Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Due Diligence???

Antiquities and Due Diligence: Business Models
by Paul Barford

American dealers are looking with apprehension at the European proposals to clean up the market. One, in California says:

"The proposed new German law is so onerous that if Classical Coins were located in Germany, I would be forced to leave that country, or close my business."

Indeed, the vast majority of coins offered by that dealer appear on his website with no collecting history given, and no mention of the seller being able to supply responsible buyers any documentation indicating licit origins. Perhaps that is precisely the kind of 'business' that needs to be closed."


> Perhaps that is precisely the kind of 'business' that needs to be closed."

Perhaps that is NOT the kind of business that needs to be closed. Perhaps what REALLY needs to be closed are instead anticollecting mouths vacuously and irresponsibly opened, to make foolish statements such as this, in almost total ignorance of how such businesses actually operate, and of the realities of the markets that they serve.

Any economist worth his or her salt will certify that economic forecasts need to be closely tied to actual data, and that theorizing of the sort indulged in above is fatuous at best.

Readers should understand that in his remarks above Mr. Barford is pursuing his long time hobbyhorse of advocating the requirement of a provenance history for all traded ancient artifacts.

I have previously pointed out that museums documenting provenance of acquired artifacts to the "1970 standard" are spending an average of 40 hours of curator time per acquisition assembling such documentation.

Documenting and verifying provenance in a meaningful way, even when the information is available, is onerous, time consuming and expensive. The factual data I have indicate that the cost of doing so is likely to be on the order of $1000.00 USD per artifact.

I don't think readers will have a difficult time deducing why no numismatic business such as Classical Coins could possibly operate under regulations demanding such costly provenance documentation.

For the past ten years I have endeavored, without the slightest success, to educate Mr. Barford in the realities of the numismatic trade, in what collectors really do and how they acquire their coins, and in a myriad of other relevant practicalities.

Mr. Barford has steadfastly refused to be influenced or restrained by such realities. He evidently believes that his theorizing is upon such an elevated plane as to be inherently superior to reality.

It seems to me that such theorizing is on such an elevated plane as to instead be out of touch with reality. One can find the like in public parks, where sidewalk orators mount soap boxes to preach a variety of far out theories and beliefs.

Mr. Barford's soapbox is his blog. It can seem interesting and plausible to those who do not cross check what is said there against actual facts and realities. Those who do such checking will, in this observer's opinion, find it to be deceptive and misleading.

Update 8/6/2016

Mr. Barford has just come up with a real classic of a blog post, illustrating better than anything I could possibly say, the truth of the remarks above:

Numismatists and antiquities collectors interested in why I view him as being completely ignorant of the realities of coin collecting and coin dealing will find that post very informative. Highly recommended.


Blogger John H said...

You wrote, “Mr. Barford […] evidently believes that his theorizing is […] as to be inherently superior to reality.” You may be right.

The fact that Barford used an illustration of an ancient woodcarving (from Amsterdam, apparently) showing elf or some such, in the act of defecating coins, obviously as a facetious reply to a serious question, and one he ‘wittily’ captioned, Out of a taxpayer, (UK Metal Detectorists and the Heritage Debate, Tuesday, 28 July 2015), is telling indeed.

Liam Nolan rightly asked…"Who paid for [Mr] Barford to travel from Warsaw for this lecture? [University Campus Suffolk (UCS) March 16, 2013] In a time of the ever shrinking public purse, I hope the money did not come out [sic] of the taxpayer." Visitors to the UCS blog cannot fail to see that both Gill and Barford have artfully ducked Nolan’s question and their failure to do so raises other serious questions… not least of which is, ‘Why’, and, ‘How much was paid to Barford and who by?’

Lack of academic transparency is nothing new in archaeological circles though perhaps unsurprising in this instance given that Gill and Barford have their backs to the wall.
Equally, if what Gill claims – has iota of truth reply - in his reply to Liam Nolan’s original question, “This seminar was well attended and allowed discussion about a topic that is so important for the heritage of East Anglia,” then spending (public?) money on invitations to undistinguished guest Speakers - in this case Barford who was passed-off to the audience ostensibly as an ‘expert’ - requires further exposure, even censure.

Indeed, we need to who paid for the room in which the undistinguished Barford appeared, and who at UCS authorised it? The good people of Suffolk deserve better and must be told.

Academia seems to be awash with cash – taxpayers’ cash - to squander on base metals.

John Howland

10:40 AM  
Blogger Dave Welsh said...


I believe that it is important to retain as much objectivity as is possible, consistent with the pro-collecting stance of this blog. Reconciling that perspective with your comment is somewhat challenging, as it is obvious that you have absolutely no use for Mr. Barford.

When his remarks relate to the "collecting causes looting" mantra, to his errant imagination of what ancient coin collecting is all about, and to his remarkable misconceptions regarding the numismatic trade, he is most often far astray from reality, and I think your perspective is to that extent appropriate.

When his remarks relate closely to archaeology, I believe that they deserve attention. I thought his observations regarding the methodology of the Lemborough hoard excavation were to a degree valid, and accordingly said so.

Not having attended the Suffolk lecture, or having read a transcript, I can't comment on what was said. However, it was apparently rather combative in tone from the remarks of some who attended it. OTOH Mr. Barford does strongly believe in the validity of his point of view, and has every right to express it. I have observed on numerous occasions that it would be more effective to do that in a reasonable and persuasive manner, rather than confrontationally.

Given Mr. Barford's refusal to disclose his present occupation, it is quite possible that he has an employment or consulting relationship with a governmental or academic entity which considered this event to be relevant to its agenda.

I believe that Mr. Barford ought to disclose his qualifications in a CV, as others supporting his point of view have done, and as those opposing that point of view have done, myself included. That is of course his decision, and he has the right to refuse to do so.

That does however tend to drive widespread speculation regarding his actual qualifications, employment and motives.

I know from remarks he has made, that part of his activities involve teaching. That is a very honorable and socially important occupation. My sister has been a highly regarded primary school teacher from the time she graduated university until her recent retirement. Although the pay is not outstanding, the benefits certainly are, and the spiritual satisfaction from contributing to the future of our youth and our society cannot possibly be measured in material terms.

1:31 PM  
Blogger John H said...

" is obvious that you have absolutely no use for Mr. Barford."

You are absolutely spot on!


John Howland

2:10 AM  
Blogger Dave Welsh said...


I have a rather serious character flaw: I tend to avoid thinking that people are all bad. Hitler liked kids and dogs, and Stalin had an interesting sense of humor. Genghis Khan was a great horseman.

In the case of Mr. Barford I don't think you and I are the only ones to regard his online manners as being appalling.

OTOH I have read several of his archaeological publications with attention. They aren't light reading. He has a rather dense style for the unaccustomed reader, but I'm used to that from scientific texts which are usually the epitome of unreadability. On the whole his archaeological writings seemed to me to be rather impressive.

I wish he would stick to that genre, in which IMHO he still has significant contributions to make, and cease to opinionate about that which he does not understand and won't bother to learn.

3:05 AM  

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