Monday 10 November 2008

Raubgrabung and the European Trade Reaction

In the October issue of Münzen Revue (10/08) is an article by Swiss coin dealer Ursula Kampmann described by the ACCG as “a well known friend of the collector, a respected scholar and a professional numismatist” about Eckhard Laufer, who is a police officer in Hessen who is well known for his efforts to stem trafficking in illicit antiquities. The article is entitled “Die eigentlichen Plünderer sind die Sammler”: Polizeioberkommissar Eckhard Laufer und sein Kampf gegen das Böse. While one would have thought that European dealers would welcome efforts of the state in stemming the criminality which gets the trade such a lot of bad press these days, the text seems to me essentially to be a personal attack on Major Laufer. It is disturbing to see law-abiding continental coin collectors/dealers reacting to the increasing scrutiny which the antiquities market is attracting in the same manner as the American dealers and collectors (who as we have seen tend to substitute personal attack for proper discussion of the real issues).

I like the meatier sound of the German term "Raubgrabung" which is more descriptive than the ill defined term “looting” used in the English-speaking world.

Photo: The Nebra Skydisc, a looted object retrieved by police before it could be sold to a private collector, and thus available now in a public collection for study. The otherwise unthreatened site itself was severely damaged by the nocturnal diggings by "raubgrabbing" metal detector users.


Ursula Kampmann said...

Just some remarks as author of the quoted article.

1.) I stopped dealing in coins about six years ago - I used to work at the well-known Münzen und Medaillen AG in Basel. Now I am working primarily as numismatic journalist and scholar.

2.) I certainly do not object to the fight against looting archeological sites - like most serious coin collectors do. But I object the way, Mr. Laufer is treating blaimless coin collectors. What he does is against German law.

He published a guide line on "Kulturgüterschutz", where he states that every "archeological" coin (whatever this may be) needs a certificate for being sold - no matter when it was found. The only authority to issue this certificate are the Landesämter für Denkmalpflege. This statement has simply nothing to do with German law.

299 blaimless collectors have been accused of fence, because they bought at Ebay from a dealer who is accused to have stolen coins from the ground (accused, not condemned, and I have seen that the police in Usingen is very fast in accusing dealers and collectors). There have been house searches, collections have been taken away by the police.

Please read also MünzenRevue 9/08 on the case of a pensioner in Jena and MünzenRevue 12/08 on the case of MünzZentrum - Solingen. You will see that German law and justice has nothing to do with this personal fight of Mr. Laufer.

Everybody who is interested in the past, can't accept the destruction of archeological sites. But as a German citizen I also can't accept when German law is trampled upon - even if the intentions of Mr. Laufer may be good.

Ursula Kampmann

Paul Barford said...

Thank you for your remarks. Its nice to know this blog is being read outside the English-speaking world with such attention.

How do you claim it is possible that all the police involved in the “sting” against the 299 were all acting outside German law? I understand that it is a principle in German law that it is illegal to be the receiver of stolen goods whether knowingly or knowingly, like if you buy a car stereo which turns out to have been stolen.

In a country like Germany which has mandatory reporting of accidental archaeological finds, I do not see how you can legally buy and sell such material without some documentary confirmation from the Landesämter für Denkmalpflege that the relevant procedures have been followed. Likewise a collector who has material of a nature that can fall under legal restrictions and scrutiny is reckless not to have the supporting documentation that it is of legitimate origin (since piracy is endemic, the same goes for the programs in your computer for example).

The difference between us is that I do not regard all portable antiquity collectors as “blameless”. In fact if you read my blog, you will see that I think many of them (the unprincipled ones that buy things no-questions-asked) through their carelessness are potentially directly to blame for the current situation with regard looting of sites for collectables and illicit movement of archaeological material. I am sure that “most serious coin collectors” “do not object to the fight against looting of archeological sites” as long as it does not affect them, but we need a better climate of ethics in portable antiquities collecting before anyone can claim that collectors are actually doing anything whatsoever to help this effort.

Ursula Kampmann said...

Yes, being German and not speaking English as my mother tongue it is quite difficult to answer as eloquent and correct as you can – so that’s my disadvantage, but I will try.

I will start with your second remark. Here we simply have different opinions and in the past I had to learn that there seems to be no bridge between them any longer. I think that collecting is the best protection of portable antiquities. As long as there is a market for them, people take care of them. Right now I am translating 150 letters wrote by a Swiss coin collector living around 1600. In that time it was the characteristics of an educated man to collect coins. The world of education was held together by talking about coins changing coins buying and presenting coins. It is the oldest text I know about the practical circumstances on coin collecting. He often complains about the „stupid peasants“ who have melted down a hoard of gold or silver coins. And I remember myself the marvellous stories of Pierre Strauss, coin dealer working at Münzen und Medaillen and known scholar in late antiquity. He often told me how he rescued interesting coins from the melting pots of the gold smiths in the bazaars of Persia, Afghanistan and Egypt.
As most coins are made from gold and silver and have an intrinsic value, I do believe that every finder, who urgently needs money (and who does not?), would melt them down, if he could not sell them for more money to a willing market.
But this is a debate of principles – and I know that neither you have a chance to convince me nor do I have a chance to convince you.

