Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Germany Told to Save Europe

Europeans (and Americans) are looking to Germany to "save Europe" by doing more to prop up the bankrupt Greek economy and the ever more shaky Italian one. See

However, throwing more money at the Greeks and the Italians will only delay the inevitable. What is really needed is to break down the internal barriers in each country that have led to special interests strangling any chance for much needed economic reforms.

But this is a blog about cultural property issues. On that score, isn't it funny that self-righteous archaeologists hold up Italy and Greece as models for all to emulate? Meanwhile, rational systems like those in Germany and the United Kingdom that recognize the importance of collectors and the trade in cultural goods to the appreciation of ancient culture and its ultimate preservation, get little but scorn heaped on them, largely because they don't allow archaeologists to monopolize policy toward cultural property issues.

Archaeologists assume that government control over all cultural artifacts is the answer-- but how can this be, particularly in the current environment where these governments and their economic and cultural systems that favor the connected few are facing default?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Do Import Restrictions Only Apply to "Illicitly Exported" Items?

Do MOU's only apply to "illicitly exported" artifacts as archaeo-blogger Paul Barford has claimed?

No. In fact, import restrictions as applied by US Customs bar entry of coins openly and legitimately sold in markets abroad merely because they are of a type on a designated list.

There are limited exceptions to this embargo, but they provide little solace for coin collectors.

First, for coins coming directly from the country for which import restrictions are granted, there is an exception if they are accompanied with an export permit. However, this is easier said than done. There are currently import restrictions on certain coins of Cypriot, Chinese and Italian types. Cyprus offers no export permits. Italy does, though the process is evidently time consuming. When the issue was being discussed before CPAC, it was said that the Chinese regularly issued export certificates for certain items. However, since there have been reports that they are no longer so easy to obtain. Even if export certificates are provided, the costs of obtaining them may very well exceed the value of the coin itself, particularly if the coin in question is only worth a few dollars.

The second means of legal import is applied in the much more common situation where a coin is coming from one of the open markets in a third country. That anticipates procuring certifications documenting that the coin in question was out of either Cyprus, China or Italy as of the date of the restrictions. Again, even if this information is available and the foreign consigner is willing to provide it, the costs of compliance may very well exceed the value of the coin itself.

Import restrictions do indeed apply to all undocumented coins on the designated list, not just "illegally exported" ones as Barford misleadingly claims.

Such restrictions are therefore grossly overinclusive-- and do indeed suggest that the Obama State Department has taken an anti-small business position in imposing them, particularly on such popular and widely collected issues as the Greek coins of S. Italy, Sicily and certain Roman Republican and Imperial city coins.

Such coins can and are freely traded worldwide, but no longer can easily be imported into the US. Thus, these restrictions are not only place onerous burdens on small businesses, they also discriminate against American collectors.

How then are such restrictions consistent with President Obama's stated goals of eliminating onerous government regulations and protecting the interests of American small business?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Small Business Saturday Promotion Needs to Be Extended to Obama CPAC

American Express is running advertisements in the United States promoting "Small Business Saturday." The campaign underscores the importance of small business to the American economy, something that one also often hears from politicians of both political parties as well.

Such a promotion also needs to be run for the Obama CPAC, the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and its Cultural Heritage Center. President Obama may claim that he sympathizes with small business, but no such sympathy was on display at CPAC's recent meeting on a proposed MOU with Bulgaria.

Instead, Jane Levine, a former prosecutor for the FBI's Art Crime team who now runs Sotheby's compliance department and who is an Obama CPAC pick for a trade slot on CPAC, seemed to suggest that it should be "easy" for the small businesses of the numismatic trade to comply with the certification requirements for legal import of items on the designated list under the CPIA.

Really? As I explained to Ms. Levine, the small businesses of the numismatic trade (most of which are sole proprietorships) really don't have the resources of a Sotheby's to cope with all the red tape involved (even assuming that European sources would be willing to provide the required certifications for EACH restricted coin that is imported). And as I also noted, Customs has been known to go well beyond the documentation requirements of the CPIA and only allow restricted items entry if they are pictured in a catalogue predating any import restrictions. This of course forecloses the import of virtually every ancient coin type on the designated list, as perhaps only one in every 10,000 or so coins actually is significant enough to be catalogued in this manner.

