Sunday 7 August 2011

A Dealer's "Tips for Buyers of Ancient Coins"

Wayne Sayles, Executive Director of the campaigning Ancient Coin Collectors' Guild, has apparently been asked by increasingly concerned members who are US dugup coin collectors "what they can do to assure that the purchases they make are legal". As a result he has today (Aug 7th) posted up on the ACCG webpage (as a "news item") a section called "Tips for buyers of ancient coins".

It is notable that the question asked concerned legality, in other words addressing concerns whether the collector can lose items which can be shown to be illegally obtained rather than the ethical issues involved in purchasing potentially looted and smuggled material. It is therefore in this legalistic spirit that the ACCG answers. The "tips" are not so much directed to methods to avoid buying illegally exported items, but how to avoid items in a collection being claimed as illegally exported. There is a not-so-subtle difference.

First of all its author (Sayles?) starts off by reminding collectors that if they had no "guilty mind" when purchasing, nothing wrong is done. I'd day the wrong is that collectors are being encouraged to not even consider how a coin got from the ground in a source country to a Missouri coin dealers website. "Keep the mind free of such thoughts, my lad and the law can't touch you for it" seems to be the paternal advice passed down here (Keep on believing in the Coin Elves). Having given that assurance, the ACCG website (and repeated on Sayles' own blog) offers their view of "a few very simple precautions that a buyer might take". What is notable is the admission that the key is good documentation when ACCG dealers have struggled for so long to deny that and claim that such documentation is "impossible". The four ACCG "tips for buyers" are:
- Only buy from reputable sources that will guarantee title for your purchases.

- Always ask for an invoice for your purchase, which should be retained along with any collecting history you have for your coins.

- For purchases directly from abroad, make sure the sender properly declares the country of manufacture of the coin and its value.

- For coins subject to import restrictions directly purchased from abroad, ship separately from other coins and make sure they are accompanied with certifications attesting to the fact that they were out of the country for which restrictions were granted before the date of the restrictions.
What is interesting (apart from the fact that no mention is made here at all in points 3 and 4 of the magic word "export licences") is that the list completely avoids the first and fundamental point:
Only buy from a dealer that can supply copies of exactly the same documentation to you . This documentation should be an integral part of the "any collecting history you have for your coins".
Surely the whole burden of this due diligence should not be thrust only on individual clients, the "reputable source" is one that can show that it has done this before putting such items in its stock. An additional point which is notable for its absence is that the direct source of "any collecting history you have for your coins" can only be the person who sold it. Why is taking steps to obtain this from the seller not the fifth point? In many cases of cultural property dispute, a key fact is when an individual item left the source country with regard to certain legislation (not just US import controls of points 3 and 4), and the collecting history is vital to claims of title of suppliers and therefore those who are found to have purchased from them (as in the case of the Ka Nefer Nefer mask).

Point three is a bit superfluous. A coin minted in Rome ("country of manufacture" is Italy) but illegally dug up and illegally exported from Great Britain is not assessed on the grounds of "when it left Italy" (circa two thousand years ago) but the circumstances of when it left the country from whose archaeological record it was taken. This is a remnant of the misleading and alarmist ACCG/coiney dealer propaganda trundled out before the Greece and Italy MOUs and is meaningless. What needs to be shown for purposes of 'legality' is the country of export. What needs to be shown for purposes of legitimacy and responsibility is something else, but let us not stray from the topic.

Sayles ends his advice:
The prospect of seizure of coins from law abiding rank and file collectors is remote and is not a cause for undue concern. This does not, however, absolve collectors from doing their part to discourage the illicit transfer of cultural property.
Surely, the same applies, if not more so, to dealers, whether ACCG members or not. Perhaps the ACCG is now working on the version "Tips for Dealers in Ancient Coins" (bearing in mind the name of the group, it could be titles "Responsible Collectors' Desiderata for Dealers in Ancient Coins").
Vignette: legal advice for buyers

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