But let’s come back to your first point: In Germany it is allowed to deal in ancient coins. There are many, many coins from old collections (as I said coins have been collected since the middle of the 16th century) – and there may be also coins from new finds. There is also a third possibility: that a coin was found in Bavaria – where there is a different legal situation that allows the finder to keep the coins (and sell them, if he wants) as long as he has noted the Staatssammlung in Munich or a comparable institution. I promise you, I have seen a lot of coins found in Bavaria – and I have never seen a certificate.
The problem is, that it is nearly impossible to tell to which group a coin belongs. German law is based like many laws in developed democracies are on the principle that the State has to proof the guilt of the accused, not the accused his innocence. And I think there is a good reason for it: It may be difficult to proof that coins are coming from a recent excavation or looting, it is even more difficult to proof that coins do not do so, but from an old collection. I myself collect – not ancient coins, but medals of the 19th century from all over the world. I do not have a single invoice, because I am not a very organized person: it is my private pleasure, medals do cost between 50 and 150 Euro – and this is not an amount I keep records (I also do not keep these invoices of my cloth and they often cost more).
If a policeman accused me of buying something on the internet and if a house search was made in my home, you could confiscate all of them – because they are older than a 100 years and I do not have a single invoice for them – at least this is the way German police now acts (they have secured coins from the 19th and 20th century in Jena).

What makes me so angry is the fact that Mr. Laufer uses his personal predominance as policeman to enforce his personal interests (and we know that he is very keen on archeology). The problem is that German mentality (and I hate to say that) tends to believe more in a policeman in an official position than to a person accused. And Mr. Laufer uses this by accusing persons who are blameless – at least from a legal point of view (you may see it in an other way, but that’s what law is for: to have an official position above personal interests). The principles of dealing with portable antiquities, which he has published in his official “Merkblatt”, have nothing to do with German law – but as this “Merkblatt” was made by a police station, other German officials accept that this is true without consulting the law.
And I realize from your answer that you are even not able to believe that police is acting that way. As you wrote: “How do you claim it is possible that all the police involved in the “sting” against the 299 were all acting outside German law?” Believe me, it is. – But in fact not all police stations involved made a house search. I know of cases, when a search has been asked for, but the police station just asked the accused to come to the station, to bring the coins and to give his statements, which I think is absolutely correct.
But other collectors were confronted with all of the police force Germany has – their home is searched – just imagine, you are sitting before your TV, three policemen ring the bell, enter your home, search it, every neighbor sees it, you go to court, you have to pay a lot of money for an advocate and after one or two years you will hear: the case is dismissed. We have exactly this case now with Mr. Müller from Münzzentrum. And even as court has said that the coin has to be returned, the police station in Usingen keeps it confiscated.
Please read the article in the coming MünzenRevue – you seem to be able to read German.

So let me sum up my statement: We may have different opinions on how to reach the best for preserving our testimonies of the past, but I hope that we have the same opinion that every dispute has to be settled within the barriers of a constitutional state.

Writing this has taken nearly an hour of my time. As I am a freelancer I simply do not have the time to write an answer as long. So I guess, you will have the last word...

Ursula Kampmann

Paul Barford said...

Thank you for spending the time clarifying your position. You are too modest about your abilities to write English. I will try not to abuse my position too much as blog owner to 'get the last word'. As you say we will have to agree to differ on some points.

I think whether we like it or not the fact that the antiquities trade is plagued by the problems it is, there are only two options open to us. One is to ignore the problem and carry on as before and nothing changes (preferable to collectors and dealers no doubt). the second is to try to bring up a generation of collectors not only aware of the problems but actively doing something to resolve them. Whether they like it or not, the situation is such that this "something" clearly must be ethical collectors keeping a verifiable account of the provenance and collecting history of the individual pieces in their collection showing it is not from recent looting.

I hope that we have the same opinion that every dispute has to be settled within the barriers of a constitutional state.
Absolutely. The problem is that the whole area of portable antquities and collecting is one where the laws of most countries (the UK being a prime example) do not exhibit any signs of "joined-up thinking", they are an ad hoc ragbag of sometimes conflicting elements. So perhaps instead of fuzzy laws open to different interpretations we need to sit down and discuss what these laws need to say to deal with the problems and - more to the point - have a better integration of laws between countries. Until then, we are forced into the situation when we will have various interpretations of the law which can be contested, and guardians of the law will have to do their best to make the laws we do have work to help protect the cultural heritage. I do not expect it is at all easy in any country.

I'll look out for the Münzen Revue article.

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