David Knell's recent comments on this blog raise questions about what it means to be an "ethical collector" as far as the archaeological blogosphere is concerned. I'm not sure whether or not David is an academic or museum professional, but on his informative blog he indicates that his collection of oil lamps was largely formed long ago and suggests that any more recent additions have a provenance back to 1970 as required by recent museum accession rules.
So then,what does an "ethical collection" of ancient coins look like as far as the archaeological blogosphere is concerned?
Would it be limited to coins with a secure pre-1970 provenance? If so, it might have a few high priced Greek coins, but little else-- only very few Greek coins have secure provenances pre-dating 1970 and hardly any Roman coins do.
How about a collection of coins recorded under the PAS and Treasure Act? There would certainly be more material to collect. Such a collection could include a wide variety of Celtic, Roman Imperial and Medieval British issues. On the other hand, it would contain virtually nothing from the Greek world and only a few Roman Republican coins. In any event, would the fact that the coins were recorded under the PAS or Treasure Act make collecting them "ethical" as far as Paul Barford, Nathan Elkins or David Gill would be concerned? CPO doubts it given their qualms with the system in place in Britain and Wales.
How about a collection of unprovenanced coins of the sort widely and openly available in places like Italy, China and Bulgaria? Building such a collection might make sense to the non-archaeologist.
One might ask, "Why shouldn't we be able to buy anything that is freely available for sale in such countries? " And better still, such a collection would certainly include a wide variety of coins, indeed, much of what is collected today in the United States.
But, of course, common sense does not appear to be the primary consideration here, but rather one of "ethics." And what's the problem with "ethics?" Well, ethics is in the eye of the beholder, and it's all too easy to make such ethical rules for others.
And more practically, can one really create an "ethical collection" of ancient coins today that meets the criteria of the archaeological blogosphere and still find anything to collect? Probably not.