Although one hopes there is enough common sense left somewhere in the State Department or Customs to realize that the CPIA's restrictions were never meant to apply to such numerous and inexpensive artifacts like most ancient coins, one suspects that this really won't matter to a group of AIA members or supporters that hold that that the only legitimate exchange of cultural artifacts is a long term loan from a source country museum to a like institution in the United States.

Hopefully, someone in the Obama White House political operation will realize there is a problem at CPAC and the State Department that is threatening to turn ancient coin collectors (most of whom are likely Democrats) against President Obama's reelection bid. Can the President's appointees really afford to alienate at least 50,000 serious ancient coin collectors and the hundreds of small businesses of the numismatic trade, particularly when the number of public comments recorded in support of MOU's is so infinitesimal?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Chinese Auction Houses to US State Department and AIA: Suckers!

The Art Newspaper has reported that China Guardian, a well respected Chinese auction house that sells Chinese antiquities and ancient coins, is to open a New York Office.

For now, China Guardian plans to use its office to drum up consignments for its auctions in China, but it is not foreclosing the possibility that its longer term plans may include establishing a presence in the US Market.

Of course, China Guardian will no doubt be able to use its excellent contacts with the Chinese Government to ensure that it secures export permits for any artifacts it might choose to sell abroad.

While China Guardian will no doubt execute its plans quite successfully, one must consider that any success it may achieve will likely be largely based on the competitive advantage it will have over Sotheby's and other US Auction Houses, all courtesy of the US State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and its moronic import restrictions on Chinese archaeological artifacts.

One must also wonder whether the AIA and all those self-righteous archaeologists that strongly supported a MOU with China now realize all they have done is to help allow the Chinese themselves to corner the market in Chinese artifacts.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

More Thoughts on Stuart Campbell's Ruler

During CPAC's recent public meeting about the proposed Bulgarian MOU, I borrowed a page from Stuart Campbell, a Scottish archaeologist and government official, to suggest most people consider illicit excavations to be no worse than a traffic violation.

Of course, not all illicit excavations are equal. Here is how I would rank them from the most troubling to the least:

  • Illicit excavations from world heritage sites;

  • Illicit excavations from active archaeological sites;

  • Illicit excavations from inactive archaeological sites;

  • Illicit excavations from archaeological sites that are obvious, but have not been excavated;

  • Illicit excavations from mounds of excavated dirt on inactive archaeological sites;

  • Illicit excavations from private land where there are no obvious archaeological features;

  • Illicit excavations from private land that already has been disturbed by ploughing.

  • And speaking of "wrongs," where would most people rank any failure of archaeologists to:

  • Properly record what they find;

  • Properly publish what they find;

  • Properly preserve what they find;

  • Properly display what they find.

    Where would archaeologists rank theses sins? Are they any worse than illicit excavations?
  • Saturday, November 19, 2011

    Bulgarian Deputy Minister of Culture Fired, Rehired

    Bulgarian Deputy Minister of Culture Todor Chobanov has been rehired as an advisor to assist in the development of cultural tourism soon after being fired as Deputy Minister of Culture of Bulgaria. See

    Chobanov was evidently instrumental in the passage of Bulgaria's much criticised cultural heritage law and likely also had something to do in asking the US to impose import restrictions on Bulgarian cultural artifacts.

    Thursday, November 17, 2011

    Public CPAC Meeting on Belizean and Bulgarian MOU's, Nov. 16, 2011

    CPAC Chair Prof. Patty Gerstenblith (PG, DePaul, Public Representative) began by thanking all speakers or those who had provided comments to CPAC. PG then asked all CPAC members to introduce themselves and mention their affiliations. They are: Katherine Reid (KR, Cleveland Museum (retired)-Museum); Nina Archabal (NA, Minn. Historical Society-Museum); Marta de la Torre (MT- Florida International University, Public); James Willis (JW, James Willis Tribal Art-Trade); Nancy Wilkie (NW-Carlton College, Archaeology); Barbara Bluhm Kaul (BK,Trustee, Art Institute of Chicago- Public); Jane Levine (JL, Sotheby’s Compliance Department (ex-prosecutor)- Trade); and Rosemary Joyce (RJ,U. Cal., Berkley-Anthropology). Two slots, one in archaeology and the other a trade representative, remain vacant. KR, NW and JW also served under the Bush Administration. The others are Obama Appointees though PG and MT also served the Clinton Administration. There was also staff present including CPAC Executive Director Maria Kouroupas, a Committee lawyer, and Committee archaeologists.


