Wednesday 1 April 2015

Coin Dealers' Association Resolves Illicit Antiquities Problem

The Ethical Coin Dealers' Association (EMV) based in Munich has announced a new policy for members which came into force at midnight on 31st March. It is a reaction to current concerns being expressed in the international press about the potential links between the trade in illicit antiquities and criminal groups and militant groups. As the President Matthias Schläppchen said in a statement to the press last night "the existing loopholes in the law have allowed many abuses, including by coin dealers, and this and previous efforts to block reform has greatly damaged the trade's reputation, the EMV stands for ethical participation in a licit trade, and has decided to root out any hint of improprieties among its own members".
The move is believed to be intended to pre-empt legislative changes which are scheduled to take place in 2016 in Germany, one of the world centres in the coin market, under the eye of the Culture Minister of the Federal Repulic of Germany, Monika Grütters. These new laws demands changing the basic assumptions when dealing with the international trade in antiquities, and in order to cut smuggling and other reflections of involvement in the illicit trade, the import and trade of cultural goods to Germany will only be open to objects with an official export license from their country of origin. There will also be attempts to examine collections looking for dubious objects (similar to the way it treats art confiscated or stolen by the Nazis). Tighter restrictions would also apply to the sale of art and antiquities, clear legal limits would determine whether an object has sufficient provenance information.

President Schläppchen points out that the new laws will in fact introduce nothing new to the antiquities trade, "ever since Article 3 of the  1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, there has been a clear and unambiguous internationally accepted definition of what an illicit antiquity is, accepted by the 127 nations which are states party to that convention - among which I am proud to say is my own country. We are therefore honour bound to apply that to our business practice. It's not about the money, it is a matter of professional pride and honour", he said.

The EMV decided by virtue of a vote taken by the governing board in February to expel from its membership any dealer who does not abide by the new code of ethics of the Association. This states that none of them will hold in their stockroom numismatic items which are known to be smuggled or stolen, nor items where licit provenance, assignment of title, export and collecting history cannot be documented. Dealers pledge to inform potential purchasers what documentation of licit origins is held for each item, and undertakes to supply a copy to the buyer. Dealers currently holding such material have until the end of December to dispose of them before the new national laws come in. At the beginning of 2016 an EMV ethics committee will be appointed to check members' adherence to the new EMV policies.

President Schläppchen is sure that introducing these higher standards among association members is not only the right thing to do in a changing antiquities market, but also makes sound commercial sense. "There are many collectors out there who love their hobby and who do not want it to be suspected of being linked in any way to illegal and immoral practices. These collectors will want to acquire their coins from an EMV dealer who supply only coins of documented licitness. This gives our dealers the edge over their competitors, many of whom cut costs by cutting corners on due diligence and keeping their business documents in order. In this way they undercut the prices of the legitimate market. Anyone these days can set themselves up as a coin dealer. Today there are many cowboys out there calling themselves numismatic professionals, whose stock consists entirely of material from goodness' knows where and whose business records are frankly, a mess. We and our members want to disassociate ourselves from such hoi polloi and their weasel-worded and for-show-only "codes of ethics"...", says Schläppchen.

Not all German coin dealers go along with these arguments Damon Kampfstiefel, a lobbyist for one of the rival "professional numismatic" associations says that people have been collecting coins and other antiquities without documentation for generations, and he will fight to make sure that nobody can take this right away. Mr Kampfstiefel is not however a member of the EMV and it seems likely that when the new legal system comes in, very few truly responsible collectors will side with such views.

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