Thursday, 6 November 2008

Plutocracy and Cultural Policy

The dust had hardly settled on the parties to celebrate the historic victory of Senator Barack Obama before a pro-collecting Washington lobbyist had started to grumble.
wealthy collectors have also provided support for Obama. One would also suspect they would act as counterweights to the "archaeology over all" perspective of Professor Gerstenblith, SAFE and others.
Peter Tompa - the lobbyist and former president of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) - has called for more transparency in matters relating to cultural property. What we need to see is integrity.

The world's archaeological heritage belongs to us all, not just to a plutocratic collecting minority.


Wayne G. Sayles said...

I suspect that there are tens of thousands of ancient coin collectors who would love to be legitimately described as plutocrats. Actually, they (myself included) are far from wealthy and the majority, I am quite confident, earn less income per year than a college professor. I think the characterization of ancient coin collectors as plutocrats is really naive. But then, the characterization of archaeologists as elitist ivory tower ideologues is also a bit naive. The truth is that rhetoric on cultural property lies at the outer edge of reality and most collectors and archaeologists get along quite well together. The fringe is where the problems lie. From the archaeologist's perspective, the ACCG may seem to be at that fringe, but from the collector's perspective, there would be no need for an ACCG if not for the aggression of radical archaeologists. Finding a way back to the center is, however, an arduous and painful task.

David Gill said...


Thank you for your comments. Peter was talking about wealthy collectors - not, I suspect, the average small budget coin collector. (If you read my posting carefully you will see that I do not suggest that coin collectors are plutocrats.)

I wonder if you should discontinue the misleading term 'radical archaeologist' as it describes a different type of group altogether. I discuss the term here.

Best wishes

Paul Barford said...

David, I think the "radical" is supposed to in some way demean. Mr Sayles insists "most collectors and archaeologists get along quite well together" though once again adduces no real evidence to support that.

I really think he has the order around the wrong way. Concerns about the conservation of the archaeological resource are central to modern archaeology, they are central to the way much of professional archaeology is organised today (in most European countries as part of the planning process). They are central to all the codes of ethics/ practice which actually define the discipline. It is those who are oblivious of that which are on the fringes of the discipline. And yes, it is they who are in the ivory towers.

I think the confusion must have arisen because most archaeologists do not go around calling portable antiquity collectors rude names (things like "goose steppers", "gadflies" and "space cadets" come to mind). This of course should rather be taken as due to good upbringing than being evidence of "getting along".

I remind the Executive Director of the ACCG what happened when their "international affairs" representative started posting to a British archaeology forum earlier on this year to tell them what is what. It was not exactly a great success as an example of dialogue of "people getting along together" or evidence that it is only some minority in the archaeological milieu that looks askance at the type of "no-questions-asked" portable antiquities collecting collecting that the ACCG promotes. That is in Britain with its liberal legislation and the PAS.

Jim said...

The problem is not all wealthy collectors only collect what the layperson (and certainly some archaeologists) thinks they collect. Over the years as a collector (of modest means - most expensive coin I ever bought was $399) and a part time dealer, I have met many people of substantial wealth who collected and found that not a few were as thrifty as me in many respects.

You see one reason many wealthy people are wealthy is because they are very frugal. I was invited to one man's house once and he showed me his entire collection of ancient coins.

He had a substantial collection of copper/bronze and silver coins and only 5 gold coins. I asked him why as a person who could afford it - why didn't he collect more gold? He replied that it was too ostentatious to make a hobby of that.

While he certainly had an admirable collection and had it well displayed (custom coin drawers in a wooden coin cabinet) it was noteworthy that the collection had a broad value per coin, everything from common $10 and $25 coins up to a *few* he paid about $750 for.

I guess my 1st point here is that not all wealthy people only collect wealthy objects.

My 2nd point - since access is everything in politics, while I may not be part of that glittering constellation of those called 'Plutocrats', they just may be my ace in the hole since it will be easier for them to get into the White House than me.

I suspect that if I and a handful of average collectors wanted a piece of President Elect Obama's time we would be handled by handlers unless we had a sob story that could be utilized for his agenda. I've been active in politics long enough to know how that all works.

In conclusion, I too hope that some of these affluent supporters of our new president act as a counterbalance to the views of Patty Gerstenblith because as a collector and small-time dealer of ancient and world coinage - I find her views well intended but still extreme.


An amphora attributed to the manner of the Princeton painter

Photo: Becchina Archive Source: Christos Tsirogiannis An Attic black-figured amphora attributed to the manner of the Princeton painter has b...