    Belize was discussed first. The following individuals spoke: Josh Knerly (JK-AAMD); Elizabeth Gilgan (EG-SAFE, but there personally); Brian Daniels (BD-U. Penn Cultural Center); Christina Luke (CL-AIA); Patricia Mcinerny (PM-UNC, Chapel Hill).

    JK stated the AAMD supports the conclusion of a MOU with Belize with the following provisos. First, CPAC must ensure that only material identifiable as being “first discovered in” Belize is restricted. Second, Belize needs to appoint one point of contact for museum loans and provide more material for loans. AAMD members had reported that Belize has only offered one piece for a loan that was made to the Peabody Museum.

    NW asked whether Belize was a transit point for looted artifacts from other Central American countries. JK indicated that was possible. PG asked if import restrictions impacted the AAMD now that it had accepted a 1970 provenance rule. JK indicated no, but this made museum loans more important than ever. KR asked about dealing with the bureaucracy of Belize. JK indicated that it was difficult, but expressed hopes this situation would improve. In so doing, he noted the Italian government has now provided a single contact point for such loans.

    EG assisted Belize to apply for a MOU. She apparently undertook this work as part of her course of study while employed at the AIA. She began by training police in Belize. She was happy when newly trained officers caught twelve American environmental students that had tried to take artifacts out of the country. The night they spent in jail taught them a lesson. It was all very exciting. She next studied Sotheby’s catalogues for unprovenanced Pre-Columbian artifacts. EG could not identify the artifacts in the catalogues as coming from Belize. EG did not review any sources other than Sotheby’s catalogues.

    BD disputed the AAMD’s statement that Belize had only loaned one object. He listed three travelling exhibits where Belize provided a total of 33 artifacts as evidence of Belize’s efforts. He also indicated that Belize offers long term loans of study artifacts to specific researchers like Richard Leventhal of the Penn Cultural Heritage Center. These loans are negotiated on an individual basis.

    CL indicated that MOU’s can also be used for cultural exchanges of students and archaeologists. Belize has been a great host for archaeologists. Any MOU should also include Colonial Material. NW wondered if more could be done to assure regional cooperation on looting.

    PM indicated there is current looting in Belize. She recently saw looting of rock shelters. Belize has a good history of cultural interchange with the British Commonwealth (Belize is a former Crown Colony), with the United States and with Canada. RJ asked PM if she could identify material as coming from Belize. She indicated that it was possible to identify such material on stylistic grounds, based on identifiable inscriptions or its composition. However, it often travelled outside of modern day Belize. PM cited as an example a ceremonial drinking cup which was evidently gifted to a minor lord in what is today Guatemala.


    The following individuals spoke: Josh Knerly (JK-AAMD); Peter Tompa (PT-IAPN, PNG); Kerry Wetterstrom (KW-ACCG); Nathan Elkins (NE-Baylor); Christina Luke (CL-AIA); Brian Daniels (BD-U. Penn Cultural Center); Kevin Clinton (KC-American Research Center in Sofia).

    JK indicated that AAMD supports an MOU with Bulgaria subject to certain provisos. First, it is again important to take care with any designated list given the cross-currents between Thracian and Greek culture. Second, there is a real question whether Bulgaria is taking any of the self-help measures required under the CPIA. A 2007 Center for the Study of Democracy (CSD) Report suggested that Bulgarian cultural officials were corrupt and their efforts to protect Bulgaria’s cultural patrimony were minimal. JK had no statistics about loans of Bulgarian material but indicated they would be desirable. PG wondered whether the 2007 report was up to date. JK suggested that CPAC should require the DOS to research whether the situation on the ground has improved since the 2007 CSD Report. BK asked about loans. JK indicated that that Bulgarian law apparently allowed for two year loans. KR asked about the optimum loan period. JK indicated that a long term loan should be 10 years to make it financially viable for the receiving museum. JK also noted that currently Italy is providing 4 year loans with the possibility of renewal, but the uncertainty makes such loans less palatable to AAMD members. KR also asked whether Bulgarian material can freely enter the EU. JK indicated that was the case as there are no local controls. JK agreed and also indicated that it is difficult to “fit” the Bulgarian situation into the framework of the CPIA.

