Friday, 18 June 2010

Coiney Code of Ethics: Sayles Holds Forth

We have seen that a single ACCG member stepping out of line was the occasion for John Hooker to soothe him that the new ACCG Code of Ethics does not mean what it seems to say. Now ACCG Executive Director Wayne Sayles has stepped in with an official ACCG statement to the same effect:
Hello Scott; I think you may have misinterpreted the code in some way. It does not call for any action that you not already obligated to under existing U.S. Law. [...] Rest assured the ACCG has not "capitulated" in any sense on issues of importance to the hobby.
Well, indeed, what could we have expected? That "coin collectors and sellers will not knowingly purchase coins [...] reasonably suspected to be the direct products of illicit excavations in contravention of national patrimony laws" really means that "coin collectors and sellers will not knowingly purchase coins which may reasonably suspected to be the direct products of illicit excavations in contravention of national patrimony laws"? Sayles sets fellow dealer Semans right here: he can jolly well continue buying whatever he wants just as long as US law can't touch him for it. Just as Hooker says. And as we have seen in this blog, there are a lot of things that US law canot touch the dodgy dealer for. A multitude of sins is entirely allowable by US law. They are all thereby "ethical" by the ACCG code.

Now I think anyone who buys coins from certain blokes in the US with exotic eastern European-sounding names who have them by the bucketfull with earth still on them can reasonably suspect they come from recent excavations rather than old cabinets. Anyone buying bucketloads of "widow's mites" from "the Holy Land" from sellers who also offer bucket loads of Byzantine coins or Roman Imperial issues all with earth on them, can reasonably expect (export licence or not) that they have come from recent excavations. A US dealer who suddenly offers a whole group of coins of a restricted range of rulers/dates of striking (Dacian, Parthian) does not have grounds to reasonably suspect they came from a single recently excavated find? Legal excavations done with an excavation permit? How many US coin dealers have even seen a copy of a Bulgarian excavation permit? I challenge any ACCG dealer to post a scan of one on their website for an ancient coin or group of ancient coins he is currently selling. Bonus points for a scan of a copy of the relevant Bulgarian export licence too.

Also those who expected that "Coin collectors and sellers will also comply with all applicable customs laws" actually means that "Coin collectors and sellers will also comply with all applicable customs laws" are obviously misinterpreting that to mean ALL applicable laws, instead of any that actually apply just in the US, rather than the source country or those the antiquities in question pass through. Sayles puts him right.

So if any of the coins he is offered were are illegally excavated in China and illegally exported from China, if he is so minded, Semans can still sell them in his shop and call himself ACCG-ethical as long as they don't get stopped by the customs (and if they are they can always get the bloke they bought them from to scribble a friendly little note (CPIA section 307 (b) and (c)(1) (A)) that they are "legit" and ICE will let them through).

But then that makes the ACCG code totally meaningless as a code of ethics.

So why do the ACG not be honest with everyone? Let them just write:

ACCG Code of ethics (Revised)

1. Coin Collectors and Sellers regard as ethical everything which is not illegal by US law.

2. Coin Collectors and Sellers will protect, preserve and share knowledge about coins in their collections (though this need not apply to where the coins came from or how they arrived on the market)

3. Coin Sellers will adhere to the published codes of ethics of reputable professional organizations.
That basically seems to cover in a more direct fashion what the ACCG are on about in fewer words. Less easy to misinterpret then.

By the way, Sayles asserts on behalf of the Collectors' Guild that in ethical collecting allegedly:
"It is not the responsibility of a buyer from a legitimate vendor to trace the title to a coin (some might call that provenance)"
Well, first of all "title" is not "provenance" (but it might be revealed by David Gill's 'collecting history' I suppose). Secondly it actually IS the responsible buyer's responsibility to check the story (which could be a load of made-up crap) a dealer offers. The Portable Antiquities Scheme (which the ACCG unreservedly supports) makes this very clear in their published guide to buying antiquities. One wonders quite what the Ancient Coin Collectors' Guild consider ethical collecting actually consists of. Buying from dealers whose idea of "ethics" is limited to what they can get away with under current US law and not questioning anything they are offered by them is not what most of us would consider the epitome of ethical collecting. On the contrary in fact.


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