Monday, August 19, 2013

Snobbery of the Polish Popgun

Snobbery Behind Anti-Collector Rhetoric?
by Peter Tompa

After reading archaeo-blogger Paul Barford's latest screed against numismatics, CPO has to wonder if the anti-collector bias of some archaeologists is motivated largely by academic snobbery.  But in an era where popular culture cares more about the Kardashians than the classics, we should celebrate pastimes like ancient coin collecting and not dismiss it out of hand.  Coin dealers like Italo Vecchi and collectors like Arthur Houghton have spent years producing magnificent studies of ancient coins that help keep the cultures that produced them alive.  And really, what's wrong with that?


For rabid archaeo-blogger Paul Barford's latest screed against numismatics, see

While Barford's post is merely one more example of the bilious anticollecting bosh he incessantly regurgitates, Peter Tompa's perceptive comments are well worth reading. Note that Barford has repeatedly demanded a reading list on numismatic science, and when I finally became irritated enough to provide one (and Peter Tompa also did so), Barford then, in his usual derogatory and insulting manner, attempted to deflect and trivialize the subject -- rather than doing anything rational or constructive, for example actually reading the scholarly references cited.


Arthur Houghton (a renowned numismatist whose research and publication achievements far eclipse anything Barford and his ilk have ever done) then added two perceptive comments to Tompa's blog post:

"Peter, I can't imaging why you'd even want to mention the Polish Musket at all. As an academic I know has said, "he's really something of a blowhard ignoramus, doesn't know much about archaeology, and shows it all the time. He's never done much in his own field, and I guess he's trying to compensate for failure."

There is something to this. His anti-numismatist screed is an example. He rails and whines against collecting and collections, and the use of unprovenanced, out-of-context material -- and willfully ignores the fact that every professional academic numismatist worth their salt has worked with collectors and collections that include coins and related objects that are often fresh out of the ground. But does the Polish Musket care? Evidently not. But it's a bit sad that respected people in his own field care so little about him and what he says. So, my advice is to ignore him."


"Peter, I have an interesting take on the Polish Popgun, from the same archaeologist I spoke to before I wrote my last note.

'What do you think he's really done?' my friend asked. 'Take a look at Then tell me what it says he's done. Then ask yourself if you can now understand what a sense of failure can do to people.'

Well, Peter, I decided not to look at the scholar's website. It seemed so much like a waste of time. But you and other readers of your blog may want to. It's probably pretty informative."


These remarks by Houghton would likely impress an objective reader as being devastating. And there is this further penetrating comment from Voz Earl, which strikes this observer as (like Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War) being "a possession for all time" :

"Well, I can vouch first hand that snobbery as a character flaw is more common in academia than among the general populace, but in my experience it is the hallmark of poor academics who have nothing of value to contribute. I do not say this in order to take a pot shot at Barford, but simply to make the observation that people with undue trust in the opinions circulating within the echo chamber of their own discipline tend to discount anyone who is not part of their clique, any ideas or sources of information that are not sanctioned or derived in accordance with their approved methodologies. They arbitrarily dismiss entire worlds of data, blind themselves to countless possibilities, stay confined within the same little box in which they have eagerly imprisoned themselves and from whence they are rarely if ever able to contribute any breakthroughs in their field. Recognizing the arbitrary and artificial nature of self-imposed boundaries, the academic worth his salt is willing to question the received wisdom and to take an interdisciplinary approach. Yet with the announcement of any interdisciplinary project you will always hear from the snobs, the purists who can't wait to trash that which doesn't conform, that which is outside the box, that which they usually know nothing about, but are 100% sure is of no value. Mark down the names of these tongue-waggers and you will have a list of useless scholars who will never contribute anything but mediocrity and the utterly forgettable.

