Tuesday 20 April 2010

Ancient Coin Dealer: The US and the UNESCO Convention

A Californian ancient coin dealer has today called on several collecting forums (including theYahoo Ancient Artifacts forum) for discussions on whether the US should reexamine the 1983 CPIA and either amend or repeal it, which would involve withdrawal from the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Cultural Property. Now we are seeing these dealers in their true colours, now they want to discuss repealing the convention on Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Cultural Property. Now why would somebody in the antiquities business want to do that? Well, Welsh says it is because being party to it is allegedly dangerous to US democracy. Being party to the Convention allegedly leads to "citizens distrusting their government" and thinking of it "as being their enemy".
"There is real danger that a similar lack of respect could develop in the most economically important "collecting nation" due to conduct of unelected and seemingly unaccountable bureaucrats with a misplaced "sense of mission".
he is aware that "many may consider that an extreme measure", but justifies it on the basis that "attempts to place import restrictions on ancient coins are seen by [coin] collectors as an extreme and unjustified measure, and that the number of coin collectors is far greater than that of collectors of other types of antiquities". He seems not to see the irony of the fact that this would mean that more coins are being extracted from the archaeological record to feed that market than any other kind of antiquities, so if this is the case thn all the more reason for US authorities to enforce due diligence among dealers and collectors in their import.

According to Welsh:
The 1970 UNESCO Convention, which when originally enacted was clearly intended only to curb serious cases of pillaging archaeological sites, is now being used by opponents of private collecting to seek restrictions on trade in minor, low value artifacts such as ancient coins, which have never been linked to anything resembling a serious case of such pillaging.

This calls into question the wisdom of allowing existing processes operating under that Convention to continue indefinitely without appropriate reexamination. In the United States of America, it has gradually become clear that officials involved in implementation of this Convention are philosophically opposed to private collecting of antiquities, and desire to see the antiquities trade suppressed and private collecting of ancient artifacts banned.

Such a perspective goes very far beyond what Congress intended when implementing legislation for accession to the 1970 UNESCO Convention was enacted. This is in fact what opponents of accession to that Convention then feared and apprehended - that interests of US museums and collectors would be "sold out" by the State
Department. Despite the best efforts of eminent experts and legislators,
the carefully crafted compromise developed during 13 years of debate and scrutiny has fallen apart, and is no longer functioning as intended.

How this came to pass is a long sad story, involving a legislative "double cross" and persistent, pervasive anticollecting bias in the State Department. I won't attempt to go into the ramifications of this now, but there is plenty of evidence to sustain these remarks.

well, we've all heard Peter Tompa's and the ACCG's feeble witterings on the conpiracies allegedly behind all this. I think far more interesting is the remark about a "carefully crafted compromise developed during 13 years of debate and scrutiny" - some would call it foot-dragging - which due to the inclusion of a major category of looted archaeological finds on it is now supposedly "no longer functioning as intended". If it is now going to be operating to prevent the import into the US of cultural property that has been illicitly exported and transferred from one country to another, that means that in the opinion of the antiquity dealer (ACCG board member and chairman of their International Affairs Committee), this compromise was instead "carefully crafted" to allow the trade in such cultural property to go on unhindered while the US could boast that it was "party to the Convention"? I'm sure we'd all be interested to hear what proof he has in writing that this was indeed the intent of Congress.

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