Friday, July 24, 2020

CPAC Meets to Discuss Renewals of Colombian and Italian MOU’s


On July 22, 2020, the US Cultural Property Advisory Committee (“CPAC”) met to consider proposed renewals of MOU’s with Colombia and Italy. The following CPAC members were present via videoconferencing: (1) Stefan Passantino (Chairman- Public); (2) Adele Chatfield-Taylor (Public); (3) Karol Wight (Museums); (4) James Reep (Public); (5) Ricardo A. St. Hilaire (Archaeology); (6) Lothar Von Falkenhausen (Archaeology); and  (7) Anthony Wisniewski (Collector-Sale of International Cultural Property).  Allison Davis, CPAC’s State Department Executive Director, was also present.

Chairman Passantino welcomed the speakers.  He indicated that the Committee had read all the comments, and that speakers would be allowed 5 minutes to focus on points most important to them.  After all the speakers were finished, he would open up the floor to questions. Those who wanted to speak about the proposed Colombian MOU went first.  The order of speakers was as follows:  (1) Sarah Newman (University of Chicago); (2) Robert Drennan (Society of American Archaeology); (3) Kate FitzGibbon (Committee for Cultural Policy); and (4) Brian Daniels (Archaeological Institute of America).   Next, the Committee heard the following speakers on the Italian renewal: (1) Kate FitzGibbon (Committee for Cultural Policy); (2) Arturo Russo (International Association of Professional Numismatists); (3) Doug Mudd (American Numismatic Association); (4) Josh Knerly (Association of Art Museum Directors) (5) Peter Tompa (Global Heritage Alliance); (6) Elizabeth Greene (Archaeological Institute of America); and (7) Randolph Myers (Ancient Coin Collectors Guild).

Sarah Newman (University of Chicago) spoke about her experiences as a Fulbright Scholar.  Although Covid 19 cut her work short, she enjoyed her experience with Columbian colleagues studying museum collections. She found them very helpful in making their collections accessible to her for her study.

Robert Drennan (Society of American Archaeology) indicated that the MOU has benefitted the protection of Colombian cultural patrimony because even people in rural areas know that it is illegal to loot artifacts. There have been efforts to perform rescue archaeology before construction projects.  One example showing that legislation protecting archaeological remains actually carries substantial weight on the ground, is the case of Nueva Esperanza. Archaeological remains were reported in the process of planning for the construction of a major electricity substation just south of Bogotá. These remains turned out to be those of a large nucleated pre-Hispanic Muisca settlement. Against strong political and economic opposition, construction was delayed and an extensive multimillion dollar excavation project was funded under the terms of regulations to protect cultural heritage.

There have also been more academic interest.  Recently founded Masters' and Doctoral programs in anthropology, archaeology, and cultural heritage at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, at the Universidad de los Andes, at the Universidad Pedagógica y Tecnológica de Colombia, and at the Universidad Externado have grown and become more solidly established during the past five years. 

Campaigns to increase awareness that pre-Columbian Native American artwork is not simply a potential economic resource have had an impact, as have enforcement efforts, but more remains to be done. Sadly, the US continues to be a major market for looted Colombian cultural materials.

The existing Memorandum has been successful. The Memorandum, however, is still very much needed. There is every reason to believe that a renewal would help to maintain the momentum and lead to continued progress in the future.

Dr. Drennan’s written testimony can be found here:  https://beta.regulations.gov/document/DOS-2020-0022-0299

Kate FitzGibbon (Committee for Cultural Policy) provides some brief thoughts about the proposed renewal with the MOU with Colombia.  Ms. FitzGibbon indicates that Colombia is obliged to engage in self-help measures, but it is unclear, what, if any, self-help measures have been undertaken.  Ms. FitzGibbon urges the Committee to ensure such self-help measures have been undertaken before a MOU with Colombia is renewed.  She also questions whether all the material described as “ethnological” on the current designated list meets the definition of such material under the Cultural Property Implementation Act (“CPIA”).

The Committee for Cultural Policy’s and Global Heritage Alliance’s written testimony concerning the Colombian renewal can be found here: https://beta.regulations.gov/document/DOS-2020-0022-0044

Brian Daniels (Archaeological Institute of America) indicates that Colombia has met all four determinations for a renewal of its MOU.  First, he acknowledges Dr. Drennan’s testimony about the collaboration between US and Colombian archaeologists.  He indicated this relates to the fourth determination under the CPIA, relating to whether import restrictions are “consistent with the general interest of the international community in the interchange of cultural property among nations for scientific, cultural, and educational purposes.”

Dr. Daniels then discusses the first determination which requires a showing the cultural patrimony of Colombia is in jeopardy from the pillage of archaeological materials. Ongoing looting in Colombia is outlined in the statement by Dr. Drennan and the SAA. He discusses recent seizures of looted cultural material in Colombia.

He also discusses the designated list and states that previous Committees had already made a determination what was considered ethnological material. 

The AIA’s written testimony on the Colombian renewal can be found here: https://beta.regulations.gov/document/DOS-2020-0022-0393

The Committee then turned to testimony regarding the Italian MOU renewal.

Kate FitzGibbon (Committee for Cultural Policy) recounts how both she and Patty Gerstenblith, who represented the interests of the archaeological community, were appointed at the same time, but Prof. Gerstenblith’ s application was rushed through so she could participate and vote on the initial Italian request.  Ms. FitzGibbon, who represented the trade, was not allowed to do so.  Had Ms. FitzGibbon been allowed to participate, she would have voted “no” on the request because Italy had not done enough to protect its cultural patrimony.

