Thursday, 23 September 2010

What we have learnt from the Greek Cultural Property Request

Looking at the 1347 public submissions concerning the Greek Request for the help of the US government in detecting illegal imports of antiquities from Greece, we might draw a few general conclusions.

1) In terms of numbers, if we consider quantity rather than quality to be a measure, we can see that the coiny philistines “won” this round.

2) However, this time we were able to see for the first time what all the coineys were writing. What is remarkable is that in their submissions most of the coineys revealed they had not the slightest idea what the MOU would do (“you must not make the collecting of coins of Greek Type illegal” was a typical theme) or what the CCPIA actually says and how it works (a point to which I return below). This cannot fail to escape the notice of those assessing these submissions.

3) We were also able to see from the content of what they wrote how important in getting coineys to put 'pen to paper' were the series of 'dirty tricks' which the coin dealers' lobby played throughout. There were alarmist mails sent by some dealer directly to their clients, misleading them into thinking what was proposed was something totally different from what the CCPIA says. We can now see that several hundred coin collectors less well-endowed with critical thinking swallowed the bait and wrote off as directed. Most of them mainly restricted themselves to citing almost word-for-word the five points which lawyer Peter Tompa had drafted for them. When the coineys were flagging, another thread would be started on their forums, another inflammatory blog post would be produced, finally hired help John Hooker got his pompoms out and chivvied them along as the final days approached. All this is despite the fact that a single email from the Greek embassy was loudly trumpeted by the same lobby as “evidence" that public opinion was being “manipulated”. Obviously the coineys do not think that what their leaders were doing was manipulation. In the last two days, sixty percent of the peak of public submissions were coming from coiney naysayers.

4) I noted there were very few submissions from collectors of Attic pottery, terracottas, statues, weaponry or any other collectable type of Greek antiquity protesting the eventual imposition of controls of the propriety of export of antiquities being imported from Greece. Why not? They too would be affected by the MOU. Surely every single point made by Tompa and his fellows applies to just about every type of antiquity of Greek type, so why do dealers in this sort of thing not feel that only being restricted to legally exported antiquities will in some way damage the existing trade? Why is it just coin dealers that are alarmed that the US customs might be looking at the export documentation of the fresh items they want to add to their stock? Where in fact is that coming from?

5) Let us also note that in the case of the Italian request when the coin dealers applied similar dirty tricks (then as we recall it was "all collecting of all Roman coins from anywhere in the Empire" that was allegedly at stake) the ACCG managed to get about 1900 faxes sent to the CPAC from collectors all over the world protesting against that happening. Today the numbers are half that - has the ACCG cried wolf once too often? The ACCG estimates however that there are 50 000 collectors of dugup ancient coins in the USA alone. Where are the rest? It cannot be argued that 48 000 collectors do not have computers or internet access since that today is a fundamental means by which ancient coins are distributed. So where are the opinions of 48 000 collectors who – the ACCG would argue – would be affected by the proposed measures? Might it be that the “50 000” is a gross overestimate of the numbers of collectors and that the number is in fact some five times less? Or is it that only a minority of collectors allowed themselves to be led by the nose by a group of dealers whose actions over this matter might well be interpreted as indicating they have an interest in US customs NOT looking too carefully at what they import? Could it be that 48000 US collectors of dugup ancient coins welcome a measure which would mean that all the coins of Greek origin on the market have come from legitmate sources and only less than a thousand are unhappy about such a prospect?

6) Let us note that in not a single piece of writing justifying “why you should help us oppose these measures” do the dealers and their supporters actually set out in black and white what the hated CCPIA actually says (with links so their readers can check for themselves) and what it actually means to the flow of coins onto the US market. Why not? Looking through the nine hundred or so coiney submissions, the overwhelming impression is of a group of people who have been underinformed, and actually misinformed (and also could not be bothered to find out for themselves).

7) A haunting implication of this is that it reveals indisputably that the US collectors of dugup coins of the ancient world are in fact totally ignorant of the legislation applicable to that activity – not only that of the countries from which the coins come, but also their own country. Furthermore since the false information which they are duplicating is being given to them by the dealers in this kind of antiquity (as we have seen) the implication can only be that the dealers too are ignorant of the legislation themselves (something that I have remarked upon earlier comparing what they say the laws in countries like Greece lay down with what the laws actually say).

A while ago I suggested that the ACCG could do its members a service by collating all these laws and making them available on its website, this idea was dismissed at the time, but perhaps it is something the Ancient Coin COLLECTORS’ Guild needs to look at. Perhaps the collectors gathered there could produce for concerned collectors a ‘ACCG how to’ guide to the legislation and ethics of (at least) ancient coin collecting. These laws are after all fundamental to framing the extent of the "collectors' rights" the ACCG claims to be fighting to uphold, why not set them out for the benefit of the collectors?

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