Tuesday, April 21, 2015

US Government Loses Gold Coin Forfeiture Case

A panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has ordered the the federal government to return valuable 1933 $20 gold coins to their owners, the family of a Philadelphia jeweler who held the coins.

The Government convinced a jury that the Mint never realeased the coins into circulation so they must have been goverment property.

The successful appeal turned on the government's seizure of the coins in question without promptly giving the claimants an opportunity to contest the seizure in court.

Sound familar?

Monday, April 13, 2015

Make Source Countries Take Stewardship Seriously

Ann Marlowe, an accomplished critic, writer and journalist, has proposed that source countries be incentivized to take their responsibilities as stewards of cultural heritage seriously.

While some of her ideas-- like fining Iraq for its failure to keep Islamic terrorists from destroying ancient artifacts-- seem draconian, it's long past time for source countries to be held accountable for the cultural heritage in their care.

Hopefully, Marlowe's provocative opinions will prompt some much needed discussion on a more elevated plain than what we've come to expect from the extremes of the archaeological blogosphere.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

CPAC Meets to Discuss Renewal of MOU With Italy

On April 8, 2015, The US State Department Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) met in open session to discuss renewal of the Italian MOU.  The following CPAC members were present:  (1) Prof. Patty Gerstenblith, Chair (PG) (Public Member); (2) Rosemary Joyce (RJ)(Archaeology);  (3) Jane Levine (JL) (Trade); (4) Marta de la Torre  (MT)(Public); (5) Nancy Wilkie (NW) (Archaeology); and (6) James Willis (JW) (Trade).  The following members were absent:  (1) Nina Archabal  (Museum); (2) Barbara Kaul  (Public); (3) Lothar von Falenhausen (Archaeology); (4) Thomas Murray (Trade) and (5) Katherine Reid (Museum).   These absences are regrettable, though perhaps understandable given scheduling so soon after the Easter-Passover holiday.

The following individuals spoke in this order:  (1) Wayne Sayles (WS) (Ancient Coin Collectors Guild); (2) Peter Tompa (PT) (International Association of Professional Numismatists/Professional Numismatists Guild); (3) Sue McGovern-Huffman (SMH)(Association of Dealers and Collectors of Ancient and Ethnographic Art); (4) Doug Mudd (DM) (American Numismatic Association); (5) Karol Wight (Corning Glass Museum); (6) Judith Mann (JM) (St. Louis Art Museum); (7) Stephen Knerly (Association of Art Museum Directors); (8) Jane DeRose Evans (Temple University); (9) Alex Barker (University of Missouri); and (10) Carla Antonaccio (Duke University, Archaeological Institute of America and Society for American Archaeology).   The first seven speakers associated with the trade, collectors groups, educational associations and museums opposed the MOU, supported the MOU with major changes or opposed import restrictions on coins.  The last three speakers associated with the archaeological community gave the MOU unqualified support. 

There was also a six member Italian delegation present, but they did not speak in the public session.

WS-  The Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act protects what we call orphaned artifacts that have circulated in international trade, often for centuries, without any requirement or need for recorded provenance.  The law only allows import restrictions on coins that were "first discovered within" and "subject to export control" of a State Party with whom an MOU might be negotiated.  There was no legislative intent to restrict common coins.

WS's full statement may be found here.

Questions:  PG points to a Numismatica Ars Classica Catalogue which states that the firm will provide documentation for coins subject to US import restrictions.  She asks if NAC can provide such documentation why can’t other firms?  WS explains that NAC only sells high value coins that are more likely to have provenance information than common issues.   In response to a question by NW, WS indicates that NW’s views about “what is ethical” must be distinguished from what is required under the law when it comes to retention of provenance information.

PT- The 2011 decision to impose import restrictions on “coins of Italian types” was not made with CPAC’s knowledge or consent, and, indeed, CPAC member Robert Korver resigned on account of it.  CPAC should rethink current import restrictions and under no circumstances should restrictions be expanded to include late Roman Republican and Roman Imperial coins due to their wide circulation. Given budgetary realities, private collectors, not the Italian State, are the best stewards for common artifacts like coins.  

In prior MOUs, Italy pledged to consider ways to make it easier to secure export certificates for archaeological objects legitimately sold within Italy itself.  Unfortunately, nothing has been done to keep this promise, and, if anything it has become more difficult to procure them.  An IAPN member was even told that “The Americans” would not think Italy was serious about protecting its own cultural patrimony if such permits were granted.  Given this failure, CPAC should recommend that the MOU be modified so that U.S. Customs accepts proof of lawful export from any E.U. member state to help facilitate the legal import of coins “of Italian types” also legitimately for sale within Italy itself. 