Since that time, Italy’s Carabinieri have done an excellent job stopping looting, but Italy has not complied with the MOU in other ways.  First, Italy has failed to allow the export of items freely available for sale within Italy itself.  Second, Italy has not made it easier for museums to secure loans. Finally, Italy has not released decades old Polaroid photographs of looted items in the Medici archive.  Instead, Italian authorities have shared them with a researcher who used them to play “gotcha” with auction houses.

The Committee for Cultural Policy’s written testimony about the Italian renewal can be found here:  https://beta.regulations.gov/document/DOS-2020-0022-0391

Arturo Russo (International Association of Professional Numismatists) speaks for the premier professional trade association for coin dealers.  He starts his statement with a Latin maxim, “pacta sunt servanda” which roughly translates as “bargains are to be observed.”

He notes that after the initial MOU with Italy in 2001, Italy did as promised make it easier to export Italian cultural goods, including coins.  However, since import restrictions were first imposed on coins in 2011, it has become increasingly difficult to obtain export permits, and today it is almost impossible to get such permits for even low value and common ancient coins.

Last year, Italian authorities published regulations that state that you cannot even apply for an export license unless you can prove that an archeological object is outside of the ground before 1909, the date of Italy’s first cultural patrimony law.  Italy has over twenty different export offices and luckily some of them don’t enforce this regulation, as quite rightly, they do not consider coins in trade to be archeological items. On the other hand, other offices, like that in Milan, apply this regulation in a very stringent manner, and require proof of provenance before 1909.  This makes it impossible to export ancient coins, because only few coins have a provenance stretching back that far.  Just to be clear, ancient coins are freely bought and sold inside Italy, but they become “illegal” and important to Italian cultural patrimony only when one applies to take them outside of Italy, which is unacceptable. 

The situation is so egregious that there have been cases where coins that were legally purchased by Italian collectors in US auctions prior to 1980 where not only denied an export license, but were confiscated simply on the basis of lack of provenance prior to 1909. It is worth noting that coins have been collected since the Renaissance. There are studies from prominent Italian scholars, which Mr. Russo would be happy to share, which demonstrate that coins in the market should not be treated as archaeological objects because an immense number of coins were found before 1909. Nevertheless, most of the coins do not have a documented provenance because until the recently auctions were limited to coins from highly important collections. Mr. Russo notes that in 1994 the two most prominent numismatists in Italy, Silvana Balbi De Caro and Francesco Panvini Rosati, stated that only coins documented to be from an archaeological find are of archaeological interest. 

In 2012, Mr. Russo’s firm, Numismatica Ars Classica, represented a group of investors that purchased and dispersed the Archer Huntington collection of coins.  This large collection was assembled between the end of 19th century and 1930. The collection was property of the Hispanic Society of America and on loan to the American Numismatic Society. The vast majority of the Ancient coins in the collection did not have a documented provenance prior to 1909 and theoretically if purchased by an Italian collector, would be subject to detention and seizure if they were subsequently exported from Italy.  

This behavior is clearly unacceptable.  So, Mr. Russo asks that CPAC freeze the renewal of import restrictions on coins until Italy complies with its obligation to facilitate the issuance of export licenses. The current situation clearly disadvantages American collectors and institutions as coins legally owned in the States can be freely sold to Italian buyers while the same coins cannot leave Italy and be freely sold to American collectors. 

What makes the whole situation even more inconceivable is the fact that Italy has probably one of the largest if not the largest numismatic patrimony in the world. There are over 200 institutions that have coins and the largest museums like Naples, Rome and Turin have collections which contain over a million specimens each. Unfortunately, most of these collections are not published nor accessible through the internet with the result that they are almost completely inaccessible to the public.

Mr. Russo indicates that the Italian Carabinieri do an excellent job fighting looters and he knows as a matter of fact that they do not share the belief that everything without a provenance prior to 1909 has to be considered illegal. They are fully aware that a legal and healthy market exists and must be preserved. IAPN is not against a stronger cooperation between Italian authorities and US to fight illegally excavated coins coming onto the US market, but blanket restrictions are unfair to the trade. 

In concluding, Mr. Russo also indicates that any effort to extend restrictions to Roman Republican and Imperial coins is simply ridiculous as it uncontested that the vast majority of these coins are found outside the boundaries of Italy.  In closing, he reiterates that current restrictions should be frozen until Italy makes it easier to procure export licenses.  

IAPN’s written testimony about the Italian renewal can be found here:  https://beta.regulations.gov/document/DOS-2020-0022-0143

Peter Tompa (Global Heritage Alliance) states that current events, including mobs tearing down historic statues and Erdogan’s conversion of Hagia Sophia from a museum to a mosque, as well as the reaction of archaeological advocacy groups and some of their prominent members, raise the fair question whether lobbying on behalf of foreign governments directed at suppressing market demand is really about conservation, or about exercises of power and control.

Tompa then states that it is time for this Committee to consider a new paradigm, one which focuses not on suppressing all trade of every conceivable artifact with embargoes, but which instead facilitates lawful trade in objects, especially those legally available for sale within the country seeking restrictions. 

He indicates that there is no better place to start than this renewal.  Legal trade in cultural goods of Italian types has already been embargoed for 20 years.  During this period, Italy’s Carabinieri have mounted a successful campaign against looters.  However, largely due to the sheer number of historic sites, lack of funding and corruption, the Italian State has failed to preserve all the cultural heritage already in its care.  As set forth in the IAPN’s study, this is particularly true for small, commonplace items like coins. 

