This entry is both a reflection and proposal of solutions to the one published by Adolfo on October 27 entitled "Monedas expoliadas (Coins plundered)"; entry that has generated an interesting discussion on his blog.
The problem in my opinion is far more complex than appears at first sight, and touches on matters as basic as social organization, freedom and the essence of man as a human; in a comment in his post I expressed my opinion on the current situation about 'plundered' coins and the social implications that I believe stem from this.
Elaborating on the situation we have a framework that for me in particular I find unacceptable: it is what I call "aim to collectivize the Heritage" that holds on the many State manifestations, from central to local government. Aim that is clearly substantiated as hostility to the citizen, that in full use of their right to private property wants to posses (focusing on the numismatic case) a 'historical' coin.
The unsuitability of this public policy, that transcends ideological boundaries —in administrative regions (Comunidades) of both political sides we have the same picture; remember that Heritage competences are mostly transferred— is given both by the blatant violation of a fundamental human right (the private property) that performs, and that, with the legal text in hand, its constitutionality is clearly questionable . Let's see it (Article 33, on page 14 of this PDF):
- It is recognized the right to private property and inheritance.
- The social function of these rights will delimit its content in accordance with the Laws.
- No one shall be deprived of their property and rights, except for cause of public utility or social interest, with a proper compensation in accordance with the provisions of the Laws.
Clearly the first paragraph leaves the question settled; we have the right to own a denarius of Caracalla
, to mention an example, thus, the idea held by many public employees that "no citizen should have the right to own historical heritage", strongly grounded among archeology professionals and members of the university dedicated to the subject, is unconstitutional.
But then, also, as I said in the blog of Adolfo, it is a very bad idea; because the Heritage, substantiated in objects and ideas, must necessarily be part of the social sphere —including ownership— of the people, both public and personal; if it does not, the viability of their conservation ends up in nothing, since this effort is necessarily a joint enterprise of all concerned, that is, the whole Society; the 'historians' may not seek to rely on the State to carry out his idea, and then secure the necessary resources to 'enjoy' their "private" public reserve in exclusivity, because it's obvious that if the general public lose interest in the Heritage, sooner or later the responsible politicians of the chest of money will lose it also, ending up not having work even; at the end their goal turns against them, and we all lose the most important, the Heritage.
Of course, the militants of the collectivizing side can pursue the second paragraph, and indeed is what they do, but no person will be able to convince me that the "social utility" of the coins require that all end up in state hands (usually in museums), and more when we talk about objects that:
- Were produced in series, by crafting or industrial methods.
- Were assigned generally to public use by the entire population.
- Its proper maintenance is achievable by all collectors.
- Are possibly the documents/objects of primary historical character more 'accessible' to the general population.
- His collection is a custom that dates back to Roman times, and in Europe in general has been followed since at least the Renaissance.
All these reasons seem to me that are of sufficient weight to argue against the prohibition of numismatic collection (which may be extend to archaeological objects of common character, such as ornament pieces, the household furniture, military objects, etc ...), but I want to analyze in detail the d. part, because I think is a very solid argument for promoting numismatic collection, for the implications I think it has.
The kernel of the argument is the 'accessibility', defined very broadly; implying not only price, but also by how easy it is to start to interpret even briefly the historical and documental load of the piece; is this facility, properly exploited, which could allow to involve more seriously more people in the knowledge and conservation of historical heritage, easing the task for professionals involved in it. The idea of being able to hold in hand an antique piece, the denarius of Caracalla in the example above, a piece that circulated and was used by people 1,800 years ago, is powerful; we also have in it the image of the Emperor, which in some cases (Vespasian is my favorite) is so reliable that would permit identify the person of the portrait in a personal meeting. They also include legends, and images that can make reference to historical/political events of relevance, as the Roman Annonas, games, military victories, rises to power, etc ..., or cultural events such as religious motifs, holidays, everyday actions and so on. All this may serve as a hook for people who collect coins to ask himself the whys and hows of the motifs that appear in coins, and end up being interested about and studying history, an unavoidable way for people to appreciate, understand and finish feeling part of his heritage and its conservation; and I do not doubt that this is an ideal of every worthy historian. Therefore it would benefit (indirectly and for long term, yes, but without doubt) the professionals that they were in favor of collectors, since it would increase the general interest of population in history, and they would have more dedicated resources and work.
