Wednesday 28 April 2010

Italian Businessman Urges US not to Stop Illegally Exported Coins at Border

Just to prove my suggestion that there must be something in the corrosion products of dugup ancient coins (fungal spores or a volatile metallorganic salt yet to be identified by science) that affect their owners' mental capacities, we now this on Peter Tompa's blog: Italian Numismatic Society Opposes Potential US Import Restrictions on Coins. In a letter sent (we presume before the closing date for such public consultation - though this is nowhere stated and the letter itself is undated) by the Società Numismatica Italiana they have stated that they are opposed to the USA ancient coins in the Italian MOU. Tompa gives its text so there is no need to repeat it here. Most of it however is the usual stuff on "how wonderful the Società Numismatica Italiana is" (75% of the text, 315 of the letter's 490 words) and "how wonderful coin collecting is". There is not a mention even that the SNI regrets the looting of ancient sites in Italy to provide the market. It also talks most of the time of "coins" rather than specifically "ancient coins" - and there is of course a difference between collecting the pre-1860 coinage of Italian states like Genoa and Greek and Roman Republican etc. coins dug out of ancient sites.

The president of the SNI, Ing . Ermanno Winsemann Falghera writes that they urge the CPAT to "reject the restrictions to the importation of Italian coins in the name of the free trade principle that regulates trade flows within the EU as well as most countries in the world".

This is very odd, and what makes me wonder if numismatists generally (or just those interested in dugup ancient coins) have a problem with assimilating and collating facts. The SNI is not, it is true, a trade association like its American counterparts, but its members should be aware of the law concerning artefacts excavated in their own country. The INS confuses trade within a territorial and administrative region and movement of items between them. So of course the SNI should be aware that by exporting coins to the USA, their members are not exporting them "with the EU", but outside the EU. It may come as a surprise to some of its members and affiliated groups, but the United States of America are not part of the European Union. Thus the numismatists are at best mistaken thinking that this comes under internal agreements about free trade within the EU. The requirements for export licences of cultural property are set down in Council Regulation (EEC) N°3911/92 which deals with the export of cultural goods ensuring uniform controls at the Community's external borders. The Guidelines for administrative co-operation between the competent authorities lists (in Annex I, here) the categories of goods covered by Community Legislation for which an export licence is required. Archaeological material is at the top of the list -regardless of financial value.

The Società Numismatica Italiana seems to have been misinformed about what the MOU will cover. Their President writes at the end of his letter: "It is precisely with the free exchange of goods, of ideas, of initiatives and of cooperation between institutions, that the cultural progress of numismatics has been made possible and that it has grown to today’s sophisticated standards and reach". Nobody is restricting the free exchange of ideas, initiatives and cultural cooperation between institutions, nor goods as a whole. What the MOU already restricts is the movement of illegally exported items. I really do not see how any "discipline" can pride itself on achievements gained at the expense of working with law breakers and on the basis of illicitly-obtained material. Surely Ermanno Winsemann Falghera s.r.l. in their international activities in the textile industry both within and outside the EU abide by export laws? Why should the trade in antiquities in fact be any different?

He then ends by reminding the CPAC that "most of the public collections that we can today admire and study in museums" derive from private ones. "Had a ban on the commerce of ancient coins been raised, that would have, de facto, hindered their making with a fatal detriment to the cultural treasures we can share and enjoy today". Italy of course since 1939 has had a law which makes archaeological artefacts state property, yet this seems not to have prevented Italian museums acquiring enough coins for its display and study needs. As for the US, the Metropolitan Museum sold off its "shared and enjoyed" ancient coin collection donated by private individuals to buy some looted antiquities from Italy.

What is difficult to comprehend is that coins illegally excavated and illegally exported to the US are being removed from the Italian market. Why would the SNI condone that when it represents Italian collectors? The only thing I can think of is that with the low value of the dollar recently, Italian collectors may be buying coins originally illegally exported from their country of origin (including Italy) from US dealers, thus having them conveninetly 'laundered' for collection by the porous border control system over there. A receipt from a distant US dealer is enough to make the goods legally collectable in the EU, even though they were originally obtained illegally. Obviously any move to restrict illegal exports coming into the US will adversely affect the number of illegally obtained coins available from there. If this is the reasoning behind this letter, this is really a less than honourable reason for the SNI to oppose the US tightening up antiquity imports.

UPDATE: I wrote to the boss of Ermanno Winsemann Falghera s.r.l. posing these questions and asking whether he applies the same approach to his own dealings in the textile market towards measures intended to support Italian interests against exploitation by unscrupulous business practices. He declined to reply. I guess we can take that as a "no". So why should the ancient coin industry be any different? I guess that is a question he could not answer.

Vignette: Aequitas gives the world the finger: logo of the Società Numismatica Italiana. Reminds me of something, but I cannot quite put my finger on what...

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