Sunday, August 29, 2010

What Do Dated Police Investigations Involving Coins Actually Tell Us?

Cultural Property crusaders David Gill and Paul Barford have dredged up two somewhat dated investigations by Greek authorities relating to coins on their respective blogs. One investigation led to the repatriation of a Roman denarius to Greece. The other investigation-- the result of which has not been publicised-- related to a Thracian silver coin. See

Gill and Barford suggest these incidents somehow lend support to Greece's request for an MOU with the United States. But do they? In each case, the dealers in question fully cooperated with the authorities. In each case, the investigations took place in Europe and not in the United States. So, what exactly is the relevance?

And then let's consider the coins themselves. One investigation related to a Roman denarius. Those who support import restrictions claim such coins should be treated as presumptively Italian and not presumptively Greek. And ancient Thrace encompassed the borders of present day Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey. It would be interesting to learn whether Gill, Barford and friends believe Thacian coins should therefore be considered presumptively Greek, presumptively Bulgarian or presumptively Turkish.

Or, perhaps it is indeed better that import restrictions only be used to return artifacts traced back to illicit excavations in modern nation states like Greece through good police work.


Sebastian Heath said...


"Those who support import restrictions claim such coins should be treated as presumptively Italian and not presumptively Greek."

This sentence might carry more weight if it came with a source. Do you have one? I don't believe you can cite such a statement that is of recent vintage. But if I'm wrong, so be it.

For my part, I've never argued that a denarius struck in Italy should be treated as necessarily the cultural property of the Italian government. Nor have archaeologists made that argument before the Cultural Property Advisory Committee. Archaeologists have asked that antiquities coming into the US that can have been found in countries with which the US has an MoU be accompanied by sufficient documentation to show that they can be legally imported. That's pretty straightforward, and consistent with my layperson's reading of the relevant law.


Cultural Property Observer said...

Sebastian- Presumptions are what import restrictions are all about. For example, Customs seized the ACCG's unprovenanced Cypriot and Chinese coins because it presumed they were covered by the MOUs with Cyprus and China. I also understand that Customs has detained Roman coins from several European auctions under the Italian MOU, only to release them when Customs was informed that there are no import restrictions on coins of Italian type to date.

As for the AIA' position on thei issue, I should note that Dr. Rose sent a letter to CPAC on Cyprus stating that Cypriot coins could be assumed to be found in Cyprus because few travelled from the Island in antiquity. However, there is ample evidence in the record to the contrary and even the Cypriot authorities admitted their coins travelled in a private communication to the State Department that was released under FOIA.

I should also direct your attention to Dr. Rose's statements at the CPAC hearing on Italy. In response to a question by the CPAC chair that she believed a number of archaeologists had sought too broad restrictions, my recollection is that he indicated that restrictions could be limited to coins of Magna Graecia, Sicily and the Etruscans because these did not circulate. This again is open to scholarly debate and indeed IAPN submitted evidence from the Coin Hoard series to the contrary.

Finally, I should note that (at least the last time I checked), the AIA had a document on its website entitled "frequently asked questions" that maintained that unprovenanced artifacts should be considered likely stolen. This particular presumption is related to import restrictions because the State Department appears to have adopted it in various statements they have made over the years, most recently in their filings in the ACCG case.

In any event, if the AIA stated that import restrictions only should apply to artifacts proven to be FOUND in countries with which the US has an MOU, that would be quite significant. As it is now, the State Department and US Customs have taken a far broader position in the ACCG Customs test case, i.e., that Cypriot and Chinese coins are the presumptive property of Cyprus and China. We can only assume that they would take an identical position with respect to coins struck in Italy and Greece and absent anything to the contrary, AIA support for import restrictions constitutes support for this broad position.

Overall, I think we could all benefit if the AIA were to clarify its position on this issue. What about a rule where importers have to declare the find spot, if known, as the country of origin and otherwise it is the place of purchase? That would trigger import restrictions for artifacts found in countries for which there is an MOU, but would allow the legitimate trade in most ancient coins to continue and with it the ability of Americans to continue collecting and provide support for organizations like the ANS and ANA.

Best regards,


Paul Barford said...

"Presumptions are what import restrictions are all about. For example, Customs seized the ACCG's unprovenanced Cypriot and Chinese coins because it presumed they were covered by the MOUs with Cyprus and China." well, you will excuse me for pointing out that by your own words this is not exactly what happened. You (plural) forced this seizure.
[]: "The ACCG imported the coins in April 2009. ACCG’s Customs Broker had to tell Customs that the coins were subject to potential restrictions. On the 5th attempt (sic), Customs seized the coins, but instead of filing the required forfeiture action, Customs did nothing. ACCG waited for almost a year, and then filed its own suit against Customs and the State Department".
So four times Customs refused and the fifth they seized them... hardly looks like the presumption was theirs.

So what is the truth Mr Tompa?

In fact the idea that Italians wanted to include "all Roman coins" no matter where found is as much an alarmist fiction made up by coin dealers as the idea that the Greeks have "probably" asked for all Greek coins, found anywhere to be checked by US customs for legal export.

Cultural Property Observer said...

Mr. Barford- I was quoting Wayne Sayles, who received his information from the ACCG's Customs broker. Ths situation ia s bit more complicated, and Wayne, not being a lawyer probably should have used the term "detained" not seized. In any event. the customs officers on the ground in Baltimore were evidently initially unfamiliar with the regulations. Nonetheless, once they detained the coins, they ultimately decided to seize them, rather than returning them to the ACCG. I find it amusing you think ACCG can "force" a seizure. If we could "force" anything, we would have "forced" them to file a forfeiture action, as they are required to do. Instead, they have now dallied for some 16 months with no explanation given-- which is why we have asked the Court to intervene.

Incidentally, I find it interesting that you are evidently so connected to either the State Department or the Italian Cultural Ministry that you know that coins have once again been exempted from the Italian MOU. I think you would do everyone a service if you provided further detail as to your sources on your blog so the information might be confirmed. For some reason, the State Department did not even respond to my basic inquiry whether new restrictions on coins would be considered in the context of a renewal. Don’t get me wrong, I will be very grateful if coins have been exempted again, but absent an official communication in that regard, everyone would benefit from any additional information you can provide.


Peter Tompa