Monday, 20 September 2010

American Numismatic Association Asks Members to Support Illegal Export of Antiquities

Rather late in the day (September 20, 2010) the American Numismatic Association has issued a panic-stricken "Important Message Regarding Proposed Import Restrictions on Greek Numismatic Material" addressed to its members. Let's take a look at this text:
The numismatic community needs your help. The government of Greece has requested in a proposed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that the United States restrict importation of "Greek cultural artifacts from the Neolithic period until the mid-18th century"...
(in accordance with the measures laid down by the CCPIA) to those which are accompanied by documentation of legal export.
Coins will likely be included in the restricted list of objects.
Well, although that is what the ANA document says in its title, actually nobody knows this. That depends whether the Greek government requested it or not. That is up to them.
Countless collector coins, from ancient to early modern, could be at stake.
Only if they are illegally exported from Greece, if the CCPIA is applied in this case, legally exported coins will pass through US borders normally, just as in the case of artefacts from the countries with which the US already has an MOU about imports, the collectors of which do not kick up any fuss at all, but simply buy items legally imported.
This request follows a proposed Italian MOU (which did not request coins be included - PMB), other countries [may be] waiting with similar requests, should the present one be approved.
The US is indeed a major no-questions-asked market for ancient artefacts from all over the ancient world. So I would not be surprised. Looking at what has passed through the US market over the past decade or so, Bulgaria for example should have requested this years ago.

Disregarding the fact that the vast majority of its members collect coins as geegaws or even (as a non-renewable resource for which there is a growing demand) investments, the 'avocational home-grown scholar' argument is then trundled out:
Numismatic researchers may be adversely affected as well, as they will have to depend on museum coin collections, which often involve numerous expenses.
Buying ancient coins exported from the source countries all over the ancient world also involves numerous expenses, does it not? The ancient coins being offered for sale to collectors on the ACCG President's V-Coins website today (109,867 items) are listed as worth USD 20,425,020(twenty million dollars), and of course very few of them are being offered with any sort of documentation upfront showing where they "surfaced" from.

The ANA then goes on to boast reassuringly that whatever the Italian government and people and the citizens of the US may think about trade in illegally exported items:
Thanks to the response from the ANA and other organizations, there are signs that coins may have been exempted from the Italian MOU.
Rubbish, they were not included because they'd not been included in the Italian government's request, not due to any fax-bombing or other activities of the ANA or ACCG or the coin dealers and their clients.

The ANA notes that there are a lot of citizens concerned enough about the US market being the recipient of illegally exported artefact that they are writing about it:
However, the alarming majority of comments in regards to the Greek MOU are in favor of import restrictions. Ancient Coin Collectors Guild Executive Director Wayne G. Sayles is concerned. "The situation is grave, and the actions of today set precedents for actions of the future,” he said. “We cannot afford to be complacent." The responsibility to shift the balance is on us.
Now why can US collectors of dugup artefacts not afford to be "complacent" when public opinion urges the US government to do something about the import of illegally exported archaeological artefacts? If the US trade in ancient artefacts such as coins had nothing to hide, then it is difficult to see where dealers and collectors have issues with the attempt to curb import of illegally exported artefacts. Wayne Sayles himself assures the CPAC that the quantity of ancient coins on the US market is low: "I would not think it to be more than few percent". So what is the problem? The import restrictions will stop a few percent of the coins which foreign criminals have attempted to slip on to the US market reaching unsuspecting buyers. I really do not see any real explanation by "respectable" coin dealers why they find this to actually pose them a problem.

Surely if the US market was as legitimate as the supporters of its current no-questions-asked form claim, the US collector would trust that it has every reason to be complacent. If what their lobbyists say were true, restrictions on illegally exported coins would not affect them at all. The fact that so many of them are writing to protest measures intended to curb the flow of looted items seems to me indicative that they are all aware that the argument of the lobbyists are in fact bare-faced lies.

If it is true that the "majority of comments in regards to the Greek MOU are in favour of restricting import of illegally exported artefacts" the only cause for alarm should be that alone among all the collectors of Greek arterfacts (pottery, swords and armour, statuary) and other material (icons for excample), it is only the Philistine collectors of dug-up coins which are going in the face of public opinion. If I were a collector of such material, I might wonder whether the hobby is being led in the right direction by manipulative idiots who consider that the only way to react, instead of cleaning up the hobby, is to try and "shift the balance" of public opinion by a show of solidarity in favour of the continuation of the unregulated passage of illegally exported archaeological artefacts across US borders.

I can only echo the ANA's recommendations:
Please take this opportunity to voice your opinions by accessing the link below and following the instructions. Submit your comments here.

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