An Antiquarian's Tale, Issue 53

Clinton Howell Antiques - June 3, 2019 - Issue 53
An Appreciation of English Antique Furniture
A semi biographical journey of my life in the English Decorative Arts
I have mentioned before that I am President of CINOA, the international federation of art and antique dealers established in 1935, and that it has involved me in on-going efforts to ease the restrictions currently being put into place by governments around the world to combat illegal trafficking in art and antiques--whether that means antiquities (allegedly) smuggled out of the Middle East to fund terrorism, anti-money laundering (also linked to terrorism but also just plain criminality) and the protection of elephants for the depradation taking place by smugglers (also linked to terrorism). This is a big mouthful to both write about and to fully explain--the sources of information for all this legislation taking place in different governments at different times--it is almost overwhelming. You would think that all these various legislators would understand what they are talking about in each of these situations--the complete ramifications of their actions, but I don't believe that they do. I do believe that all of this legislation is about appearing to be doing something about a problem that is far more elusive than random legislation could possibly cover.

When I lived in London in the early 1970's. I was fortunate enough to have a car. I drove to the London College of Furniture and, initially, I followed the most straightforward route. But, as anyone will tell you, the direct route was often traffic laden and so, like every good Londoner, I searched for short cuts. They were everywhere, but as I soon found one, the short cut would be stopped by the London Council that wanted to keep traffic on the main routes and not to shorten commutation times for car drivers. I cite this example because it relates to how one writes an effective law--traffic control was a specific issue and was able to be controlled, but how often is this the case? I think it is difficult to acknowledge that writing a law--any law--that fights  what we would like to believe is a specific thing, such as terrorism (other than gun restriction which is also obliquely connected to terrorism) is bound to fail, simply because it is not a specific thing. Terrorism is an umbrella term for human behavior that is fundamentally anti-social. This sounds simplistic, but anti-social behavior is legal save for when it turns to violence. How do you write a law for a behavior? If you are a crusader and see your cause as just, you can do what the man who coined the term "blood antiques" did (only on the opposite side) which was to write an article about how terrorism was being funded by antiquities pulled out of Syria and Iraq. He sold this same article across the European press under his name and pseudonyms. His story was untrue and what he wrote is now known as a "zombie statistic", a fakery designed to control a conversation about the behavior of the antiquities market. Oddly, his term "blood antiquities" lives on. The same is true, however, for "blood ivory". Elephant depredation exists because of economic situations within Africa that are exploited by ivory hungry countries such as China, Thailand and the Philippines. The markets for new ivory in these countries runs unchecked and leads to elephant slaughter. Laws written to demonize all ivory fail to acknowledge this lack of economic opportunity for Africans. Of course, religious fundamentalism is also part of this conversation, but that is also about the controlling of an environment, another economic based issue. My wish is for the legislators of this world who want to limit or eradicate terrorism is that they understand that their laws also pose undo burdens on people with no relation to terrorism. The intersection of the world of antiquities, art and antiques with terrorism has proven to be haphazard at best.