PT's full statement may be found here.

Questions: PG thinks Korver’s statement that CPAC did not approve of restrictions should not be repeated because CPAC’s recommendations should be considered confidential.  PT notes that such information was supposed to be reported to Congress.  PG wonders whether the relatively few finds of Greek coins from Sicily and Italy that are found outside of Italy discussed in an attachment to IAPN’s written statement supports the assumption they predominantly circulated within Italy.  PT refers back to the plain meaning of the statute that requires artifacts to only be found there for there to be restrictions.  JW wanted to know whether the MOU was working to limit looting. PT believes that is more a function of aggressive police work.   In response to a question from MT, PT indicates that restrictions only harm those who comply with law because coins are so easy to smuggle.   He also notes that some European dealers don’t want to trade with Americans any longer given the red tape.

SMH- Restrictions have been detrimental to collecting.  Over time, this will negatively impact museums that benefit from donations from collectors.  Import restrictions disadvantage American collectors versus those in the EU. 

Questions: PG asks about ADCAEA.  SMH indicates it is a new organization with approximately 100 members.  In response to a question, SMH gives an example how restrictions have discouraged imports.  One of SMH’s clients wanted to bid on an Italian artifact in a Christie’s sale in London, but decided against it due to the red tape.

DM- Import restrictions will result in a loss of interest in ancient coins by collectors as the supply of Italian coins (ancient and otherwise) dries up. This will destroy the historically close relationship between advanced collectors and museums and inevitably impact donations of coins to numismatic institutions.  In the end these restrictions are likely to result in a drastic reduction in numismatic scholarship – much of which has been the result of the fruitful interaction of advanced private collectors and museum curators.

KW- There are too many barriers to long term loans.  American museums would like to display what Italian museums have in storage.  The problem is that personal contacts are necessary to get anywhere in Italy.  There are also concerns about expensive insurance and courier fees.

JM-Echoes concerns about fees and difficulty in getting loans.  It is very time consuming navigating the system.

Questions- PG wonders why so many museums have not asked for loans from Italy.  JM indicates it’s a chicken and egg problem.  The Italians make it so difficult that no one asks.

SK- Italy has not lived up to its promises in the MOU to provide long term loans.  The only museums to get long term loans are those that receive them as a quid pro quo for repatriating artifacts.   SK also reiterates the fact that museums have to deal with expensive courier and insurance fees.  Italy will not accept US State Department guarantees of indemnity and requires American museums to purchase insurance from Italian companies.

Questions- PG asks why some small museums have gotten loans.  SK explains you have to distinguish exposition loans from long term loans.  Exposition loans are set up by Italian for profit companies and the cost is considerable.  They do not satisfy Italy’s promises under Article II of the MOU.  In response to another question, SK also reiterates that Italy has done nothing to make it easier to secure export permits for purchases of artifacts legitimately for sale within Italy itself.

JE- Fresh coins on the market damage archaeology.  Locals and collectors and dealers should be educated to discourage looting.   Even common coins have value.  At archaeological sites like Sardes common bronze coins are mostly found.  Bronze coins were traded locally.   There is an exhibition in Philadelphia that features ancient coins.

AB- Asserts that all the legal requirements for a renewal of the MOU have been met.  AB’s school is involved in an innovative program with the Capitoline Museum.  It is studying material excavated in Rome in the late 1800’s and stored since.   It is funded privately.

CA- Excavates at Morgantina.  Italy is doing its best it can despite a severe budgetary crisis.  Metal detectorists prospect just outside the archaeological site and sometimes have come on site too during the period archaeologists are not excavating. 

Questions:  In response to a question by NW, CA indicates she believes illegal metal detectorists are searching for coins.  They have had some success deterring them with metal washers and other false targets.   

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

“Let’s facilitate Lawful Trade and the Appreciation of Italian Culture it Brings.”

Here is what I said, more or less, at today's CPAC meeting to consider a renewal of the current MOU with Italy:

The MOU with Italy has been in place for 15 years. Another 5 will make that 20. It’s long past time to consider whether any benefits from associated import restrictions outweigh the costs to cultural exchange, collectors and the small businesses of the numismatic trade. Certainly, at a minimum CPAC should carefully consider the concerns of the 94% of the public comments either opposed to this renewal or import restrictions on coins. 

The State Department spends over ½ billion in taxpayer dollars each year on cultural exchange. It should also be encouraging ancient coin collecting, which, as Italian-American collector Karen Antonelli has noted in her written statement, promotes understanding of ancient Italian cultures and fosters people to people contacts at zero cost to the US taxpayer.

Instead, State is harming our longstanding hobby with import restrictions that make it quite difficult to import coins legally from abroad. Make no mistake. The 2011 decision to impose import restrictions on “coins of Italian types” was not made with CPAC’s knowledge or consent, and, indeed, CPAC member Robert Korver resigned on account of it. In fact, coins were previously exempted from restrictions twice and there was no material change in the conditions on the ground in Italy to justify a change in this precedent.

CPAC should rethink current import restrictions and under no circumstances should restrictions be expanded to include late Roman Republican and Roman Imperial coins. These later coins circulated throughout Europe, the Middle East and Asia and have been actively collected world-wide since the Renaissance. They belong not to Italy, but to the World.

If anything, there is even less reason to continue import restrictions today. By most accounts, looting in Italy has diminished. At the same time, due to severe budget cuts, the Italian State can no longer properly care for major sites like Pompeii, let alone for the unknown number of coins stored in its museums. Given budgetary realities, private collectors, not the Italian State, are the best stewards for common artifacts like coins.  

Certainly, coins identical to those already on the Italian designated list are openly and legally sold within Italy. They can travel freely back and forth between European collectors. And they can be legally exported from E.U. member states either with or without export certificates, depending on local law.  

Prior MOUs sought to facilitate such lawful trade in ancient coins. In each, Italy pledged to consider ways to make it easier to secure export certificates for archaeological objects legitimately sold within Italy itself.[1] Unfortunately, nothing has been done to keep this promise. Instead, according to IAPN member Arturo Russo, Italian cultural officials have actually cited the 2011 MOU back to him as a reason to withhold export permits. He was actually told if they were granted, “The Americans” would not think Italy was serious about protecting its own cultural patrimony! This, of course, is entirely contrary to the MOU’s expressed intent. Given this failure, CPAC should recommend that Article II the MOU be modified so that U.S. Customs accepts proof of lawful export from any E.U. member state to help facilitate the legal import of coins “of Italian types” also legitimately for sale within Italy. Such a recommendation honors the current MOUs’ intent to facilitate lawful trade and is consistent with E.U. law, which, of course, binds Italy as well. Thank you.

[1] 2001 MOU, Art. II, F; 2006 Extension, Art. II, F; 2011 Extension, Art. II, G.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Assad Regime, Archaeological Lobby and UNESCO singing the same "Repatriate to Assad Now" Tune?

So it would seem from this opinion piece from Franklin Lamb, an unapologetic supporter of Hezbollah and the Assad regime.  While Lamb also claims that AAMD is on board as well, CPO has serious doubts that really is the case based on recent submissions to CPAC which suggest that the well being of artifacts takes precedence over repatriation.

And leaving repatriationist ideology aside, can anyone seriously claim that repatriated artifacts would be "better off" in a Syria beset by civil war let alone handed back to the very regime whose military was likely involved in looting at Apamea and Palmyra and whose forces have certainly bombed and shelled other sites of cultural significance into dust?

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Deacession on the Rise

The New York Times reports on how economic realities are forcing European museums to deaccession artifacts.   CPO supports deacession, but it should only be for redundant materials not on display and any monies received should be for capital projects, not just to plug deficits.  Perhaps the Italians, Greeks, and Egyptians should consider following the trend as well.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Doing Something to Prevent Destruction

Hugh Eakin has asked why the military has not used air strikes to dissuade the destruction of cultual sites like Hatra and Nimrud.

Good question.  Instead of making legitimate collecting of ancient artifacts that "look Syrian" subject to "collateral damage" from import controls supposedly designed to thwart ISIS, Western Governments should be directing at least some of the fire power at their disposal at ISIS culture destroyers themselves.

And why not consider spreading anti-personnel and anti-tank mines around archaeological sites by air?  Modern mines can be programmed to go inactive after a period of time so they would not be dangerous forever, but they could for a time dissuade ISIS jihadis from doing their worst.

It's too late for Hatra and Nimrud, but other sites in Syria and Libya are threatened by fanatics and should be protected before it's too late.