Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Cultural Property Observatorial Obfuscation

In a somewhat enigmatic post ('What Do Dated Police Investigations Involving Coins Actually Tell Us?')Peter Tompa attempts to say something coherent about something I wrote here, he even (atypically for him) gives an actual link to the post. Sadly what he says is less than coherent and in one place is downright wrong headed (see post below). He starts off:
Cultural Property crusaders David Gill and Paul Barford have dredged up two somewhat dated investigations by Greek authorities relating to coins on their respective blogs. [...] Gill and Barford suggest these incidents somehow lend support to Greece's request for an MOU with the United States. But do they?
Well of course the Mr Tompa who is a lawyer representing the coin trade concludes they do not... because "the dealers in question fully cooperated with the authorities" and "in each case, the investigations took place in Europe and not in the United States".

Well, firstly neither case is particularly "dated", Tompa himself was writing about the one I mentioned not so long ago (fluffed it of course). Secondly when caught, yes the dealers appear to have given gave up their title to the coin. The one I mentioned had allegedly been on the black market in Greece two years earlier but still a dealer was selling it. In the Eid Mar case some blokes just walked into a shop with a newly surfaced coins and a few hours later were leaving the country with a big wadge of cash. Hardly much time for some due diligence. CNG the buyer of this coin has offices in the US and it is not out of the question that if the coin was not investigated by the police, the coin may have been passed to the latter for sale. (CNG by the way seems to be one of the major supporters of the ACCG.)

The "relevance" which Tompa questions is that in neither of these cases did the dealers have any problem with getting their hands on illegally obtained coins with the aim of putting them on the market, alongside any number of totally unprovenanced ancient coins and nobody, seller, buyer collector or lawyer is asking any questions. In among those that genuinely DO come, I have no doubt, from collections formed in the 1820s, others like the two discussed here have entirely questionable origins.

Tompa suggests that import restrictions on illegally exported coins:
be used to return artifacts traced back to illicit excavations in modern nation states like Greece through good police work.
I'd go further, let's use these measures to make their illegal excavation and illegal export less profitable. Let us see ethical collectors and ethical dealers asking their suppliers far more nuanced questions about where items came from. In themeanwhile let us see a lot more checking of antiquities as they cross international borders to see if the paperwork is in order, or whether the items are 'tainted' by their lack.

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