Friday 3 April 2015

The Collector, the Dealer and the Export Licence

"Kushano-Sasanian coins are kind of interesting" concludes Ed Snible (Sunday, March 22, 2015) on the back of his remarks on vetting for licit export dugup antiquities imported to the US from Italy ("It seems my readership is mostly interested in Customs issues"). This is because to be a collector of ancient coins in the US you have to rely on stuff imported from countries that have ancient coins in their archaeological sites to a country which has none. But to be a responsible collector, you need to make sure that the coins were legally exported and not criminally exported (smuggled). Mr Snible wants to brag of his latest acquisition, he has decided it is cool - makes the collector 'special', part of an elite - to 'collect coins that others ignore'.
My latest coin is a Kushano-Sasanian bronze of Peroz I from Balkh circa 245-270 AD. [...] For those interested in provenance and import issues this coin comes from the collection of Robert N. Cook, Jr. of Graham, North Carolina. The collection was largely assembled 50 years ago in Indian and Afghanistan. Unfortunately I have no documentation for this particular coin before a February 2015 auction.
He forgets conveniently to say who sold it to him, none other than 'Palmyra Heritage Morris Khouli Gallery' (if the name does not ring a bell, Google it). He bought it for US $29.00 from Mr Khouli on March 18th 2015 ( eBay item number: 121594415391) who sold it as "Vasudeva I. Circa AD 192-225 [...] Collection of the late Robert N. Cook, Jr., Graham, NC". Mr Snible adds:
This particular coin sold, unattributed, in a lot of 24 Kushan coins that went for $2 each at auction. They buyer flipped it on eBay for 10x that, misattributed as the Kushan ruler Vasudeva. It is likely that these coins will be more appreciated in a few years after dealers start using the new reference, Kushan, Kushano-Sasanian, and Kidarite Coins: A Catalogue of Coins from the American Numismatic Society, by David Jongeward and Joe Cribb with Peter Donovan.
Mr Snible claims there is nothing untoward in buying undocumented coins that were ("largely")  bought "50 years ago in Indian and Afghanistan". This is totally dodging the issue. First of all the relevant Afghan laws date from precisely this period (mid sixties, see public information available here for example - see here for a brief summary of the 1958 law)  and while India's 1972 Act on Antiquities (as revised with regard to the built and immovable heritage in 2012) is the one in force today, artefacts bought in and exported from India before that date come under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act 1958 (where antiquities are defined in art. 2 [b], and discussed Art 21-30 - including market-value compensation). Can Mr Snible's dealer demonstrate that these legal measures were fulfilled in the case of any of these coins that came from India between 1958 and 1972?

In any case what is primarily at issue in the case of coins sold (nota bene- look at Morris Khouli's feedback) currently with a lot of antiquities of Middle Eastern origin sold in the last six months is the export licences.  Where are the export licences? A glib statement that something is from  "NYC collection" is not an export licence.

Through what channels did Robert N. Cook, Jr., latterly of Graham, North Carolina, obtain these coins in the source country? And when, and by what means (on the basis of what documentation) were the coins taken from the source countries, enter the USA in private hands, to subsequently end up in a dealer's job lot sold at two dollars each? Why, if that cannot be determined and the items concerned cannot be demonstrated to be kosher, would a responsible collector want to buy such things? "Innocent-until-proven-guilty-they-can't-touch-you-for-it" is not due diligence, it is a lazy collector's cop-out.

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