Thursday, September 1, 2011

Ancient Coins and Cultural Property Debate at ANS

My own article is the second in a series being published in the ANS Magazine about ancient coins and the cultural property debate. Not surprisingly, while Sebastian Heath's article came from an archaeological perspective, my own article comes from that of a collector. An extended version can be found here:

After explaining that bureaucrats in the State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Cultural Heritage Center and their allies in the archaeological establishment have perverted the statutory process for imposing import restrictions on cultural goods to ensure that undocumented coins are treated as "stolen," and that such regulatory overkill can only damage numismatics in this country, I urge the following:

  • Collectors should be encouraged to only purchase coins from reputable sources and ensure that they retain the history of their coins with the coins themselves so it does not get lost.

  • Dealers should be encouraged to do the same, and to make sure they comply with the laws of each country in which they do business.

  • The U.S. Government should be advised to drop the idea of imposing import restrictions based on a coin’s type. The U.K. authorities have the right idea. Restrictions should only be imposed on coins reasonably suspected to be “straight from the ground” in violation of national laws or coins of the highest rarity. Restrictions based on coin type, such as ” all coins struck in Cyprus belong to Cyprus”, suggests that assuaging nationalistic impulses rather than the furthering archaeology is really the motivating force. Under no circumstances should restrictions be allowed to discriminate against American collectors and institutions. The U.S. Government should not entertain any request for broad restrictions from a country that allows its own citizens to collect unprovenanced coins or other artifacts. It is plainly unfair to place burdens on Americans that source countries will not place on their own citizens.

  • Foreign countries should be encouraged to allow the free sale and export of common coins. They should also investigate the U.K.’s Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS). These programs help preserve context, provide museums with a right of first refusal over material and give collectors access to coins, complete with information about the coin’s find spot.

  • The archaeological community should avoid ideological approaches to the question of how best to preserve provenance and foster the recording and publication of coins from any source (including those that do not come from official excavations). The AIA should, in particular, end its aggressive campaign for import restrictions on ancient coins. Such restrictions are by their nature controversial: they bar import into the U.S. of artifacts legitimately sold abroad merely because the importer cannot produce detailed provenance information. Preserving archaeological context may be a worthy societal goal, but the AIA’s support for import restrictions confuses “conservation” with “control,” to the detriment not only of collectors, but of numismatics itself.

    I'm grateful for the ANS to allow me to express my views, and hope others will also make workable suggestions on how to preserve both collecting that is essential to numismatics and context that is so important to archaeologists.

    Ed Snible said...

    Great article Peter. Thanks for writing it.

    Do you have any recommendations for encouraging dealers to supply provenance records to collectors?

    Ten years ago at a Triton auction preview I inspected a group lot, bronze coins of Amisos and Sinope. They all had tags. The auctioneer told me the collector had insisted on the tags being included with the auction. It us unfortunate this situation is so rare the auctioneer needs to explain it.

    A dealer beat me at the Triton auction for the bronze lot. I later purchased one of the coins from him. He sent it but without the old tag. My emails regarding the old tag were unanswered. It's unusual to get old documentation even when the auction catalog describes a lot's provenance.

    When I do receive old tickets with my purchases I regret not bidding more for the lots I didn't win. Are there any kind of standard abbreviations catalogers can use to indicate the high bidder will receive all the old documentation and tickets, the oldest old ticket, or to indicate the old tickets have been lost?

    Cultural Property Observer said...

    Ed- I suppose consumer demand is the answer. The more collectors ask, the more this will happen. The reasons this is not done now likely has more to do with keeping track of tickets than anything else. Also, many dealers don't want collectors to know where they purchased a coin so they can't potentially find out what the mark-up is. However, with services like coinarchives, etc. this information is harder to hide than in the past.

    Ed Snible said...

    Maybe we can take a poll of Cultural Property Observer readers to know what percentage desire old tags. I would pay extra for the old tickets.

    Is there a tax reason for the previous collector to keep the old ticket? I believe collectors are on the hook to report profits when selling coins. If I report $100 profit income and the IRS audits me and I produce a bill of sale for $200 I'd expect them to want evidence of my 1990s purchase price. I haven't started selling yet -- how do other collectors handle this?

    Cultural Property Observer said...

    Ed- There is a tax reason to hold onto old invoices certainly, but not tickets per se. CPO is not set up to conduct polls, but I share your desire to have old tickets to hold onto.