Wednesday 4 April 2012

Coiney Misunderstanding About UK Export Licences: Nothing New in That Then...

Over on the Huffington Post blog under Wayne Sayles' ranty  "call-to-arms to all coin collectors all over the US" Alfredo de La Fe (US dugup coin dealer) says:
 "Look at how the UK has addressed these issues".
One would have thought that somebody who makes a living selling dugup antiquities would know the legislation concerning this activity like the back of his own hand. Unfortunately that seems not to be true in this case.

The legislation to which Sayles refers applies specifically to import of correctly exported archaeological and ethnographic material, nothing else (I assume the US coiney de La Fe is getting confused and talking about the PAS - which applies to England and Wales, probably soon only to England, not the whole UK. The PAS is of course in no way connected with the export procedure for coins or anything else).

To legally export a dugup ancient coin (Roman, Celtic, Medieval or later over 50 years old) from the United Kingdom you need in every case an export licence (and from Scotland and Northern Ireland given the different legal situation there, to avoid problems, you would be wise to include documentation that the object has been released by the appropriate authorities). When they are going outside the EU, they may also require an EU export licence - though there are some exemptions from that particular requirement for some types of cultural property (such as many, but not all, numismatic items).

Any coin of this type imported into the US from the UK without an export licence is just as illicit as one from Italy, Greece, Cyprus and China and if the US was actually honouring the principles of the 1970 UNESCO Convention should be seized at point of entry and only released when the proper documentation is provided. But who has ever heard of them doing such a thing? (And still US importers claim they are being discriminated against by laws requiring ICE to be more vigilant towards imports from certain countries with a special agreement with the US in addition to being a fellow state party to the convention!) 

Readers can check the requirements for export of cultural property from Britain:

and when it comes to dugup artefacts of the type mentioned by de La Fe, in particular here:


NJM said...

Hi Paul,

I think you and Wayne both make good points. However, I feel as though only Wayne really looks at both sides of the issue. I may be wrong, so would you be willing to tell us what you think about the ANS's statement on the cultural property issue?:

The American Numismatic Society recognizes the importance of legislative and treaty provisions aimed at curbing illicit traffic in archaeological artifacts.

At the same time the Society is aware that in the case of coins such measures can have the unintended effects of placing an undue burden on lawful collecting, legitimate numismatic trade, and scholarly research.

Historically, coins were produced by the millions and they survive by the hundreds of thousands. Since the Renaissance coins have been avidly collected and studied by princes, scholars, and historically-minded hobbyists alike. While the illicit recovery of coins from archaeological sites and the failure to record hoards properly continues to do irreparable harm to numismatic scholarship, collecting and dealing in coins that have been in private hands for many years does not contribute to the destruction of cultural heritage. Likewise, 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. Taken together, such considerations argue that within the world of artifacts, coins as a class do, in fact, stand apart.

Accordingly, The American Numismatic Society urges that in cultural property deliberations over the importation of artifacts, full attention should be given to these exceptional factors that pertain to historical coins, so as to ensure the continuance of legitimate collecting, the protection of the cultural heritage of countries negatively affected by the ongoing trade in illicit antiquities, and the preservation, analysis and dissemination of knowledge of the past.



Paul Barford said...

"I feel as though only Wayne really looks at both sides of the issue."


I think he is looking at the issues as it affects the no-questions-asked dealing in ancient artefacts, and from several years discussion with him am convinced he understands very little indeed of the other side of the issue.

The ANS recently had some coins stolen from its collections, many of which (when they can be traced despite the no-questions-asked market) ended up abroad. Will they refrain from using the international measures available for recovering material which has illicitly changed hands because that within the world of artifacts, coins as a class do, in fact, stand apart? Yes or no?

Paul Barford said...

As for the ANS nonsense, as an archaeologist I do not think "coins stand apart" any more than terra sigillata, Baetian amphorae, flint axes, chamber pots or any other type of material culture. There is no excuse for their irresponsible collecting just because "Petrarch collected coins" - more likely it just suits lazy collectors to collect them that way and dealers to sell them that way to hide some dealers' dodgy deals. This is just special pleading and time has come for them to grow up and accept some responsibility for what they do, even if they find it a "burden".

A moment's search of my blog however would have revealed to the coin-collecting (no?) US librarian that I have in fact discussed the ANS special pleading here before.

They quite obviously believe in the "coin fairy and coin elves" model of the appearance of fresh coins on the market. It is disappointing that such an august body should take such an irresponsible attitude, instead of urging that coineys be given special leeway when discussing cutting out illicit trade, it jolly well should be urging coin collectors, and coin dealers how they can do their bit to change the market. The ANS in its statement instead argue for maintaining the nineteenth-century status quo.

NJM said...

I see your point, although I happen to disagree somewhat. Just to see if I understand correctly, are you against all forms of trade in ancient coins?


Paul Barford said...