What does GHA request?  First, GHA joins hundreds of coin collectors to ask that under no circumstances should the designated list be expanded, particularly to late Roman Republican and Imperial coins.  As set forth in IAPN’s papers, only 2.8% of Roman Imperial coins hoards containing coins from Italian mints are found within Italy itself making it impossible to fairly consider them Italian cultural patrimony.  GHA also believes that the CPIA mandates that the current Italian designated list needs to be reformed to ensure it only covers items only found in Italy.  For coins, this means—using the Greek designated list as a model—that at least larger denomination coins which circulated in international trade should be delisted.

GHA also requests that any renewal be conditioned on Italy immediately facilitating the licit export of any item legally available for sale within Italy itself.  Despite solemn promises to do so under each of the prior MOU’s, as Mr. Russo has noted, Italy has actually made it harder to export ancient coins of the sort openly and legally sold within Italy itself.  

Finally, GHA also asks the Committee to facilitate lawful trade by requiring US Customs to accept legal exports from sister EU countries as legal imports of items on the Italian designated list into the United States.  Tompa indicates such a modification of the MOU is not only consistent with the UNESCO Convention, but Italian law. 

GHA’s written testimony regarding the proposed Italian renewal can be found here: https://beta.regulations.gov/document/DOS-2020-0022-0048

Douglas Mudd (American Numismatic Association) indicates that his organization opposes any expansion of the current MOU to include late Roman Republican and Roman Imperial coins. Such coins are found in huge numbers outside of Italy and it makes no sense to recognize Italy’s rights to them as its cultural patrimony.  The cumulative impact of current MOU’s has already done much to damage ancient coin collecting in the US.  This is a shame because ancient coins are excellent teaching tools.  Students already suffer from a lack of understanding about ancient cultures.  Roman coins have been used as an adjunct to Latin classes.  The prospect of possible seizure of their coins has dissuaded foreign collectors from sharing knowledge with US Collectors at ANA seminars and coin shows. 

The ANA’s written testimony about the Italian renewal can be found here: https://beta.regulations.gov/document/DOS-2020-0022-0288

Stephen J. Knerly (Association of Art Museum Directors) discussed the concerns of the country’s art museums with regard to the Italian MOU request. The AAMD’s written submission questioned whether Italy’s patrimony was still in jeopardy and whether there were less significant alternatives than import restrictions as well as problems AAMD members were having with loan agreements, but Mr. Knerly’s oral testimony focused on the last issue. Knerly emphasized that AAMD members have cordial museum to museum relationships with Italian institutions but noted that there are problems with loan agreements, in particular expensive fees.  He also criticized the State Department’s use of a standard Article II which made it more difficult to hold countries accountable to hold up their own obligations.

The AAMD’s written testimony about the Italian renewal can be found here: https://beta.regulations.gov/document/DOS-2020-0022-0383

Elizabeth Greene (Archaeological Institute of America) indicates that the AIA supports another extension of the MOU with Italy as necessary to protect Italian cultural patrimony.  As evidence, Dr. Greene points to “Operation Demetra,” which revealed extensive illegal excavations in Sicily linked to a buyer in London.  She also discusses seizures of 20,000 archaeological objects and 4,000 coins in other operations. She notes it is important to protect sites not only for academic, but for to help develop tourism.

The AIA’s written testimony about the Italian renewal can be found here: https://beta.regulations.gov/document/DOS-2020-0022-0392

Randolph Myers (Ancient Coin Collectors Guild) opposes the extension of the MOU as it applies to ancient coins.  He first focuses on any effort to expand current import restrictions to Roman Republican coins.  First, he indicates that one cannot assume late Roman Republican coins were both struck and found in Italy.  He notes this can be proved from a review of “Coin hoards of the Roman Republic Online" that is hosted by the American Numismatic Society. Found on the Internet at http://numismatics.org/chrr.  This database of Roman Republican Coin hoards mainly from the period 155 BC to AD 2 shows that such coins en masse outside of Italy. 

The data is even more significant for Roman Imperial coins.  Large numbers of Roman Imperial coins are found outside modern-day Italy. He cites "The Coin Hoards of the Roman Empire Project," found on the Internet at http://chre.ashmus.ox.ac.uld. This Project, a joint initiative of the Ashmolean Museum and the Oxford Roman Economy Project, "aims to collect information about hoards of all coinages in use in the Roman Empire between approximately 30 BC and AD 400." It proves that less than 3 % of reported Roman Imperial coin hoards containing coins from Italian mints are found within Italy, or stated another way, over 97% are found outside that Country.

The ACCG’s written testimony about the Italian renewal can be found here:  https://beta.regulations.gov/document/DOS-2020-0022-0244

Questions: Anthony Wisniewski (collector-sale of international property) asks Kate FitzGibbon (CCP) and Peter Tompa (GHA) whether EU nations have a right to export cultural goods that must be recognized by the Italian government.  Both FitzGibbon and Tompa say they believe that to be the case. FitzGibbon also notes that the basis for the new EU export law has been questioned by the Rand Corporation which debunked the claim that terrorists were using stolen antiquities as a major funding source.  Tompa notes the new law does not apply to exports of items that originated in the EU so it would not apply to Italian cultural goods.

Arturo Russo that Italy and Greece stand alone in making it difficult to get export permits for common ancient coins.  All the other major EU countries allow such items to be exported fairly easily.

Karol Wight (Museums) asks Stephen Knerly (AAMD) about courier fees.  He indicates this is a problem not only in Italy but elsewhere.  Italy treats couriers as essential visitors so they are allowed entry even during this pandemic.