All of the above I write in relation to the question of snobbery in academia, but I would now like to respond to Barford's call for the "METHODOLOGY of this discipline." Of what value is the methodology or methodologies employed in archaeology? What results have been obtained by these, what breakthroughs achieved? Having taken classes with numerous archaeologists over the past several years including three who were dig directors at the time, I am now of the opinion that archaeology is not a science at all. Archaeological digs yield certain assemblages of material objects in context. What any of this data means is open to wildly varying interpretation as one can clearly see from reading the publications of the archaeologists themselves. While I have the utmost respect for all of the archaeologists with whom I have studied, and value them both as people and erudite scholars, I find the discipline of archaeology itself to be of very limited value in telling us anything concrete about the past. Archaeological data is a useful tool at the historian's disposal in conjunction with documentary evidence (like coins, papyri, inscriptions) and ancient narrative accounts. By itself, however, a material assemblage in context tells you almost nothing and is open to almost any interpretation one can dream up. When dealing with prehistoric periods where the only evidence is a material assemblage and its context, the "science" of archaeology is less akin to the science of...well, SCIENCE than it is to the "science" employed by L. Ron Hubbard in crafting DIANETICS or Joseph Smith in creating the BOOK OF MORMON. The consensus among my fellow graduate students was that one could make up just about any story one wished and as long as it accounted for the material assemblage it was no more or less likely to be the truth than any other story including all of those published in the flatly contradictory and wildly varying interpretations of nearly every specialist in the field."

In this observer's opinion, Voz Earl has here distilled Barford's derogatory rhetoric (and that of other anticollecting archaeologists) down to its illogical essence, demonstrating once and for all that these  critics of numismatics are not scientists, because archaeology is not a science according to the accepted academic understanding of the characteristics that define a science.

In this post dated June 10, 2007:

 I observed:

"Archaeology, if it can be considered a science in the classical sense, lacking as it does any generally accepted unified theory, actually dates back only some 100 years. That is far less than sciences which archaeology now claims to encompass as subsidiary disciplines - "artifact studies" such as numismatics and sigillography for example. In its primitive beginnings, archaeology was nothing more than an effort to organize and systematize plundering of ancient artifacts."


Kudos to Voz Earl, for one of the most enlightening contributions ever made to the debate on archaeology vs. collecting.


As for Barford, he no doubt will find some inane words that will delude him into believing that he has deflected these unanswerable observations, dismiss these comments and continue his anticollecting sniping.


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Waxing Classical

"Classical Coins" Dealer Waxes Classical
by Paul Barford

"Californian dugup dealer Welsh ('Barford the Ignoramus Redux', Sunday, August 18, 2013 ) asks:

"Quousque tandem abutere patientia nostra?"
Bearing in mind some of the intemperate rants we've read from him recently and what he wrote in the above-mentioned blog text, it seems to me an adequate response is to quote back at him the second line of Oratio in L. Catilinam Prima:
Quam diu etiam furor iste tuus nos eludet?"


Clearly the abuse of Senatorial patience and the furor which Cicero accused Catiline of being the instigator are, in this case, the result of Mr. Barford's deliberately provocative and insulting language. How would Barford like being described as "a sometime grave-robber and involuntary expatriate, who could not stay employed in  British archaeology due to his unpleasant and abrasive personality?"

In an immediately preceding post Mr. Barford wrote:

"m-e-t--h-o-d-o-l-o-g-y, watch the lips

I fail to see where the confusion arises. A bunch of guys tells us we should treat them nicely because they practice some serious scholarly discipline with a load of decontextualised dugup coins from other countries.

"OK", you say, "very interesting, discipline you say? What's the body of methodology and theory at its basis?"
"Eh?"  the reply.
"the body of methodology and theory at its basis" you explain.
"errr..." is the reply.
"You are an idiot! A mate of mine whose name I cannot reveal says he knows you and he says you are an idiot!" jumps in Cultural property Research Institute Director Houghton, foaming at the mouth.
"which is why I'd like you to give me the references so I can learn" you reply calmly.
"Yes, you are an ignoramus" Dave the dealer accuses, "My library's bigger than yours I'll bet", says Dealer Dave, "I have read and comprehensively understood every one of these many thousands of references! It is upon that extremely solid foundation that I assert that my knowledge of the science of numismatics is very likely far more detailed and complete than Mr. Barford's knowledge of the so-called science of archaeology, i.e. glorified and academically formalized grave-robbing!".
And so on.  More insults.

