Saturday, November 1, 2008

Archaeological 'Brown Shirts'

Profitable ancient coin dealer and self-regarded "independent scholar" Wayne Sayles views himself as an authority on ancient coins, the ancient world, and cultural property issues. He has written some books on collecting, publishes articles about collecting in a collector magazine he founded, and he organized a group of dealers together and founded a lobby (the ACCG) in 2004 to combat what he calls "radical archaeologists." He and some other vociferous and/or leading members of this lobby have argued or insinuated that archaeologists want to take over the world, control all ancient world science and resources, bring back world dictators, and prance around in brown uniforms. This certain group frequently uses the imagery of Hitler's Germany in its online discussions with other collectors and dealers.

Ancient coin and antiquities dealer Phil Jones, who once informed me he was (or is) either the chair or a member of ACCG's Balkan Affairs Committee (I wonder, why would they have one?), responded irately to a collector with an archaeology degree who had pointed out that although coin dealers argue that the coin trade is different from that in other antiquities they often sell those too. Jones said:

"There is a reality that you haven't considered yet in your 'AIA NAZI' anti-market position that I don't particularly accept or welcome."

Jones later apologized for the outburst after apparently being told to do so by the group's moderator.

Shortly after the ACCG was formed Dave Welsh, ancient coin dealer and Chair of the ACCG's International Affairs Committee, attempted to recruit people with an online posting entitled "Uncle Wayne Wants YOU" in which he insensitively compared archaeological ethical concerns to Nazism and the Holocaust:

"There were many thousands of Jews who stayed in Germany after the Nazis took power. They did not believe Hitler would actually do the crazy evil things he had been ranting about. Cultural property law is not Nazi fascism. Those advocating it are honorable, well intentioned people of high moral character, not homicidal maniacs. But their proposed laws really do threaten to become a Holocaust for collecting. Those who promote the Unidroit convention (and other cultural property laws) don't care what happens to collectors. They are focused on their own goals, and many would actually welcome these laws putting an end to private collecting."
Shortly after the U.S. State Department accepted Cyprus' request for renewal of import restrictions with the addition of certain coins of Cypriot type, Welsh again tried to recruit ACCG members with alarmism and the use of fascistic imagery:
"….If the AIA sent a squad of radical archaeologists to your house to seize your collection, in the process verbally abusing you as a moral cripple responsible for everything bad that is happening to archaeological sites, wouldn't you be mad as Hades? Wouldn't you be ready to fight? Well get ready to fight, because that is more or less what they intend to do, and actually are doing, one small step at a time. They really believe that private collecting is wrong by their standards of morality, and that all antiquities ought to be taken away from collectors and private museums who own them, to be stored in public institutions under the care and control of trained academics who are the only ones worthy of being entrusted with that responsibility.

If collecting is not important enough to fight for, in the end (not so very
distant, in my opinion) we WILL lose the right to collect. In the process we will also lose other even more important rights and freedoms. I'm already fighting as hard as I can."
Wayne Sayles' business partner, John Lavender, who co-operates their dealership, Sayles & Lavender, once replied to a query from a collector who had an ethical concern about buying bulk uncleaned coins:

"...You certainly shouldn't doubt what attention your uncleaned treasures will get when some AIA [N]azi finds a bag of them for sale at the local Discovery [S]tore."
These are just a few of the dozens of comments one can find made by ancient coin dealers and collectors associated with the ACCG on some of the online discussion lists.

On his own blog Wayne Sayles - who remains the ACCG's executive director - never engages in the issues but moves immediately to inflammatory personal attacks, recently accusing me and others of "goose-stepping" by wishing to discuss ethical issues. Goose-stepping is a term which in itself has Nazi overtones. I suppose such tactics and feeble rants are welcome alternatives for those who are impotent of either the faculty or will to enter into an equitable and honest dialogue about the real issues (see also Paul Barford's response).

Let me be clear: by no means do I wish to imply that all collectors and dealers subscribe to these reprehensible tactics and deceptions. To the contrary many collectors on these same discussion lists seem disgusted by this recurrent language and distraction from the core issues and have often responded to such statements on the lists (on the fact that many collectors and even some metal detectorists find the the views and tactics of ACCG leaders extremist, see Gill's "Coins and Cyprus: Listening to the Coin Forum" with comments following the post and my own "ACCG Benefit Auction Press Release").

The problem here, however, is that this radical minority seems to run the show at the ACCG and dominate discussions and "dialogues" from the U.S.-based dealer/collector perspective. How effective and useful is this sort of inflammatory nonsense? It definitely distracts from the real issues and does not breed an atmosphere in which those with opposing views would want to get together for any sort of meeting of the minds. Perhaps that is the goal: the profiteers and self-interests can continue operating under the status quo unless legislated out of existence.

I count several collectors among my friends and colleagues and I regularly correspond with several erudite collectors and dealers. Many of them have expressed to me they find activities such as those described above distasteful. There are indeed many brilliant collectors and also some very well-educated and published dealers. We disagree on the issues, but we are capable of discussing them openly and frankly without constantly exchanging barbs. I am also fortunate to be able to turn to them as peers when I wish to discuss other research with them or ask questions about an area of numismatics in which they are more specialized.

Why are some of the ACCG's leaders incapable of doing the same? Why are the rational and more intellectual collectors and dealers not representing the wider trade and collector community? Certainly the people engaging in these behaviors and unsavory tactics are not the ones collectors and dealers want representing their interests to the public and to Washington lawmakers.


Anonymous said...

I've been collecting for several years. I want to help collectors but these guys make the ACCG look like the McCain/Palin "rage rallies" we saw on TV a few weeks ago. Nothing good comes of it and I can't associate with that. I wish there were another group.


Mr. Barford has
with considerable restraint to a second round of obstreperous comments from Wayne Sayles.

As for me, I think I'm going to leave well enough alone. Clearly, there is more important work to be done and bigger issues than his ego.

Anonymous said...

He seeks attention and validation. His behaviour merits neither. More important issues indeed!