Ricardo A. St. Hilaire (Archaeology) asks Brian Daniels and Elizabeth Greene (Archaeological Institute of America) about site security plans in archaeological excavation agreements in Colombia and Italy.  Dr. Daniels is not aware of the situation in Colombia. Dr. Greene has no knowledge of the situation in Italy as she has never signed a permit.  She does note, however, that archaeological groups work actively on site protection with local communities and the police.  She has seen this in action in Sicily, where she works.  She notes that local divers have helped protect underwater sites there.

James Reap (Public) and Lothar Von Falkenhausen (Archaeology) state it irrelevant and unfair to attribute the actions of prominent members of archaeological advocacy groups in encouraging or justifying mobs tearing down historic statues to their organizations.  Peter Tompa (GHA) respectfully disagrees because it raises the ultimate question whether the efforts of these groups are really solely about conservation or an exercise of power and control.  Von Falkenhausen adds that he believes in the archaeological value of coins and gratuitously states that ancient coin collectors should collect something else.  (In CPO’s opinion, this demonstrates the anti-collector bias of many of those appointed to represent the archaeological community on this Committee.  In reality, not all archaeologists take such a view and some even collect ancient coins and other mostly minor artifacts.)

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Time to Consider a New Paradigm Which Facilitates Lawful Trade

This is what I said more or less at yesterday's  CPAC session to consider a renewal of a MOU with Italy.  I hope to have a summary of that meeting posted soon.
          Thank you for listening today to Global Heritage Alliance’s concerns about the MOU with Italy.  I am also happy to answer questions about the GHA’s and IAPN’s papers on both Italy and Colombia, which I authored.
            Current events, including mobs tearing down historic statues and Erdogans’s conversion of Hagia Sophia from a museum to a mosque, as well as the reaction of archaeological advocacy groups and some of their prominent members, raise the fair question whether lobbying on behalf of foreign governments directed at suppressing market demand is really about conservation, or about exercises of power and control.
            That in turn suggests that it is time for this Committee to consider a new paradigm, one which focuses not on suppressing all trade of every conceivable artifact with embargoes, but which instead facilitates lawful trade in objects, especially those legally available for sale within the country seeking restrictions. 
            There is no better place to start than this renewal.  Legal trade in cultural goods of Italian types has already been embargoed for 20 years.  During this period, Italy’s Carabinieri have mounted a successful campaign against looters.  However, largely due to the sheer number of historic sites, lack of funding and corruption, the Italian State has failed to preserve all the cultural heritage already in its care.  As set forth in the IAPN’s study, this is particularly true for small, commonplace items like coins. 
            What does GHA request?  First, we join hundreds of coin collectors to ask that under no circumstances should the designated list be expanded, particularly to late Roman Republican and Imperial coins.  As set forth in IAPN’s papers, only 2.8% of Roman Imperial coin hoards containing coins from Italian mints are found within Italy itself making it impossible to fairly consider them Italian cultural patrimony.  We also believe that the CPIA mandates that the current Italian designated list needs to be reformed to ensure it only covers items only found in Italy.  For coins, this means—using the Greek designated list as a model—that at least larger denomination coins which circulated in international trade should be delisted.
            We also request that any renewal be conditioned on Italy immediately facilitating the licit export of any item legally available for sale within Italy itself.  Despite solemn promises to do so under each of the prior MOU’s, Italy has actually made it harder to export ancient coins of the sort openly and legally sold within Italy itself.
           Finally, this Committee should also facilitate lawful trade by requiring US Customs to accept legal exports from sister EU countries as legal imports of items on the Italian designated list into the United States.  As set forth in our papers, such a modification of the MOU is not only consistent with the UNESCO Convention, but Italian law.  Thank you.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Please Help Save Roman Imperial Coin Collecting


The State Department has announced that Italy has requested a renewal of its current Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) with the United States.  That MOU first authorized import restrictions on Italian cultural artifacts from the Pre-Classical, Classical and Imperial Roman periods in 2001.  The restrictions were extended 2006 and again in 2011 and 2016.  The 2011 renewal added new import restrictions on Greek, early Republican and Provincial coins from the early Imperial Period.  Now, the archaeological lobby, which actively opposes private collecting, has indicated it will press for import restrictions on Roman Imperial Coins—the heart of ancient coin collecting—as well.   Accordingly, if one feels strongly about their continued ability to collect Roman Imperial and other historical coins and artifacts, they should comment on the regulations.gov website.  Why?  Because silence will only be spun as acquiesce.  So, serious collectors should oppose yet another renewal as unnecessary and detrimental to the appreciation of Italian culture and the people to people contacts collecting brings.  Moreover, they should clearly state under no circumstances should import restrictions be extended to Roman Imperial coins. 

Further information about the July 22, 2020 Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) meeting and how to comment before the July 8, 2020 deadline can be found here:  https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/06/08/2020-12313/cultural-property-advisory-committee-notice-of-meeting  The Federal Register notice also has a green "submit a formal comment button" which should allow you to comment directly.

A.  Background for Coin Collectors

There are large numbers of coin collectors and numismatic firms in the US.  Very few collectors do so to “invest.”  Most collect out of love of history, as an expression of their own cultural identity, or out of interest in other cultures.  All firms that specialize in ancient coins in the US are small businesses. Private collectors and dealers support much academic research into coins.  For example, an American collector collaborated with academics to produce an extensive study of Seleucid coins. A further clamp down on collecting will inevitably lead to less scholarship.

