Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Trade Professionals Speak Common Sense

The Ivory Tower academics of the archaeological lobby often speak about requiring "provenance information" and "export certificates" as proof that items are not the products of recent looting. However, those with actual practical experience in the international trade of cultural goods have once again demonstrated that coming up with such documentation is easier said than done.

Numismatic professional Alfredo de la Fe has written about the lack of provenance information for most coins and antiquities dealer James Ede has explained the impossible task of supplying export certificates that simply don't exist.

Hopefully, decision makers will give much needed consideration to these practical concerns raised by those in the know.


Dave Welsh said...

It is only recently that this "responsible collecting" campaign has been organized and waged with the claimed objective of "disincentivizing" looting of archaeological sites in source countries.

Those behind it, the most extreme being Paul Barford, in my view have little understanding of the actual workings of the numismatic and antiquities trades, and of numismatic and antiquities collecting. Their avowed interests focus upon "preserving the archaeological record."

There is, in my opinion, good reason to believe that those clamoring for provenance and export certificates would be quite content to see the trade disrupted and effectively suppressed, and collecting of ancient coins and antiquities stifled, because provenance and export certificates are largely unavailable.

No one among these archaeology-centric academics is acknowledging the reality that most of the articles available in the numismatic and antiquities markets first entered these markets and were acquired by collectors long before the misnomer "responsible collecting" was introduced. Recently unearthed "illicit" coins and antiquities are very far from being the majority of items traded.

Provenance historically has only been recorded for items of exceptional interest and/or value, and traceability has been difficult because there are good, sensible reasons for sellers to insist upon anonymity, particularly to keep the existence of their collections from coming to the attention of criminals.

Dave Welsh

Ed Snible said...

Alfred is right about provenance. I often encounter sales catalogs featuring rare coins with long pedigrees unknown to the seller.

Regarding the export certificates, I checked with US Customs and I have a requirement to keep the documentation on things I import for five years. Would it have been obvious in the early 1960s that export documentation must be kept in perpetuity? Forever is significantly longer than five years.

I recently blogged about a coin with a provenance back to Pakistan in 1963. I was crowing online about the long provenance, and P.B. immediately called me to task for not seeking a 1963 Pakistani export license (this is for a sub-$30 value coin in 2015 dollars). I have no idea what record-keeping expectations will be in 2065 AD on the coins I am buying now. It is surprising that we should expect past generations to have known what is expected today.

I recently attended a lecture by the curator of a university museum. This curator can only buy pre-1970 provenanced coins for the museum. A spectator (not me!) asked about post-1970 coins with valid export licenses from Mediterranean countries. The curator's response was a look of amusement that such a license could exist. (Let me say the university is not a poor one.)

Dave Welsh said...


Paul Barford has just described you as being a moron:


The man's arrogance and unpleasantness are only exceeded by his verbosity and pedantry. It is particularly inappropriate for him to set himself up as the arbiter of what constitutes responsible collecting. He doesn't really understand the meaning of either of these words.

Dave Welsh

Wayne G. Sayles said...

Thank you Ed for sharing your thoughts and experiences. We must remember that what passes as "law" today is not actually law but bureaucratic rule making. There is a law that applies, the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act and that law is defended by collectors and dealers in ancient coins. Archaeologists, with the help of federal bureaucracy, have perverted the letter and intention of this law and now pontificate about collectors being unethical, if not criminal, for advocating adherence to the law that prevails. It's a crying shame that all that education went to waste and that academia feels compelled to resort to such tactics as vilification in a pathetic attempt to replace law with their ideological preferences.

John H said...

Hi Peter:

A couple of questions you might consider...

...What if PB does not actually exist, but is simply a 'name' created by a cadre of Commie archaeological odd-balls posing in the archaeo-blogosphere to further a radical agenda to destabilize the US collecting scene whilst posing as kosher arcaheologists? It certainly explains the lack of educational provenance of the PB puppet.

Maybe, the original PB passed on many years ago following failed heart surgery. If so, what's the identity of whoever's posing as the reincarnated PB?

Best wishes

John Howland

Ed Snible said...

PB may actually be correct about me being a moron. I continue to let him post on my blog his agitation against myself and my friends. That alone supports his case against my intelligence!

I am a collector who is concerned about unlicensed digging. I prefer to buy items from old collections. I like to post the cool provenances I have found and believe there should be a market premium for older items. I have some sympathy for PB's vision of a transparent art market and I still believe that in 50 years technology will make our current arguments moot.

