Tuesday 9 August 2011

A Dealer's Questions About Licit and illicit Importation of Ancient Coins into the USA


As might be expected a coin dealer based in California and active in the ACCG is not at all pleased by the judicial decision in the Baltimore Coin Case. this was intended to challenge the US government's authority to put restrictions on the import of illegally exported coins, and obviously that is something that US coin dealers feel is threatening the supply of fresh material to the US market. From this point of view apparently, he calls this "A Disastrous Legal Decision". Personally, not being associated in any way in the trade in illegally exported dugup ancient coins, I am of another opinion.

The judgement is a significant one because it is a clear signal to US dealers and collectors that the no-questions-asked buying and selling of dugup artefacts cannot be sustainably continued, there has to be increased hygiene on the antiquities market, increased vigilance to prevent illictly-obtained items being sold. The US market is a particularly important on since, as the blogger discussed here notes: "At this point the USA comprises about 50% of the worldwide market for ancient coins". It follows from this that fifty percent of the looted material freshly surfacing on the global market is being bought by collectors in just one country. Obviously doing something about the consumption of illicitly obtained dugups in that country is going to have a substantial effect on the global market in illicit antiquities, at the least disrupting it.

Dugupdealer Welsh asks rhetorically "What does this decision mean to us coin collectors and the numismatic trade that supplies them(sic)". This is his answer:
The 1970 UNESCO Convention and the flawed 1983 CCPIA that implements it in the USA, have been sustained as the law of the land. US coin collectors must realize that this decision is extremely adverse to their collecting interests, and that the archaeology lobby, in collusion with the anticollecting Kouroupas regime in the State Department, may now be expected to aggressively pursue further import restrictions that will in effect (over a period of years) make it impossible to licitly import most ancient coins into the USA.
I had to laugh at the next bit, written I suspect tongue in cheek - though I know from previous discussions that Mr Welsh is unaware of the distinction between 'licit' and 'legal' in the (real) English language. According to US-English dictionaries and US usage the two terms are totally synonymous, while they are not in Queen's English. He expands on the implications of this decision:
From a practical perspective, this means that importation of ancient coins into the USA will shift from being a licit activity to an illicit activity which the US Government does not have the power or means to control. This situation poses very serious ethical questions for US collectors and dealers.
Now, frankly, I see nothing 'licit' in the way fresh coins are imported onto the US market from the archaeological record of other countries and traded there. We might cite here the container load of dugups from metal detecting archaeological sites in Bulgaria on an industrial scale that went through Frankfurt and was immediately absorbed onto the US market, the Elmali hoard, countless other groups of coins that surface at the same time in various bits of the US market that seem likely to indicate the discovery and scattering - through being smuggled abroad by criminals - of an otherwise unknown new hoard somewhere (and openly discussed as such on the numismatic forums closed to outside view), the upcoming Holyland Coins case and associated investigations still ongoing may shed light on the mechanisms operating.

In fact, the decision implies quite the opposite, through attention paid to the documentation of licit and legal export from the source countries, an important step is being taken to instill a little hygiene on the market. this process can only benefit the responsible colector, and the truly ethical dealers that cater for them,. it is bad news for those who just import dugup antiquities in bulk, through dodgy suppliers who do not bother with little details such as where the commodity they are dealing in come from and how and when they left the ground or the source country. There are no prizes for guessing through which of these two channels the vast numbers of dugup artefacts we know looting is producing reaches the market. There should no doubt at all in anybody's mind that the illicit trade is facilitated by (if not actually driven by the demand of) the no-questions-asked market which is a sepsis that must be removed from the legitimate sustainable trade in antiquities.

Welsh goes on:
adversaries of private collecting have now temporarily obtained the power to legally divorce the US free market in ancient coins from the international free market in ancient coins.
If you think about what precisely and specifically it is the MOUs restrict, the definition of a free market for this dealer is one on which one can buy coins illegally exported from the source country or one in which no attention is paid to whether an item left the source country before or after legislation was introduced restricting such transfer of ownership. The free market he speaks of here is one where licitly-obtained dugup artefacts have equal status with illicitly-obtained ones. That may be a "free" market, but it certainly is not one with any claim to legitimacy - whether or not (a technicality) "no US law was broken".

Dealer Welsh soothes his customers:
Licit possession of, and licit free trading in ancient coins within the national borders of the USA are not affected by (and cannot possibly be affected by) any regulations or agreements that the State Department, in unethical and anti-American collusion with the archaeology lobby, can unilaterally impose.
But how licit - or legal - is possession of an item that cannot be - because of its status as stolen or illegally removed from the country of origin - legally owned by anyone? We have seen the US Department of Justice argue this in the case of the SLAM mummy mask (see here too, suggesting this may set an interesting precedent). Welsh considers the US government expressing concern (on behalf of decent and enlightened US citizens) for the preservation of a precious and threatened resource in the common interest of the global community "un-American". I have earlier raised the question of the "American values" represented by the advocates of no-questions-asked collecting of dugup antiquities. Whatever they are, they are not positive values, and the stance of US collectors in these matters does their country no service in the eyes of the international community.

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