Friday, 16 May 2014

Four Straw Man Arguments in One Short Text: Coin Dealer Attacks Female Numismatist

 "From a northern European collection". 
So-called "collecting history" of four beaten-up coins of Alexandria mint,
all of similar date, currently being sold by Dr Walker's Nomos

How and when did they come on the market?

Dr Alan Walker (from
Nomos coins website
Over on Wayne Sayles'  'Ancient Coin Collecting' blog, we inexplicably find a letter by Alan Walker (Swiss-based Nomos coins AG) addressed to one of the numismatists who'd challenged the ""ancient Egyptian" [sic] coins so widely circulated you cannot say where they are from" pseudo-argument (Open Letter from Dr. Alan Walker to Dr. Jane DeRose Evans). Walker was apparently anonymously sent a copy of DeRose Evans' contribution to the public comments and decided to reply in this way, publicly belittling the views of a fellow coin specialist who'd stepped out of line and was questioning what the dealers were telling the CPAC. That's fine, we surely are all for a public discussion and debate, but unlike many US coin dealers, I think we need to stick to the topic and the facts. Dr Walker is, knowingly or unknowingly, introducing straw man arguments into his challenge to what a fellow ANS numismatist has said. This angers me, and I felt moved to attempt my own reply. 

Open Letter: Response to "Open Letter from Dr. Alan Walker to Dr. Jane DeRose Evans"

Dear Professor Evans,
Thank you for being, in your contribution to the public commenting process on the background to the proposed MOU with Egypt, one of the few US numismatists actively to challenge the coin dealers and their misinformation campaign . I see that it has brought down on you the wrath of a foreign-based dealer for having an opinion differing from theirs. One may only surmise why they are so persistent in their attempts to prevent the documenting of the licit export of ancient coins onto the US market.

The dealer makes a lot of the so-called  "Coinex Hoard" of Ptolemaic AE which surfaced with no precise findspot/context of discovery recorded on London the market in 1992 which was "never claimed by the Egyptian government" (on what grounds and by what legislation?) and uses this to postulate that "the Egyptians themselves haven't cared in the slightest" about the removal of artefacts to foreign markets by smugglers. In the circumstances, this is false logic, and goes against the facts.

There then follows some hair-splitting attempts to discredit what you said about the closed circulation of the Ptolemaic coinage, culminating in his summary "the idea that none circulated out of the country is clearly incorrect". The rest of us note that this is not what you had actually said in your own summary of the facts. The creation of straw man arguments like this is of course a typical tactic of the coin-dealer naysayers.

Remarkably, there then follows a triad of further straw-man arguments. Dr  Walker then refers to an imaginary   "MOU banning the import into the USA of virtually everything made in Egypt". No such document is envisaged under the US Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act which merely lays down the documentation required for import into the USA to be conducted legally, this is the sort of documentation purchasers of dugup antiquities should insist on having anyway. Why the panic?

Likewise, the imagined requirement of the CCPIA for any information at all about "provenance" is just another nonsense straw-man argument. I wonder why Dr Walker even bothers to try and pull the wool over your eyes. Obviously the dealers can count on hundreds of knee-jerk collectors to blind-obediently follow the ACCG Pied Piper and oppose any MOU without finding out what actually was involved. Does he think that you too were unaware of the wording of the CCPIA?

The third straw man argument is embodied in his rhetorical, one would imagine, question  on whether you maintain that an MOU would  "stop the looting". But that is NOT what the 1970 UNESCO Convention is about, as anyone who can read its text will see. Why US coin collectors and dealers seem to have such problems with comprehending the written word or finding out for themselves what a text says is a mystery.

This is bad enough, but then in the true spirit of international understanding, we then meet  we have the xenophobic suggestion that in post-police state Egypt, looting is caused by an alleged "Islamicist hatred". But then, it's not legitimately called looting, and its products do not end up on the US market.

Finally, whether or not "coinage struck at the mint of Alexandria" is the common or not, and whether it is heavily worn or not when it found its way into an archaeological context, the very act of removing it by an artefact hunter to a dealer's stockroom destroys its associations. The object loses its context and the site it came from loses part of the pattern of associations which constitute the evidence archaeologists analyse. The use of coins for terminus post quem "dating" of sites is only, as Dr Walker really should know, one of the uses to which metal artefacts of all types are used in modern taphonomic analyses  of archaeological deposits.

Obviously nobody who has been following their antics over the past few years is expecting any ancient coin dealer to have any nuanced or informed approach to a knee-jerk opposition to all and any MOUs involving the prevention of artefact smuggling. They have shown the worst side of collecting, and it is good to see their pseudo-arguments being faced with a challenge from within the numismatic community. It is good to see them having to justify them, revealing even more of their weak basis. Thank you.

