Sunday, 29 January 2012

January 18th CPAC Meeting on the Cyprus MOU extension

Nathan Elkins gives an interesting account of part of the proceedings at the public meeting with the CPAC. On the day of the meeting somebody coming out of the State Department building had earlier talked of the coineys getting their "butts kicked", now we have a few more details. In fact at least three proper numismatists were at that meeting and all three supported the continuance of restrictions on the import into the US of antiquities including coins from Cyprus without documentation of lawful export. Good for them. As Prof. Elkins says: "these MOUs are a vehicle to protect the cultural patrimony and archaeological resources of these nations from looting, trafficking, and smuggling". Elkins himself had apparently previously sent a lengthy written statement and also was one of those who spoke at the meeting. He said that the cultural patrimony and archaeological resources of Cyprus are still in jeopardy through pillage and that the Republic of Cyprus is taking proactive measures within its own borders to combat plunder. He cited a January 2010 raid by police in Cyprus, when reportedly 11 million euro ($15.5 million) in looted antiquities (including coins) were confiscated. More interesting was that Prof. Elkins decided to question the arguments advanced by the coineys to prompt special treatment of the artefacts they collect and trade. The "coins were meant to circulate" argument attracted his attention.

He pointed out that:
"coin circulation is actually a much more complex issue than is often presented to the committee by those opposed to the protection of coins. Some coins circulated more or less than others. [...] some Greek coinages and the locally produced Roman provincial coinage circulated regionally or locally. Such locally produced and circulating coins are already protected in the current MOU with Cyprus. One tradesman, who had submitted a letter in opposition to the inclusion of coins in the designated list, provided a list of hoards from outside of Cyprus that included Cypriot coins. In the letter it is claimed that the list provides "uncontestable (sic) evidence that these coins circulated in antiquity and since." Yes, coins circulated. But the letter in question did not examine the evidence in a critical way. After all, the hoard evidence from Cyprus itself was wholly omitted.
This is typical of the intellectual bankruptcy of the arguments of those coiney shopkeepers who insist on referring to themselves as "professional numismatists". Elkins pointed out that the evidence published in the numismatic literature (I guess those "professional numismatics" might not have access to a professionally run academic library) are considerably more common in Cypriot hoards in comparison with the foreign hoards listed by the shopkeeper.
In aggregate, coins of Cypriot type comprised 45% of the total of all hoards found in Cyprus. On the other hand, coins of Cypriot type, in aggregate, composed 9% of the foreign hoards mentioned in the other letter.
The same goes for the evidence for the circulation of Roman provincial coinage in Cyprus which demonstrably "circulated abundantly on the island and less frequently outside of it".

So far there has been no direct reaction from the coiney milieu to Elkins' remarks on ancient coin circulation patterns. Neither has there been any substantial blow-by-blow account from the coineys detailing their defence of the hobby and its hankering for collecting fresh coins without documentation of lawful export. Perhaps it is not surprising - the dealers' lobby can't be too transparent about what others are saying, collectors might draw conclusions.

UPDATE 30.01.12
As if in response to the above comments Peter Tompa has now, twelve days after the event, produced a rather pedestrian account of the events of 18th Jan from the coiney point of view.


Cultural Property Observer said...

Let me make the same points I made on Elkins blog too, but which he has not seen fit to post, at least yet.

1. Perhaps he should post his letter to CPAC so we can see the data upon which he relies.

2. Even assuming he is correct, that there is some likelihood that Cypriot coins are found on Cyprus, the CPIA requires more-- that they WERE first discovered there before they are restricted.

3. Its a more than a bit snobbish to refer to Wayne Sayles as a trademan. He is a far better known numismatist than Elkins will ever be, and he has certainly done far more to promote the study of coins.

Paul Barford said...

Well, of course information provided to the CPAC is for the CPAC (and not you or Welsh and Sayles) to assess. I am sure if you asked him NICELY (and not like Bitter Old Man Sayles' recent attack on him on his blog) Nathan would let you see what he wrote.

Certainly to get anywhere near the truth, it is what we'd need to "add to" (as you put it here what the ACCG wrote to CPAC.

What is "snobbish" about calling a trader a trader? That is, in calling a spade a spade? Is the buying and selling of ancient coins in any way different from the trade in fine wines, real estate in Malibu, first edition books and a host of other sellers you'd not hesitate to invite to your next cocktail party.

Is there not a great difference between "promoting" the study of coins through articles in trade magazines and cutesy collectors' guides and their actual academic study (and teaching about it at an institute of higher education)? I would say there is a difference between academic study of a subject and "selling more coins". This is why I think the label "professional numismatist" applied to mere shopkeepers is misleading:

- especially the "knowing one's apples" parallel towards the bottom.

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