Friday, 30 November 2012

No Endorsement for Sayles' Sales: Looking at the Theselius Artuqids

A few days ago Wayne Sayles falsely announced to his readers that "Archaeologist Barford" had "endorsed" his online  coinshop. I had done nothing of the kind. He then went on to claim that the Rev James Theselius collection of Islamic coins that he was selling there was fully published. On examination of the evidence, the latter claim turns out to be untrue. The collection of Artuqid coins for example, where there is any information on the origin of the coins in this collection, seems to have been assembled AFTER this supposed publication. In going through that sorry array of dugup artefacts in order to establish this, I had occasion to examine the manner in which the collecting history of the items being sold by the Executive Director of the Ancient Coin Collectors' Guild is presented. It is not impressive.

In the US, where Sayles is based and does his lobbying and trading, art museums now will (we are assured) avoid acquiring antiquities which cannot be shown to have "surfaced" before 1970, the year of the publication of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. This is the cutoff date which determines between "licit" and "potentially illicit" in that milieu. Certainly an equally significant cut-off point is the acceptance (2nd September 1983) by the United States of America of the Convention with its article 3:
The import, export or transfer of ownership of cultural property effected contrary to the provisions adopted under this Convention by the States Parties thereto, shall be illicit.
So how many of the dugup antiquities that Wayne Sayles acquired from the Rev. James Theselius collection and is now offering for sale (with a "guarantee of clear title") can be traced back to legal, or licit origins before 1970? I just looked through the Artuqid coins in connection with the claim that they were published in "Turkoman Coins vol 1 (1992)".

First the ones with no collecting histories whatsoever listed (except that presumably they'd been in the "Theselius Collection" for "up to two decades" which is not enough to document licitness by either the 1970 or September 1983 cutoff points):

JTC-174 -"Old collection accession number on reverse” (meaningless if we do not know what "old collection")

Two thirds of the sample therefore have no documented collecting history prior to Rev. Theselius buying them. They just "surface" in the past two decades.

Twenty coins had some rudimentary or fuller collecting histories offered in the detailed sales description:

JTC-174 ”Old collection accession number on reverse”
JTC-060  Ex Gemini II, lot 564.
JTC-139  Ex CNG XXVIII, lot 754
JTC-072  Ex CNG 31, 1994, lot 1564 Ex Frank Novak and Jordan Wagner collections
JTC-073  Ex CNG 35, 1995, lot 1489
JTC-061  Ex CNG Sale 38, 1996, Lot 1623
JTC-181  Ex CNG 41, lot 2713.
JTC-121  Ex CNG EA 57, lot 238
JTC-101  Ex CNG EA 57, Lot 240
JTC-138  Ex CNG 73, lot 1114
JTC-062  Ex CNG Sale 148, Lot 486, Henry Chitwood Collection
JTC-089  Ex CNG EA 248
JTC-124  Ex Patrick Cooper Collection
JTC-123 "S/S 36.3"
JTC-184  Ex Jean Elsen 82, lot 917.
JTC-185  Ex Wm. Rosenblum
JTC-104  Edhem 43-44; Paris 1035-41,
JTC-106  Ex Jean Elsen 92 lot 1369.
JTC-151  Ex C.M. Webdale Collection
JTC-107  Ex Freeman and Sear, MB 8, 2003, lot 552

So, of 63 coins only 20 have any kind of collecting history. Most of these sales, where they could be identified, were relatively recent.  All but two however are 'second generation' information, they tell the name of the auction where the object was purchased. Again these objects are freshly "surfaced" (from "underground"?) Only in two cases do the collecting histories go back to who had it before the auction.

In no case in this sample is any information whatsoever offered about how and when the item left the source country, and about the legality of that movement across the borders of that country. This is notable because Turkey has blanket vesting legislation going back in its modern form at least until 1906 (revised in 1983). Mardin, where most of these coins were issued is near the Syrian border, it might be argued that some were dug up in Syria or further to the SE in Iraq, but the same problems exist with the legality of possession in the country and export. In Syria for example, article 4 of the Antiquities Act. Or are collectors expected by the dealer to be ignorant and unconcerned en masse about any of that?  So how and when did the coins Mr Sayles is selling leave the source country? How can they be openly on sale if the seller's answer to that question is "I do not know, but they are here now"? Just because dealer Grebkesh and Runn had an object in their auction in 1987 does not absolve anyone from due diligence when any reasonable cutoff date for licitness or legality is well before that.

In my opinion, if the coin cannot be shown to be exported legally (ie the seller has a copy of the export licence which can be supplied to the buyer) or cannot otherwise demonstrate that the object came from the actual source country before the applicable legislation was enacted, then the responsible dealer should pass up the opportunity to incorporate a tainted object in their stock. In fact, that would be my definition of a responsible antiquities dealer. I assume from looking at what he is selling that Mr Sayles has another definition of "responsible dealing" (which includes giving guarantees for which it seems in the case of the coins listed above he has no real documentary basis - unless he means merey "they-can't-touch-you-for-it-clear-title" rather than moral clear title). That is why, despite what he would falsely claim, the "WGS Antiquarian" coin shop most certainly does not have the "endorsement of archaeologist Barford".  

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