What is the problem with just saying where the methodology of this academic 'discipline' is codified?
Welsh points me to a  list of reference works on a trade site of catalogues and descriptive works (what we call here in Polish archaeology "materiałówki").* This is not an exposition of methodology, it is not the presentation of a body of theory. We seem to be talking at cross purposes. Welsh seems to think I am asking about "books" in general, as if having books in the house automatically guarantees you scholar status (maybe it does in California, who knows?).
 According to Mr Welsh, numismatics is "a science whose published literature easily equals (and in my opinion probably surpasses) everything published on the subject of archaeology". If that IS the case (and is "size" always what matters?) then the coineys should have no difficulty whatsoever finding among that mass of high quality literature ten textbooks on the methodology and theory of dealing with decontextualuised coins on a table, n'est ce pas? But the man who has digested a mountain of books sems to have precisely such a problem. He excuses himself from the task by saying: "heap of assorted coins on a table numismatics is not a subject of interest to anyone other than [Mr Barford] himself and the few benighted souls [...]". Well, hang on a moment, we were told, were we not, that 50000 US collectors of assorted and contextless dugup ancient coins are engaged in the scholarly study of precisely such material. That is hardly a "lack of interest". It is also a whopping big market for somebody who's digested a whole mountain of books in his 15x15m Goleta housing estate bungalow, to write the next edition of "Theory and Practice of Classical Numismatics".

You cannot have it both ways. You cannot claim that home study of imported coins bought through US dealers is a "discipline" with a methodology of its own and its very important, but that "nobody but a few benighted souls are interested in such a discipline", can you?

Maybe Mr Welsh could explain that to this "ignoramus", or better still, just stump up a list of the books on  the m-e-t-h-o-d-o-l-o-g-y (watch the lips) of what these people do on their kitchen tables with all the coins they buy. Not the catalogues, not the picture books, not the results of their art-historical seriation,  not an "all the coins from Miletus" corpus, but a presentation of the theory and methodology of a certain type of numismatics, because that is what they insist they have.
* By the way the purpose of Welsh's "booklist" is as a key to explain the shorthand terms used in the sales offers of individual coins for sale to give the types a name and make the presentation look as if the dealer knows his stuff well enough to find a picture of a similar one in a reference book. So, it explains that "C." is the abbreviation for "H. Cohen, Description Historique des Monnaies Frappeés sous l'Empire Romain. Paris, 1880-92 (Reprint)". Note neither the original place of publication or publisher are cited in this booklist, nor any of the details about the "reprint"."


A brief reading list is now presented for those pretentious ignorami who foolishly persist in commenting adversely upon the science of numismatics, without having any knowledge thereof. Those actually capable of (and sufficiently motivated for) reading these fundamental scholarly numismatic works might possibly gain enough understanding of the subject to realize that their present perspective is absolutely, spectacularly and ridiculously wrong:

ACGCC  Kraay, Archaic and Classical Greek Coins. London, 1976

Meshorer  Y. Meshorer, Ancient Jewish Coinage. 2 vol. New York, 1982

Babelon E. Babelon, Monnaies de la Republique Romain. 2 vol. Paris, 1885 (Reprint)

Babelon, Traité E. Babelon, Traité des Monnaies Grecques et Romaines. 9 vol.  Paris, 1901-1932 (Reprint)

BMC Catalogue of Greek Coins in the British Museum. 29 vol. London, 1873-1927 (Reprint)

Göbl  R. Göbl, Sasanian Numismatics. Braunschweig, 1971

Göbl, Hunnen  R. Göbl, Dokumente zur Geschicte der Iranischer Hunnen in Baktrien und Indien. 4 vol. Wiesbaden, 1967

Göbl, Kushan  R. Göbl, Münzprägung des Kushanreiches. Vienna, 1974

Hendin  D. Hendin, Guide to Biblical Coins. Third Edition. New York, 1996

Houghton   A. Houghton, Coins of the Seleucid Empire from the Collection of Arthur Houghton. ACNAC 4. New York, 1983

Lacam  G. Lacam, La Fin de l'Empire Romain et le Monnayage Or en Italie. Lucerne, 1983

Lindgren  H. Lindgren and F. Kovacs, Ancient Bronze Coinage of Asia Minor and the Levant. San Mateo, 1985

Lindgren II  H. Lindgren, Ancient Greek Bronze Coins: European Mints. San Mateo, 1989

Lindgren III  H. Lindgren, Ancient Greek Bronze Coins. Quarryville, 1993.

