Saturday, January 8, 2011

Selling off MORE Antiquities, "a Way Forward"? Reply to Dave Welsh's "Cunning Plan"

[category: antiquity dealer lobby nonsense]
On my main blog I have put my thoughts on the "cunning plan" thought up by US coin dealer and ACCG activist Dave Welsh which he claims would "provide a regulated licit market for artifacts, in which every item traded has at least a provenience (indicating licit origin)" which would "effectively control looting whilst preserving the rights of private collectors".

This post will present just some of the questions I think need to be considered and answered before we can even consider the merits or otherwise of this proposal of "cooperation".


1) The dealers’ scheme involves the overturning of not only the existing antiquities protection legislation of every country in the world, but also public conceptions of that. New "approved" forms have to be adopted. By what means will this be achieved?

2) Who would take the initiative in setting Welsh's auctions scheme up, who will foot the bill for setting it up and then pressing for legislation changes and administrative ones in each country which will in future participate?

3) How do these dealers propose putting the sanction „withdrawing of international cooperation in enforcing their antiquities and export laws” into action, and to what ends?

An international bureau or agency administers the system”./ “a committee of experts which would operate as a sort of "public cartel,"

4) Who will sit on this, how will they be chosen?

5) To whom are they accountable?

6) How will they operate? Where will their headquarters be, presumably somewhere central to the main „antiquity source countries”. It seems to me Uzbekistan is pretty central – so Tashkent probably - a central station on the Silk Routes linking East and West of the Classical world, and thus a suitably symbolic place for the headquarters of the governing body of the „Internationalist” antiquities market.

7) “The committee would determine target levels for releases in various artifact categories “ So basically dictate the way the antiquities market develops. How would this be protected from political interference? Would Zahi Hawass be on the council or not?

8) “Proceeds [of the postulated auctions] would be divided so that half are returned to the owners of released (sic) artifacts, and half are used to fund operating the system and also to sustain archaeology, museums, conservation of endangered sites and related causes through grants and similar allocations”. How would these funds be apportioned ? Would it be dependent on the value of antiquities “released” (as if they are “imprisoned”), how could this be protected against protectionism and political manipulation?

9) Would any funds go to countries not participating in the scheme, for example because the state feels its archaeological heritage is threatened enough without giving away antiquities to international licenced dealers.?


10) „There would be no charge to those being grandfathered”. That means the verification of licit origin of each and every piece held by each and every collector and dealer in each and every country participating. Each and every artefact thus treated will have a “a machine-readable physical attribute attached in some secure manner to an artifact” securely attached to them by the reviewing committees in each country. And Mr Welsh thinks that “somebody” will do this for free for him and his dealer mates BEFORE the auctions start up. That obviously needs further thought.

11) Who would be on these reviewing committees and what will they do with artefacts that cannot be verified as of licit origin? Will the collector then lose these (and then what will happen to them)? Or will the committee return them with the annotation “not verified as licit”?

12) What will be the incentive for collectors and dealers loaning all the artefacts they hold together with supporting documentation to these national legitimisation bodies? Or rather (since the stated aim is to disrupt the international trade in unprovenanced items) what disadvantages will ensue from not doing so? What will it mean to the collector to have unprovenanced artefacts on their hands at the end of the year of operation of the “object grandfathering service” Welsh postulates?

14) One year is most certainly not enough to get this job done.


At regular intervals (perhaps quarterly) auctions are held to release artifacts entering the regulated licit market. Only licensed dealers would be allowed to participate”.

15) Why allow only licenced dealers to corner the market? Why cannot licenced collectors buy direct from this source? Surely that would be fairer.

16) Where, physically would the se auctions take place so all qualified purchasers have equal access? How would they be physically organized?

17) Obviously to avoid corruption, the Council itself cannot run it, a separate company must be involved, how would this be organized?

18) Since it is postulated this be a closed system, how will the auctions be protected against price-fixing keeping revenues down and allowing dealers to make greater profits from resale to their closed system of clients?


19) Obviously collectors who have a licence can by stuff disseminated through dealers supplied by these auctions – if they want to. Why should they want to? What is in it for them? Surely if buying stuff with a provenance was so important, there would be much more attention paid to provenance on the market today. That there is not surely suggests that provenance and legitimacy alone are not important selling points. What is proposed will change that situation?

20) What happens if a collector is also a finder, like for example a metal detectorist, or an arrowhead/pot-hunter on private land in the US? Can they be a licence holder and still retain material not bought through WAC auctions ? How can this be differentiated?

21) More to the point, if this scheme is to „uphold collectors rights” – who is going to check who has got what in private antiquity collections on private property?

22) What sanctions are envisaged for licenced collectors disregarding the intention of the system and buying unprovenanced artefacts?

23) The ongoing "grandfathering" (sic) scheme of material which collectors produce in the future ('trunk in the attic' wriggle-room) – how will it be administered so it does not serve as a means of getting freshly-looted material onto the licit market? What happens if they cannot prove they had a grandfather who had an antiquity in a trunk? What will happen to artefacts the origins of which cannot be verified? (we are told there are lots on the market today).

24) „After being licensed, a collector would accept being restricted to collecting provenienced artifacts. A collector found to have violated regulations or ethical obligations could be penalized by suspension or loss of license”. OK, but what does that mean? That their collection is now illicit because no longer licenced and owned by somebody found in breach of regulations? What then happens to all the “provenienced artifacts" in that collection? Do they drop out of the licit market?

25) Prices will be determined at global auctions, how will the collectors in Third World countries compete with those from countries with higher earnings? What measures will be taken to ensure equal access to these reserves?

26) Can a licenced collector sell the artefacts he bought (so, his property) from a licenced dealer to another dealer or collector whether licenced or not? If objects can get dispersed outside the licenced collector circuit by such means, what then is the point of the collector licencing system?