With all best regards.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Barford
It's worth noting that Walker's jibe using the word "nuanced" is clearly referencing Professor Nathan Elkins' comments. One wonders therefore why it is that Dr Walker attacks the female professor rather than the male one. Is it because he believes her more vulnerable? Or is there a second open letter in preparation gallantly attacking Professor Elkins?



James Chapman said...

You say: "Likewise, the imagined requirement of the CCPIA for any information at all about "provenance" is just another nonsense straw-man argument."
Well, yes and no.
It's true that the CCPIA says nothing about provenance as such, and that all that it formally requires (under Sec. 307) are statements that goods to be imported comply with the requirements of of the act.
In practice however, given the history of the antiquities trade, it's not unlikely that Customs will not simply accept such statements at face value, and will want some further evidence in support of the statements.
Nothing wrong with that, of course (despite the complaints of the usual suspects), but it does mean that not infrequently (and in fact quite often I would have thought) some sort of "provenance" will be required, in the form of receipts or catalog entries.

Mr X

Paul Barford said...

First of all, that is not a reason to reject the CCPIA.

Secondly, as I have said before such demands are clearly extralegal.

One wonders (does one not?) WHY when such things "happen" (Tompa says they do), Tompa and his lawyer mates do not go after the Feds over that - a CLEAR breach of the law, instead of faking an illegal coin import at Baltimore linked with a whole load of kookie conspiracy theories with which to CHALLENGE THE WHOLE CCPIA. Why? Why, if their stated intent is to make sure US government officials do their job within the law?

Or is their intent just to make coineys and dealers believe they are "doing something" to keep the money for "paid lobbying" coming in?

But the imagined requirement of the CCPIA for any information at all about "provenance" used by Dr Walker to arttack Prof Evans is just another nonsense straw-man argument".

What a shame that no coin collector who has actually read the CCPIA will raise their head above the parapet and point that out to the dealer.

James Chapman said...

Are such demands for further documentation extra-legal?
Suppose a guy with a Bulgarian passport fronts Customs in New York with a suitcase full of designated coins and nothing more than the required statements that the coins are kosher, are Customs supposed to just wave him through?
I certainly hope not, because if this is really the case, then the MOU's will be treated as a joke by the trade.
Although just what grounds Customs might need to ask for more documentation I can't say.

Mr X

Paul Barford said...

Oh, for goodness' sake ! If the Bulgarian is exporting coins from Bulgaria (I assume that's what you mean) which are on the designated list, the documents to say they are kosher are an official Bulgarian export licence. The US Customs man would have no business asking to see any other kind of documentation of provenance. Under which US law?

The CCPIA does NOT require any documentation of provenance, and those who say it does and we should reject it because its impossible (for some reason) to determine provenance are just misleading collectors - as does Dr Walker in the text we are discussing. Why is an export licence a "joke" in the eyes of the dugup coin trade?

James Chapman said...

Obviously I'm not talking about official Bulgarian export licenses (which in practice are apparently scarcer than hen's teeth anyway).
The more likely scenario would be declarations that the coins exited Bulgaria before the MOU was declared (or alternatively declarations under the ten year rule).
These are the kind of statements that will likely be questioned by Customs. They don't need "a law" to do that (you clearly have an overly literalist idea of the law), you just need some reason to doubt the bona fides of the statements.

Mr X

Paul Barford said...

Hmm, I rather think you are thrashing around trying to 'prove' something, but I am not sure what.

If they 'exited' Bulgaria, then they'd not be coming FROM Bulgaria, and the country of origin of the shipment is on the shipping documents.

I see I did not do the followup to this post,

I confronted the Bulgarian dealer who came to Warsaw, and in reply he pulled out a thick folder of export licences for the objects he was selling and let me leaf through it.

So, it seems if you buy through the right channels, you can get the export licences. We might then wonder why US dealers want you to think it's impossible. Maybe they are buying from the wrong people? Just who are they in fact buying from, and where do they get their stuff that they cannot get proper export licences for them? Is THIS the reason why they are wary of MOUs?

James Chapman said...

You say: "If they 'exited' Bulgaria, then they'd not be coming FROM Bulgaria, and the country of origin of the shipment is on the shipping documents."
Point taken - assume a guy with a German/Austrian passport and a suitcase full of Bulgarian coins in my (hypothetical) example.
As you say, the question that remains is just why are US dealers having difficulties with their imports (from wherever), if indeed they are. Some facts might be useful here.

Mr X

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