Monday, 6 July 2015

Collectors (and dealers) are the new museums ― part 5

Arrest of a propagandist, Ilya Repin, late 19th century
Someone, whose name I will not mention, once said "Collectors are the real looters". Had it been said by someone not as prominent, it might have become a meme. As I am not that prominent, perhaps I might be able to start a meme (memes seem to emerge from nothingness). How about something in the same style? I know: "Journalists are the real terrorists". Without journalists, we might actually have to personally experience a terrorist act. Of course, politicians, too, can benefit from being terrorists: politicians sometimes are able to get more votes by convincing the voters that they are going come down very hard on violent crime (often this is done when such crimes are actually diminishing because later, a declining violent crime rate can then be used as "proof" that the politician's promises had been fulfilled). The message seems to be "Vote for me or you will be murdered in your beds". Remember, terrorism is not killing or blowing things up, these are actions that can create terror. Terror is terror.

Aiding and abetting anyone to commit a criminal act is often treated just as harshly as the commission of the crime. It would be a huge stretch, though, to convince juries that journalists are the real terrorists. I have a number of friends who are always telling me horror stories from the news because they know I do not follow the news except for things in which I am actively involved, or have as a major interest. While I try to discourage such reporting, I would not want my friends arrested as terrorists.

The anti-collecting lobby has actually done a great service to terrorism in recent years by being so vocal about the looting of archaeological sites and then blaming most of it on collectors. Back when the collector/looter saying originated, looting was mainly profit-driven, but as the anti-collecting lobby was so vocal and aimed almost all of their rhetoric on dealers and collectors, the terrorist organizations saw a splendid opportunity to add to the fear caused from violence with getting citizens to fight each other over something. Not only that, but by targeting archaeological sites and objects for their violence under the pretense of religious laws against idolatry, they could also get ordinary people to hate other ordinary people within the same country. It was a terrorist's dream come true.

Every week, it seems, a number of archaeologists encourage people to break the law by saying that collectors should demand a chain of ownership record for any artifact or coin that is purchased. Fortunately for the archaeologists in question, they are only breaking the law if a dealer goes along with the request and supplies details of the object's last owner. This violates privacy laws in most jurisdictions. Any dealer's purchase is recorded together with the seller's identity. If an object is thought, by the police, to be stolen they can obtain a warrant for that information and it can be used in court. The archaeologist's either do not know, or pretend not to know about the crime they are promoting, and while no journalist is going to pay very dearly for spreading fear, archaeologists might not be so lucky as their advice, while technically "aiding and abetting", might not easily get them arrested, but could quite easily get them named in a civil case brought about by a dealer whose business was threatened by their advice. In such a case, the person who actually refuses to buy something unless its prior owner is identified might not even be named in the suit at all as they are the victim of the archaeologist. Even so, I don't think I could succeed with the creation of an "archaeologists are the real terrorists" meme. They have certainly contributed, though, and ideally so for iconoclastic terrorists as their own claims that the past is worshipped cannot thus be easily refuted at all. Given all that is going on, having someone pay a huge settlement for attempting to connect an honest businessman with terrorism would not be too much of a surprise to me.


  1. Hi John:

    I sometimes wonder why many in the anti-collecting lobby don't live by the advice they dole out to others; they being avid collectors too, everything from coins, antique Japanese prints and classic oil lamps as the prime examples.

    Employing the argument these hypocrites use against the Great Unwashed, items such as classic oil lamps for instance, really ought to be in a museum for all to enjoy and study and not squirreled away. The mantra is: I collect, you loot.


    John Howland

  2. Hello John:
    Just came across this nugget from a man who claims to be an archaeologist:-

    "I think we archaeologists, academics too, have a duty to take part in public debate as part of our work. Heritage professionals all say that the heritage belongs to all, and the public has a right to know [...]."

    Oil lamp collectors take note.


    John Howland

    1. Hi John,

      Any advice on collecting coins I might accept from a numismatist with twenty+ years of experience of serious collecting and study. If a person tells me to obtain the name of the last owner of a coin offered for sale in a coin shop then I know that such a person is clueless and I pretty well ignore all of their advice. I don't think that beauty pageant contestants really know much about world peace, despite what they say in their speeches and I don't think being a celebrity qualifies anyone to solve political issues, either.

      I do not exaggerate when I say that there is a far, far, greater chance that the public will be able to see a coin and its data that is in a private collection than a coin that is in museum. The public's biggest problem would be in stopping collectors from showing things from their collection to all and sundry.



  3. Hello John:

    Given the war crimes committed by ISIS, then ANY artefact smuggled out of their reach and into a museum or private collection is preferred to letting them fall into the hands of those cretins.

    Undoubtedly the greatest theft of all is the theft of data and information where items languish unrecorded and unclassified in sheds and hangars across the UK. It's a scandal that outstrips anything that might be levelled at collectors. Yet, the archaeo-bloggers, particularly the unprovenanced ones, divert attention away from this outrage by alleging all manner collector corruption. I think the public is slowly coming to realise how and who, is gilding the lily.

    Anyway, it's a grey-cell stimulating post.


    John Howland

  4. I actually know a smuggler. His name is Tashi and he smuggled children and a few adults out of Tibet three times to Dharamsala in India. He is not a monk. At that time, he was the Dalai Lama's accountant at the Tibetan Government in exile. He is the bravest man I know, tortured twice by the Chinese, and coming under fire from Nepalese police inside their border (one of his charges, an elderly woman, was hot in the leg). As the attack was from across a ravine, they managed to escape after Tashi rode his horse to a nearby village to buy a chicken so he could cook it for the woman who was weak from blood loss. His biggest problem was getting her to eat it -- she was a Buddhist vegetarian. The Dalai Lama has praised wetern collectors for helping to preserve his heritage. Tashi showed me photographs of everything, including a convoy of Chinese trucks heading back to Beijing loaded with treasures (it was the old that interested them the most) from temples they had just destroyed. I tried to get Tashi to agree to an interview, but the Tibetan strategy, with the Chinese, is nowadays more conciliatory, and I can understand that he does not want to open old wounds.

    This is Tashi: