Saturday, June 30, 2012

ACCG Oral Argument Scheduled

The ACCG's appeal of Judge Blake's dismissal of its test case will be heard before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Virginia, on September 19, 2012.   The Court will decide whether the ACCG is entitled to judicial review of the State Department's and Customs and Border Protection's controversial decisions to impose import restrictions on Cypriot and Chinese coins, and whether it is proper to restrict coins based on their place of production rather than their find spot under the provisions of the applicable law, the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act. 

Friday, June 29, 2012

Government Strikes Out Yet Again Against SLAM

A U.S. District Court has denied the Government's Second Motion for Reconsideration of a decision to throw out a forfeiture case against an Egyptian funerary mask that has been on display at the St. Louis Art Museum for years.  I'm not sure what the Government hoped to accomplish by seeking reconsideration of the Court's dismissal order for a second time.   Perhaps, it was a tactical move to give the Government more time to consider an appeal.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Huge Iron Age Coin Hoard Found in Jersey

Coins Weekly discusses a huge coin hoard found on the Island of Jersey.   Metal detectorists found the hoard, but archaeologists excavated it making for a good example of the collaboration that is still possible between the groups where laws are not of a confiscatory nature.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Egypt Elects Muslim Brotherhood Leader Mohamed Morsi as President

The Egyptian people have spoken. In so doing, they have rejected the old guard, and instead have embraced a sectarian candidate. Some of his rhetoric has been troubling, but it is unclear if his Muslim Brotherhood intends to rule Egypt as Ahmadinezh─üd’s Iran or Erdogan’s Turkey.

And what will the transition hold for Egyptian antiquities? The rejection of the old guard is probably bad news for Zahi Hawass, who presumably still faces corruption charges. But it also remains to be seen if government funding for Egypt’s antiquities will be maintained (it should) or whether the cultural bureaucracy will be allowed to maintain its absolute control over everything and anything old (it shouldn’t.).

Friday, June 22, 2012

More on Return of Polish Museum Artifacts

Harlan Berk has kindly elaborated on his firm's part in returning artifacts stolen from a Polish American museum in Chicago.

Here is how Harlan recounts the event.

On September 30, 2011 a Friday evening at 6 PM as I was getting home I received a call from our document and paper money specialist Dennis Forgue. He informed me that we had purchased late that day an 4 page letter by Thomas Jefferson about how to finance the US government dated 1814 and a letter endorsed by Abraham Lincoln ,Gen. McClernand and Gen. Winfield Scott, and other items for $5000 . The people had asked for $2000. Monday morning I told Dennis to research the items for pedigree. The Jefferson papers were only published through 1813 so far by the Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series at Monticello and the U of VA, so he worked on the Lincoln. It came up that the Lincoln was published in the Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln from 1953 and that it was owned by the Polish Roman Catholic Union in Chicago, which had been renamed The Polish Museum of America, in Chicago.

I immediately called the Polish Museum and spoke to the museum president Maria Ciesla. I asked her if they had even de-accessioned anything. Her answer told me the items we had purchased were stolen ,in the true meaning of the word.To say the least she was thrilled. I told her that we should continue to buy from these people so we could recover all or as much of the material as possible. She ,with board approval agreed to reimburse us our purchase prices. We continued to buy for two months until November 7, 2011, spending $31,400 in all . The items were sold to us by different combinations of individuals usually brought in by a young man who ,until the last purchase refused to give his ID. There was always someone with him who gave ID and to whom the checks were written. We documented every transaction. Photocopying the ID ,the check we paid and every item we purchased and kept every individual purchase together. On the several occasions when the Museum reimbursed us we gave them copies of everything along with the real documents we had recovered.

The Museum wanted to call in the FBI but I asked them to wait as the repurchase program was working so well . I did not want to spook them and never be able to recover all the material. Finally when they said they were going to Sothebys with the rest of the material. I alerted a friend at Sothebys to the problem. The Museum then call in the FBI. They ,special agent Luigi Mondini, was very nice and professional as one would expect. We gave them copies of everything we had collected. The FBI recovered the final 121 items to add to the 279 we recovered. Even though we suspected that these items were past the statutes of limitation for theft, it never crossed our mind to keep them. They were and are the property of the Polish Museum of America and we are very happy to have recovered these great pieces of American history for them.

Again, kudos to Harlan Berk and Harlan J. Berk, Ltd. for ensuring long lost artifacts were returned to the Polish American Museum.

Kudos for Chicago Coin, Antiquities and Antiques Dealer

Coin, antiquities, and antiques dealer Harlan Berk has been instrumental in the return of artifacts to Chicago's Polish Museum.  The artifacts appear to have been taken over time by a museum curator.   Kudos to Harlan Berk for his efforts to return these artifacts back to the Museum.  Now, the museum needs to do a much better job in protecting the artifacts in its care. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Congratulations to Jerry Eisenberg

CPO congratulates NY antiquities dealer Jerry Eisenberg.

The President of the Republic of Italy, the Hon. Giorgio Napolitano, awarded Eisenberg with the Order of the Star of Italy and the title of Ufficiale (Officer) at a ceremony that took place in  NY on June 2nd. 

Coins Weekly states that the Order of the Star of Italy is bestowed upon those who have provided a meaningful contribution to the prestige of Italy while promoting friendly relations and cooperation between Italy and other countries.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Everyone is Entitled to Find Out What the Government is Up To

Scott Hodes, an attorney who devotes his practice to Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") cases, has commented on the archaeological blogosphere's attack on the efforts of  ACCG, IAPN and PNG to seek transparency in how the State Department and US Customs impose import restrictions on cultural goods.

The drafters of FOIA hoped that the release of government files would help the public learn what its government is up to.  The fact that ACCG, IAPN and PNG have sought to shed some light on what State Department and US Customs Bureaucrats have been up to behind closed doors should be applauded, not condemned by archaeological groups, particularly given their own demands for transparency from private parties involved in the trade in cultural goods.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

ANS Recaptures Part of HSA Collection

Lee Rosenbaum (aka "Culture Grrl") reports the welcome news that a generous donor has agreed to return some 10,000 coins from the Hispanic Society of America collection back to the American Numismatic Society, where they resided for so many years.

Update (6-20-12):  The New York times has now reported on the generous contribution as well. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Government Seeks Third Bite at the Apple

The Government has filed a second motion for reconsideration of a US District Court's decision to dismiss its forfeiture complaint against the Ka Nefer Nefer mask owed by the St. Louis Museum of Art (SLAM).  The Government now claims that the Court should accept an amended complaint that questions the mask's provenance.  Even if one accepts the Government's claim that the mask's provenance was false, I'm not sure that establishes that the mask is "stolen" so that it may be forfeited.

In any event, the Court should deny this second motion for reconsideration as it did the first.  If the Government believes that it has a good faith basis to appeal the Court's dismissal of its forfeiture complaint, it should do so.  Filing multiple motions for reconsideration seems little more than an effort to drive up SLAM's legal costs and to buy more time for the multiple federal agencies involved to decide whether to file an appeal.  (Filing of such motions typically tolls the time in which an appeal may be filed.  As it is, the Government gets 60 days-- rather than the usual 30 days-- to appeal.)

The Government's motion is available on-line for those with a "Pacer" account with the federal court system.

District Court Again Accepts State Secrecy Claims; But Transparency Needed More than Ever

The same US District Court judge who ruled for the State Department in the ACCG-IAPN-PNG FOIA case has again ruled for the government on the remaining issues on remand from the D.C. Circuit.

Just because the US District Court gave the State Department another pass does not mean that the State Department is acting in accordance with President Obama's promise to make his Administration the most transparent ever.  To the contrary, the veil of secrecy placed over State Department decisions to impose import restrictions on cultural goods would seem to be entirely inconsistent with that pledge. 

The State Department needs to be far more transparent about its decision making processes, which after all have a real impact on the ability of American collectors, businesses and museums to import cultural goods.

Archaeologists should also support greater transparency.  The archaeological lobby harps on the need for more transparency about private transactions involving the sale or transfer of cultural goods, but has been supportive of government secrecy concerning how import decisions are made.  Why?  Could it be that it fears that any such transparency will only confirm that such decisions are actually the products of bias/and or prejudgement and/or ex parte contacts between State Department staff and members of the archaeological lobby?  The particular redacted document at issue in the remand (an email communication between an archaeologist associated with the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute and a State Department employee about including coins in the MOU that predated a Cypriot request for import restrictions on coins) certainly suggests as much.

Addendum 6/15/12): Some in the archaeological blogosphere have now claimed that using the FOIA process to seek the email mentioned above is somehow "absurd," "shameful," "disturbing" and "disgusting."  Here is my response to archaeo-blogger Paul Barford, which he apparently refuses to publish:

Well, perhaps you should give your readers the whole context of why ACCG was seeking the Parks email, and let them decide if seeking some transparency as to how the import restrictions decision was made is as disgusting or disturbing as you claim:
Either State was using Parks (the now deceased archaeologist in question)  as a supposedly neutral expert (when she was not) or conferring with her about CAARI's effort to include coins in the Cypriot MOU. Because we don't have the entire document, we don't know which it was, but since Cyprus had not yet asked for restrictions on coins when the email exchange occurred, it presumably would be the latter.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Cultural Nationalism Now Bites American Archaeologists

A Kurdish source is reporting that the Iraqi Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities has stopped dealing with US archaeological teams in response to the refusal of US authorities to return Iraqi Jewish artifacts to the country. 

If so, this is a rebuff not only to American archaeologists who have tirelessly promoted the interests of the Iraqi archaeological establishment (both during and after the fall of Saddam's Baathist regime) but also to the US State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and its Cultural Heritage Center, which have lavished millions of dollars on the Iraqi archaeological establishment-- all at a time US cultural institutions are finding themselves in an extremely harsh financial climate.

