Tuesday 7 February 2012

"The USA, The Only Country That Matters"? (Part 2)

Coin collector Jorg Lueke assures his readers that export licences are irrelevant to the import of coins into the USA and the legality of their buying and selling there. But actually to licitly import such items into the US, they do need to be on the international market licitly - and that includes if they are being imported from UK - that they have been properly exported in accordance with the applicable laws. Otherwise they are 'contraband'. So, yes he does need proper export licences for every item which the law of the source country says needs an export licence. Or rather he would need them if the US border controls were not the barrier of bubbles that they are where certain types of contraband at least are concerned. Lueke can ask the collector who left a mummy case at Miami airport because the proper Egyptian export papers were lacking, or the guys awaiting trial on the shipment of (also) Egyptian antiquities from Dubai because the proper Egyptian export papers were lacking. These well-publicised cases indicate to those with eyes to see it that US collectors would be unwise to think that it is only items on the MOU designated lists that they have to be wary of being smuggled into the US as a result of unlawful export. US collectors seem not to have noted either the import of the authorities intending to impound the SLAM KaNeferNefer cartonnage mask on the grounds that it is illicit contraband, and what that means to their own no-questions-asked (minimal paperwork kept) collecting activities.

Let me say again, the United States is a state party to the 1970 UNESCO Convention, and right at the beginning Article 3 quite plainly says
The import, export or transfer of ownership of cultural property effected contrary to the provisions adopted under this Convention by the States Parties thereto, shall be illicit.
"Shall be illicit" is what the US agreed to when it wanted to look good by signing this Convention together with most of the civilized (and less civilized) world.. Well, of course it can be argued that since the US has not really adopted too many of the "provisions" defined by the Convention, this does not apply any more than packing prisoners off in secret planes to secret bases in foreign countries like Egypt and Poland to allow them to be tortured is "not a breach" of any US law and therefore the Geneva Convention (US coiney lawyer Mr Tompa would no doubt say that too is "not self-executing"). Basically though, if a state signs an international convention which begins with defining what is and what is not "illicit", then most normal people would expect that state to abide by that fundamental principle - without which signing the document is an utterly empty act.

So, to return to the passage quoted above, for a transaction involving a US buyer and imported coins to be a licit one, it cannot involve unlawful export at the other end. It therefore is wholly relevant what I said, for lawful export of archaeological artefacts (such as dugup coins) from almost every source country producing them in any commercial quantities (unless the seller has documentation confirming them as not being freshly dug up, ie from an old collection), whether dealers and collectors like it or not, you need an export licence.
“Most certainly such certificates are necessary from most of the source countries concerned. Even the UK".

Lueke continues:
In general, what Mr.Barford doesn't seem to understand, is that the 100,000+ coins that trade each year and the millions of coins that exist in collections do not have documentation since it wasn't legally required and would be a nuisance for objects so common and widespread. Since most coins, almost all coins, on the market are legal and do not have documentation there is no way to suddenly require documentation as proof of legality or even ethical collecting. It is just not a practical proposition.
Well, Mr Barford understands that if there are an estimated 50 000 collectors of ancient coins in the US, sales of 100 000 such objects a year means each collector is buying just TWO such coins annually. So I really do not see why in this day and age a collector cannot have a folder on his bookshelf next to his coin books in which are document sleeves containing a couple of sheets of A4 paper including the dealer's name and address, date of purchase, a copy of the export licence, or declaration by the dealer of the origin of the coin, together with a short catalogue entry by the collector including a nice digital photo a couple of centimetres across. The folder can also contain old collectors' tickets that came with the coin. Making two such document sets for a new acquisition a year hardly would be busting a collector's gut surely (except for those perhaps who never learnt to write, who might have to ask for help).

I really do not see what is so "impractical" in suggesting that (not only numismatics, but conchology, fossil and mineral collecting, lepidoptery etc) the difference between a true collection and a mere accumulation of geegaws of a certain type is in the manner in which the collection is documented. Are coineys collectors, or hoarders?

But we come back to the Luekesque assertion that
"most coins, almost all coins, on the market are legal and do not have documentation"... I wonder for example how many Athenian tets there are both on the market and in collections. I wonder also, if one did an FOI request of every nation in the Mediterranean region and other countries reached by the spread of these coins, how many export licences you would find that have been issued for this specific type of coin? What about the silver coins of Thracian Chersonese (the one with the backward looking forequarters of a lion)? How many export licences have been issued "since the year dot" versus how many have appeared on the market in just the past twenty years? I've not done this (and this would be a wonderful undergraduate dissertation topic, or a grant-supported research institute research topic), but my guess is that the relationship would be thousands (at the most) of export licenses to tens or hundreds of thousands of these coins circulating on a largely no-questions-asked market. I'd say that would give a good idea of the percentage chance of any given coin offered on that market being of licit origins or illicit origins. Would we find that just (for example) 2,3% of all the coins currently on the market correspond to the total number of export licences known to have been issued for such coins? That would give a figure that over 97% of the coins on the market cannot possibly have been issued an export licence and therefore have been illicitly traded. An exercise certainly worth being carried out. I think (though would urge nobody to bother foreign governments by actually doing it) if we were to look at more "common" coins (as Lueke sees them, the "junkers") like Constantinian and Theodosian bronze coinage we'd, find an even more vast discrepancy in the numbers (weights!) on the market and the statistics of export licence issue by countries such as Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Turkey, Syria, France, Germany and England for example, of such coins.

To assert that in the US import restrictions affect only coins on certain designated lists means that all the rest on the (US) market "must be licit" even if they have no documentation, ignores the fact that, seen outside the context of self-interested Amerocentric navel-gazing, the vast majority are in fact most probably not.

Of course, the Santa Fe based "Cultural Property Reseach Institute" could always do an objective and transparently-reported study of the problem of the number of export licences issued for specific types of coin, the number of coins currently on the global and US market from pre-1970 old collections and other factors to prove me wrong.

Vignette: It seems some dugup US coin collectors have an extremely limited world-view which leads them to some false conclusions...

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