Wednesday 14 May 2014

CPAC Comments: Not Letting the Facts Get in the Way of a USeful Story

Sayles addresses CPAC
It seems great minds think alike, or at least differently from the little minds.  Professor Nathan Elkins has written an interesting post on his numismatics blog ("Import Restrictions and Coins: Lobbying, Duplicity, and Ancient Egypt's Closed Currency System" May 14, 2014). He notes that while archaeologists consider ancient coins to be archaeological evidence as much as potsherds, buttons, flint scrapers, bone fragments and snail shells, coin collectors and, especially dealers, do not. They position themselves as numismatic exceptionalists. This is particularly apparent when attempts are made to bring transparency into the market - something the appaentgly fear (though try to hide it by pretending that in some mysterious way only they fully understand it's "impossible").  Various tactics are used by embattled coineys to defend their crumbling bulwarks.
The ancient coin dealer lobby, primarily the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG), consistently makes an effort to dissuade CPAC from the protection of coins each time a request for an MOU is made.  Their arguments have been repeated recently since the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) has asked for public comment on a potential MOU with Egypt that would place limits on imports of cultural and archaeological items into the U.S. that lack documentation prior to the date of enactment of that potential MOU.
 Elkins then discusses the assertions made in that recent discussion and shows where they are false. Coins are not only archaeologically and culturally significant, but their removal from the archaeological record leads to destruction of archaeological evidence.I might add that tTheir denial is totally duplicious, because each and every one of them will simultaneously praise the "English system" where the PAS records precisely these kinds of finds because of the archaeological significance of the information each and every findspot holds. These coineys really are blinkered idiots, incapable of arguing consistently and seeing the wider picture. We are all aware of the cases of smuggling of Egyptian artefacts into the US which give the lie to the bold claims of dealers that the threat is an invented one.

What is particularly worthy of note is the discussion of one of the most common arguments used by the ACCG in this discussion. They allege that in the form in which it is wrtten, the wording of US law makes it impractical to protect the coins used in Ancient Egypt because allegedly "they circulated widely, and so one cannot say where a coin came from since dealers and suppliers do not record or track find spots".
In the public comments on the potential MOU with Egypt, it is remarkable that a number of coin dealers are asserting that coins ought not be protected because they widely circulated.  This is, of course, a strained argument to make in view of the fact that ancient Egypt famously had a closed currency system in both the Ptolemaic and Roman periods.  This does not mean that Egyptian coins are not found outside of Egypt - they are.  But the vast majority of Egyptian coins are found in Egypt.  One reason for Egypt's closed currency system may have been Egypt's need to retain silver since there were no silver resources in ancient Egypt; topography also isolated Egypt.  In fact, Egypt's closed currency system is perhaps the best-known instance of locally or regionally circulating coinage in the ancient world and it is widely discussed in both collector and scholarly literature.  
As Elkins comments, "coin circulation is a much more nuanced subject than the lobby acknowledges in its dealings with CPAC, the U.S. Department of State, and U.S. Customs".

A prime example of the way the coin dealers are trying to twist facts to suit their naysaying agenda is Sayles' own comments to the CPAC:
"Coins struck in Egypt during antiquity traveled widely then, and since then, as instruments of monetary exchange and of cultural interest."  
It is therefore rather awkward for him that in his popular book (W. Sayles, Ancient Coin Collecting IV: Roman Provincial Coins, as Elkins notes, Wayne Sayles writes about this closed system. So how can he pretend he does not know about it when addressing comments to CPAC concerning a potential MOU with Egypt 16 years later?

Another ACCG director Peter Tompa fancies himself as a numismatist too, and in his comments to the CPAC, he also stresses the same point, giving examples of coins of Egyptian type found outside of Egypt and also characterizes Egyptian coins as widely circulating. Elkins provides a necessary correction:
Both Sayles and Tompa overlook the fact that these foreign finds are exceptions, not the rule, and that the vast majority of Egyptian coins will be found in Egypt, which had a closed currency system in the Hellenistic and Roman periods
So, either Tompa and Sayles do not know this, or they are deliberately misleading the CPAC. The same goes for the more than 170 collectors who all made the same point because the dealers told them to in their comments to the CPAC. Fortunately, Elkins concludes, "the distinguished members of CPAC take account of the substance of comments and evidence presented to them during the period of public comment". So it is fortunate that among the comments are those of a proper numismatist (Professor Jane De Rose Evans, Temple University, Philadelphia PA) not some self-interested dealers and their parroting collector clients.

In any case, it needs stressing yet again that the CCPIA and the MOUs created on its basis do not require importer or exporter to declare the provenance of the artefacts imported into the USA. This is a deceitful straw man argument entirely fabricated by the dealers of ancient coins and their lobbyists. 

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