Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Collectors (and dealers) are the new museums ― part 6

Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes 1746-1828 Que pico de Oro! (What a golden beak!)
Aquatint. Plate 53 of Los Caprichos,  1799

"This looks a bit like an academic meeting. Perhaps the parrot is speaking about medicine? However, don’t believe a word he says. There is many a doctor who has a ‘golden beak’ when he is talking, but when he comes to prescriptions, he’s a Herod; he can ramble on about pains, but can’t cure them: he makes fools of sick people and fills the cemeteries with skulls."

For the third time, I present this print by Goya "What a golden beak!" together with what he had to say about its subject. This time, I'm making it bigger. John Howland's comments about my last post reminds me that the public in general might be mystified about what collectors do and what they think about some of the issues brought up by various archaeologists with regard to so-called "cultural heritage" matters.

With "real world" issues about collecting or with any subject at all, for that matter, a lot of people believe that academics are the people to ask. Yet, if something is wrong with their car, the same people will ask a mechanic, not an academic. As I said in my comment to John Howland, if an archaeologist tells you to buy only those things where the dealer will tell you where he or she obtained the item, then that, alone is proof that the archaeologist either does not know what they are talking about, or is trying to get you to believe in some sort of conspiracy among dealers. If they do not tell you about the privacy laws that binds the dealer, seek advice elsewhere. For any sort of advice, check the person's qualifications to be safe. If an academic is telling you anything about coins, simply ask what they have published on the subject. Of course, a lot of rubbish has also been published, but if someone is telling you about coins and promoting any sort of academic approaches and has never had anything published on the subject then you should be rather suspicious. If the academic does have a history of a decade or two of publications on coins, they might still be wrong about something: numismatists often specialize in only one area of the subject. It does little good to ask a specialist in Celtic coins anything much about Byzantine coins, but you do not ask the bakery department of your supermarket about cooking roast beef, either. Having even an archaeology doctorate on a numismatic subject does not mean that a person will know anything about coins other than what is focused in their thesis.

I have never been an academic, and thus have never needed to publish for the worry of perishing. Yet, I have several academic publications consisting of journal papers (5); an encyclopaedia entry on Celtic coinage, and a ten year study published as a book at Oxford. In fact it was only the book which was written "on speculation" of publication. Everything else I have published was by request (one from an independent numismatist; one from a numismatist at a cultural organization, the rest from working archaeologists). It was also an archaeologist who nominated me for an FSA and other archaeologists who "seconded" that nomination, and presumably also voted me in. It was also an archaeologist who arranged to have my book published by Archaeopress at Oxford. Any academic worth his or her salt would blow me out of the water as far as publications go as that is the bread and butter of their very career. The best generalist numismatists can be found in the ranks of coin dealers. While an academic with tenure can get away with writing almost anything, the coin dealer's very survival depends on their understanding of the subject. So ask one anything about coins, but also make sure that if they have no publications of their own, they can cite several years of having a coin business, and it probably will be best if that business has walls and display cases and their hours posted on the front door.

Collectors might be independent or museum curators, the concerns of both are about the same. Museum staff really in the know can cite many years of experience. Museum jobs are more time-consuming than you might think and the personal projects of museum staff can take many years to finish if they do it on "company time". I have collected, bought and sold, and worked as a cataloger in the military department of Glenbow museum, so I am both specialist and a bit of a generalist, too. One of my journal papers 'on request" was not even to do with anything Celtic, it was on the nature of primitive religions and its focus was a Indian of the Blood tribe (Blackfoot Confederacy). It was published in England.

Tomorrow, a new topic.

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