What is the matter with you? You work in a library, so I assume you can read. If you want to know, there is a whole blog here. Look for yourself and stop wasting everybody's time with damn foolish questions to which the answer is already set out in black and white.

But just because I am pretty sure you will turn out to be as intellectually lazy as the vast majority of the people who collect dugup antiquities no-questions asked and want everything handed to you on a plate:

Nobody I know is against "all forms of trade in ancient coins". Just that which fosters the illicit trade in antiquities in general. OK?

NJM said...

Sorry, I didn't mean to up set you. Thanks for your time, I will not bother you again,



Paul Barford said...

Sorry if I was rude (I'm writing a review of a big fat tedious book on archaeological theory and its not going well today).

I just get totally fed up with people continually putting words of that type into my mouth apparently without putting any effort into finding out what it is I am saying here.

NJM said...

No worries at all. I had just found your site today via Wayne's article so I decided to post. At first glance it comes off as anti-collecting but in reality I now see it isn't (and I should have read more before I asked).

Thanks and good luck with the book review,


Paul Barford said...

Well, if you are following the discussion under that article, you will see what I mean about intellectual laziness. See how the coineys keep dodging away from what the UNESCO Convention and CCPIA actually say to what they 'think' it says. They are of course convinced that it says something else but none of them are going to check. And so the discussion goes off on tangents and round in circles.

So did you see the bit where Sayles wrote in Huff Post "Coin collectors from all over the U.S. have fought to open meaningful dialogue on these issues for years"? First of all that is not true, coin collectors from all over the US have been and are fighting for something else entirely, but that aside, how can they presume they can have "open meaningful dialogue on these issues" when it is quite clear that they have not even bothered to find out properly what those issues are? Why, afterall those "for years' are we stuill hearing from collectors and - more importantly dealers like De La Fe- who have not the slightest idea what issues it is they are addressing? When they do not even know the contents of the convention and Act they are criticising ("I do not know what it is, but I know I do not like it!"). what kind of evidence is that of the long-existing desire for any kind of dialogue?

NJM said...

Right, well, there are certainly people who are as you describe and point argument there.

Are common ancient coins ever (legitimately) allowed to be sold by people in countries like Italy, Greece, Cyprus, etc to people in other countries, like the US? Please excuse me if you've addressed this before.



Paul Barford said...

Well, that's a rather imprecise question, countries "like" three different ones with three different legislative (I assume that is what you mean) systems? Secondly, coins fresh out of the ground, like metal detector finds or hoard discoveries, or coins in documented (and in the case of Cyprus registered) collections?

Also what would one mean by "countries like the US"?

Quite a lot of US (for example V-coins and ACCG dealers) seem to have been doing precisely that for many years, they are not particularly scarce on the US market, are they? Or do you think they've been buying these coins "illegitimately" all along through dodgy middlemen?

NJM said...

To be perfectly honest, I thought there was a gray area in which coins were absolutely illegal to export (in every country I listed) but not import (into the US) and they were exploiting such a loophole.

Maybe you could write a blog article about the legitimate trade in ancient coins and how these MOU's will not threaten the hobby altogether? Or do you already have one you could direct me to? (if time permits, of course)

I think, from the perspective of a collector- that would be very enlightening.



Paul Barford said...

Yes I suppose I could couldn't I? But if all those ACCG and V-Coins (the "ethical one") dealers say they have been trading all along in legally obtained items from Greece, Cyprus and Italy, maybe you should invite THEM to write articles on the topic. From the perspective of a collector- that would be very enlightening.

"To be perfectly honest, I thought there was a gray area in which coins were absolutely illegal to export (in every country I listed) but not import (into the US) and they were exploiting such a loophole. " Well, you said that, not me. So what you are saying is in your opinion, ACCG coin dealers are afraid the loophole will be closed so they can no longer sell collectors "absolutely illegal" goods?

So who'd go into collecting something which they believe can only be bought through "absolutely illegal" sources? Like kiddie porn or rhino horns.

The MOUs will indeed threaten the present form of the hobby if what you say is right, and the majority of the fresh coins are currently coming from "absolutely illegal" sources. That is, is it not, what we are trying to stop. It is just we are constantly told (by dealers' lobbyists) of the "millions" of coins already curated in old collections, and the scale of the legitimate trade. Is this really all lies then?

NJM said...

I only have a handful of ancients and they were exported from Israel with appropriate papers- so I do not participate in looting.

I ask simply because you are knowledgeable about the subject. I have no idea if it is all lies which is why I'm asking you. There are certainly old collections and coins that have been in the market for a long time. I think the question is, how does one prove the legitimacy either way? Is that the essential issue from the lobby's side?

Thanks again for taking the time to enlighten me.


Paul Barford said...

"papers" eh? But, if it comes to "participating in looting", where were they actually dug up? In the country issuing the "papers"? If they are recent dugups, hardly because, if you'd read this blog (or anywhere else discussing this) you'd know that, Israel's own antiquity laws would not allow their export, would they? So did they come from recent digging in an adjacent country, in which case (until 20th April 2012 - you bought them just in time) they can be legally exported from Israel?