    PT indicated that most people would agree that some crimes—like murder—were wrong. However, looting would be considered much less seriously by most people, perhaps no worse than a traffic violation. Such seems to be the case in Bulgaria. The CSD Report indicates that some 250,000 individuals are involved in treasure hunting and that the Bulgarian police and cultural authorities are heavily involved in looting, theft and smuggling of cultural goods. The 2009 Bulgarian cultural heritage law was rammed through by ex-communists only with input from archaeologists. Major parts of it have been struck down and it is not effective. The law is honored mostly in its breech. Only 150-200 coin collectors have registered their collections though some 50,000 Bulgarians are members of organized numismatic groups. Bulgarian issues no export licenses, except for temporary exhibitions, but smuggling has become easy given the EU’s open borders. Restrictions would only discriminate against American collectors. CPAC should give heed to the 71% of the public comments on the regulations.gov website opposed to import restrictions on coins. CPAC should follow prior Committee precedent, and recommend against import restrictions on coins, particularly any restrictions based on a coin’s type rather than its find spot. Alternatively, CPAC should table Bulgaria’s request to give the country time to get its own house in order and undertake the self-help measures the CPIA contemplates. Specifically, CPAC should recommend that Bulgaria clamp down on metal detectors rather than collectors, that Bulgaria freely issue export certificates for common artifacts like most ancient coins, and that Bulgaria pass a new antiquities law that takes into account the concerns of collectors and dealers as well as the views of the archaeological community.

    MT asked if Bulgarian coins were a glut on the market. PT indicated that there were certainly a lot of Roman issues available, but did not use the word, glut. He also indicated that you could not really generalize on this topic. Coins from the Greek city states located in Bulgaria would be collected as part of the Greek series and the coins of the Bulgarian czars were mainly collected by specialists and Bulgarian Americans. PG and JL suggested that it was not all that hard to import restricted coins. PT disagreed, noting that the compliance costs would exceed the value of many coins, and that in any case US Customs in NY will not allow any artifact on a designated list into the US unless it is pictured in a catalogue that predates the restrictions. This is significant because perhaps only 1 in 10,000 coins is significant enough to be published in an auction catalogue.

    KW indicated that Bulgaria should adopt a law akin to the UK’s Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme. He further indicated that it used to be that finders shared details about their finds with scholars and dealers but that is no longer the case due to concerns about legal liability. MT asked about Bulgarian coins being a glut on the market. KW indicated huge amounts of coins came out of Bulgaria in the 1990’s with the fall of Communism. Some issues—like the Roman provincial coins that were struck in Bulgaria—remain a glut on the market. In response to a question from PG, KW indicated that it is reasonable for a dealer to keep information about who he bought coins from and the price, but they typically will not know the earlier history of the coins they purchase.

    NE describes himself as an academic with a research focus on the numismatic trade. He has written extensively on the subject. It is clear there had been pillage of Bulgarian cultural patrimony of coins. In 1999, 20,000 coins were seized. Other incidents are set forth in the CSD Report. There have been recent seizures, including of a 63 year old pensioner who used a metal detector. Colonia Ulpia Trajana has been damaged by metal detectorists. Other material is found with coins, including Byzantine crosses and the like. This is often referred to junk in the trade. The best coins are auctioned off, the remainder end up on eBay. The flood of material began in the 1990’s and is still continuing.

    CL is representing the AIA. There is evidence of recent looting in Bulgaria. A Bulgarian colleague has indicated Thracian tombs are at particular risk. Bulgaria hosts archaeologists. They have made efforts to update their laws. They are making their best efforts.

    BD again represents the Penn Cultural Heritage Center. Despite the issues of corruption outlined in the CSD Report, the number of recent seizures shows Bulgaria is interested in protecting its cultural patrimony. Although there has been a problem with the Bulgarian Constitutional Court, courts strike down legislation in this country too.

