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When everybody becomes expert, then there are no experts anymore

By John F. Berner EIC

Originally Published in the Central States Archaeological Journal, Vol.54, No.4, pg. 186 

The subject is COA’s (certificates of authenticity) and authenticators. During the past twenty years, the artifact collect­ing community has seen a plethora of artifact authenticators come and go. A few of the early respected authenticators survived and they will continue to enjoy our respect.

Seventy six persons claimed the title of “Artifact Authenticator” in 2000. What happened? The hobby did not have room for so many, and those with little or no respect, disappeared from the scene.

What is the crux of this problem? To be a respected evaluator of any type of col­lectible, you must have a deep under­standing, good identification of the sub­ject and a wealth of experience from working with, examining the product and lastly, know good from bad!

How does that relate to today? Some previously regional authenticators (those who specialize in a particular area, region or type of artifacts) recently ventured beyond their area of expertise. Now they will examine and make decisions on any artifact from anywhere for anybody. This reduced the value of respect of their work on current evaluations, and creates con­cern about their past work.

No one person can know everything about everything! Another area of con­cern are those with a minimal amount of experience. Some were clever enough to upload a ” dealer For Sale web site”, and enjoy a few moments of success then proudly proclaimed authority as an expert authenticator. Ridiculous!

I can’t help but think about a party from the midwest who I thought was a fairly good examiner on flint items, and said that stone is stone no matter where from, then proceeded to make decisions on items out of his expertise. He found him­self the brunt of condemnation in a short while, and now most of those papers are respected by no one!

What is the real culprit? My opinion is greed! It seems so simple. A few people might come up to you at an artifact show and ask your opinion. Suddenly, you think you have become an expert. Then you go home, look up your local printer and make your certificate (just a little dif­ferent than someone who is respected), advertise your service and now you are one!

At first you authenticate (or so you pre­tend) those items you are familiar with, then collectors send some you are not sure of, but you paper anyway because you don’t want to return the money. You can’t afford to say you are not sure, or don’t know because you might lose face. Really! You already have. Experienced collectors will ignore your papers and only internet collectors who know no better will go there!

Again more than 60 persons are paper­ing! The mob of authenticators (or who think they are) are gaining momentum, but only for a little while because when everybody becomes expert, then there are no experts anymore!

     “Used by Permission of the Author”

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