Thursday, 12 January 2012

The Disappearing ANS Weiss Collection

I see, despite all his current worries, Arnold-Peter Weiss has been nominated for the Board of Trustees of the American Numismatic Society. Good for him.
"A donor to the Society, he is a generous contributor to the ANS collections, Gala, annual appeals, and is one of the founding members of the ANS’ Augustus B. Sage Society".
I am a bit puzzled though, did the ANS have as this Dec 3rd Google Cache suggests an Arnold-Peter Weiss collection? If so, where has it gone? Here's one of his coins in the ANS Collection. It still says: "Gift of Arnold-Peter Weiss". These are his too, according to Google cache (notably made on 3 Jan 2012 23:51:07 GMT), but look at the page NOW. They've already deleted his name. Oh, that is not very nice of the ANS is it? Nor, would I say very transparent or ethical. What does that mean? That only now the Trustees have some "reasonable doubts" about something? What and why? Or what? What's going on?

But they have not nobbled the 2007 story of ANS Trustee Dr. Arnold-Peter C. Weiss donating a (complete?) "Celtic" hacksilver hoard from Spain "dating circa the fourth to third century BC. It consists of 135 pieces of coins and cut jewelry used as money (Fig. 1). This exceedingly rare donation continues Dr. Weiss’s interest in adding to the ANS cabinet items related to alternative money and bullion sources used in early trade". Sadly the newsletter does not say where the object was found, by whom and how it left Spain and entered the USA (see now here). The link in the article now goes to a coin from a hacksilver hoard - without any mention of whose donation it was. There's gratitude for you.

There is slightly more information about the previous history of another of his donations though, this one in early 2005:
A donation of historical importance came from one of the ANS Trustees, Dr. Arnold-Peter C. Weiss: a group of 19 items comprising a fifth-century BC hoard from Egypt which includes a large silver cake ingot (fig. 1). The provenance of this group, which represents one of the few known examples in the United States, is a private collection (from Valais, Switzerland) purchased in the 1950s.
See also the account of a later 2005 donation by Dr Weiss which may be related, or the same. Despite the assurances that this is a pre-1970 UNESCO Convention export from Egypt, the links here too go to catalogue entries of items without (now) any public information who generously donated it to the ANS collection.

Then there is the "group of sixty-six Eastern European Celtic coins" Dr Weiss donated in 2006. If you click on the link in this article, you find the donor's name appears to have been removed by the ANS from the entry here too. Wallachia, Transylvania, and to some extent Banat are all in modern Romania - which has legislation making such coin finds state property, when did these 36 items leave southeastern Europe and how?

It seems the absence of Dr Weiss' name from the online records of the ANS collection is due to deletions which have taken place very recently (the dates of the Google caches) and it seems not unlikely that the ANS has been engaged in what they might see as "damage control", for example that they now have some kind of "reasonable doubts" about the propriety of accepting some of the objects donated in the past by this ANS member. If so it is notable that of less importance is the actual state of hygiene of their collections than the appearance that they are sqeaky-clean. But then, on the other hand, it is also worth drawing attention to the fact that as things stand today, Dr Weiss has not been convicted of any wrong-doing whatsoever.

Readers of this blog who have followed the links I give will be well aware of the frequency with which US coineys apply the notion of "innocent until proven guilty" to their collecting, saying it is up to the accusers to prove guilt. We have seen though that this principle is not always applied by their associations. In July 2011 Salem Alshdaifat (Holyland Numismatics) and Morris Khouli (Windsor Antiquities) were summarily removed from the list ("suspended") of sponsors and members of the Ancient Coin Collectors' Guild because they were in the news as accused of customs irregularities (the case has yet to come to trial). It seems the ANS is reacting in a similar way just days after vague and rather (at the moment) low-profile accusations about Dr Weiss' acquisition of two coins (actually only one of them) appeared in the press. Where is the justice in that? Dr Weiss has been an extremely generous donor to the ANS but the moment a grey cloud appears, they turn their backs on him? If the reason for the deletions is that the ANS is now having "reasonable doubts" about the origins of the coins he gave them, why were those doubts not expressed earlier, when the donations were accepted? This is down to due diligence. What has changed about what the ANS now knows about the origins of Dr Weiss' coins (as opposed to any other coins donated by other ANS members at the same time)?

If they are deleting his name from the acquisition records because of unproven allegations and an impending court case, I think the ANS reaction here is shabby and disgraceful
. If I were an ANS member, I'd be cancelling my subscription right now and would be reconsidering any decision to donate them research material if that is the way they treat their sponsors to maintain a facade.

It is also quite interesting in the light of recent events to read Dr Weiss' Sept 2009 comments on the Art Newspaper article 'Hispanic Society to sell historic coin collection?'. He describes the intention to sell this "irreplaceable cultural collection of historical coins related to Spanish history" as "truly despicable" and an expression of "greed".
This type of asset for the US academic community and public can never be replaced. The arguments of context of cultural property are so powerful in this matter that to see the collection broken up and distributed is a sad remark on what a non-profit organization should stand for. Even if the Spanish government buys the collection intact, the issue of transferring legally acquired cultural material from the shores of the USA forever, is problematic. Is this country just going to continue to sell all our cultural assets and material abroad? We could learn some lessons from the British, Austrians, Germans and French in this regard.
Eh? and not the Italians and Greeks, who fight to keep their country's cultural property from going to foreign collectors and do not shrink from getting help from other states to get it back when it does?

Note how these coins, and in particular their arrangement into a collection, has become "our" (ie US) cultural assets. Note also how agitated the American gets here about them being "sold abroad", yet US collectors apparently have no compunction whatsoever about buying other peoples' cultural assets for their own personal entertainment and profit.

[Despite ANS opposition, the Hispanic Society's coins are now up for sale]

UPDATE 3rd Feb: On checking the links, I find that about 22nd Jan the Google cache page containing the details of Dr Weiss' donations to the ANS was deleted too, so no longer works. "Phew", eh, ANS? Several other of the links I gave here now do not work either. My readers will just have to decide whether this blog is a more reliable source of information about what the online sources had to say about the contents of the ANS collection on 12th January than what the ANS now seems concerned to keep from the public. ("DOWN the memory hole with him!") What was it the coineys were campaigning for recently? More transparency ? Surely they'd better start in their own back yard and their own coiney organizations. Ask: what (else) has the ANS got to hide here?

Vignette: ANS "un-person" Dr Weiss (after Chasing Aphrodite, edited)

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