    KC indicates there are four active US excavations in Bulgaria, an unprecedented number. There is active looting in Bulgaria. It is understandable because it is one of the poorest countries in Europe. Prior to 2008, the State Prosecutor was not interested in crimes against cultural patrimony. The current State Prosecutor is more active. Bulgaria’s Deputy Minister of Culture, Todor Chobanov, was instrumental in pressing for the 2009 law. Chobanov is an archaeologist by training. The successor to the Bulgarian Communist Party passed the law. Initially, old-school Bulgarian archaeologists did not want to cooperate with Americans, but younger archaeologists have been more willing to do so. MT asked KC to comment about the use of metal detectors. KC is aware they are used, but has not researched the subject. There is tourism at sites on the Black Sea. The situation has improved dramatically in recent years. Previously, even important sites were not marked. There is a domestic trade in cultural artifacts. There are quite a few private collections, many of which include looted material. Some private collections are displayed in local museums or even the National Museum.

    Wednesday, November 16, 2011

    My CPAC Comments: Any Successful Cultural Policy Needs Public Buy-In

    Here the comments I presented at today's CPAC hearing on the Bulgarian MOU:

    I’m speaking on behalf of IAPN and PNG, which represent the small businesses of the numismatic trade. Over the past decade, I’ve exhibited common ancient coins similar to ones available to collectors worldwide so that you would know exactly what coins are subject to possible restrictions. However, some of you might recall that for some unfathomable reason I was not allowed to show you any Greek coins when you met last year. So, I’ve left my Bulgarian coins at home, and instead, I’ve brought you this ruler.

    Professor Gerstenblith will know I’ve borrowed this prop from Stuart Campbell, a Scottish archaeologist, but the point he made at a recent conference is just as apt here. We can all agree some things are wrong, like murder. That would be a “12” on this ruler. But what about illicit excavations? Campbell would submit—as would I—that most people would consider looting as a “1” on this scale —more like a traffic violation than anything else.

    Most Bulgarians would also consider looting to be no worse than speeding. A Center for the Study of Democracy report estimates that up to 250,000 Bulgarian citizens engage in treasure hunting. It also depicts both law enforcement and the cultural establishment as being heavily involved in looting, theft and smuggling of Bulgarian cultural goods. So, a Bulgarian citizen might be forgiven if he or she also fails to take such things very seriously.

    It is true that Bulgaria recently passed a cultural heritage law. You will no doubt hear it represents a sincere effort to reign in looting. But that law was apparently rammed through the Bulgarian legislature by ex-Communists solely based on input from archaeologists. It seeks to suppress looting through complicated registration procedures, but Bulgaria’s constitutional court has struck down some of its most important provisions.

    The law itself seems mainly to be honored in its breech. For example, Numismatic News reports that although 50,000 Bulgarians are members of organized numismatic groups, only 150-200 collections have been declared under this law. Moreover, though this law makes legal export of Bulgarian artifacts virtually impossible, such impediments will do nothing to stop anyone from just jumping into their car or onto an airplane and taking what they want out of the country now that border checks have been eliminated with Bulgaria’s entrance into the EU.

    Let’s get real. All that restrictions would accomplish would be to greatly limit the ability of Americans to import the exact same “coins of Bulgarian type” that are freely available worldwide and indeed within Bulgaria itself. Under the circumstances, IAPN and PNG would request that CPAC give heed to the 71% of the public comments opposed to import restrictions on coins. CPAC should follow prior Committee precedent, and recommend against import restrictions on coins, particularly any restrictions based on a coin’s type rather than its find spot.

    Alternatively, we would ask that CPAC table Bulgaria’s request to give the country time to get its own house in order and undertake the self-help measures the CPIA contemplates. Specifically, CPAC should recommend that Bulgaria clamp down on metal detectors rather than collectors, that Bulgaria freely issue export certificates for common artifacts like most ancient coins, and that Bulgaria pass a new antiquities law that takes into account the concerns of collectors and dealers as well as the views of the archaeological community.

    Please keep in mind my ruler as you deliberate. Any successful cultural policy --whether in Bulgaria or the US -- needs public buy- in to have any chance at success. CPAC has an important role to play in balancing all interests—including those of collectors and the small businesses of the numismatic trade -- to help ensure that fair and workable solutions to the complex problem of looting are found. Thank you.

