Thursday 8 April 2010

Fax the State Department let them know what you think

There will be an open session in the deliberations of the CPAC over the renewal of the MOU with Italy about import restrictions in accordance with (just) Article 9 of the UNESCO 1970 Convention. Peter Tompa complains that the notice given is "too short" to prepare a contribution. On the other hand, one wonders what US proponents of the indiscriminate market in antiquities would really have to say to Italy given the recent returns of clearly looted material that had found a home in US collections, both private and public. I was sure we will hear more about this meeting from the ACCG culture-Internationalism-heroes in due course.

Right on cue, Wayne Sayles came out with a new ACCG press release (interestingly, posted to the Unidroit-L list and the Yahoo Ancient Artefacts list by fellow coin dealer Alfredo de la Fe so as not to get his executive hands dirty) on the May 6-7 Cultural Property Advisory Committee hearings on the request for renewal of the Memorandum of Understanding with Italy. He points out that "ancient coins have been exempted twice before in these renewal requests that cover a 5-year window. We have very good reason to believe that Italy and members of the archaeological community will this time seek to add coins to the list of restricted items" (that is quite logical because of course coins are archaeological material). Sayles invites dealers and collectors to let their concerns be known to their legislators by fax. He urges this on the following grounds:

Why oppose these import restrictions? Because Roman coins are at the very core of the cultural experience that we all treasure. They have circulated all over the known world in antiquity and since through trade and collector markets. It is impossible to distinguish a Roman coin found in Britain, for example, from exactly the same type, mint, etc found in Italy. Requiring an export permit from Italy on a coin found and legally exported from Britain would not only be impractical, it would not have any legal foundation. Still, any court challenge by an individual is unlikely since the legal costs usually far exceed the value of seized objects. Import restrictions are simply not a viable solution to protecting archaeological sites. They are an idealist panacea that cause far more harm to society than any possible good. Excluding the U.S. collector and trade from the legitimate world market for Roman coins, or unilaterally forcing draconian documentation requirements on Americans, would be grossly prejudicial and would certainly be against the interests of American citizens and their traditional freedoms. We simply MUST oppose any expansion of the MOU with Italy to include coins. We must do so with an absolutely resounding voice. EVERY person reading this has an interest in ancient coins, even if you don't collect Roman coins, and needs to make their view known. The entire hobby is being challenged.
This is typical of the Glennbeckian rhetoric used by the indiscriminate collectors' lobby. First of all importing coins with a piece of paper does not "eliminate the US collector" from anything. It eliminates those who do business with individuals who import coins without following due procedure (- known in common parlance as "smugglers"). Is that the average US collector? If so, then really that practice does need to be eliminated. Let them learn responsible behaviour.

Now Mr Sayles seems (which is odd for a coin dealer who presumably imports coins from time to time when the coin elves are running short) to be unaware that to export dugup Roman coins to the US from the United kingdom, they need export licences, like any other archaeological material. Requiring an export licence from a dugup Roman coin from Britain has every leal justifuication, the US has agreed to be bound by the 1970 UNESCO Convention and article 8 imposes this obligation.

"Why oppose these import restrictions?" Why indeed are US coin DEALERS opposed to the requirement to be able to document that the coins they sell have been legally imported from their source? I wonder...

Blog readers might want to let the State Department know how much their efforts to clean up the US antiquities market are appreciated. There is a simple way to do this.

Simply go to the ACCG web site at and click on the FaxWizard link (picture of U.S. Capitol Building) on the left side of the page. It says "Fax Your Legislator" but will indeed send your message to the State Department. You will be guided through a brief and easy to follow process that sends a free fax to the State Department registering your views. [...] in the final analysis it is the will of the people that will prevail. Those who speak most loudly and clearly will succeed. DO IT! .
Of course readers of this blog may not want to have their thoughts sent through the ACCG (and might wonder to what extent the ACG will "vet" the posts sent through this facility) but there is another option available on the AIA website which may be more appropriate.

Meanwhile it is worth reminding US readers of the fact that the convention also has an Article 8 which seems so often to be ignored by US antiquities dealers in these debates. Why do the coineys simply not buckle under, clean up their act and show the world that they are capable of conducting their trade without the participation of smuggled items? Their constant sequence of knee-jerk reactions and horrified "no, no"s really do suggest that both collectors and dealers are aware in their heart of hearts that this is impossible. That the coin trade is impossible on its current scale without the involvement of illicitly obtained items? It is up therefore to the voice of the people whether illicit should be made licit, or whether a trade which supplies a minority group with illicit material should be more closely regulated.

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