Thursday, 12 January 2012

"It's Your own Fault": Chasing Aphrodite on the Significance of the Weiss Investigation for Militant US Coineyism

The "Chasing Aphrodite" blog has some details of the allegations against Arnold-Peter C. Weiss in relation to transactions involving two Greek coins from Sicily. After noting that the investigation was in its early stages, the blog authors surmise that "given Weiss’ prominence in the numismatic community" (the former treasurer of the American Numismatic Society, chairman of the board at Rhode Island School of Design’s art museum and on the collecting committee of the Harvard Arts Museums), the case:
bears some early similarities to the criminal case against Fred Schultz, the head of the national antiquities dealers association, who was convicted in 2002 of knowingly trafficking in looted antiquities from Egypt. The Schultz case proved a watershed in the art world, underscoring the fact that trafficking in looted antiquities was a violation of American law.

The blog's authors also note the "on-going battles over whether coins should be included in bilateral agreements between the US and foreign nations aimed at preventing the traffic in looted antiquities" and suggest that if brought to court, this case could potentially have a profound effect on the US discussions on this topic. As they note:

Numismatists have long argued that coins should be exempted from import restrictions. As the American Numismatic Society states on its website, “…Because most coins in private collections have been traded and held without any provenance, it is unreasonable to assume that a coin is stolen, illegally exported, or illegally imported merely because the holder cannot establish a chain of custody beyond receipt from a reputable source.” That position may be more difficult to maintain in the face of a criminal case against Weiss, who was treasurer of the ANS from 2005 – 2009.

There is as yet no mention of this series of events in the "News" section of the Ancient Coin Collectors' Guild website, which is a bit odd, isn't it? Certainly, given the intransigence of the ancient coin collecting (scil. dealing) community led by lobbyists employed by the PNG, IAPN and ACCG to attempts to clean up the US numismatic and antiquities market, and their blatant and damaging opposition to US policies on the matter (including an attempt to sue their own government), a high profile arrest or two were on the cards. I guess collectors will be left waiting to know whether there will be any more, and who is next. Who could be on the watch list?

There is an interesting coincidence in the timing of this event. As all coineys will know, midnight of January 3rd was the deadline on the website for the final public comments to existing laws on import controls on unlawfully exported artefacts from Cyprus (including coins like those many of the people expressing their objections themselves collect). I suppose conspiracy theorists might wonder whether there was a connection between this and the rather late intervention of Federal law enforcement authorities in this matter - also on 3rd January (but at two in the afternoon, rather late for the news to reach all those planning to voice their support for the import of unlawfully exported coins on the last day). Could there have been an ulterior motive for the delaying of the intervention? That might give some coiney conspiracy theorists pause for thought, I guess.

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