    Monday, November 14, 2011

    New Metal Detecting Blog

    Here is an interesting blog about metal detecting from John Winter: http://www.johnwinter.net/jw/2011/11/metal-detecting-the-hobby-and-its-detractors-2/

    This particular blog does a good job questioning some of the claims made by the archaeological community. Here is the author's conclusion:

    In summary, the portrayal of metal detecting by its detractors is one that few informed people, inside or outside the hobby, would recognise. Their propaganda is characterised by distortions and misuse of statistics to portray the hobby in a negative light. They blur the distinction between hobbyists and criminals that use metal detectors, just as they blur the distinction between archaeological sites and land that has no known archaeological significance. They do likewise with spurious statistics regarding numbers of finds made and recorded, deliberately choosing to ignore the fact that the vast majority of items recovered are of no archaeological or historical significance. However, the reality of the hobby’s contribution to knowledge is plain for everyone to see. It is evident in the display cases of our museums, the records on our databases, and the publications on our bookshelves.

    As a coin collector I can empathise-- one can easily substitute "coin collecting" for "metal detecting" in the above post. Though each pastime is different, they are both under attack from the same sources-- academics with little use for anyone but fellow academics.


    The State Department Cultural Heritage Center Website has announced that Marta de la Torre has taken over a public CPAC slot and that Jane Levine has assumed a trade slot.

    See http://exchanges.state.gov/heritage/culprop/committee.html

    President Obama's Administration earlier announced their appointment here: http://m.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/10/07/president-obama-announces-more-key-administration-posts

    While both are certainly knowledgeable about the legal issues before CPAC, one can legitimately question whether they really reflect the interests of the stakeholders they were supposedly appointed to represent.

    Ms. de la Torre's association with ICOM is more in line with an appointment to represent the museum or archaeological communities rather than the general public. Moreover, though Ms. Levine currently works for Sotheby's (she previously was a prosecutor associated with the FBI's art crime team), the CPIA's legislative history makes clear that the "trade slot" was actually meant for a dealer that has "hands on experience" in the types of artifacts that are subject to possible restriction.

    This is just more evidence that the Obama State Department has ensured CPAC is "packed" with members much less likely to "rock the boat" and question the "archaeology over all" status quo than the likes of Jay Kislak, Bob Korver or Robert O'Brien.

    But doesn't this just do more to confirm the widespread view that President Obama is pro-regulation and anti-business? And is the Administration really served if CPAC does not offer a real balance of opinion to the Executive on the often difficult issues before it?

    Consensus is only meaningful if it is built from a diversity of views representing all the stakeholders in the process.

    Friday, November 11, 2011

    100,000 Served

    CPO readers have now viewed this blog over 100,000 times:



    View My Stats

    Thank you for your interest.

    Thursday, November 10, 2011

    ACCG Gains Support for Appeal

    Six different collector, educational and trade groups have requested leave from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to file three separate amicus briefs in support of the ACCG's efforts to overturn the dismissal of its case to test import regulations on ancient coins. See

    Each brief focuses on the failure of the District Court to apply the plain meaning of the CPIA's limitation on import restrictions to coins "first discovered within, and [] subject to the export control by" either Cyprus or China.

    The organizations filing jointly or separately are:

    American Committee for Cultural Policy (ACCP) / International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA) by Richard Rogers, Esq.;

    International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN) / American Numismatic Association (ANA) / Ancient Coins for Education (ACE) by Michael McCullough, Esq.; and

    Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG) by Armen Vartian, Esq.

    An Armistice Day Remembrance of One Young Collector Killed in Action During the Great War

    Tomorrow is Armistice Day or Veteran's Day in the US.

    We celebrate all veterans that day, but the holiday began as a commemoration of the end of the First World War.

    It has been estimated that there were almost 10 million military casualties in that conflict.

    Whether by coincidence or design, the collection of one young man who was a victim of that conflict is being sold at auction. See http://www.mortonandeden.com/pdfcats/52web.pdf

    Morton and Eden describe Lot 794 as follows:

    A collection of Roman bronze coins, formed before the Great War, comprising sestertii (about 45), middle brass (about 50) and other mainly Ae (about 180) together with a number of cast copies, generally poor to fine, some better, the collection housed in a mahogany fall-front coin cabinet carcass (12 ins wide x 10.5 ins deep x 9 ins high) with brass carrying handles and containing 10 trays with brass pulls

    (lot) £800-1,200

    The collection was formed by Gordon Wyatt Goldfinch of 92 Elfindale Road, Herne Hill, London SE. In the Great War he served in the 2nd London Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps, having volunteered in August 1914, and was killed in action, aged 23, on 28th March 1918. Offered with the lot are two hand-written notebooks, one dated August 1910 (when he was aged 15), listing the coins, the prices paid and often giving details of where they were bought (many were from Lincoln & Son, London). Also included are two photographic postcards of the collector, both signed, one in civilian dress, dated September 1914, the other as a soldier in winter uniform in France, dated December 1916. Lots 766 and 775 also comprise coins from this collection.

