Tuesday 23 February 2010

"Half the Coins on the US Market are Looted, but Let's Ignore that, eh?"

A few days ago I published here two posts, the first here and the second here (and a parallel one on SAFECorner) commenting on information contained in a recent report of the US Cultural Property Research Institute which contains an informed estimate of the total number of ancient coins in US private collections. I pointed out that some published figures of the number of coins reported by German authorities illegally exported (smuggled) out of Bulgaria to the US through Frankfurt alone constituted about half that number. Quite a thought-provoking fact. One would have thought that collectors might be thinking about it and its consequences for them. Not so. Thinking is not the strong side of ancient coin collectors it would seem. Coin collecting lawyer, Cultural property "Observer" and lobbyist Peter Tompa has posted on his blog a text entitled I would rather just ignore Paul Barford, but... which dismisses the points I made:
“I would have just ignored archaeo-blogger Paul Barford's latest post if it had not already been reproduced on the Museum Security List-Serve as well as linked to the blogs of Barford supporters David Gill and Nathan Elkins. God only knows where it may pop up next.”
(I would like to point out that I support them, rather than they me, and if there is a God, he is clearly on our side Mr Tompa). Obviously the ignoring of inconvenient facts is in the blood of the collector of antiquities, especially dugup coins.

Tompa protests that “It should suffice to state that the CPRI study Barford purports to rely upon for his conclusions does not in any way suggest unprovenanced coins "must be stolen" as Barford suggests”. Well, what a curious statement that is ! I guess Tompa should re-read what I wrote. The figures to which I refer are there in black and white, a mouse click away. The study gives a total of Greek and Roman coins in private hands ("not less than 700,000", with an upper estimate of 900 000). Tompa fails to note that the figure which shows that not less than 350 000 of them were illegally imported to US numismatic “wholesalers” through Frankfurt in the 1990s comes from another source. It seems to me that placing these two figures together brings us inescapably to the conclusion that something is VERY wrong with the US ancient coin trade. Unless of course Mr Tompa wants to postulate that some coin pixies spirited all the smuggled coins away once they came into the US?

Mr Tompa's argument is a disappointing one, not at all the verbal thrusting and parrying one might expect from a Washington lawyer. He obviously thinks that, to convince fellow coin collectors that there is nothing worthy of reflection, it is enough to simply state that "the CPRI study Barford purports to rely upon for his conclusions does not in any way suggest unprovenanced coins "must be stolen" as Barford suggests”. Anyone who cares to examine my post for themselves will see that this is not at all what I actually wrote. Presumably Tompa is counting on his fellow numismatists not to actually bother going back to the original source, and confining themselves to the sort of superficial "research" techniques his own comments have in the past revealed.

UPDATE 24/2/10:
Good grief. Collecting coins apparently really DOES rot the brain...Over on the Ancient Artifacts forum now, Tompa's sidekick coin dealer and lobbyist Dave Welsh lifts the entire text of a post from this blog (but without giving a link and disabling the internal hyperlinks to prevent people seeing the context and sources quoted). He then writes that I "deliberately misrepresented the results of a study which said nothing more than that more than half of the ancient coins in question were UNPROVENANCED." What the...? The CPRI report says nothing about any half of anything being anything !!!!. Welsh too has failed to understand what seems to me to be a fairly simple point, that the study gives the total number of privately owned Greek and Roman coins in the US, but that total is only twice the number of coins known to have been smuggled into the USA in a short period in 1999. It's not a difficult calculation, and the point about it was not even made in a "book" but on the Internet - so that should not be too difficult to find.

That makes two pro-coin collecting lobbyists from the ACCG who cannot check their sources and read plain English. What hope is there for the coineys with people like this "leading" and representing them? Pathetic.


Antiquity dealer Glenn Howard (www.EgyptianAntiquities.com) on the same "responsible collectors" Ancient Artifacts forum shows it's not just coin collectors. He says it does not matter that these coins are looted.... he asks rhetorically, "What would he like to happen to all the antiquities?". What all those who care about the past would like is for objects not to be dug out of archaeological sites like Archar to fuel the no-questions-asked antiquities market, which is what these figures suggest is happening now. In his lengthy semi-articulate and ill-informed post containing just about every cliche-argument in the antiquitist book (as well as a reference to 'alien kidnapping'), Mr Howard of course confuses archaeological site protection measures with repatriation issues. Another piece of evidence in support of the hypothesis that collecting and dealing in artefacts befuddles the brain? Would a tinfoil helmet perhaps shield the grey cells from whatever it is causing this effect?



Paul Barford said...


"If such an apology is not forthcoming, then I can presently - from what I now know - see no alternative to regarding Mr. Barford as standing revealed as being a liar. I had not previously imagined that to be the case, and would frankly be glad to learn that it is not.

Mr. Barford is invited to further explain his actual reasons for what he wrote to the collecting community."
No apology is forthcoming because no-brain coin dealer has not actually read where the figures I quote came from. My"reasons" for writing what I did are that the figures show that there is something seriously wrong with the US market in dugup antiquities from other countries, something which of course the dealers' lobby would prefer to cover up by throwing out accusations of deceit. I guess it is all they have left.

Marcus Preen said...

"A liar" eh?
Sophisticated people, these.

Frankly Mr B. I wouldn't worry about it. On one side we have a vast looting industry and on the other a vast US collecting community and in between we have loads of dealers supplying vast quantities of coins from sources they absolutely refuse to reveal!

I think everyone knows exactly what's going on!

Or maybe everyone's a liar?

Paul Barford said...

Not all collectors are unable to follow the argument though. Robyn Ciurelli summarises the argument for the hard of hearing... http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Ancientartifacts/message/53560 "So.. If we use Tompa's figure of 700,000 unprovenanced coins in the US, and match it up with the estimated 350,000 known to be smuggled into the US from one dealer alone within a few weeks time, that means that half of the coins that Dave's pal Peter says is in US collectors' hands was freshly excavated and smuggled in. The 700,000 coin number came from Dave's own buddy [...], matched up with documented fact. If Dave Welsh wishes, I can lend him my calculator so he can do the math himself. I fail to see how Paul lied about anything".

I'd personally be wary of trusting a dealer in dugup coins with my calculator.

Anonymous said...

So the conclusion is that the amt of coins in private hands is vastly superior to 700K-- and that there frankly is no data on how many are freshly (say post 1970) looted; but it's probably the majority.

Stop collecting coins. There's enough around-- in old collections, etc, to keep scholarship (die studies and the like) going. New finds in digs, contextualized, secure hoards, or casual finds in ploughed fields-- go to museums-- where they can be studied too.

Marcus Preen said...

Lord, these people so remind me of British metal detectorists who call any estimate of the damage they do a lie.

Here's a good plan. Ask one of these dealers who reckon other people tell lies what is THEIR estimate of the percentage of looted material there is in their unprovenanced stock. 40%, 30%.... or are they as near as dammit saints and only offload 2 looted coins in every ten to poor gullible churchgoing Chuck from Chattanooga?!

That still adds up to quite a few. How many looted coins have YOU ever sold Mr B?

(In your case, there's no need to lie)

Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.