[I hope you did not get them from ZZ Antiquities... Look him up here, or in my old posts on the yahoo Ancient Artifacts list if Tim Haines has not now deleted them.]

"I think the question is, how does one prove the legitimacy either way?

If I ran a shop selling alcohol, how would I judge whether the young looking person who wants to buy gallons of Polish vodka is of legal age or not? I'd ask to see documentary proof (and to be on the safe side take a good long look at it to make sure it is actually the person standing in front of me). If there is no driving licence or identification papers, do I do a transaction with this individual? If they just say - smiling winningly - "oh go on, you can trust me", is it responsible to sell them that alcohol?

What do you expect me to say? I think collectors should be more discriminating what they buy out of concern not to get involved in activities involving items which have passed through criminal hands. If they were, reputable dealers who want to stay in business would have to reveal just what they know about where those coins came from and be sure they have in their stocks items with a documented collecting history. "Oh go on, you can trust me" (nudge-nudge wink-wink) should no longer be enough. That is the no-questions asked market and it is that which allows the looted coins (for there really are no coin fairies) to enter the market, and that market has a huge capacity to absorb looted coins, look up the tale of the whole container load imported through Frankfurt to the US, where did that lot go so quickly? Into the collections of many of your fellows, only to surface again soon. Looted and smuggled and on open sale near you.

NJM said...

I guess they weren't unearthed in Israel, because the "papers" appear to be authentic and official.

Not ZZ, although I'm glad you mentioned it because I was considering buying a hefty lot from there. So their coins were illegally dug? His big selling point is that they have an Israeli Antiquities Authority permission document.

If I get this correct, Israel allows the importation of ancient coins and the exportation so long as they weren't found in Israel?

I understand the alcohol argument but I don't think it's really transferable.

I think that, in general, amateur collectors don't even consider these issues (I didn't) because the coins are so readily available. One would think, if they are illicit, they wouldn't be so easy to get. It's not like drugs where I would have to do a shady cash deal. I can simply go online and use my credit card, ya know?

Paul Barford said...

You may not think my analogy applicable, but I stand by it. The key to sorting out the dodgy dealings is the discrimination of the buyer.

You ask about ZZ and his persistent adverts of new stuff ("hoards" he tends to call everything but they are clearly not). You should look on Ancient Artifacts (if Tim Haines the list owner has not deleted my posts there in order to maintain whatever it is he is trying to maintain by not allowing me to discuss these issues there with members).

If my old posts are still there, you would find that I asked - more than once - the sort of questions of Mr ZZ about those "export licences" and the origins of that material which sellers need to be up-front about to establish their credentials. Look at the whole series of evasive answers I received. That is precisely the type of evasiveness that would prompt me to walk on and leave his stuff well alone if I were a buyer. People who buy his coins do not ask these questions, or are quite happy with having no answers.

You will find documented there that this firm also sold Mesopotamian artefacts (foundation cones) that he said came from a "hoard" in Israel - impossible, and Egyptian artefacts which I presented reasons on AA were fake (also not answered satisfactorily).

The AncArtifacts group pretends to be a group of "responsible collectors". Have a look at those exchanges and decide for yourself who is represented by the responses I got to questioning this seller's goods from the point of view of licitness and authenticity. The list owner and his fellow dealers did not appreciate it one bit having an archaeologist in their midst.

To come to your question about Israel, I am not sure what the law says about "import" of illicitly excavated material - I suspect however more than "allowing", its one of those loopholes (that it "does not disallow" like some parts of US law), but that is just a suspicion, you'd have to check it out.

Paul Barford said...

You can use your credit card to look at and download all sorts of porn on the Internet (including some depicting acts illegal in some or many states of the US), that does not make porn "right" in terms of the sexual exploitation of women and girls (or little boys) - and you can still be done for importing "obscene literature" to many countries, including some in the EU.

As for buying ZZ's coins, take a good look at the promotional material, the best coins are on the top of the pile, look at the ones underneath, when you;'ve added the few dozen worth having to your collection, what are you going to do with the 'slugs'? Sell them on to other collectors? You can of course, many people cake them in mud first and pretend they are "unsorted as dug". Some of Mr ZZ's coins that he shows even in his promotional videos are clearly chemically stripped. What he is selling are not unsorted "hoards" as dug, they are clearly groups of the slugs and defective coins which have been rejected by other sellers - with a few more "decent" coins thrown in as sweeteners. As I say, think what you will do with the ones you reject. Melt them down as scrap? Is that preserving ancient artefacts?

And of course remember all the time the accumulation of those amounts of coins represents the utter destruction of an equivalent amount of information about the past through the trashing of the sites they come from, and do not believe those that tell you it is not so. They are either lying or know nothing of what they speak. Ask any archaeologist whose site has been 'done over' by artefact hunters.

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