. The trade needs to get THAT public on their side by cleaning up their act and showing that dealers care about history too. Ignore the majority of the population at your peril.
"Rather than take the productive step of offering a more palatable alternative - to a commercial base that would by all appearances be quite receptive even - you instead choose to bellyache over looters running wild blog after pointless blog from your bedroom pulpit urging us evil collectors to mend our ways. Have at it, then."
(As a former web designer, let me just explain terminology to avoid confusion before I reply. I think Rasiel means "post after post". A "blog" is a website that the posts are published on. I have made dozens of posts but I have only one blog.)

I would be happier if you had bothered to read through my blog before criticising it. As I said, I have already taken "the productive step of offering a more palatable alternative" nearly five years ago. The original post is here and there are follow-up posts here and here. It's not exactly hidden.

I have no interest in setting up as a coin dealer. What I am proposing is an online registry for coins and other antiquities. It must be funded of course but first, let's be realistic. Apart from the PAS in the UK, few elected governments will ask their taxpayers to fund a scheme which will merely help a tiny proportion of the electorate to carry on private collecting; they are more likely to take the cheaper and politically more popular step of simply banning or severely curtailing private collecting altogether. You could approach the government - but I wouldn't hold your breath.

A more likely source of funding is the private sector. Registration itself would need to be free or at least minimal. Revenue would have to be based on a form of advertising. Auction houses and large trade businesses dealing in ancient coins and other antiquities would receive a tremendous boost to their corporate image by being seen to back and sponsor such a public-spirited 'green' initiative directly related to what they do. They can spin it any way they want.

I worked for a large utility firm here in the UK at one time. You would be amazed at the obscure causes they sponsored just to be seen as 'green'. They may well have been secret cynics inside the boardroom but corporate image was vital.

The opportunity is there for you and the rest of the trade to expand the concept you already have on your website into a much broader vision, and fight the negative image of the trade by proactively showing the public that you really do care about the conservation of history and the environment. I will gladly work together with you. By all means, let's "have at it"!


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