Thursday, August 28, 2008

Problems with Renfrew

Ted Buttrey of the Fitzwilliam recently wrote about Colin Renfew's positions on collecting. Dr. Buttrey's essay is a good one. Here's a sample:
A single example from the real world. In the 1980's a hoard of 5000 later-3rd-century antoninani, found locally in Cambridgeshire, was brought to this museum for examination and offered to us for sale. We cleaned it, and in return were allowed to pick out about 250 pieces for our trays. The rest we did not want -- we would have had to purchase a whole new set of cabinets (no money to buy them, no place to put them anyway) and spent God knows what in the way of man-hours accessioning this material -- and anyhow could not use: the 4750 remaining coins were the same old stuff which we already know of by the thousands. So we kept what we felt to be useful in filling gaps, in studying, and in teaching. The rest of the
hoard was offered to the British Museum who turned it down. Finally the finder took it to a dealer who paid 50 pence per coin and sold them on for a pound.

Be clear about this: the hoard was legally found, legally reported, legally offered to several museums (none of whom wanted it), legally returned to the finder, and legally disposed of by him. No-one anywhere was going to take the time and the trouble (and the expense!) to provide each coin with a ticket (and photo?) guaranteeing its provenience. So there are 4750 perfectly OK coins from this hoard somewhere out there scattered about the market...

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