Sunday, November 15, 2009

Looted Coin Detector?

During his presentation at last Friday's Cultural Property Advisory Committee, Italian Cultural Ministry archaeologist Stefano De Caro revealed that the Carabinieri have developed a machine that can tell if a coin has been recently looted from its patina.

I have to admit I am a bit dubious, but if such a machine does actually work, perhaps we can dispense with import restrictions (and their shifting the burden of proof onto all importers) in favor of outfitting US Customs with such technology. Suspect coins could be run through the machine and if an "alarm" is sounded, that would supply the "reasonable suspicion" required to perform a further investigation as to how the coins were obtained.

This would be preferable to requiring every importer of every "coin of Italian type" to supply certifications as to that particular coin's whereabouts as of the date any import restrictions were imposed.


Wayne G. Sayles said...

Perhaps the Italians have never heard of soap. Will every cleaned coin now become illicit along with every coin lacking a recorded provenance? Why not save everyone a lot of trouble and just destroy everything from the past?—then there won't be any fighting over it.

Oops, I think the Taliban already tried that :-(

Sorry to be sarcastic, but we have just graduated from the ridiculous to the sublime.

Cultural Property Observer said...

An anonymous scholar asked me to post this tongue and cheek response as well:

Please Peter, do you really, really, believe that the Italians have some wonder machine that can tell if a coin has been recently looted??? This sounds like all those crazy devices that were used to defraud people over the past century or so. What will it be, some kind of a box with lots of dials and wires and buttons and gauges and a little door through which you can drop the coin? You do so, close the door, and turn it on. Various whrrs and buzzes are heard and then an alarm rings and an attractive voice, perhaps one of Berlusconi's teenage/early twenties young ladies, says, "Hey! Thisa coin, hesa stolen outta da groun' d'Italia a coupla monthsa ago! We wanta ita backa righta now!!!" Wow, what a great machine. And even though the importer will have documentary proof that the coin came from the Dorotheum sale of the Apostolo Zeno collection, formed in the 18th century, and has been legally unchallenged since the sale in the 1950s, US Customs will believe the machine and give this rare item back to Italy. Hurrah!!!

seatsonthestreets said...

I have to say Mr. Tompa, I really enjoy reading your blog. You present measured views from a perspective that is not largely given a voice on blogs discussing cultural property. That being said, I think this comment is both racist and beneath you.
Regardless of the silliness of the claim that there's a magic machine that can determine the illicit nature of an object, it's always important to maintain a certain decorum in the dialogue between educated people.
I hope that in the future this kind of thing can be avoided.

Cultural Property Observer said...

Thanks. It was actually as noted someone else's tongue-in-cheek (not and!) comments. They asked me to post it because they could not do so. In any event, I'm an Italian American on my mother's side and was not offended, but I can see what you mean.


Peter Tompa