    It's sad to see this collection dispersed some ways, but I'm glad that Mr. Goldfinch's sacrifice is being remembered in Morton and Eden's catalogue some 93 years after he was killed in action.

    Addendum: This blog about British memorial medallions and the mixed feelings they generated is worth reading: http://www.johnwinter.net/jw/2011/11/the-dead-mans-penny/

    Wednesday, November 9, 2011

    LCCHP Posts Interesting Letter About Shipwrecks

    To their credit, the Lawyers' Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation has posted this letter on their website critical of the usual academic approach to shipwrecks and their preservation:


    Monday, November 7, 2011

    UNESCO News Flash: Museums Overcrowded with Material They Can't Possibly Take Care Of!

    UNESCO and ICCROM have finally admitted what everyone else already knows: museums can't possibly keep up with all the stuff they have in storage. See

    According to the report,

    Mr. GaĆ«l de Guichen, Special Advisor to the Director General of ICCROM, commented: “This is the first time we have a clear picture of the situation. In my 40 years of service at ICCROM, which has taken me all over the world, I estimated that about 60% of museum storage was in unacceptable conditions. With this data, we have a clearer picture of the problem areas. Most importantly, we have confirmation that this is not a developed vs. developing country issue: all countries find themselves in the same situation.”

    The response to this "shocking news" was all too predictable:

    In response to the survey results, ICCROM is presently looking for partnerships and funding to launch an international programme to strengthen professional and institutional capacity in addressing the key needs identified in this survey.

    But where is this funding coming from?

    Instead of assuming more money will be forthcoming from cash strapped governments, why not instead deaccession duplicate material for sale to collectors? That will free up space and bring much needed funds to such museums.

    But perhaps that is too much for anti-business and anti-collector UNESCO and ICCROM to contemplate.

    Thursday, November 3, 2011

    71% of On-Line Comments Against Bulgarian MOU

    John Hooker (ACCG) has performed an analysis of the on-line comments about the Bulgarian MOU. Other comments reflecting pro or con positions were also sent via US Mail so they cannot be included in this survey.

    In any event, there were 499 relevant comments posted on the regulations.gov website. (A couple of people mistakenly posted their support for the Belize MOU with the Bulgarian comments.) Of these, 353 were opposed the MOU and 146 favored it. This makes for a break-down of 71% opposed and 29% in favor of the MOU.

    Most of the comments related to coins. Of these, 342 either opposed the MOU in toto or opposed the inclusion of coins. Thirteen individuals supported their inclusion, including archaeologists who excavate in Bulgaria, AIA staff and David Gill and Paul Barford, archaeo-bloggers well known for their hostility to ancient coin collecting.

    These percentages again point to the very slim support for import restrictions, particularly when they may possibly include new restrictions on coins.

    The figures mirror the public comments recently recorded on the regulations.gov website for the Greek MOU. There, some 71% opposed the MOU either totally or provisionally if it included coins, with 28% in favor. See http://www.accg.us/News/Item/Summary_of_Greek_MOU_Public_Comment.aspx

    Based on these numbers it should become increasingly clear that MOU's are special interest programs for archaeologists that have very, very little actual public support.

    Wednesday, November 2, 2011

    Chasing Aphrodite at the Walters

    On October 29, 2011, the Walters Museum of Art, Baltimore, hosted a discussion about the controversies surrounding the museums collecting antiquities. Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino, the authors of Chasing Aphrodite, an expose about the Getty Museum’s collecting practices in the 1980’s, critiqued museum collecting from a moral and legal perspective. According to Felch and Frammolino, past museum collecting practices have helped stimulate looting in art rich countries and have violated local law. Arthur Houghton, CPRI President, and Gary Vikan, the Walters Museum Director, rose to defend museum acquisition practices, which both conceded have become more stringent over time. Houghton, who served as a curator at the Getty, provided some context for the discussion. He recounted how the Getty, awash with cash and eager to become a player, took too many shortcuts in an effort to build a world class antiquities collection in record time.

