Sunday 2 May 2010

ACCG Misleads the CPAC: Coenwulf Coin not Retained "Under the Treasure Act"

The asinine bleatings of the coineys about the extension of the Italy MOU and why their members cannot buy legally exported coins continue to surface. The coin dealers' lobbying group the ACCG has put online its version of "my letter to the CPAC". Pretty boring stuff, the usual bleatings, including - surprisingly - the "all Roman coins from anywhere in the world" bit. One highlight though, these guys just cannot get their heads round the British Treasure Act which they keep telling the world and its uncle is the best thing since sliced bread... Look what Mr Sayles wrote to the CPAC, on pages 2-3:

Few coins are remarkable enough to be considered national treasures, but there are admittedly some exceptions. The unique gold mancus of Coenwulf, king of Mercia (896-821) is one example of a coin that qualifies as a national treasure. The coin was found beside the River Ivel in Bedfordshire, England by an amateur metal detectorist in 2001. The coin was ultimately retained, with compensation, by the United Kingdom under the Treasure Act. It now resides at the British Museum and serves as a perfect example of how national heritage preservation does not have to be at odds with private interests.
Hmm. I think the CPAC is going to find it hard to see what relevance this has to import controls on ancient coins from Italy, since this is not an ancient coin, and is not from Italy and the "compensation" did not go to the finder, but the coin was bought from a US dealer who had already sold it "on paper" to somebody else after having first bought it in an auction. No compensation, a simple commercial transaction.

More to the point, it is equally hard to see how it would have been retained then "under the Treasure Act" when that act does not cover single finds of coins, national treasures or not (!) Sayles should know this, he keeps hammering on about how the ACCG recommends other nations to adopt similar legislation (most recently here - 60 pages worth)... so you'd at least think the guy would know what that law actually consists of. Mind you, to write the bit about Treasure Trove, the ACCG just cut and pasted a huge chunk of text from wikipedia.

The Biggleswade Coenwulf coin (Nigel Reynolds, 'Anglo-Saxon gold coin leaves British Museum out of pocket', Telegraph 9th Feb 2006) was not "retained under the Treasure Act". On the contrary it turned up in a "Spinks" auction, and its "retaining" prompted calls for a reform of the antiquity export legislation (which is what the MOU is about).
The mancus first came to public attention when the anonymous finder and the owner of the river bank, put it into auction at Spink in London in October 2004 with an estimate of £150,000. The British Museum bid but dropped out below £200,000 and it sold to an American dealer, Allan Davisson, for £230,000. Mr Davisson applied to take it to America but the Government issued a temporary export stop. This gave the museum six months to match the selling price. If it failed to do so, the export could go ahead. But in the meantime, Mr Davisson disclosed that he had had an offer of £357,000 from a private collector in the United States and this was the price he wanted "matching".
Well, this anonymous private collector who apparently had been unaware of the Spinks sale but to whom the Minnesota dealer sold it after the export licence had been blocked certainly would not agree that "national heritage preservation does not have to be at odds with private interests", since he was $600 000-dollars-interested in having it to himself, even though he knew that the British were interested in keeping it. Davisson is unapologetic about adding thousands of dollars profit to the orioginal selling price: "I'm one of these people who believes that ... if the government wants it, they have to pay the market price". I wonder if he is a member of the ACCG.

Far from being a "perfect example" of the workings of a sensible law protecting cultural property from commercial exploitation, it is a textbook example of precisely what the problem is about, rich collectors outbidding local ones and local institutions leading to a drain of cultural property out of the regions where it is found to "market staes" like the USA. Precisely what the Italy MOU is intended to help regulate. An additional note of bitterness is the way in which the US dealer apparently engaged in a bit of back-door trading to push the price up, costing the British public another 16000 dollars to get the coin "back". In fact, a textbook example of collectors' greed and the problems inherent in the current form of the trade.

Perhaps it is time for the ACCG to stop trying to think up endless excuses for why the indiscriminate trade in dugup coins "should not" be cleaned up and start thinking about "how" it can. This is in the interests of the member collectors.

Sadly I do not expect there is a penalty in the US for misleading advisors appointed by the President, but Mr Sayles' members might wonder why they chose this guy to represent their interests if he cannot write a simple letter and get all the facts right.
Photo, Coenwulf coin bought back for the nation from a Minnesota coin dealer who bought it at Spinks and sold it at a substantial profit (photo Ian Nicholson/PA).

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