Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Seven days to go....

Two US dealers’ associations the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild and Professional Numismatists Guild together with the Belgium-based International Association of Professional Numismatists have decided to challenge the legality of the US government’s imposition of import controls on certain types of archaeological artefact. Wayne Sayles, executive director of the CCG declared this a “war” with the conservation lobby.

The first stage of this “war” was through a Freedom of Information suit to attempt to obtain copies of documents from the US State Department which would be compromising and indicate that the imposition of the import controls being fought (the two of eight which involve restrictions on the import of ancient coins) was achieved in some way unlawfully. So far the plaintiffs have not received the documents they need to prove this case, so are merely left to mouth conspiracy theories.

Stage two of the “war” involved provoking US customs into seizing a package of coins imported by an individual or individuals associated with the ACCG (in conflict with their own “code of ethics”). These had been sold to the US buyer by an (unnamed) foreign seller who had not supplied them with the documentation required to allow them to pass through US customs unchallenged. In the absence of the export licences required by section 307(a) of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA) there is a dealer-friendly let-out clause which allows the exporter and importer to skirt right round the export licence problem by simply signing a what amounts to a “due diligance” statement (section 307(b) and 307 (c). They have ninety days to do this. Three months seems ample time for an importer and exporter to arrange a simple signed statement is sent across the Atlantic to allow these objects to reach their purchaser.

Stage three of this “war” is presumably intended to be an expensive legal case where in fighting to have “their” coins returned by US customs, the ACCG and affiliated organizations will attempt to show that it s not they who are acting against US law, but the US government in imposing import restrictions on US citizens buying undocumented archaeological material abroad. As another collector has noted, this is at the US tax-payer’s expense.

Presumably there is intended to be a fourth stage where if the ACCG and affiliated bodies win the first three legal cases, they would intend to use this as a lever to change US legislation to allow unregulated movement of decontextualised archaeological material into the US regardless of origin. This seems to be the ultimate aim of the ACCG/PNG/IAPN’s FOI request and the Baltimore illegal coin import stunt.

Meanwhile we have seen that in the ninety days in which the ACCG and affiliated bodies could have supplied a signed due diligence statement, dealers in other antiquities from the countries involved in the same MOUs have been continuing trade, and collectors of other collectable material from these countries in the US have continued collecting without complaining. Without protest. Without deliberately engaging in illegal activity to challenge their government’s ability to enforce the laws. Ninety days in which the only problem-makers have been a small group of ancient coin dealers intent on being free to trade material without paying any attention whatsoever to any restraints whatsoever. The epitome of the no-questions-asked trade.

There is of course time for a transatlantic fax or courier of a simple piece of paper from the seller to allow these coins to continue on their journey from US Customs in Baltimore to their purchaser, but time is running out. In fact it runs out on the thirteenth, a day future coin collectors may come to regard as an unlucky one as a result of the long-term effects of this coin stunt on their hobby and "freedoms".

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