Friday, 13 January 2012

Quis Custodiet

The American Numismatic Association Money Museum in Colorado Springs . This Museum opened in 1967, is the USA's largest museum dedicated exclusively to numismatics. Its collection of 275,000 numismatic objects includes money from its earliest uses 2,600 years ago to individual coins worth millions of dollars and modern issues, as well as paper money, coins, tokens and medals from throughout the world.

Wyatt Yeager, 33, was a collection manager at the Museum from January through March 2007. In October 2007 it was discovered that 300 historically significant coins and other numismatic objects, valued at $984,740, had been stolen. This was followed by an extensive FBI investigation, in which the museum staff worked with authorities and played a critical role in helping to uncover vital evidence in the case. The theft was kept confidential so as not to compromise the ongoing investigation. In this time it was found that Yeager relocated to Ireland, and it transpired that he sold numerous rare coins stolen from the museum in three different countries. The ANA retained Robert Wittman, Inc., a security and recovery consulting firm that specializes in recovering stolen art and collectibles, to investigate and recover the stolen coins. Robert K. Wittman, the company’s founder and chief investigator, was the founder of the FBI’s National Art Crime Team.

Yeager was caught and eventually charged with Theft of Major Artwork, violation of Title 18, United States, Section 668 (which has a maximum statutory penalty of 10 years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine and three years supervised release following any term of imprisonment). A few days ago he entered a guilty plea today in Federal District Court in Wilmington, DE, to the theft. Not all of the stolen coins have been recovered.

This was announced by ANA President Tom Hallenbeck, saying: “This is a terrible loss for the ANA, the hobby and for coin collectors everywhere, [...] The ANA is continuing this investigation and will diligently pursue the recovery of the stolen items.” A list of stolen items can be found here
As a result of the theft, the ANA has embarked on an upgrade to its security systems and further modified its internal security procedures. In addition, many of the ANA’s important coins are being encapsulated by NGC to allow better inventory control through modern bar coding technology, photography and other enhanced security procedures. “I want to reassure our members – and hobbyists everywhere – that the ANA is committed to improving the security of its collection, which is a true national treasure. As new technologies are developed, we will continually assess our security needs,” Hallenbeck said. “Unfortunately, about 90 percent of museum thefts have some insider component.”
As for the missing coins,
"Hallenbeck said owning those coins is a crime even if the buyers didn't know they were committing a crime. "Even if they bought them in good faith, because it is a museum, there are cultural laws about that they have to turn them in. It's actually a felony to own these coins," said Hallenbeck. To the ANA, the coins have more than just more monetary value. "It's history in your hands. These are primary documents of history," said Douglas Mudd, curator of the museum. "They're very important for us to be able to use to tell the story of money and our own history."
Is that not ironic when many US collectors of dugup ancient coins totally disregard those same cultural property laws to acquire such coins in the first place? We even saw them petitioning the State Department to stop restricting the import of unlawfully exported coins from a source country like Cyprus. It is also ironic that when they are stolen from America, they are ("our") important important cultural property, when they are stolen from browner-skinned people across the sea that is in the eyes of US collectors "cosmopolitan" culture-creating "cultural property internationalism" (sic).

Of course if people buying coins required better documentation of origins and collecting history for the items they are considering purchasing, it would have been impossible for this smug-faced thief to have sold anything. Once again, it seems that the solution to this problem too is increased transparency of the market.

Also it cannot fail to escape notice that when it is a museum which has security problem in the browner-skinned source countries, it is splashed all over the coiney blogs and forums, intended to prove that the foreigners can't be trusted to look after their own heritage and its better off stolen so American collectors can "look after it". There have been quite a few thefts for US museums and archives (including Presidental documents going missing from State Archives) in the past few months and they - like the ANA "insider" theft do not get a mention on the coiney blogs. Not a peep. that more than anything shows how they are not a reliable source of information or "observations' on cultural property matters, even as they affect coins and US coin collecting. I leave it up to the reader to work out why that might be.

Martinez Man Enters Guilty Plea – Admits Stealing Almost $1M Worth of Rare Coins

Lance Benzel, 'Insider pleads guilty in stealing 300 coins from money museum', The Colorado Springs Gazette January 12, 2012

Coin Week, 'Ex Collection Manager at ANA Money Museum Pleads Guilty to $1 Million Coin Theft', Jan 13th 2012.

Vignette: From Coin Week.

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