Thursday, 12 January 2012

"They Can Freely Buy This Stuff in Europe": Can "They"?

One of the little fallacies collectors of dugup ancient coins in the US like to perpetuate is that allegedly in Europe collectors are not subject to the same restraints as US collectors over the purchase of unlawfully acquired or exported coins. The only reason they can maintain the fiction is not paying attention to reports like this one (which nota bene is not referenced on any of the main US coiney blogs to date). This is the followup to a story I have covered earlier, and David Giill also covered it, all the US coineys could do at the time was snipe at the use of the wrong stock photo as an image to illustrate the report in the foreign newspapers. Now it seems they are just ignoring it.

Associated Press, 'Greece secures Swiss confiscation of rare ancient coin that was allegedly illegally excavated', January 12 2012
A Swiss court has ordered the confiscation of a very rare ancient silver coin that was allegedly illegally excavated in northern Greece and sold at auction in Switzerland, Greek and Swiss officials say. The lawyer representing Greece in the case said Thursday that the ruling in October opens the way for the early 5th century B.C. coin’s return to Greece. The debt-crippled country’s rich cultural heritage has long suffered depredations from antiquities smugglers supplying a lucrative international market. “The coin was treated in the Swiss court ruling as a product of criminal activity that was illegally exported from our country and was then illegally offered (for sale) abroad,” Ilias Bisias told The Associated Press.
I think we all know of other potential examples of that sort of thing happening. US dugup coin collectors are currently petitioning their State Department to allow unlawfully exported coins through US Customs so they can be bought and sold in the US. The coin in question is a high-denomination octadrachm (8 drachma) issue of a little-known Thracian ruler named Mosses, king of the Basaltae, around 480 B.C., such coins are rather rare, so when (as is rumoured) somebody was touting round photos of one which apparently recently "surfaced" in northern Greece, it was noticed. "After allegedly changing hands through a number of offshore companies, according to Greek authorities", what was clearly the same coin then turned up on the market in Switzerland. The Hellenic Ministry of Culture tried to intervene before the sale but without success. The coin was sold in 2009 to an unidentified collector for 100,000 Swiss francs (US$106,000), but following a Greek request it was then provisionally seized by the Swiss with the help of Interpol before it was collected by the purchaser. The Swiss court decision did not identify the seller of the coin at the auction. Still lurking on the internet is a sales notice of just such a coin, sold by a Swiss auction house for a sum of 100k Swiss Francs. Is this the coin in question? (Numismatica Ars Classica NAC AG / Auction 52: Roman, Greek and Byzantine coins ).

So it is not really true that in Europe we go around selling off archaeological objects that have been illegally removed from the archaeological record of neighbouring states. Certainly a lot more of these investigations and court cases should be going on over here, but no-questions-asked dealing and collecting are not as risk-free as US no-questions-asked dealers and collectors would like to believe (we also recall some German seizures from collectors' homes about a year back - those were noted by the coineys who of course likened this to Nazi raids).

Map: Where the Bisaltai are thought more-or-less to have been situated in the past (Wikicommons, edited).


Paul Zoetbrood said...


It might be interesting in this respect to note article 36 of the Lisbon treaty

Article 36 PDF Print E-mail

The provisions of Articles 34 and 35 shall not preclude prohibitions or restrictions on imports, exports or goods in transit justified on grounds of public morality, public policy or public security; the protection of health and life of humans, animals or plants; the protection of national treasures possessing artistic, historic or archaeological value; or the protection of industrial and commercial property. Such prohibitions or restrictions shall not, however, constitute a means of arbitrary discrimination or a disguised restriction on trade between Member States.

Keep on blogging!
kind regards,

Paul Zoetbrood
Dutch National Heritage Agency
(reacting privately)

Paul Barford said...

Thanks Paul,
Good to hear from you.

I'd like to see a website which sets out for such discussions all the EU regulations (and gaps between them) but have never found one. The question seems to be treated in a rather fragmented manner in the professional literature too, unless I have missed something.


Paul Zoetbrood said...


AS I assumme, you can't be allday/night responding.
I've peposted for a more private way of communitcating.


Paul Zoetbrood

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