Thursday, 6 October 2016

Selling Chalk for Cheese in Washington

National Treasures, artefacts seized in bust (Art Newspaper)
In Washington they quite often sell you chalk for cheese it seems, so often that even some cultural property lawyers there cannot tell the difference. Yesterday there was the news that Greece had stopped a ring of armed criminals who were supplying the German, Swiss and Austrian markets with undocumented freshly-surfaced material (the same markets as some of his dealer-clients supply themselves from). The lawyer, reading this, in order to deflect attention from the fact that the market should be taking steps to avoid selling to collectors material sourced from armed criminal gangs, tweeted the following:
6 godz.6 godzin temu
@IvanMacquist The coins look to be of modest value. Greece should focus on protecting national treasures and institute a PAS for coins.
1) One wonders what they teach in US lawyer-schools. The whole basis (starting point) of the 1970 UNESCO Convention (of which the US is a state party) is that it is an agreement between states that each sovereign state has the right to define for itself what it considers the cultural heritage which it protects from 'Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership'. It is not up to the US (still less a US collector) to say what Greece "should" or "should not" be allowed to do. It should be noted that there are no provisions in the 1970 Convention to allow challenging these definitions, what a nation considers to be the cultural heritage of its citizens is non-negotiable.

2) I cannot see enough of the coins in the police photo to see what they are, so I wonder what the source of the information is that the coins seized were of little value. Is Mr Tompa (a collector of Greek coins himself) in contact with the dealer to whom they were being shipped when seized"

"ignore the guns"
The 'value' of goods on the market is not any criterion for whether they should be being sold by armed criminal gangs to dealers who then sell them on to non-diligent buyers. A packet of cigarettes is of modest value (most buyers just burn them) which does not mean that we can close our eyes to the illicit trade in these goods, especially when mixed up in that trade are armed criminal groups. Recording findspots of artefacts dug up by armed criminal gangs does not seem to me likely to solve the problem that armed criminal gangs represent.

3) The golden artefacts in the foreground of the photo published yesterday and the spread of other artefacts behind them seem to have escaped the blinkered numismo-centric field of view of this "observer" (or should that be "obfuscator"?)."Instituting a PAS for the coins" ignores the clearly-stated fact that this group was handling a much wider range of cultural goods, statues icons, gold jewellery etc.

4) Of course, being American, Peter Tompa has an intrinsic inability to grasp just what the PAS actually is. Those readers who are less confused will know that the PAS is in no way at all connected with Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. Greece or anyone else setting up a PAS-clone for coins (or any other antiquities) would not affect the illicit import, export or illicit transfer of ownership of cultural property.

I suspect that next week, Peter Tompa will propose solving the southern European human trafficking problem by giving out free coloured condoms to Greek, Turkish and Bulgarian truck drivers, and the week after that will propose resolving America's drug problem by distributing Cadbury's chocolate bars outside schools in California and Missouri.

A tip, if you ever get invited to Peter Tompa's house and they propose staying for 'pizza', it'd probably be best to politely decline.  When dealing with collectors, you never know what you might get.

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