    Larger issues were also discussed. Felch and Frammolino argued that changed attitudes have encouraged Italy to make loan term loans to American museums. They also suggested that returning the statue that was the center of the book led to a reappraisal of the work, which has now been identified as Persphone. Houghton argued that construction activities in places like Turkey is a much greater, but little discussed factor, in destroying archaeological context. Audience members also joined the fray. Commenting on the return of the “Aphrodite” to a small Sicilian town, one audience member remarked that she certainly did not want to go to such a place and that the statue will inevitably be seen by far fewer numbers of people than at the Getty. She also noted long term loans are costly to museums because Italy expects museums to spend substantial time, effort and money to conserve the artifacts that are exhibited. Another audience member suggested that source countries themselves could help alleviate the problem of looting by adopting “report and reward” statutes like that in force in the United Kingdom.

    Bulgarian MOU Comment Period Ends Today

    The Comment Period for the Bulgarian MOU ends today. Here is a particularly interesting post from a past ANS Trustee:

    Dear CPAC Members:

    I would like to register my concerns with the current MOU under consideration with Bulgaria. Most importantly, it should be quite clear to informed individuals that the current proposed agreement has little to do with "Bulgarian" cultural property, and everything to do with the overall goal of eliminating private ownership of any cultural objects within the United States.

    Though the modern nation of Bulgaria has little correlation with the societies and trade routes of antiquity, the advocates of the agreement would propose that any object that could have travelled across or existed within the region should be labeled as "Bulgarian". By such confuscating tactics, enforcement agencies such as US Customs would simply label all cultural objects as illegal, since their is no incentive on their part to do otherwise. While the advocate's premise is nonsensical, it is nonetheless shrewdly cognizant of the logistics of modern customs enforcement.

    This subterfuge, however, does not mean this proposed agreement is in the best interests of Americans. To muddle mass-produced objects (such as coins) with singular objects of true cultural significance is a disservice to the effective safeguarding of our mutual heritage. To impose such arbitrary rules on the United States, without coordinated action from other countries, renders such efforts fruitless. To exact a significant cost on American agencies such as US Customs, without commensurate efforts by the Bulgarian government, is an affront to American taxpayers. I fully understand the ideological position of the CPAC, and hold out little hope that any common sense will prevail. I nevertheless recommend that the current MOU under consideration be refined to focus on cultural property of true significance and to be implemented only with the full participation, efforts, and cost-sharing of Bulgaria and other nations.

    Charlie Karukstis

    For more comments, see http://www.regulations.gov/#%21docketDetail;dct=FR%252BPR%252BN%252BO%252BSR%252BPS;rpp=10;po=0;D=DOS-2011-0115

    To comment before today's close, go here: http://www.regulations.gov/#%21submitComment%3bD%3dDOS-2011-0115-0001

    Tuesday, November 1, 2011

    Brief Filed in ACCG Test Case

    The ACCG has filed this brief in the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit seeking the reversal of Judge Blake's dismissal of its case to test the validity of import restrictions on coins of "Cypriot type" or coins "from China." See http://www.accg.us/News/Item/ACCG_Appellant_Brief_filed_in_Cyprus_China_coin_seizure.aspx

    This is from the summary of argument:

    The District Court acknowledged that judicial review is appropriate where the Executive’s discretion is limited by statute, but then failed to consider whether the Assistant Secretary, ECA operated outside the law when she imposed import restrictions on ancient coins. Moreover, the District Court’s ruling turns the APA’s presumption of reviewability on its head. At a bare minimum, the District Court should have considered whether the Assistant Secretary, ECA, complied with the CPIA’s requirements or acted ultra vires, and also should have conducted a more thorough, APA-style review of the final agency actions to impose import restrictions on Cypriot and Chinese coins. Finally, the District Court’s rulings that it was unnecessary for China to ask for import restrictions on coins or for the Government to comply with the CPIA’s “first discovery requirement” are at odds with the plain meaning of the CPIA. Extending import restrictions to all unprovenanced coins raises constitutional problems that could be avoided if the “first discovery requirement” were given its plain meaning.