I had hoped to encourage other collectors come forward with coins and stories but who wants that kind of attention? It is hard for me to inspire collectors to publicly covet provenance if no amount of provenance is enough to avoid a personalized PB essay.

Perhaps ACCG could sponsor a contest, with cash prizes?

$10 for verified cockatrice blood
$20 for the Philosopher's stone
$50 for photograph of 21st century export certificate from Greece of <$100 ancient Greek coin

Cultural Property Observer said...

Ed- I think it would be great if dealers passed along old tickets and the like which at least give some evidence of provenance, if not the sort that would satisfiy the likes of PB or AIA, the DOS or CBP for that matter.

I will issue an open invitation for any CPO readers out there to send me a photograph of a Greek, Cypriot, Egyptian, Turkish or Syrian export certificate for a coin. (Italy does issue them, though it takes 3 months or more to get it and one wonders what they would think if you sought one for a 5 Euro Roman AE 3.)

Extra bonus for anyone who sends me a picture of a license of one issued before 1970. Please send image along with any information you have about the export certificate to my work email address, pkt@becounsel.com.

Sorry, no monetary reward for this one.

kyri said...

hi peter,over the last few years i have been buying antiquities in athens and they all come with greek export certificates.there are a few dealers in athens selling antiquities and ancient greek coins but they can only sell to greek passport holders but there was one dealer who was selling greek antiquities and coins with greek export certificates.
Pandrosou 58 - Monastiraki - Athens
Antique - Collectors | Antique - Collectors Athens | Antique - Collectors Monastiraki

i bought about 8 pieces from her over the years but no coins as they were double the price i would pay in london.each time she sold a piece the buyer had to produce their passport and the sale was registered to them.on my export certificates is my name ,address and my passport number.on her stationary it clearly states "antiquities sold with greek government export certificates" her shop was in the shadow of the acropolis.everything in her shop was numbered/photographed and registered with the greek cultural ministry.some of the pieces were excavated by greek museums,with find spots ect.all the pieces i believe were in old greek collections but no names.i had this same conversation with john hooker over a year ago,he couldnt believe it iether,he can verify they are real.
there are greek export certificates out there.

Cultural Property Observer said...

Thanks Kyri, I've heard there are a few dealers in Athens that are grandfathered in, and that the coins they sell are actually imported from other EU countries. Heard they also sold to non-Greeks, but this seems to contradict that. Anyway, thanks for the information. It's particularly interesting that they seem to be selling deaccessioned items (presumably duplicates). This of course has been something suggested by AAMD and others for some time. I wonder if the economic problems there will encourage such sales of well provenanced material with funds presumably going to support Greek Archaeology-- I hope so!

kyri said...

hi peter,the pieces that were "deaccessioned" were probably excavated in the 30s/40s nothing recent.there was a nice black ware bell krater [west slope ware]that was excavated on the slopes of the acropolis,i have a picture of it in the window of her shop,but nothing recent.i have been going to athens for years and believe me i couldnt buy anything from any other dealer she was the only one selling to tourists that i know of.last october i bought some bronze medical tools and a bronze handle.of course they come up on the x-ray at the airport.the greek customs went through my things ,found them and asked for the paperwork.after 15 minutes and a few calls to their superior they waved me through. to be honest,i xxxx myself but the paperwork was ligit.

Paul Barford said...

>> ...What if PB does not actually exist, but is simply a 'name' created by a cadre of Commie archaeological odd-balls posing in the archaeo-blogosphere to further a radical agenda to destabilize the US collecting scene whilst posing as kosher arcaheologists [sic]? It certainly explains the lack of educational provenance of the PB puppet. Maybe, the original PB passed on many years ago following failed heart surgery. If so, what's the identity of whoever's posing as the reincarnated PB?<<

Ummm, what? Mr Tompa, this blog post is called "Trade Professionals Speak Common Sense"... and yet you follow it by approving a nonsensical conspiracy theory posing as a 'what if' such as this from a UK metal detectorist.

Full name: Paul Barford - Warsaw, Poland - basis for interest: person mentioned above.

Cultural Property Observer said...

Mr. Barford, you apparently have no sense of humor. In any event, as noted elsewhere all could be cleared up if you post your CV.

I'm closing comments on this blog post.