While what became the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA) was being negotiated, one of the State Department’s top lawyers assured Congress that “it would be hard to imagine a case” where coins would be restricted.   In 2007, however, the State Department imposed import restrictions on Cypriot coins, against CPAC’s recommendations, and then misled the public and Congress about it in official government reports.  What also should be troubling is that the decision maker, Assistant Secretary Dina Powell, did so AFTER she had accepted a job with Goldman Sachs where she was recruited by and worked for the spouse of the founder of the Antiquities Coalition, an archaeological advocacy group that has lobbied extensively for import restrictions.  Since that time, additional import restrictions have been imposed on coins from Algeria, Bulgaria, China, Egypt, Greece, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Libya, Syria and Yemen. 

The cumulative impact of import restrictions has been very problematical for collectors since outside of some valuable Greek coins, most coins simply lack the document trail necessary for legal import under the “safe harbor” provisions of 19 U.S.C. § 2606.  The CPIA only authorizes the government to impose import restrictions on coins and other artifacts first discovered within and subject to the export control of Italy. (19 U.S.C. § 2601). Furthermore, seizure is only appropriate for items on the designated list exported from the State Party after the effective date of regulations.  (19 U.S.C. § 2606).  Unfortunately, the State Department and Customs view this authority far more broadly.  In particular, designated lists have been prepared based on where coins are made and sometimes found, not where they are actually found and hence are subject to export control.  Furthermore, restrictions are not applied prospectively solely to illegal exports made after the effective date of regulations, but rather are enforced against any import into the U.S. made after the effective date of regulations, i.e., an embargo, not targeted, prospective import restrictions.  While it is true enforcement has been spotty, CPO knows of situations where coins have been detained, seized and repatriated where the importer cannot produce information to prove his or her coins were outside of a country for which import restrictions were granted before the date of restrictions.

      B.  What You Can Do
            
Admittedly, CPAC seems to be little more than a rubber stamp.  Still, to remain silent is to give the cultural bureaucrats and archaeologists with an ax to grind against collectors exactly what they want-- the claim that any restrictions will not be controversial. 
            
For comments, either comment through the Federal Register notice above or use http://www.regulations.gov, enter the docket [DOS-2020-0022] and follow the prompts to submit your comments.  Alternatively, click this link and click on the Blue “Comment Now” Button which should pull up a screen that allows you to comment https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=DOS_FRDOC_0001-5233 (Please note comments may be posted only UNTIL July 8, 2020 at 11:59 PM.)
            
Please also note comments submitted in electronic form are not private. They will be posted on http://www.regulations.gov. Because the comments cannot be edited to remove any identifying or contact information, the Department of State cautions against including any information in an electronic submission that one does not want publicly disclosed (including trade secrets and commercial or financial information that is privileged or confidential pursuant to 19 U.S.C. 2605(i)(1)).

C.  What Should You Say?

What should you say?  Provide a brief, polite explanation about why the renewal should be denied or limited.  Question CPAC why it’s necessary to renew this MOU yet again when looting is under control and the real jeopardy to Italy’s cultural patrimony comes from poor stewardship by the Italian State.  Indicate how restrictions will negatively impact your business and/or the cultural understanding and people to people contacts collecting provides.   Coin collectors should add that it’s typically impossible to assume a particular coin (especially Roman ones) was “first discovered within” and “subject to the export control” of Italy.  In fact, by far most Roman Imperial coins are found not in Italy, but on the Empire’s frontiers.  You might add that Italian historical coins are very common and widely and legally available for sale elsewhere, and point out the absurdity of restricting coins freely available in Italy itself.  Finally, you don’t have to be an American citizen to comment—you just need to be concerned enough to spend twenty or so minutes to express your views on-line.  Comments from Italian collectors are particularly welcome! 

Personalized comments are best, but feel free to use this submission as a model: 

Dear CPAC:

Enough is enough. This MOU should be allowed to lapse. Its negative impacts on collecting and the appreciation of Italian culture and people to people contacts collecting brings now far outweigh any benefits. At a minimum, please free all ancient coins from restriction. Such coins are openly and legally available for sale within Italy itself. It makes absolutely no sense to continue to restrict American access to what Italians themselves have enjoyed since the Renaissance. Finally, please do not recommend new restrictions on Roman Imperial Coins. As the products of a great empire, these coins circulated throughout Europe, the Middle East and beyond. They “belong” not to Italy, but to us all.

Sincerely,
xxx

Addendum (July 10, 2020):  The State Department has announced that it has extended the deadline for comments set forth in the Federal Register from July 8 to July 14.  Cynics will wonder whether this change is to allow time for the archaeological lobby to gather more comments.  As of July 9, there were 388 comments received and 72 comments posted, of which only 2 supported the MOU with Italy.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Coin Auctioneer with Archaeological Background Seeks to Rediscover Old Provenances with the Help of Facial Recognition Technology


                 On May 30, 2020, Dr. Jonas Flueck of Ex-Numis (https://www.ex-numis.com/page/about.html) and Lugdunam International Auction House (https://www.lugdunum-numismatik.com/en/) explained his use of facial recognition technology to rediscover old provenances for ancient coins.  United States import restrictions imposed on ancient coins, new regulations in Germany and the EU, and claims that terrorists have been selling ancient coins to fund their activities have all made the rediscovery of old provenances more important than before.

