Skip to main content

Collecting Coins: "a fundamental aspect of ... citizenship"

The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) has issued a press release, "Sale of Old Coins Irks Archaeologists" (August 6, 2008), through PR Newswire. Wayne Sayles, the executive director of ACCG, is quoted:
Some archaeologists are piqued that genuine ancient coins are being sold in a benefit auction to preserve collectors rights.
The release notes:
In a recent post online, one archaeologist likened the private collecting of ancient coins to the slaughter of African elephants.
I presume that this is a reference to Nathan Elkins, "Why coins matter: Trafficking in undocumented and illegally exported ancient coins in the North American marketplace", on SAFE. Elkins writes:
Although ancient coin collecting has a long historical precedent, not all practices accepted in humanity’s past are still considered ‘ethical’ today. For example, the ivory trade, which also had millennia of precedence, once flourished until the African elephant became increasingly endangered; only after laws were passed to protect the elephants did it become widely accepted that the ivory trade was unethical. Like the African elephant, our common cultural heritage is an endangered species.
Such an idea has also been floated in the British press (see "Saving antiquities: the 'elephant ivory' model" , September 22, 2007). And we need to remember that third millennium BCE marble sculptures from the "Keros haul" in the Greek Cyclades were once auctioned in London for the benefit of the Save the Elephant Campaign ("Animal rights and archaeologists: a strange comparison?").

The ACCG is holding an auction to try to raise funds to maintain its "legal challenge of recent U.S. State Department (DOS) sanctions that they say were applied contrary to law and threaten their hobby." The issue relates to coins from Cyprus.

The ACCG release makes this closing statement:
American coin collectors, who view personal property rights as a fundamental aspect of their citizenship, seek to affirm their rights legally in the face of what they see as overreaching regulation on the part of the U.S. government.
Cosmopolitan archaeologists believe that stewardship of the finite archaeological record is appropriate in a civilised society.

And I am sure that rational and responsible coin collectors will agree.


David Gill said…
Dave Welsh has commented on the ACCG press release:
"I suspect that the archaeologist referred to was Paul Barford."
Paul Barford has briefly mentioned "elephants":
"I expect the captains of whaling ships, makers of elephant ivory walking stick knobs, loggers of tropical hardwoods and property developers tell the same type of jokes about conservationists."

I have made some other comments
Wayne G. Sayles said…

You wrote: "Cosmopolitan archaeologists believe that stewardship of the finite archaeological record is appropriate in a civilised society.
And I am sure that rational and responsible coin collectors will agree."

I don't want to twist your words, so I'll ask outright: Does this mean that in your view collectors who don't agree with the above statement are irrational and irresponsible? That is a pretty broad brush, don't you think? Also, since archaeologists are self-appointed stewards, what other view might they have?

No need to answer, we know that some archaeologists do indeed have other views, even if they are closeted out of fear of professional retribution. Some are, in fact, members of the ACCG. I would offer that not all collectors are irresponsible, just because they see private ownership as a benefit to society and choose not to recognize the stewardship of archaeologists as a divine right. Would the situation be improved if there were a legitimate degree granting institution that offered doctoral studies in private collecting and certified its graduates? I think not, unless archaeologists wrote the curriculum and signed the certificates. It's really all about control, isn't it?


David Gill said…
Dear Wayne
I will turn my question into a statement. Civilised citizens will want to be good stewards of the finite archaeological record. Would you agree?
Best wishes
Wayne G. Sayles said…

I do agree. Civilized citizens will want to be good stewards of the finite archaeological record. I will make a statement in response:

The finite archaeological record is not owned by archaeologists. Would you agree?


Popular posts from this blog

Codename: Ainsbrook

I have been watching (UK) Channel 4's Time Team this evening. The programme looked at an undisclosed field (under a potato crop) where a Viking burial had been found. The location in Yorkshire was so sensitive that it was given a codename: Ainsbrook. Here is the summary:
In late 2003 two metal detectorists were working in a field in Yorkshire. They found 'treasure' buried just beneath the surface – a collection of Viking material next to a body. Although they had been detecting on the site for a number of years, during which time they had made large numbers of finds, nothing they had uncovered previously compared with this. They decided to share their discovery with archaeologists.The programme explored the tension between metal-detectorists and the English Heritage sponsored archaeologists putting six trenches into the field based on a geo-physical survey. Finds made by the metal-detectorists did not easily map onto the archaeological features.

Part of the programme had an …

The scale of the returns to Italy

I have been busy working on an overview, "Returning Archaeological Objects to Italy". The scale of the returns to Italy from North American collections and galleries is staggering: in excess of 350 objects. This is clearly the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the material that has surfaced on the market without a history that can be traced back to the period before 1970. 

I will provide more information in due course, but the researcher is a reminder that we need to take due diligence seriously when it comes to making acquisitions.

Stele returns to Greece

The Hellenic Ministry of Culture has announced (Saturday 8 September 2018) that a stele that had been due to be auctioned at Sotheby's in London in June 2017 has been returned to Greece (Friday 7 September 2018). The identification had been made by Cambridge-based forensic archaeologist Dr Christos Tsirogiannis.

It appeared that the stele had been supplied with a falsified history as its presence with Becchina until 1990 contradicted the published sale catalogue entry. It then moved into the hands of George Ortiz.

A year ago it was suggested that Sotheby's should contact the Greek authorities. Those negotiations appear to have concluded successfully.

The 4th century BC stele fragment, with the personal name, Hestiaios, will be displayed in the Epigraphic Museum in Athens. It appears to have come from a cemetery in Attica.