Monday, 25 July 2011

ACCG Lawyer's "Double Standards"

Apparently coineys go wild for this lumpy piece of metal. It probably has less to do with how much it "tells" us about Athens in the fifth century BC than its rarity. "It's estimated that there are only about 30 authentic specimens known, nearly half of which are under wraps with the Turkish government and off the market" (Reid Goldsborough). As an auction catalogue explains:
"approximately 40 known today, with 18 in museum collections, 19 in private collections, and 3 whose locations are currently unknown. They rarely occur at public auction, with only seven coins appearing in the past 19 years: The Hunt Collection (Sotheby's, 19 June 1990), lot 66; Leu 77 (11 May 2000), lot 206; Goldberg (7 June 2000), lot 3125 = Numismatica Ars Classica 29 (11 May 2005), lot 183; Triton X (9 January 2007), lot 230; Gemini III (9 January 2007), lot 133; Barry Feirstein Collection (Numismatica Ars Classica 39, 16 May 2007), lot 41; and Baldwin’s 50 (24 April 2007), lot 21".
Here you can fondle one virtually, courtesy of the Athens Numismatic Museum. Whoopee, eh? This coin is the one sourgrapes Tompa moans about. Here he is getting up steam, and gathering speed, and here he is in full rant:
Double Standards: Unprovenanced Athenian Decadrachms in Greek National Coin Collection and Alpha Bank Collection [...] "why should the US Government preclude American citizens from importing unprovenanced Greek coins when both the Greek National Coin Collection and the private Alpha Bank collection recently accessioned valuable Athenian Decadrachms that also lack a provenance? [note the sly juxtaposition of two quite separate concepts there - PMB] Has anyone in the State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs told Hillary Clinton that imposing import restrictions will place burdens on Americans that the Greeks themselves won't put on their own citizens and institutions? And it's not as if these coins likely came from Greek contexts. In fact, the scholarly literature puts the typical find spots of such coins further East in places like Turkey and Syria. Thus, the Greeks have little basis to claim they were merely buying back what had been "stolen" from them.

Image: Reverse of Unprovenanced Athenian Decadrachm from Greek National Coin Collection
Tompa does not give the source of the illustration he copied, but it is most likely:

Perhaps somebody more familiar with the literature can tell Mr Tompa and myself when and where it was bought, and what its prior collecting history was.

I'm a bit confused about this "Alpha bank coin" mentioned by Tompa, because Reid Goldsborough states it is currently in the Numismatic Museum too. Perhaps he is mistaken.
This one has an interesting "collecting history".
Here's the real McCoy, a dekadrachm weighing 42.13 grams currently residing in the Numismatic Museum of Athens. It was donated to it by Alpha Bank of Greece, who reportedly purchased it for $280,000 from Numismatica Ars Classica. Before that Freeman & Sear sold it for "more than" $150,000. This coin previously appeared on the cover of an Ira and Larry Goldberg catalog. I had a chance to handle and inspect this coin while it was in the possession of Freeman & Sear. Other Athenian dekadrachms occasionally appear on the market, with the most expensive reportedly changing hands privately for $1 million.
Nota bene, "the market" here being almost exclusively the AMERICAN market. Numismatica Ars Classica are a London firm with branches in Zurich and Milan, Freeman and Sear and Goldberg coins are however Californian dealers. This coin came to Greece through the US no-questions-asked market. In which case no export licence was required to import it legally into Greece, for the US does not issue export licences for antiquities (despite being a state party of the 1970 UNESCO Convention). So Tompa's point about "provenance" falls rather flat when the CCPIA is all about export licences, not "provenances".

Then we have the piece being sold earlier this year in the US by by Gemini Numismatics (a partnership between Harlan J. Berk [ACCG benefactor], Herb Kreindler and David Hendin [ACCG benefactor]) and Heritage Auction Galleries ([ACCG benefactor] remember Bob Korver on the CPAT assessing Greece's MOU request?), in conjunction with the Chicago International Coin Fair. It was withdrawn from sale, not because of problems with export licences, but where it had actually come from, it was a fake. Harlan J. Berk was a bit cagey on its collecting history:
Berk also would not reveal how and where he acquired the coin, other than to say he worked through an agent. “It’s like if you have a very good fishing hole: do you tell where it is to everyone?” he said. The chain of custody for ancient coins muddies the situation, Berk said. "Generally I know who I’m buying it from, but not where I’m buying it from.
But its generally a good fishing hole, and best not to ask too many searching questions eh? In any case, the buyer really is not all that interested in knowing. So how can heap of pretty geegaws on a table coin afficionados say that all ARE found outside Greece? What about the other seven that came onto the market, from the soil of which country were they clandestinely removed? How can coineys claim to be generating information by buying these things when the market they encourage obliterates even such fundamental pieces of information?

How can these people keep a straight face and accuse others of "double standards"?

If the United States of America was adhering to the 1970 UNESCO Convention, these coins (ie the dekas sold by US dealers, mostly to US collectors) would not be on open sale (Art 3: "The import, export or transfer of ownership of cultural property effected contrary to the provisions adopted under this Convention by the States Parties thereto, shall be illicit"). Also the fact that the items themselves have been shorn of any kind of provenance information by passing through the damaging no-questions-asked market that Tompa and the ACCG attempt to justify and support, the source country has no possibility of determining that their cultural patrimony has been robbed of these items, and no possibility therefore to demand/request them back from the Greek museum (see the 1970 UNESCO Convention Art 7(a)). The whole problem here is that the USA does NOT respect or abide by the Convention, but merely its own CCPIA. Certainly "no (US) law was broken" - that's how dealers in such stuff always justify themselves, isn't it? Greece has now asked for this loophole allowing such trade in illegally exported items to be closed - and the next importer of one of these coins is going to have to say where he got it from and show ICE that its export from that place was licit. Which is, after all, just what the legal and licit trade in archaeological artefacts is all about.

1 comment:

Marc Fehlmann said...

Excellent post!

If I'm not mistaken, it was in early 2007 that Michel van Rijn has identified about 10 pieces of these dekadrachms as fake, and the one sold by Baldwin and later by Triton was among them. Sadly his entertaining blog does not exist anymore.

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