                Dr. Flueck prefaced his talk with a discussion of different types of provenances.  Provenance is generally comparable to the concept of chain of custody.    The International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art has developed useful concepts to explain different forms of provenance.  “Hearsay provenance” is the weakest form of provenance.  This is a vague provenance, usually restricted to a date or location.  An example is “from an old Swiss collection.”  The only thing that backs up this provenance is the good faith of the dealer in question.  “Named provenance” is somewhat stronger.  It is a provenance linked to a specific collection or person.  The problem is that this kind of provenance cannot always be verified.  The strongest form of provenance is “documented provenance” linked to a specific sale or other documentary material like invoices or export licenses.  It is this last, strongest type of provenance which Ex-Numis seeks to reestablish.

                Until now, dealers and collectors have had to conduct manual searches through hundreds of old auction catalogues to recapture old provenances.  Without some suspicion where a coin may have appeared in the past, this is virtually an impossible undertaking.   The genius of Dr. Flueck’s system is that he has spent considerable time, effort and money scanning thousands of auction catalogues and then applying facial recognition technology to compare coins which are submitted to his service to those in old catalogues in order to recover old provenances.   These include some 130,000 coins listed in catalogues pre-dating 1970, the date of the UNESCO Convention.

                Still, the system has some serious limitations that help explain why the vast majority of coins without a recoverable provenance are not the products of recent, illicit digs.  First, before widespread use of digital photography in the 1990’s, it was time consuming and difficult to take photographs of coins.  For that reason, the vast majority of coins sold at auction or in fixed price lists were not photographed.  Second, although Ex-Numis has recently sought to add fix price lists to its database, many of these lists were only produced in small numbers and are no longer easily available today.  Lastly, the system does not capture more recent provenances created during the digital era; however, such coins can be found reviewing commercially available databases, like Coin Archives, AC Search, Sixbid Archives or CNG’s Research page. 

                Notwithstanding these limitations, when a match is found, it can not only detail lost provenances but whether a coin has been altered over time by cleaning or tooling.  It can also provide some assurance that a coin was on the market before the advent of highly sophisticated fakes produced with the use of laser cut coin dies.  Conversely, it can prompt concerns about authenticity if a coin was previously withdrawn from auction. 

                Recovering a provenance can also establish a particular coin was formally in a prestigious collection, like that of Prof. Pozzi and Sir Arthur Evans, a famous archaeologist.   Moreover, it can show coins travelling internationally between the United States and Europe.  Finally, it can show how prices change over time for specific coins.

                Archaeologists and others not familiar with ancient coin collecting often ask why so many ancient coins lack a provenance.  First, most coins in the past auctions were a very small part of the market.  Most coins were instead purchased at coin fairs and in coin stores with an invoice, but one which did not picture the coin.  Second, because provenances were not that important, they were often not included in auction catalogues, except for coins from famous collections.  Third, before the advent of modern facial recognition technology, it was very time consuming to search for old auction provenances by reviewing old catalogues.

                Dr. Flueck became interested in old auction catalogues when he began work at a Swiss auction house.  Over time, he has collected a large number of auction catalogues, which he married to facial imaging technology.  This technology works best for coins with irregular flans, which is common in the Greek series.  It works less well with coins with regular flans made in quantity, which includes most Roman Republican and Imperial coins.  It is also difficult to match coin images in old catalogues produced with the use of plaster casts.

                The process for developing his system was very time consuming.  First, he collected a large number of catalogues based on lists of historic catalogues.    He then cut out individual pages and created PDF pages and then pages individual coins.   He ended up scanning approximately 5,000 catalogues to create his database.  These catalogues date from the late 19th c. to about 2005, when most catalogues went digital. The auctions are from around the world of ancient, chiefly Greek and Roman coins.

                Since 2006, he has rediscovered more than 5,000 lost provenances, which he hopes do not get lost again.  It is easier for the system to locate coins with irregular flans.  It is more difficult to locate coin images with regular flans, which includes all early coin images made by use of plaster casts.

                Going forward, Dr. Flueck hopes to add known forgeries and stolen coins to the database.   Such coins can then be removed from the market and stolen coins returned to their rightful owner.

                Dr. Flueck then answered several questions.  He was first asked if his system could be used for Greek vases.  He believes a similar system could be applied to Greek vases if funding is found.

                Dr. Flueck was then asked if it is harder to find provenances for Roman coins because more Greek coins in the past appeared at auction.  Dr. Flueck does not have statistics for that because he searches for Greek coin provenances far more frequently.  He does note however that it is more difficult to find matches or Roman coins because of their more regular flans.

                Dr. Flueck has not been asked to provide expert legal testimony, but he has provided provenance information used for export and import paperwork.

                Dr. Flueck asked how fast the database is growing.  He indicates he is at a point where it is difficult to acquire new catalogues.  He hopes to add reference works providing provenance, major collections that were dispersed privately and fixed price lists.  Of course, this is also very time consuming.  It is noted there is a dearth of published provenances from the late 1930’s to 1950’s due to WWII and its immediate aftermath.

                The oldest provenance Dr. Flueck has traced is from the late 19th century.  The most valuable is for a Dekadrachm of Syracuse.

                Fixed price lists are important sources of provenance information from the 1950’s-1990’s.  Dr. Flueck has a complete set of Münzen & Medaillen and Credit Suisse price lists.  Bank Leu and Hess also produced some rare lists from this period.  Dr. Flueck is missing American price lists from the 1960’s-1970’s from his database.

                There is also a discussion of the American Numismatic Society card file.  Hopefully, this can be digitized in the future. The Schaefer archive will also be a source of provenance information for Roman Republican coins.