27) If however a licenced collector is not free to do with his property as he wishes, how are "collectors' rights" upheld, and what benefits are there for collectors in entering such a restrictive scheme?

28) When a licenced collector dies, what measures will be taken to ensure that their artefacts only reaches other licenced collectors? Presumably the WAC will have to find a way of controlling how the heirs of licenced collectors dispose of their property.


29) The examination “to demonstrate knowledge of the subject, knowledge of regulations and understanding of ethical obligations", who will be running these? What body would be issuer of the licences and on what authority?

30) Who would define this global Code of ethics now enforceably applicable everywhere to everybody at all times because it is on this retaining of licences is conditional?

31) How can one enforce the condition that a dealer would be “restricted to trading only in provenienced artifacts”? Periodic reviews of their stock? Who would carry that out in each country and on what authority? To whom are the reviewers accountable?

32) “A dealer found to have violated regulations or ethical obligations could be penalized by suspension or loss of license”. Would this mean that they can no longer trade legally in their own country or internationally? What actual consequences will losing this licence have for a dealer? (In other words, why bother to get one if the only benefit is to be able to bid on some stuff in some distant auctions?). If they are prevented from dealing because they have lost their licence, what happens to their stock?

33) To make this system work, a licenced dealer could only sell this material to licenced collectors. A licenced collector presumably can only buy from a licenced dealer. In what way is this not an attempt to create a closed and captive market?

34) Before accepting a bid on an online auction is a licenced dealer obliged to check that each bidder is a licenced collector of good standing? Are these not data protected under the Data Protection Act of some countries? How will this be circumvented?

35) What about unlicenced collectors outside the system who carry on buying stuff through V-coins and other outlets from unlicenced dealers ? How does this proposed system prevent them continuing to be the path by which unprovenanced and freshly surfaced artefacts continue to circulate? Either there has to be some benefit attached (and in every country) to being a licenced collector, or some legal sanctions attached to being an owner of archaeological material who is not licenced.


36) “The committee would determine target levels for releases in various artifact categories and then assign quotas to participating nations”. Quotas of objects to be supplied? What happens if the “participating nations” do not meet these quotas? This is sheer colonialism, what nation is voluntarily going to agree to that kind of treatment, and why should they?

37) why on earth would any source country agree to be part of such a scheme? This seems the fundamental point Welsh has not discussed. Where are they going to get all these “surplus” artefacts from to fulfill the “quotas” set them by an outside body? Welsh does not say, but we may suspect from other things he has written that he means that they should empty their museum reserve collections to do this.

38) What if the participating nation is one that does not have much material that there is a huge global market demand for (US Woodland period arrow points come to mind), but has a huge appetite for the stuff from other countries? How would that imbalance be addressed?

39) Conversely, what happens if the material required to make a good collection is scarce in the source country (US Clovis points for example) will they still be required to fulfill a quota adequate to a high outside demand (would outside collectors have priority over local collectors?)

40) Welsh suggests that “Nations not electing to participate (or not meeting their responsibilities as participants) could face withdrawal of international cooperation in enforcing their antiquities and export laws”. I suppose that only has any clout if the nations already think they are getting enough “international cooperation in enforcing their antiquities and export laws” from the countries which have a market for their antiquities and whose museums are full of them. The USA's CCPIA for example only enforces these laws in a highly selective fashion, will it be repealed in order to make this scheme workable?

41) By what means would this “withdrawal’ be enforced? How would “withdrawing” this in any way as part of the proposed scheme contribute to "preserving the archaeological record" and “effectively control[ing] looting”?

42) Furthermore Welsh considers that: “Nations participating in the licit regulated market would be required to manage their antiquities laws so as to conform to an approved model determined during the startup phase”. Approved by whom and by what authority? A sovereign state passes its own laws in the way it deems best – whether or not they are convenient or favourable to US collectors need not be one of the factors taken into account. What if the citizens did not agree with the system proposed by Welsh’s WAC, should local politicians go ahead against their wishes?

43) “It would be necessary that these laws provide a fair system of compensation to landowners and finders, sufficient to make cooperation with authorities more rewarding than illicit trafficking”. So “source nations” pay finders (and seekers too?) full market value for the finds they bring in which can then be released to Welsh’s auctioning system – from which the source nation meeting its quota gets only HALF back. So they would be financially subsidising this system from which only licenced dealers benefit.

44) “Participating nations would also be required to allocate a reasonable supply of redundant artifacts for release to the market”. What actually is a “redundant” artefact and where will they come from? At the moment the legislation and public opinion of a whole series of “source countries” sees very little scope for there being “redundant artefacts”; how does Welsh propose changing that worldwide before instituting this scheme? To what extent are the artefacts which most states would consider “redundant” to current museum and research needs collectable anyway? What happens if states “release” (sic) “redundant artefacts” which are not saleable? Who stores them and where?

I expect a few more questions will occur to readers who have looked in any detail at Welsh's proposals, but that seems enough for him to address at the outset before the discussion can progress.


samarkeolog said...

Fantastic fisking. It is kind of impressive that he managed to elicit about 35 other questions from you before you got to the really unsubtle parts of his proposal...

Paul Barford said...

I am troubled you got that far down as question 36....

(This is a blog for stuff nobody in their right mind would want to actually read, it's why its here and not on the main one).

What he suggests is not just "unsubtle", like much of the ACCG "internationalimperialist" crap, it is damn well insulting. [I am sure in his own vision Tashkent is the last place he envisaged having the HQ of this organization].

samarkeolog said...

Two hours of night bussing home left me far more awake than I would have liked after a long evening at the pub.

Paul Barford said...

That's what I thought, my stuff is probably mainly read by insomniacs.