Thursday, January 16, 2014

Challenge To Doctor Elkins

Nathan Elkins purports to be a serious academic numismatist, but  CPO has had its doubts ever since the release of his academic diatribe directed against a non-profit that uses ancient Roman coins to teach kids about history.   CPO now has more such doubts based on Elkins' latest claim that "Clearly existing import restrictions are at pains to restrict only regional and locally circulating types, such as the provincial coins, while more broadly circulating types such as republican and imperial denarii are not included in restrictions." 

And so would any serious academic numismatist who reviews the State Department and Customs designated lists that (with the exception of the Greek list that leaves off gold and some silver coins) restrict all coins made in Cyprus, China, Italy, Greece, and Bulgaria over periods of hundreds and hundreds of years.  

For example, does Elkins really believe each  and every coin type placed on the Bulgarian designated list (including those of gold and silver) only circulated "locally and regionally" within the confines of the modern Bulgarian nation state?  Let's hope not.   CPO therefore challenges Dr. Elkins to either explain his statement with respect to such coins or to retract it.  


Wayne G. Sayles said...


I believe the argument of people like Dr. Elkins is that every coin from the ancient world has a context and that context is a priceless bit of information that elucidates the history of humankind. To trade in any of these treasures that lack context and provenance is to encourage pillage of culture itself from the modern nation states that claim it (whether the moderns have any DNA of the ancients or not). Therefore, the transfer of coins from one country to another must be governed in every single case by a steward of the public trust. Obviously, states cannot place such responsibility in the hands of untrained and undereducated peasants. National interests dictate that this precious resource be guarded by the state bureaucracy through the advice and professional services of the most competent academically qualified individuals possible. And where will one find these altruistic guardians of the public trust? The only rational and "certified" source is, they claim, within the realm of archaeology and anthropology. Those who would see this argument as "empire building" are immediately castigated as commercially motivated and as unsavory enemies of society. Opposition to the academic argument is difficult. The wagons of academia circle very quickly when under attack, even though internally the disciplines often devour their young. It is an ageless story and all the culture in the world has failed to erase that human foible. Import restrictions are just the latest is a long, long, line of senseless repressions for the benefit of an unprincipled few. Your challenge to Dr. Elkins is certainly valid, but it is unlikely to elicit a response that would warm the heart of anyone outside the circle.

Nathan Elkins said...

A few observations.

1. Name calling/personal attacks: Why do you always get frustrated with a disagreement and instead of rationally debating, resort to personal attacks and try to impugn reputations? If anyone has doubts as to whether or not I am a “serious numismatist”, my record of peer-reviewed publications is in the public domain and I have published a great deal more on Roman coinage and coin iconography than I have antiquities trafficking. And I dare say I have published a great deal more peer-reviewed research on ancient coinage than you (a paid lobbyist). I’m not one to tout any personal achievements, but you try to mislead your readers by denigrating others reputation without cause or reason. Also, I think it says something about the milieu with which you associate yourself when repeatedly academic titles such as “Dr.” or “Professor” are deployed in a disparaging way. You discredit yourself by acting this way.
2. ACE. Are you still upset about that article published all those years ago? That was a peer-reviewed article. Hardly a diatribe, it raised valid concerns about the sourcing practices of a non-profit whose aims are otherwise admirable. You seem to think that just because it is a non-profit it is beyond criticism. A great many non-profits have done questionable things. And I maintain, there were issues with the way coins were supplied to the program at the time of writing. Apparently so did the peer-reviewers. Let people read it for themselves and decide.
3. Challenges. You often issue these against those whom you disagree rather than look at the sources yourself. I invite you to look at some of the work on coin circulation by Duncan-Jones, Markus Peter, F. Kemmers, Chris Howgego, Kevin Butcher, and many others. There is a vast bibliography on coin circulation. You should also check out some excavation reports and see where different types of coins from different places are found. Again, we’ve been through it before. Coins covered by the MoUs are not as sweeping as you suggest. Look at what is not covered, which I have pointed out several times, and ask yourself why it is not. You have given me the idea of writing an article about ACCG arguments about coin circulation and import restrictions though. Maybe I will.
4. Venue. Your blog is bitterly hostile and insulting towards those who have opinions that differ from yours. I will not waste my energies responding to any more baiting comments here.

Cultural Property Observer said...

It does not sound like your are explaining what you wrote either then or now, and are just suggesting that since you have some sort of academic credentials, your broad statements should not be questioned. I respectfully disagree. The point remains; if State or whomever prepared all these lists is as careful as you claim, then why do they encompass all coins struck in Cyprus, Italy, China and Bulgaria during hundreds of years of minting activity, including coins made of gold or silver? At least the Greek list takes a stab at looking at the relevant "first discovery" issues, albeit a flawed one in my opinion. So, why go backwards on Bulgaria except for the probability that the bureaucrats at State think they can "get away with it?"

Cultural Property Observer said...

Let me add a comment here because Mr. Barford apparently does not seem to want to post my comment to his own blog on this.

The problem I have with Mr. Elkins' views is simple. He has pursued a personal anti-collecting agenda (expressed in his distasteful article about ACE and elsewhere on the SAFE website) that appears to have clouded his views of the facts of coin circulation. This is not some mere academic dispute but one that has real world implications for those of us who love to collect ancient coins as well as the small businesses that sell them.

In that regard, Elkins maintains that the State Department and US Customs have only put restrictions on coins that circulate locally within a given country. He has stated, "Clearly existing import restrictions are at pains to restrict only regional and locally circulating types, such as the provincial coins, while more broadly circulating types such as republican and imperial denarii are not included in restrictions." However, he is unable or willing to back up this statement when it comes to what is actually restricted in the Cypriot, Chinese, Italian and now Bulgarian MOU's. These MOU's restrict every coin type produced in these countries over the period of hundreds of years, including coins of gold and silver.

I merely point out that serious numismatists without such an agenda would not make such claims. The fact that Elkins has some academic training in the issue does not mean his statements can and should be accepted at face value. Since Mr. Elkins (he evidently wants me not to refer to his professional degree) is unwilling or unable to justify his claims, I've offered the same challenge to Mr. Barford, who has yet to respond.

I'm sorry if Mr. Elkins is offended by my questions or their tone, but again this is not just an academic issue but one that has impacted real people-- and one in which Elkins was one of the main proponents for restrictions before CPAC. So, if he's going to applaud what the State Department has done based on such a claim, let him justify it with verifiable facts to support his contention that the State Department has acted within the law in only placing restrictions on coins that circulated locally within the confines of the modern nation state of Bulgaria. Until he has done so, the suspicion must remain that the State Department either did not care about the facts or was relying upon faulty information supplied by the proponents of restrictions to justify what was done.

Cultural Property Observer said...

I note that Paul Barford has now posted my comment to his own blog on the subject.

John Hooker said...

Hi Peter,

I, too, am awaiting Nathan Elkins (academically correct) reply. Paul Barford has also just embarrassed himself in a comment on my own blog: