Thursday, February 11, 2016

Rethinking Antiquities: Restitution and Collecting in the Time of ISIS

The Committee for Cultural Policy and the Cardozo School of Law are sponsoring a panel discussion entitled "Rethinking Antiquities:  Restitution and Collecting in the Time of ISIS" on March 1, 2016 @ 5-6:30 PM in New York City.  It should be nice to hear from the trade, collectors and museums on the subject.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Jordanian Authorities Disclose Coin Thefts 15 Years After the Fact

Jordan's Prime Minister has disclosed that fakes were switched for genuine ancient coins at museums around the country back in 2001-2002.  This revelation follows another embarrassing discovery that more fakes were switched for real coins at the Citadel Museum in Amman.  Any relationship between the thefts is unclear as is the failure to take additional security precautions at other museums after the 2001-2002 thefts were discovered and referred to judicial authorities.

Grandstanding is easy, but taking real care of one's cultural heritage is hard.  Hopefully, although it's very late in the day, Jordanian authorities will investigate what must be an inside job, publish pictures of  what was stolen so that the legitimate trade can possibly help recover the coins, and, of course, put security measures into place to help keep the same thing from happening again.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Progress on HR 1493

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has passed a much modified version of HR 1493, a bill designed to protect cultural property in times of war and civil strife.  The Senate's version of the bill is not yet available on-line, but CPO has had an opportunity to review its provisions.  Most importantly, the Senate substitute legislation replaces a controversial State Department "Cultural Property Czar" found in the House version with a sense of Congress that the President should establish an inter-agency task force to coordinate a US Government response to protecting international cultural property in times of war or civil strife.  The bill authorizes import restrictions on Syrian cultural artifacts-- consistent with the provisions of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act, but also strengthens provisions for "safe harbor" for Syrian artifacts compared to the House version of the bill.

HR 1493's sponsor, Ranking Minority House Foreign Relations Committee Member Congressman Elliot Engel,  has welcomed the Senate's actions.  So, CPO suspects the Senate's changes were likely worked out in advance with Engel and his staff. If true, that should help expedite passage of the measure and any House-Senate conference.

The major remaining concern deals with how such restrictions will be implemented.  Will the State Department and US Customs revert to standard operating procedure and restrict items solely based on them being of a type manufactured in Syria hundreds or thousands of years ago? Or will the governing UN Resolution and statutory intent be honored so that restrictions only apply to artifacts illegally removed from Syria after the start of its civil war?

2/10/16 Update:  The text of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee version of the bill is now available here.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Coins Weekly

has published my short article on the Italian MOU.  It can be accessed here.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Climate of Fear

The Egyptian military dictatorship has charged museum employees involved in a botched restoration of the world famous Tut gold burial mask.  The criminal charges come after months of denials about severity of damage to the artifact.

It's likely the group tried to cover up their mistake because of fear of Egypt's military rulers.  In a less harsh system, the initial problem with the mask's beard would likely have been reported rather than covered up with a amateurish restoration job.  And no doubt those responsible would have been fired, but not be subjected to criminal punishment.

Is the death penalty out of the question in Sissi's Egypt?  Others who have done far less to insult the State have already received such a sentence.

More Transparency Needed Where "T Word" Pushed

The Antiquities Coalition is pushing a link between looting and terrorism hard on its website, demanding action on behalf of "saving" antiquities and "friendly" Middle Eastern Governments, like that of Egypt.  But all this spinning of the "T word" just raises more questions about the Antiquties Coalition's aims.  CPO does not doubt the sincerity of its member's views, but if there is also a "quid pro quo" between Coalition members and those authoritarian Middle Eastern Governments with which the group has promoted "public private partnerships," that should be disclosed.  For example, to date details of the coaliton's "MOU" with the Egyptian Government have yet to be made public.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Just More Window Dressing?

According to the latest 2016 MOU with Italy, both Italy and the US promise to explore ways to facilitate the export of artifacts legally for sale within Italy itself.   MOU Art. II G.  Yet, in earlier MOU's, Italy seemingly promised more concrete efforts to make the process of legal export simpler.

According to the Art. II of the 2001 and 2006 MOUs,

F. The Government Of the United States of America acknowledges the efforts by the Government of the Republic of Italy in recent years to review the laws concerning the export of archaeological artifacts and to improve the efficiency of the system to release certificates of exportation. The Government of the Republic of Italy will continue to examine new ways to facilitate the export of archaeological items legitimately sold within Italy.

In 2011, the year that US import restrictions were extended to "coins of Italian types," the language changed as follows:

G. Noting that the law of Italy, as it currently stands, allows the purchase of archaeological objects of verified legal provenance, the Government of the Republic of Italy and the Government of the United States will discuss and explore ways to facilitate the legal export of such objects.

H. The discussions mentioned above in paragraphs E. and G. will take place during the first half of the year 2011.

The promise contained in Art. II of the 2011 MOU, has been repeated in the 2016 MOU, but without any "discussions" on the subject.

Yet, as well known numismatic dealer Arturo Russo indicated in his public comments to CPAC as it was considering the 2016 renewal, if anything, after US import restrictions were put in place on "coins of Italian types" in 2011, Italian cultural authorities made it even more difficult to export coins legally on the market in Italy, apparently  because they perceived otherwise "the Americans" would not think Italy "serious" about protecting its cultural patrimony.

So, will the new MOU really help facilitate the export of artifacts legally for sale in Italy itself or are its promises just more window dressing?