Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Is A Collector Registry A Good Idea?

There was recently an article in the news regarding the Israeli government's efforts to register private collectors who have not yet done so according to the law passed in 2002.

This article brought about a discussion on the yahoo forum Ancientartifacts. How would collectors feel about such a registry in their country? Several members contributed to the discussion, some in favor of a registry, some against.

Those against such a plan brought up what I would consider to be valid concerns ranging from privacy, security, "big brother", to the possibility of those collections being confiscated should collecting eventually be outlawed.

I personally would be in favor of a registry. I think it would make it very difficult for recently looted items to enter the market under the guise of "from an old collection" or no mention of provenance at all. It would also make provenance easier to track because the history of a piece would be easily accessible, even if the original paperwork were to be lost or destroyed.

I do agree though, that the concerns raised by those against a registry would have to be addressed before such a plan could be put into place. I would be interested in knowing how/if those concerns were addressed by countries such as Israel and others who already have this kind of registry.

The CPRI is supposed to begin development on different models of registry for privately owned objects. It should be interesting to see how they approach the issues of privacy and security.

While I don't claim to have all the answers about how a plan like this would work, I do think that this would be a way for collectors to make sure they are not buying recently looted items. The don't ask- don't tell market in antiquities can't continue at it's current pace. Ancient sites are being destroyed and knowledge is being lost every single day at the hands of looters looking for bits and pieces to sell for a quick buck. It's up to us as collectors to close the market for
such items by refusing to buy them.


Ed Snible said...

There are different kinds of registries. For example, many gun users are opposed to mandatory owner registration because the records have been used in the past to seize guns from ethnic minorities or by invaders to seize guns from conquered peoples. Most gun owners don't mind serial numbers on guns to verify when and where they were created though.

I wrote an article for The Celator about one way to use computers to anonymously track when coins were first registered allowing the owner to prove when the coin was acquired but not allowing any government or private party to know who has which coins. Do you think this weaker kind of registry is sufficient to combat looting?

Several people own 100,000s of ancient coins and many own several thousand. One owns millions. A good registration process must be easy enough that folks with a lot of very small antiquities can't object to expensive or lengthly registrations.

Robyn said...

Hi Ed, nice to hear from you again.

I think that any registry that lets a collector verify when an item was first registered is worth looking at since it would at least assure them that the item was out of the ground by a certain date and not recently looted. I'd be interested in reading your article.

I agree that it must be inexpensive and easy to use, but one argument I hear often is that it would take too much time for a dealer with a large number of items to register them all. That time is still going to have to be spent no matter what kind of registry we use or how easy we make it. Unfortunately it seems that many are unwilling to put forth that kind of effort, even for something they themselves claim is important.