Saturday, November 19, 2011

Emperor Barford

Failure to Differentiate Looting and Smuggling
by Paul Barford

Dave Welsh shares his own (disturbing) vision of the future deserved by looters who "venture to feloniously dig up designated archaeological sites and other sites which might be so designated, in order to illicitly obtain valuable ceramics, statuary and the like" (note the coin dealer's omission of the words:"hoards of precious metal objects"). It seems to me from the frequency of the graphic violence with which this ACCG officer decorates his writings on cultural property issues that he needs to seek professional medical help. Welsh is not so clear about how to treat those who plunder archaeological sites with metal detectors to get collectable metal items like those he sells in his shop, he apparently thinks that their "putative, perhaps questionable misdeeds" are not in any way damaging because "they do not ever bring in heavy excavating machinery such as backhoes, bulldozers and the like to dig up their perhaps illicit findings, but instead rely upon far less destructive hand tools". So a 'perhaps illicit' hole is not a hole (or illicit) when it is hand-dug? He also skips the issue when he writes that "metal detectorists" allegedly have their activities "closely supervised [...] by their associations and clubs" and also by "the PAS which has done great good in educating amateur treasure-hunters". Two points, first he is extrapolating from the situation in England and Wales to the rest of the world these "associations and clubs" as well as the PAS of course have no remit over all metal detector users on the five continents. Secondly Welsh obviously has no idea what these British "associations" (such as the NCMD) actually do (most of the time kicking AGAINST the PAS) or of the ability (or will) of the PAS to influence the majority of the artefact hunters in the UK even, let alone anywhere else.

It seems the whole purpose of the text Welsh wrote is to assure everyone that his "Classical Coins is OK".

"I do hope that everyone very clearly understands my own personal code of ethics which is not for the most part required by US law, but which I have independently decided to be essential to my personal standards. I will not knowingly acquire any antiquity, including ancient coins, whose exportation from the nation of discovery appears to me to be in any way suspicious, and which (in the event that the exporting nation restricts exportation of antiquities) is not accompanied by a valid export permit satisfying the requirements of the 1970 UNESCO Convention."

While that is very comforting to hear, the logical fault line is obvious. An export licence cannot be a "not looted certificate". Artefacts exported from Israel with an Israeli export licence have most likely been looted in neighbouring countries and laundered through being sent out from a Jerusalem warehouse (I've discussed this problem here a number of times). An object may be legally exported from Dubai, which does not mean that it was not illegally excavated in another country and smuggled out of the source country to Dubai. All it means is the Dubai export procedure (apparently virtually 'none' in fact) is followed. The same goes for removal of artefacts from one European country (eg Bulgaria, Greece, Italy) to another. For example the Coiney Wunderland of Bavaria where all sorts of antiquities can be found being openly sold - like in Munich - and exported from that Land with the usual EU lack-of-formalities. This in NO way means that the artefact "surfaced" on that market licitly. A truly ethical approach to the trade in such items would not only look at whether the items has an export licence if it is needed (by local law of the country of export) but look beyond that to the mechanisms of supply being exploited by the market supplying the commodities. If the object is freshly surfaced and its origins cannot be determined, given the scale of looting we know is going on, it obviously should be treated by the responsible buyer as potentially looted and no responsible buyer would go anywhere near it.



The actual logical fault line in the above extremist screed is Mr. Barford's ridiculous, foolish presumption that based solely upon the virulently anticollecting opinions of himself and a few other equally divorced-from-reality present (and former denizens) of the ivory towers of academia, collectors of ancient coins and the dealers who supply them can somehow be "morally required" to do whatever is required to trace the origins of minor artifacts such as ancient coins to the point of modern discovery, regardless of whether or not such an endeavor would be possible [which it is not].

I don't know how to do that. No one in the trade does. It is, in reality, impossible. Mr. Barford's perspective on this subject is based upon an abysmal ignorance of the actual operations of the numismatic trade, which he could easily educate himself on if he were willing to take it seriously as a social institution to be respected and studied, and his inexcusable insistence upon the ridiculous and delusionary concept that he somehow possesses a sort of self-declared moral authority to pedantically lecture collectors and the dealers who supply them, regarding his own peculiar and deluded views as to their ethical obligations.

There was once another individual whose delusions of grandeur and self-declared authority actually became so entertaining and interesting to the public as to earn him a sort of enduring fame. I refer to Joshua Abraham Norton (1819-1880), self-proclaimed "Emperor of These United States and Protector of Mexico."

"At the pre-emptory request of a large majority of the citizens of these United States, I Joshua Norton, formerly of Algoa Bay, Cape of Good Hope, and now for the last nine years and ten months past of San Fransisco, California, declare and proclaim myself the Emperor of These United States." - September 17, 1859

Norton went on to "reign" in his capital, San Francisco, until January 8, 1880. During his 21 years as "Emperor" he issued his own currency which is now highly collectible, ordered the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge, prohibited usage of the "abdominal word 'Frisco,'" and abolished by imperial decree both the Democratic and Republican parties. He also called upon the other leaders of the world to join him in forming a League of Nations where disputes between nations could be resolved peacefully.

Having said all that, I suppose that I have an obligation to provide a countervailing perspective which can intelligently be advanced as being both reasonable and logical. My perspective is that mankind is and must always be ruled by laws, whose purpose is to regulate our various activities sensibly and harmoniously. Different individuals have different and often clashing views regarding ethics and personal conduct, and it simply is not possible for humanity to attempt to simultaneously satisfy everyone's opinions as to how things ought to be done, as indeed the fabulist Aesop [620 -- 560 BCE] pointed out in his famous fable "The Man, the Boy, and the Donkey."

We need clear and understandable laws to instruct us as to what we are and are not allowed to do. When it comes to importing ancient artifacts such as ancient coins into the USA, our present laws instruct us that any shipment of coins accompanied by a valid export license from the state of legal origin may be imported, even if it contains items included in a Designated List. That is the law, it is clear, easily enforceable and easily understood.

Emperor Barford however, from his mystical throne in Wolkenkuckucksheim, has decreed that the law is not the final standard of social obligation, and that his own self-declared, all-embracing and untraceable moral authority entitles him to decree that anyone who imports an ancient artifact, which might somehow have been looted in some other nation and smuggled into the nation which legally becomes the state of legal origin and is lawfully entitled to issue a valid export permit, has transgressed moral law and does not follow "a truly ethical approach to the trade in such items, [which] would not only look at whether the items has an export licence if it is needed (by local law of the country of export) but look beyond that to the mechanisms of supply being exploited by the market supplying the commodities."

All of which is self-delusionary, utopian opinionating that completely ignores the utter impracticality of attempting to carry on a trade in that manner in the real world, from which Mr. Barford has so completely separated himself.

There are no laws which do not have imperfections and flaws. The world we live in is real and not ideal. If a law is not satisfactory then the remedy is to change the law, not to attempt to supersede it by such ridiculous and delusionary pretensions as those of Emperor Barford.


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