Better late than never
Volume 43, Number 8, August 2006
Recently a new code of practice for “responsible metal detecting” was launched at the British Museum – a code with the backing of 12 eminent organisations: English Heritage; The Council for British Archaeology: The National Council for Metal Detecting: The Federation of Independent Detectorists, The Portable Antiquities Scheme; The British Museum; The National Museums and Galleries of Wales; The RCAHMW; The National Farmers Union; The Countryside Landowners Association; The Society of Museum Archaeologists and the MLA (the Museums Libraries Archives). The aims of the code are simple – to promote responsible metal detecting throughout England and Wales and whilst it is voluntary, as such things must be, it is certainly a step in the right direction to ensuring that the somewhat unsavoury elements that haunted “detecting” in the past are set aside for good. What is particularly interesting is not that there is a code at all (the National Council of Metal Detecting has had a code of conduct for years) but rather who is now supporting it. Look at the list and you will see names of organisations that would once never have dared to have been associated with detecting or detectorists; organisations that would, in the past, have happily outlawed the hobby if they could yet here they are readily endorsing this new document. Please don’t think I’m being overly dramatic here for I speak from experience– twenty years ago I set up a magazine for the metal detecting hobby – a magazine called The Searcher which is still going strong today but one which I found completely at odds with the numismatic hobby. Those organisations that support the new code were amongst the first to throw up their hands in horror at the though that a coin magazine could in anyway be associated with something as scandalous as detecting; indeed I remember having a conversation with a particularly well-respected member of one of these very organisations who told me that he would rather a coin lay undiscovered than have it brought to light by a metal detectorist! In the end this apparent conflict led to my giving the title of The Searcher to Robin and Karolyn Hatt, it is still, I believe edited by members of their family today. My point here isn’t to slate the organisations for apparently “changing their tune” – because whilst they obviously have I have only praise for them having done so. Times have changed and thankfully those organisations have changed with them, whether because of specific policy decisions or a simple change in the personnel “at the top” I don’t know, but the fact that they have changed can only be a good thing. Whilst not all of us coin collectors are detectorists, indeed many purists will still view that hobby with some mistrust, there can be little doubt that the popularity of those treasure seekers has made our hobby a richer place to be – you only have to look at the two most recent “record breakers” – the Coenwulf penny and the recently sold double leopard – to realise that. Both of those coins were found by detectorists, without those men eagerly seeking their fortune two numismatic gems would still be buried deep, maybe lost forever or maybe at the mercy of the farmer’s plough to be irreparably damaged or even destroyed forever. It is true that some detectorists have no interest in the numismatic aspect of what they find and it is true that some are simply in it for the money, seeking their fortune just as the pan-handlers of the Old West did. But that’s no bad thing! For in seeking that fortune, by unearthing that wondrous buried treasure, and making their lives richer, they make numismatics a far more interesting hobby to be involved in and make our lives richer too. If you don’t believe me take a look at a few dealers’ trays next time you go to a show – where do you think many of those wonderful pieces came from?! I’m not suggesting every coin collector should be a detectorist, not hoping every detectorist will become a collector but what I am saying is that maybe now, at long last, the two hobbies, and the organisations that support them, need no longer to be at loggerheads and can instead work towards a better understanding of what the other involves. After all those seeking their fortune would be hard pressed to make a profit from their finds if no-one collected coins and now we see, with such beautiful finds as the double leopard, not to mention the more “ordinary”, “everyday” items that grace dealers’ trays, that detecting is a help and not a hindrance to numismatics – the two “camps” need each other I think and now it seems that more and more people are agreeing. I’d rather we all this attitude twenty years ago – but it’s better late than never!
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