Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Documenting Collecting History

ACCG Officer, Dealer Dave Welsh on Documenting Collecting History of Dugups

by Paul Barford

ACCG Officer and Classical Coin dealer Dave Welsh seems to change his mind from time to time on the issue of making a running record embodying the collecting history of ancient coins already on the market allowing the identification of items freshly surfacing "from underground" without any such record (thus prompting closer scrutiny of their origins and establishment of their licit origins - or otherwise).  Here he is in accusatory tone three years ago:"Looting: The Essence of the Lie", Friday, May 28, 2010:

"no one is likely to pay such attention to the provenance of a common ancient coin that may be worth no more than one pound sterling".
Then less than a year later we see in his "Ancient Coins" blog an apparent change of view: "The Logistics of Provenance", Friday, February 04, 2011

"It would presently be technically and economically feasible to document acquisition of a coin at a cost of between $10.00 and $17.00 per coin in a manner which should satisfy any reasonable provenance requirement, with traceability to its particular date of acquisition. [...]  The above, I believe, clearly delineates what is presently feasible in a manner independent of the exact details of how a documentation database would be managed and who would be responsible for it. Such details obviously must be discussed and resolved, however they won’t affect the economic conclusion. The current value threshold at which the cost of provenance documentation would be accepted by large numbers of collectors is roughly $85.00 per coin. Very large numbers of ancient coins are presently being traded at prices below $85.00 per coin. Classical Coins presently sells large numbers of coins at prices below $50.00 per coin, and I am not including “specials” (multiple coin lots) for which certification is not available. Clearly there is a “value threshold” that must be considered, and any demand that documentation be provided for a transaction to be licit becomes economically unreasonable below that threshold.

but then, is it not these bulk lots (potentially derived from mass metal detecting and selection of better items from them) that are a fundamental area of concern? What is the cause of the looting at sites like Archar? What is the product of such activity, and where are the artefacts resulting from this activity ending up? Where is the disconnect between bulk lots on the US and western European market and the bulk lots of artefacts looted out of sites in the Balkans and elsewhere? [For part of my discussion of what he said in this post, see here: "Two Minute Due Diligence" Tuesday, 8 February 2011, Mr Welsh's dismissive reply is here].  Four days later, Mr Welsh makes an announcement ("The Mania for Provenance", Tuesday, February 08, 2011): 

"Whilst I have hitherto resisted attempts to impose mandatory provenance documentation on grounds of feasibility, I am pleased to report that there are now realistic grounds to believe that transition to a full disclosure of provenance so far as it is known can feasibly be provided to every buyer without a significant increase in the cost of online transactions. Over a long period of time that would presumably address nearly all licitness concerns. The question now becomes whether such incremental provenance documentation would be satisfactory. Feasiblity does not equate to zero cost. "Per transaction documentation" would not be free, though its cost might be reasonable. If it became apparent that incremental provenance documentation might become a rational basis for a settlement of differences, it would be possible to expand upon these observations". 

(there is an interesting exchange in the comments under this post) [Welsh's announcement is discussed here: Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues: Collecting History ...]

Obviously incremental provenance documentation as an object moves from one licit source to another is indeed the only rational basis not only "for a settlement of differences", but a fully ethical collecting. The world awaited with bated breathh the expansion on those "observations". We waited, and we waited...

Five months later Mr Welsh returned to the issue, but without adding much 'meat' to his earlier comments ("A Disastrous Legal Decision", Tuesday, August 09, 2011): 

"I can only present my own thoughts as those of a well informed participant in the US ancient coin market. I have been mulling over this possibility for quite some time, and have arrived at some very important conclusions. [...] I propose the following as a sensible, ethical, lawful and constructive approach to be pursued by the US numismatic community: no coin shall leave our borders without right of repatriation [sic!] [...]  I believe that the above proposals impose an ethical obligation upon me to propose a system of tracing provenance which will significantly alleviate (although not entirely eliminate) the effects of forthcoming import restrictions. I have previously discussed this issue [...] It would be feasible to provide a system of tracing provenance which would document licit acquisition of coins by dealers and their subsequent licit acquisition by collectors".
Lest, however it be thought that what the dealer is suggesting is in any way increased transparency of the market, symptoms of paranoia are not absent. He continues:

"One of the key issues in doing so is that such transactions should not be disclosed to opponents of private collecting and opponents [of] the free numismatic market. This must not become a "propaganda tool." The way to accomplish the desired result without such a transgression is to create a "coin ticket" that is not disclosed to anyone other than the collector who acquires the coin. I know how to do this, and intend to do so, and to eventually disclose the essential elements of this "coin ticket" in such a manner that they may freely be provided by every dealer, and I accept an ethical obligation to do so. Clearly such a declaration of intent cannot be taken lightly and the necessary approach must be one which is practical for most dealers. The technical aspects are far less formidable than the ethical issues involved. It can, and soon will, be done".
but that was two years ago and it was not.

Then we had the memorable beginning of his latest name-calling onslaught on this writer for suggesting that a discipline does not consist of making a loose heap of "data" of unknown origin. Welsh wrote in "Numismatics Is A  Science" (Thursday, August 15, 2013) something diametrically opposed to what he had written just two years earlier. Now he's given up on his "ethical obligation' to share the technology he swore blind he had devised, showing what a lot of hot air all these ACCG declarations really are:

"Numismatic experts have observed that creating and maintaining such provenance records for objects of small value (nearly all ancient coins, for example) isn't economically feasible".
Then, wading thigh-deep into the gutter, the ACCG's Welsh - now allied with a random bunch of naysaying metal detectorists from both sides of the Atlantic (!) suggest that it is an outsider (me) that should be tasked ("Let's turn the volume down", Ancient coins (sic) blog, Thursday, September 19, 2013) with "shedding more real light upon the goal of creating a practical provenancing system for ancient artifacts", rather than the dealers and collectors that would profit from a transparently licit trade.

But then his thinking about the topic seems to be lost in the opening sentence of his post "scumbags" when he got waylaid by more name-calling, and never finished the sentence:

Mr. Barford clearly does not understand that a practical provenancing system for ancient artifacts involves recording their discovery in a manner equivalent to what he advocates, which however is both feasible and affordable [....] 
leaving it hanging in the air whether today he thinks it is possible or is impossible. I guess we'll never know what the ACCG dealer actually thinks until he gets the bile and frustrations (they deleted his wikipedia page) out of his system and begins writing about "Ancient coins".


As usual, Mr. Barford has (in this post to his notorious blog) wandered here and there, through statements which when taken in context are easily understandable and sensible, seeking to represent them as inconsistent and unreasonable.

The Polish Popgun then restarts his broken-record autoplay system and writes:

"... is it not these bulk lots (potentially derived from mass metal detecting and selection of better items from them) that are a fundamental area of concern? What is the cause of the looting at sites like Archar? What is the product of such activity, and where are the artefacts resulting from this activity ending up? Where is the disconnect between bulk lots on the US and western European market and the bulk lots of artefacts looted out of sites in the Balkans and elsewhere?"

Obviously, neither I nor any other collector or dealer could possibly answer such a barrage of questions, as Barford well knows.

When it comes to posing unanswerable questions, Barford clearly considers himself an expert. But when it comes to providing answers, what constructive answers does he have? What has he ever contributed to resolving the significant concerns regarding looting which divide the archaeological and collecting communities?

The resolution of these concerns does not any need more of Mr. Barford's tricky and malicious  questions. Practical, constructive and economically sensible answers are instead required. Mr. Barford never has attempted to provide such useful answers.

Barford in reality does not want to see these concerns resolved, for then there would be no reason at all for anyone to pay attention to him and his pretensions to still be regarded as an archaeologist, thirty years after his last (when gainfully employed) fieldwork activities in the UK. His career as an archaeologist was brief and apart from one rather good book, utterly undistinguished.

Mr. Barfords' current career as a translator of documents must not be successful either, judging from the large amount of free time he has to devote to composition of the snarling screeds filling his PACHI blog. As Dorothy King observed, his tormented soul is filled with and blackened by anger -- anger which pervades his every utterance, and then is reflected back at him with interest by those whom he incessantly scoffs at, denigrates and insults.



Post a Comment

<< Home