Thursday 15 April 2010


Members of one of the more level-headed US coiney forums have just received an alarmist email with the topic line in big capital letters "ROMAN COIN IMPORTS TO USA BANNED?" Thank goodness for that question mark, eh? I suppose they think that has saved them from the accusation of intellectual dishonesty. In fact this anonymous text (copy available online here and here) includes two links to the ACCG page, but none to the State Department (let alone any other) pages explaining what the MOU is about and what it is intended to achieve. Quelle surprise. I expect they assume that most of their members will not anyway be concerned enough to obtain a balanced view and check out what the fuss is about, but will instead cheerfully sign up to what their leaders exhort them to by manipulative alarmist appeals.

This one is a real cracker. After telling its recipients that the import of Roman coins to the USA is not banned ("- not yet"), it could happen if they do not click right now on the V-Coins-hosted "fax wizard". "The MOU currently does not include coins but if we remain silent coins will be added to the import restrictions when the MOU is renewed this spring. Roman coin imports to the USA will be banned". Look at that. Look at the manipulation there. True or false? Well IF it is a Roman coin coming from Italy and the exporter did not get a licence for it and neither exporter or importer in ninety days supply the piece of paper to allow it to pass through the barrier of bubbles that currently is US import controls, then yes, in a manner of speaking "some Roman coins" may well be found in international limbo unable to legally be brought into the US. But I bet the alarmed reader getting this email in his box with his early morning coffee will read it completely differently. Many will be led to believe that if they do not shoot off a fax to the CPAC "now", the import of ALL Roman coins into the US will be "banned". It seems to me that this mail is intended to target the individuals unpracticed in critical thinking (which the level of discussion on their forums suggest tends to characterise many members of this milieu) who cannot be bothered to check the State Department website and who are led by such means by the nose to the "fax wizard"...
If coins are added to the MOU, "Italian" ancient coins you purchase from dealers in Germany, the UK, or even Canada might be presumed to be the property of the Italian government. Unless you can prove your coins were exported from Italy before 1970 or you have an export permit from the Italian government, your coins could be confiscated and "returned" to Italy. You could even be accused of purchasing "stolen property." More likely, dealers outside the USA will simply refuse to ship to the USA. Your favorite coin dealers in the USA will face the same restrictions. Inventories will fall, shops will close, prices will rise, and fewer coins will be available for collectors. There will be no restrictions on shipping ancient coins within the EU, so this cultural patrimony claim is targeted only at Americans, who presumably steal the heritage of Italy by buying Roman and other "Italian" ancient coins. We must tell our government that the coins of Rome and the ancient civilizations of Italy are not just the cultural heritage of Italians; they are the cultural heritage of all humanity, including Americans. We must tell our government that we should not be denied the opportunity to buy ancient coins just because we are American. We must tell our government that our children should not be deprived of learning the learning experience ancient coins provide just because they are American.
Phew, rabble rousing stuff designed to get any collector reaching for his pitchfork. Of course that is not at all what is going to happen, no more than the inclusion of sculpture on the existing MOU has led to the drying up of the supply of classical sculpture on the US market, galleries over there are still as full of them as they were before the MOU, the ones that were legally exported from Italy have export licences, the others do not. In the same way there are many artefacts of Roman type on sale in the US, despite the fact that they look the same as the ones exported legally from Italy. Somehow the trade in such items has not collapsed. The authors of this text avoided putting their name to it. Wisely, because they are guilty of intellectual dishonestly misleading their more gullible readers. Sadly the apallingly primitive level of discussion of this issue on the collectors' forums reveals starkly the extent to which this lack of critical thinking is endemic in the communuity of collectors of antiquities generally.

Vignette: Bulls are fitted with rings to allow them to be led by the nose. Coin collectors it seems need only to be shown the bull to do exactly what the dealers tell them.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I very much agree with you. As a member of that coiney forum, I'm afraid that anything approaching a dissenting view is flamed. Its hard to be critical of the management on that site. It is after all, a business.

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