                The database depends on what was considered an “ancient coin” in the auction catalogues.  As a result, there is uneven coverage of Byzantine or barbaric coins.  Byzantine coins are typically difficult to match because the flan shapes are so similar.

                There is a discussion of the 130,000 coins in the database with pre-1970 provenance. Dr. Flueck notes that this relatively low number is attributable to the fact that so few coins were photographed during this time period and so many were sold outside of auctions.  Even for auctions, most coins were merely listed, not pictured.  Typically only about a quarter of coins may be pictured.

                The Bronx Coin Club and the Ancient Numismatic Society of Washington, D.C. co-sponsored Dr. Flueck’s presentation.  Dr. Flueck’s Zoom Video Talk can be found here:  

Thursday, April 16, 2020

CPAC Meets to Consider MOU with Costa Rica


On April 15, 2020, the U.S. Cultural Property Advisory Committee (“CPAC”) met to consider a proposed MOU with Costa Rica.   The following CPAC members were present via videoconferencing: (1) Stefan Passantino (Public); (2) Adele Chatfield-Taylor (Public); (3) Karol Wight (Museums); (4) Nancy C. Wilkie (Archaeology); (5) Ricardo A. St. Hilaire (Archaeology); (6) Lothar Von Falkenhausen (Archaeology); and  (7) Anthony Wisniewski (Collector-Sale of International Cultural Property).

Chairman Passatino welcomed the speakers.  He indicated that the Committee had read all the comments, and that speakers would be allowed 5 minutes to focus on points most important to them.  After all the speakers were finished, he would open up the floor to questions. The order of speakers was as follows:  (1) Tess Davis, Antiquities Coalition; (2) Peter Tompa, Global Heritage Alliance and Committee for Cultural Policy; (3) Dan Sedwick, International Association of Professional Numismatists, and (4) Kate FitzGibbon.

Tess Davis indicated her organization has partnered with both the U.S. and foreign governments to protect cultural patrimony.  As Ms. Davis indicated that the Archaeological Institute of America and Costa Rican authorities had or would address three threshold requirements for a MOU, she focused her attention on the fourth “concerted international response” requirement for similar restrictions by other market nations. She appeared to be arguing that the legally mandated requirements of the Cultural Property Implementation Act were moot. The signing of the 1970 UNESCO Convention defined all signatories as treating objects exported without permission from source countries as illicit. Similarly, changes in EU law requiring export permits for lawful entry into the EU market showed the widespread global perspective that without a valid export permit, objects should be treated as illicit without proof that they were unlawfully exported - noting however that the EU rules were still being finalized.  She noted new laws in Germany prohibiting import without an export permit. She stated, inaccurately, that the UK in 2003 passed a law that required lawful proof of export for entry of antiquities. (The UK law only blocks entry of objects illegally exported after 2003 and has been very rarely used.) She also stated that only Switzerland and the United States, of all market nations, still require nations seeking protection to have a bilateral agreement.

Peter Tompa asked the Committee to focus on following the law.  He first focused on the CPIA’s requirement that the cultural patrimony of Costa Rica must be in jeopardy. He noted that there was considerable evidence of historical looting in Costa Rica, but he had been unable to find any references to current looting and, indeed, the AIA’s letter did not discuss current looting either. He then suggested that CPAC condition any MOU on Costa Rica considering the institution of a Portable Antiquities Scheme, site security measures at archaeological sites, and fair living wages for archaeological workers.  Next, he agreed with the Antiquities Coalition’s letter stating that the CPIA contemplated focused, prospective import restrictions on items illicitly exported after the effective date of any regulations, but noted that in practice U.S. Customs and Border Protection enforced CPIA restrictions as embargoes on all items on designated lists imported into the U.S. after the effective date of regulations, which is far broader.  He also noted that restrictions were particularly devastating to collectors of low value items like coins that often lack an extensive trail of provenance documents.  Finally, he noted CPAC is responsible for advising Customs about the content of the designated list, and that items like coins should be excluded because Costa Rican coins do not meet the definition of archaeological objects.

Daniel Sedwick indicates while he is not aware of Costa Rica explicitly asking for import restrictions on coins, it is his understanding that restrictions have been granted in the past even without an explicit request.  In light of that possibility, he provided a brief numismatic history of Costa Rica. Costa Rica was part of colonial Spain until 1821, but coins were not struck in Costa Rica (specifically the San José mint) until 1828, when it was part of the Central American Republic. In the 1840s the Republic of Costa Rica resorted to countermarking previously issued coins for circulation until finally issuing its own coinage starting in 1849. From that point on, the coinage of Costa Rica has been manufactured at various mints from around the world, including the Philadelphia Mint in the U.S. and the Heaton Mint in Birmingham, England, in addition to its own San José mint.

He noted that because of this history it should be evident that coins of the sort that circulated in Costa Rica are not inherently archeological in nature. In addition, to his knowledge there have been no hoards or other potentially archeological circumstances in which Costa Rican coins were discovered. Therefore, as discussed in the paper submitted on IAPN’s behalf, Costa Rican coins are not “archaeological objects” because they are not typically found within the ground, nor do they meet the 250-year-old threshold. In fact, Costa Rica’s government condones free trade of its numismatic material, both within and outside the country. For example, the Banco Central in Costa Rica is known for selling off duplicates from its own collection on the open international market. The curator of the Numismatic Museum of the Banco Central, Manuel Chacón, told Mr. Sedwick that he did not believe the MOU could possibly apply to Costa Rican coins because, as he points out, coins are not considered cultural property within Costa Rican law, and trade in coins there is not restricted.