LRBC  R.A.G. Carson, P.V. Hill and J.P.C. Kent, Late Roman Bronze Coinage. London, 1978

MACW  M. Mitchiner, Oriental Coins and their Values: The Ancient and Classical World. London, 1978

MIB  W. Hahn, Moneta Imperii Byzantini. 3 vol. Vienna, 1973-81

MIG  M. Mitchiner, Indo-Greek and Indo-Scythian Coinage. 9 vol. London, 1975-1976

Pozzi  S. Pozzi, Catalogue Monnaies Grecques Antiques. Geneva, 1921 (Reprint)

Price  M.J. Price, The Coinage in the Name of Alexander the Great and Philip Arrhideus. 2 vol.   London, 1991

RPC   A. Burnett, M. Amandry and P. Ripollès, Roman Provincial Coinage. Vol. 1. London and Paris, 1992

Sellwood  D. Sellwood, An Introduction to the Coinage of Parthia. 2nd Edition. London, 1980

SNG A   Sylloge Nummorum Graecorm, American Numismatic Society. New York, 1969-

SNG B  Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum, British Museum. Volume IX, Part 1: The Black Sea. London, 1993

SNG C  Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum, Danish National Museum. Copenhagen, 1942- (Reprint)

SNG L   Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum, Switzerland; E. Levante - Cilicia. Bern, 1986 SNG R Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum, Schweiz II. Bern, 1993

SNG vA or von Aulock  Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum, Sammlung Hans von Aulock. Berlin, 1957-68 (Reprint)

Svoronos J. Svoronos, Corpus of the Ancient Coins of Athens. English Edition. Chicago, 1975 (Reprint)

Svoronos  J. Svoronos, Ta Nomismata tou Kratous ton Ptolemaion. Athens, 1904-08

T/V  B. Thurlow and I. Vecchi, Italian Cast Coinage. Dorchester, 1979

Thompson  M. Thompson, The New Style Silver Coinage of Athens. New York, 1961.

Vlasto   O. Ravel, The Collection of Tarentine Coins Formed by M.P. Vlasto. London, 1947 (Reprint)

Walker  J. Walker, A Catalogue of the Arab-Sassanian Coins. London, 1941


Barford the Ignoramus Redux
by Paul Barford

"Dealer Dave Welsh insists:

Numismatics is in reality a recognized science dating back to the 14th century, with a long-established formal methodology for classification and analysis cf coin types, and of the dies used to strike coins [...] Mr. Barford would do well to learn more about numismatics [...] before venting disparaging, ill-founded criticism based upon nothing better than his own prejudice against collecting.

Now, I have asked those who attempt to justify the no-questions-asked trade in dugup coins by using this tired old argument time and time again to point the way to the textbooks of this heap of coins on a kitchen table numismatics. A short booklist of the ten most informed and detailed magisterial accounts of the various approaches would be enough I think to allow us to get a grasp of this "formal methodology of its own for classification and analysis of coin types and of the technology of striking". So far, several years asking have resulted in nothing much beyond Welsh's proffered  books of  1515 and 1524 ("the first illustrated numismatic book"). I'm not after picture books, I want some detailed presentations of the methodology of heap of assorted coins on a table numismatics."


If Mr. Barford really desires to consult reference works on the subject of numismatics,  a science whose published literature easily equals (and in my opinion probably surpasses) everything published on the subject of archaeology, he can find a reasonably comprehensive list of key references here:

Unfortunately for Mr. Barford's rabid anticollecting views, "heap of assorted coins on a table numismatics" is not a subject of interest to anyone other than himself and the few benighted souls who share his anticollecting mania.

It is very important to observe that every one of these cited references, amongst thousands of other important numismatic and historical works,  resides in my personal library which has been recognized as a special collection of significant research interest by the University of California. It would be interesting to ascertain how many volumes relating to archaeology and artifact studies can be found in Mr. Barford's personal library, and whether any institution of learning has recognized that library as a scholarly resource.

I have read and comprehensively understood every one of these many thousands of references, and it is upon that extremely solid foundation that I assert that my knowledge of the science of numismatics is very likely far more detailed and complete than Mr. Barford's knowledge of the so-called science of archaeology, i.e. glorified and academically formalized grave-robbing.

The reader who may find that statement somewhat difficult to digest is cautioned that it is actually far more reasonable than what Mr. Barford has recklessly, unjustifiably and repeatedly stated regarding numismatics.

Quousque tandem abutere patientia nostra, Paulus Barfordus?