Having said all this, I return to the subject that gives rise to this discourse, the plunders; in my opinion, they turn out to be one of the worst 'crimes' (not in the legal sense, but in the social) without violence suffered by society, because they destroy information that may be central to understanding our own history; is a loss that affects everybody, whether or not aware of it; but it is common sense that we can not be on this issue as Manichean as the Spanish law, that holding in the legal fact (for myself abusive) that any underground thing or object is state-owned, consider the intentional collection of any buried object plunder; because is not the same thing that a detectorist that is dedicated to 'comb' farm fields in search of shells of the civil wars or the French invasion, and finds an Andalusian felús, that someone who enters the archeological site of Segobriga to see if he has luck and falls upon a few Roman or Hispanic coins; in the first case, the loss is very small and easily remedied if appropriate legislation exists, and obviously the second case is extremely serious, and may involve the loss of irreplaceable data, such as the finding not yet documented of a coin from other Hispanic city, or the mere fact of its stratigraphic position, especially if it can be dated with precision; as it is now, the law does not comply with their 'intended' duties of preserving the Heritage, because the detectorist puts the felús in his pocket without informing about it, and the plunderers, whatever it is the law, will continue to go into the fields to see what it takes from them.
But this has not to stay that way; the first thing to understand is that, as I said above, people collect coins because we like it, and we have the right to do it; so do the collectivists like it or not, coins have its own market, which by its nature can give huge profits to those engaged in search and sale of unearthed pieces. This is unavoidable; whichever is our position, let the law be as repressive as we want, the market exists and will exist as long as there are people interested in numismatics; and if by law they can not get coins, some will do it by lawless or illegal ways. This, what is a truism, should be reflected in legislation, and not to demand the impossible, which is that all people are legally compliant, is not engaged in active search, give everything they find by chance to the state and only buy coins of 'legitimate' origin.
The collectivist side response to this reality is awful, never trying to analyze whether the law is just or not, even if it is effective in its intended ultimate goal; in their monopolist eagerness what does is to make a direct attack on the market, because they think that without a market, all coins will be for them, but ignoring that there is no numismatics without market, even the academic, who quickly will fall from political favor and stay out of resources. This is reflected in various attitudes and behaviors, of which there are two that particularly anger me, so I want to mention them specifically; the first, which I consider an attack and distortion of paragraph 3 of Article 33 of the Constitution, is the legal fact of the right of pre-emption for State, which establishes conditions totally unfair, as the payment within two financial years (as provided by law; as it is currently the Administration on funds, that can take much longer), the forced intervention in auction or private sales taking the place of the purchaser at the price obtained previously by him —rather than the Administration attend as a bidder, or set an expropriation procedure in which the affected party may request judicial review— and the uncertainty of the administrative action which reserves too long time (six months) to exercise the pre-emption. The other attitude is the no interest on the part of public professional 'numismatics' and legislators on tackling the phenomenon of counterfeiting, as is well evidenced in the interview that Adolfo conducted with Eliosa Wattenberg, director of the Archaeological Museum of Valladolid, that at the question of whether it was prejudicial to the historians the counterfeit of coins (ie, current reproductions made with intent to deceive the buyer about its authenticity), said: "They do not represent a particular concern for us. Just do not buy coins in the market, so will be difficult to acquire a fake. ". Well, if that's the general opinion among the professional community of History in Spain, my opinion about them is on the ground, but very low down; Are these people, the self-proclaimed conservators of National Historic Heritage, with a spirit of exclusivity, who have to care for him? For trembing; because it is common knowledge in the numismatic collective that from that side the issue of counterfeiting is seen by some as a tool in their collectivizing goal, arriving the gossip to warn of the possibility that forgers are being given access to publicly owned pieces to create molds for their activity, which flood the market and depress trade in the types concerned; I'm talking, specifically, of Hispanic-Roman and Roman coins, and the issue is gaining strength after the latest wave of forgeries that have entered public auctions, which seem to come mostly from a single source (and I do not extend more on it because I do not know about the subject directly).