Sr. Chacón’s views are consistent with limitations on import controls under U.S. law. As Mr. Sedwick understand it, the point of the CPIA is to help countries enforce their export controls, so as a predicate for U.S. import restrictions, there must be explicit Costa Rican export controls. While Costa Rica has no provision he is aware of concerning the exportation of coins, coins are specifically mentioned in their tax law and in fact their importation is taxed. So if the numismatic trade is legal in Costa Rica, and the importation of coins is taxed, he asks why should we restrict the entry of such coins into the US even if such a request is on the table?

Mr. Sedwick then goes to question the idea that coins should be subject to restrictions where there is no evidence that they are the products of recent, illicit digs.

Kate Fitz Gibbon, who had earlier deferred time to Peter Tompa, said that the Committee's duty was to follow US, not foreign law, and illustrated its failure to do so by quoting Mark B. Feldman, the chief State Department negotiator for the US during the UNESCO Convention and the Congressional negotiations on the CPIA. 

She said, “there have been dramatic changes in U.S. law and practice that have established a very different policy balance than the one the State Department negotiated in the UNESCO Convention and that Congress approved in the implementing legislation.”

“Ultimately, most stakeholders agreed that carefully focused import controls were necessary to dampen market incentives for pillage of archeological sites and endorsed an international convention for that purpose provided it had no retroactive effect on existing American collections. The panel rejected the “blank-check” approach that would have implemented foreign export controls designed to keep art at home in favor of targeted import controls intended to discourage looting that threatened to destroy the record of human civilization while preserving imports of ancient art to promote study of ancient civilizations.”

“In recent years, the State Department has implemented the program vigorously believing strongly in its mission to help protect the cultural heritage of mankind and responding to the demands of foreign states.  This is commendable provided the Department complies with its statutory mandate.  The Executive is not authorized to establish import controls without international cooperation unless an emergency condition exists as defined by law, and Congress did not intend to authorize comprehensive import controls on all archeological objects exported from a country of origin without its permission.  The purpose of the program is not to keep art at home, but to help protect archeological resources from pillage; the findings required by the CCPIA were established for that purpose.”

Fitz Gibbon urged the Committee to follow US law and nothing else.

Question Period

Karol Wight asked Daniel Sedwick if IAPN only opposes import restrictions on coins and not a MOU.  Mr. Sedwick indicates that IAPN’s only concern is about coins and IAPN does not oppose a MOU.  She also asks him about his statement that the Banco Central has sold items.  He indicates that it is common for collectors as well as institutions to sell items to buy other ones or to upgrade.  Ms. Wight concurs there is nothing wrong with institutions deaccessioning objects for proper purposes.

Anthony Wisniewski asked Daniel Sedwick about the circulation of Spanish Colonial coins.  Mr. Sedwick affirmed that they were widely used as trade currency throughout the world including the United States (where they were legal tender until 1857) and Asia where merchants placed “chop marks” on them.  This makes it difficult to associate them with the cultural heritage of just one country.  Sedwick also indicated that the same applies to coins from the later Republican era, particularly "Cap and Ray" 8 Reales.

Anthony Wisniewski asked Peter Tompa about the term “two bits.”  He indicated it relates to a division of the Spanish Colonial 8 Reales coin into small change worth 25 cents.  He also indicated that this terminology as well as references in our literature show that Spanish Colonial coins are as much part of our cultural heritage as that of Latin America.

Rick St. Hilaire next asked Peter Tompa about self-help measures.  Tompa indicated that former CPAC Chair Marty Sullivan used to ask at most every meeting what countries could do better.  Tompa stated here CPAC should recommend that Costa Rica consider instituting a Portable Antiquity Recording Scheme, better site security and a fair living wage for archaeological workers.  He noted that UK authorities have in the past expressed an interest in providing technical assistance with regard to PAS. He also noted that site security is important to do for the long off season and much cheaper now due to cameras and other electronic security devices.  Finally, he indicated paying archaeological workers a fair living wage will help with site security because it will make it less likely that the impoverished people who work at archaeological sites will turn to looting in the long off season.  He cited David Matsuda’s article in Kate FitzGibbon’s book as a source as well as a recent study of site looting conducted by the Antiquities Coalition. 

Karol Wight asked Peter Tompa if his organizations oppose the MOU.  He indicated they do not; they simply want CPAC to follow the law before approving another MOU.

Ms. Wight also asked Tess Davis about any knowledge she has about drugs and antiquities being sold together in Costa Rica.  Ms. Davis indicated that has happened elsewhere, but she is an expert in South East Asia not Latin America.  She indicated  Donna Yates and another colleague should be contacted to provide such information.

Chairman Passatino allowed Tess Davis to add a few words.  In response to Peter Tompa, she indicated that Customs accepts a wide variety of information as proof of provenance, but, in any event, this is an enforcement issue for Customs, not CPAC.   The Chairman also allowed Tompa to respond.  He indicated that he gets phone calls and emails every few months from people who have had their collector coins detained or seized.  He also indicated that in one recent case, Customs seized coins legally exported from one EU country (Austria) based on a Greek designated list, even though Greece is bound to accept any export from Austria as a legal export under EU law. He also indicated that the issue should be CPAC’s problem because Customs refuses to meet on the issue, stating that it is bound by what the State Department wants. Further in this regard, Tompa noted he recently got a no relevant documents response from Customs related to MOUs with MENA countries even though the applicable regulations come from U.S. Customs.

Chairman Passatino then closed the meeting with promise that CPAC “checks the box” with regard to every finding it must make before recommending a MOU.