Monday 12 April 2010

Urgent Request from CNG

Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. (CNG) "Serving the World in Classical, Medieval & British Numismatics Since 1975" has sent out to all its subscribers (150 quid a year) an "urgent request" for help. It probably does not take much imagination to guess what it is about. "The Staff at CNG, Inc." are asking their supporting customers "to come to the aid of the industry". The coin importing industry (interesting phrase, no?). They justify this appeal saying that "[t]he industries primary lawyer, Peter Tompa", contacted them over the weekend to alert them of the problem. It would have been more convincing I guess if they'd spelt it right. Peter Tompa, eh?

Well, what is the problem? CNG says "We believe [that,]as a collector [,]you will want to oppose any expansion of the MOU with Italy to include coins". But then, the CNG is less than frank concerning what the MOU is about. CNG says: "The entire hobby is being challenged". (No actually it is not, just the bit that wants to move ancient items of Italian provenance illegally across international borders.) Once again, oddly, Roman coins ("at the very core of the cultural experience that we all treasure") is the only type of ancient coin mentioned. Now where on earth the CNG got the following alarmist statement from is anyone's guess: "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". Certainly not from any official source. They are right, this invented problem would not have any legal foundation, the MOU is signed with Italy, not the UK. I wonder whether the numismatists of the CNG's Lancaster office and London office saw that text before it was sent out? If they did, perhaps they should look up what are the export licence requirements for ancient coins exported from the UK, as this passage suggests that they do not currently know.
Apparently CNG considers that "import restrictions are [...] an idealist panacea that cause far more harm to society than any possible good". Now I expect there are many kiddie porn peddlars, ivory poachers and weapons dealers who would say the same thing, but perhaps not so publicly as ancient dugup coin dealers. They tell their international clientele that insisting on export licences for imported antiquities from Italy "would certainly be against the interests of American citizens and their traditional freedoms". (Yeeehahhh!! Time for the flaming torches and pitchforks.)
While archaeologists are rightly concerned about looting of archaeological sites, the guilty until proven innocent remedy suggested represents overkill and will only act to punish those who want to abide by the law. If you are concerned about this as we are at CNG, you need to make your views known to CPAC before April 22
Interestingly another US coin dealership, Harlan J. Berk, Ltd. has sent out a similarly worded message to its clients.
"We need thousands of faxes to make it clear to DOS and CPAC members that there are passionate collectors of ancient coins, and LOTS of them. This is an extremely important matter, please take it seriously".
In an earlier post here I discussed the observations of a collector of ancient coins on what Berk Ltd sell and had a look for myself. I refer readers to that post and ask them to consider just why this dealer would be concerned about the necessity to show that cpoins imported from Italy have export licences? Beats me, but perhaps readers can see something I cannot...

This is the text which lists the types of objects from Italy whose import into the US is being scrutinised under the MOU, it is published in the Federal Register by the Department of the Treasury on January 23, 2001, and extended in 2005 Archaeological Material From Italy Representing Pre-Classical, Classical, and Imperial Roman Periods Ranging in Date Approximately From the 9th Century B.C. to the 4th Century A.D. It covers just about every kind of "ancient art" object that can be imagined coming from the soil of Italy. Obviously if the CNG is right, we should find that there are currently very few examples of this kind of material on sale in the United States, as the existing import restrictions would have led to the "collapse of the industry".

In fact we probably all remember the dealers' marches on Washington of the winter of 2001, the hunger strikes. The shameful way the police broke up the peaceful "antiquity love-in" demonstration in Central Park behind the Metropolitan Museum. The hilarity caused by the boxer shorts somebody put on Michaelangelo's David when it was on tour in five major US cities. The unsuccessfull petitioning of the outgoing President which gathered over 50 000 signatures. The televised mock court case in Maryland. We remember Marion True's passionate defence of the liberties that were being eroded by the MOU. Then we remember the sad sight of so many antiquity dealers put out of business when it came in, the Asagio Gallery, the Canelloni brothers, R. Avioli, Alfabetti Spaghetti, the end of the Toccetti Emporium and so on. The many art dealers that were forced into the used car business by the passing of this legislation ... a shameful end to a once noble industry. No wonder the coin dealers are so worried about the prospects. Would you buy a used car from an ex-coin-dealer? ("no documents sir, but take my word for it, not stolen, no way, you can trust me")

Vignette: The protest of the US Fine Art Auctioneers Association in November 2000 drawing attention to the plight of the Industry that the signing of the MOU was to cause. The gentleman in the foreground (left) later became the Director in a major US art museum and successfully fought off repatriation claims of objects in the collection from Albania and Panama.

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