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Ancient Coins as Cultural Property : If the Shoe Fits ….. Wear It

By Wayne SaylesAncient Coin Collecting …..
In a recent archaeo-blogger post by Paul Barford, cultural property nationalist Nigel Swift wrote:

The level and vehemence and frequency of attacks on your character (and to a lesser extent mine) is of course astonishing but also instructive. Suggestions that we are motivated by failure, jealousy, loneliness, stupidity, malice, communism, fascism, psychological disorders, snobbery and much else are rife and aren’t confined to the unthinking and uneducated or to the public arena. They are of course the non-criminal version of the physical threats we have both been subjected to and are designed to discredit what we say, not us.

cultural_propertyOh my, archaeobloggers are now the persecuted of our time! Too bad it’s not the ’60s, they would have a really rabid audience to advance their case and bemoan their plight. In truth, they receive far less in that arena than they dish out and it certainly does not further their cause to plead injustice – even if it does provide a certain levity. It does, also, make one wonder how supposed intellectuals can be so thin-skinned when they are the masters of the art they condemn. I personally have been on the receiving end of plenty and in one wretched outburst Paul Barford even laid ridicule on my wife and her business, who has no connection whatever to the cultural property issues he is so livid about. He has repeatedly denigrated the place we choose to live and my own credentials. How humanist is that?

Personally I can stand it – indeed if I couldn’t I’d have given up many years ago – for a particular reason: in all those years I’ve never been abused, insulted or threatened by anyone that didn’t have a vested interest in things that I say should change. I think that’s true in your own case as well, whether it’s collectors, dealers, suppliers, consumers or the officials and academics who have built careers on them all. I hear not a word against us from the only important people, the superior stakeholders who have a cultural interest and no other.

What an odd statement for an academic in the PC era. “The only important people”? Is that the view of those who would educate the next generation? It has a very familiar ring to it – sort of an echo from the mid-20th century. Of course people respond to issues they have a vested interest in! Would they do better to prattle about things that have no meaning to them? In the obviously shallow mind of Mr. Swift (a PhD? – – maybe, but who cares?) “vested interest” means commercial interest. That is not only inaccurate, it is hugely insulting to millions of people in general, and tens of thousands of independent scholars, but how would a person like Mr. Swift or Mr. Barford begin to understand that? How could they possibly understand that many people fervently believe in study of the past and the advancement of culture without the institutional “guidance” and “moral compass” that Swift and Barford have hitched their particular star to?

In addition, you’ll know very well that on those occasions when the insulters attempt to address what we say about the need for change, the justifications offered for the status quo are visibly weak and don’t stand up. Consequently they are often buttressed with untruths, signalling an understanding that buttresses are needed. I’m so glad I’m on “our” side, it’s so much easier to stand up for what you truly believe – and indeed for what simply can’t be denied: collectors ARE the real looters and an activity in Britain that involves millions of artefacts being annexed without a word SHOULD be regulated. Which of our critics doesn’t know that, secretly? Almost none, in my view – how could they not – yet they oppose both propositions despite the fact that both are self-evidently in the public interest.

Well, frankly, many people throughout the world are equally glad that Mr. Swift is on “the other” side. God forbid one should be subjected to such mindless ideological balderdash from a friend and colleague. The “status quo” mentioned above so flippantly is actually a 600-year-old tradition with far more achievements in the science of Numismatics than any academic institution ever dreamed of. Is it not just a bit arrogant to suggest that everyone for 600 years has gotten it wrong?

Looked at like that, whenever we’re accused of being motivated by failure, jealousy, loneliness, stupidity, malice, communism, fascism, psychological disorders and snobbery it is not us who are being attacked but the public and the public interest”.

Dream on Mr. Swift. If the shoe fits wear it and don’t think for a second that public reticence to debate with fools is a sign of acquiescence.

Wayne Sayles
Wayne Sayles
Retiring in 1982 from the U.S. Air Force, Wayne earned a MA degree in Art History at the Univ. of Wisconsin. In 1986, he founded The Celator — a monthly journal about ancient coins. He co-authored "Turkoman Figural Bronze Coins and Their Iconography" (2 vols.) and wrote the six vol. series "Ancient Coin Collecting" (3 are in expanded 2nd ed.), the monograph "Classical Deception" and the exhibition catalogue for the Griner collection of ancient coins at Ball State University. He wrote the "Coin Collecting" article and revised the main "Coins" article for Encyclopaedia Britannica. Wayne is a Life Fellow of the ANS; Fellow of the RNS (London); Life Member of the Hellenic Numismatic Society (Athens); Life Member of AINS; and member of numerous other numismatic organizations including the American Numismatic Association and the Numismatic Literary Guild. He is the founder and current Executive Director of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild, has lectured extensively, written more than 200 articles about ancient coinage, and is a recipient of the "Numismatic Ambassador" award from Krause Publications. He is a biographee in Marquis, "Who's Who in America" and in "Who's Who in the World".

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