To finish the analysis of the situation, I point that this attitude is not exclusive to Spain, also occurs in other countries such as USA, where the group of historians/archaeologists have lobbied successfully to effectively remove some types of coins of the numismatic market, especially ancient Greeks, using the resource that foreign countries appeal to the State Department claiming the exclusion to imports of coins minted in its territory on the grounds that may come plundered from its territory (which is completely illogical, because many types had a wide circulation throughout the Old World, and a Roman coin minted in what is now Serbia, for example, may be buried in Britain, where it is perfectly legal to unearth and market it); the requirements to legalize importation are so strict, that immediately remove from the North American market virtually any coin whose prominence is from abroad, even in the case the coin is clearly of a legitimate origin, excluding, as always, the less affluent collectors. The last nation to enter this dynamic, after the cases of Greece and Italy, has been Bulgary, which can affect many types of low-imperial Roman coins, Byzantine, medieval and modern Slavic, and Ottoman.
Let us go to the solutions; the following are proposals open to discussion, constructed from common sense and the philosophy that we must be realistic about human nature:
- The role of museums should be channeled towards excellence in their role; in my opinion the tasks, in order of importance, of these institutions are the conservation, research and exhibition; and the criteria of the collections should be completeness and scientific relevance and not another; centering the subject in numismatics, it is logical that museums, especially small ones, specialize in certain series, looking for completeness and/or representation (for example, in an ethnographic museum, the territorial; therefore Andalusian pieces in a museum in Galicia certainly have nothing to do there, except coming from an archaeological site in the area). The coins that do not add anything to that end should be transferred to other museums, and in the end, what remained after this selection, sold at public auction, which would bring some good funds to the institutions involved. It adds nothing but maintenance costs that a museum mantains in its collection twenty pieces of the same type of Trajan; preserve one or two, document the rest, and finally offer abroad, first to other public institutions, then individuals. The procurement policy should be directed to further increase the scientific value of the collection, not simply to increase the stock of pieces.
- Legislation about Heritage property should be remodeled, ideally by modifying the law on ownership of the subsoil (with the exceptions deemed necessary); only involving the owners ensuring ownership of heritage on their land we can expect that they collaborate actively in their protection and research, especially in the case of the historical one. After changing this, allowing the active search of objects, requiring the permission of the landowner and an administrative informative license of the activity; after that can then be established that all the found objects are declared, so that researchers can document it, and after this period to pass to public auction, dividing the proceeds between the seeker and the owner; also could be made any safeguard deemed necessary for the State (a preferential right to purchase, for example, or as in the UK, an independent expert legal appraisal of the coins reserved which compensates the owner of the land and the seeker of the non-release to market) to preserve objects of most social-scientific value.
- After this, focusing on archeology and numismatics, can plead certain sites of special interest and proceed with expropriation, so everything becomes public property; what is obtained from the excavations, after investigation, would be deposited in a museum, which will apply the same criteria above showed, retaining the most relevant and auctioning the rest, thereby generating additional funds that could be used to cover new digs, science scholarships, public education programs, or even reduce the dependence of the museum on the state budget. And moreover it would provide a flow for the collectors market, decreasing the pressure of the seekers.
- At that time we could severely punish the plunder, defined as the illegal excavation of a protected site; that, plus heavy fines for seekers who exercise outside the law, and buyers who purchase pieces obtained illegally, would redirect most of the activity to a less destructive one, more controlled, of which historians would be constantly informed, allowing then both to access data that are now irretrievably lost, and to ask for special protection to new sites that are important.
- It should also be pursued modern counterfeiting of coins and other archaeological objects, first because their sale as authentic pieces are a scam, a criminal offense, and second because it would increase market confidence, resulting in improved particular collections, collections that may have an unquestionable scientific value as a compendium of types and social promoting awareness from citizens about heritage and its conservation.
To end this long entry, I ask the pursuers of collectivization to reconsider their position and realize the trap implied; if they are so fond of Heritage, to think first of its conservation, not now and just by them, but also for the long term and by all citizens; there are many examples in which, after losing the citizenship respect for her Heritage, it has ended up totally lost. And finally to request to the professionals, especially the public ones, its views on all exposed the above in this paper.