In punishing American archaeologists for a dispute over the repatriation of cultural artifacts, the Iraqis are apparently taking a page from the Turkish Government which has also recently punished German archaeologists for the perceived transgressions of German state museums.

Here, the Iraqis are apparently specifically miffed at US reconsideration of a controversial State Department "commitment"  to return cultural artifacts confiscated from Iraqi Jews who were forced from their homeland in a callous act of "ethnic cleansing".   Given their own "unclean hands," it's hard to see any "moral rights" Iraq may have to such artifacts. 

And in an ironic twist, American archaeologists apparently have now themselves become the "victims" of the very same virulent cultural nationalism they have themselves done so much to foster.  Perhaps it's finally time for the Archaeological Institute of America to rethink its unqualified support for the broadest claims of any nation state where American archaeologists excavate. 

And it's certainly time to cut any further funding of Iraqi archaeology or the repatriation of any "Iraqi looking" cultural goods based on the slimmest suspicion they may have left that country after an international embargo was placed on the import of any Iraqi products. 

Greek Archaeologists Out of Touch

The New York Times reports that Greek archaeologists are slow to recognize the financial reality of a bankrupt Greek Government.  I've previously blogged about their poster campaign which does absolutely nothing to advance necessary reforms of a system that can no longer assume (if it ever could) that the Greek State and its State Funded archaeologists should monopolize control over all ancient artifacts within Greek borders in order to "protect them."

Monday, June 11, 2012

Hirshhorn Presents “Ai Weiwei: Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads”

The Smithsonian’s Hirshorn Museum is displaying Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei’s ironic take on the infamous “Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads,” said to have been looted by British imperialists from the Summer Palace.   I suppose AiWeiwei’s oversized heads say something about the oversized nationalistic rhetoric Chinese officials and their allies in the Western archaeological community have employed to demand the return of the originals.   The exhibit will remain on view until February 24, 2013.

Spain Now in Hock to the Tune of 100 Billion Euros-- Is it time to Rethink Odyssey's Offer?

Spain has agreed to accept a 100 Billion Euro bail out from the EU.  Perhaps, it's now time for the Spanish Government to rethink Odyssey's offer to share the proceeds from rich Spanish shipwrecks as the British have done for their own shipwrecks.  Archaeologists may snipe at Odyssey's efforts to record wrecks, but the truth is without selling off the numerous duplicate coins found, exploration of deep water wrecks will never happen due to the considerable costs involved.  Isn't it better to record these wrecks before they deteriorate further?   And perhaps Spain's share of the proceeds could be used to support its cultural establishment, which must be in for substantial cuts in these times of financial austerity. Partnering with Odyssey should be viewed as a win win for all.  So why not?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

MOUs Should Be About "Respect" for Governing Law

The State Department has announced that the MOU with Peru has been extended once again to "demonstrate [its] continued respect for the extraordinary cultural heritage of Peru."

While I agree that Peru has an extraordinary cultural heritage, import restrictions are only supposed to be extended if they meet the significant procedural and substantive constraints found in the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act.  What then about "respecting" governing law?

Certainly, restrictions were only meant to give countries like Peru time to get any looting under control-- they were never meant to be reinstated time and time and again.   Peru has already had the benefit of US import controls for 15 years.   Hopefully, by the time the next renewal comes along in another 5 years someone responsible at State will conclude enough is enough.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

"Blood Antiquities" or Stale Claim Against Legally Obtained Cultural Goods?

I am struck by the contrast between Sotheby's well-reasoned legal analysis of why the government's forfeiture action against its consigner's Cambodian statue should be dismissed and this well-written CNN opinion piece prepared by advocates for Cambodia.

Unfortunately, Sotheby's brief is not available on-line unless one has a "Pacer" account with the U.S. Court System.   However, "Cultural Heritage Lawyer" and former SAFE VP Rick St.  Hilaire has provided us with his own analysis.  Though St. Hilaire is also associated with the archaeological community, his summary does appear to convey most of Sotheby's arguments accurately.

It will be interesting to read the Government's response. But why has the U.S. Government taken sides at all?   Cambodia has plenty of friends in the archaeological community, including more than a few lawyers.   They should be pursuing any claims Cambodia may have rather than making the U.S. taxpayer foot the bill for such a stale claim that dates back at least to the 1970's (if you believe the Government) or perhaps far earlier (if you believe Sotheby's).

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Research or Advocacy on "Organized Crime" and the Antiquities Trade?

Chasing Aphrodite has interviewed Simon Mackenzie, an academic associated with the archaeological lobby, about his EU funded “research” into “organized crime” and the antiquities trade. See

I’ve been dubious that academics with an axe to grind against collectors could really be expected to produce anything other than advocacy dressed up as "research" to help justify more clamp downs on collectors, museums and dealers, and greater funding for cultural bureaucracies and law enforcement. See If anything, this Chasing Aphrodite interview only seems to confirm those concerns. 

In that regard, I would note that Mackenzie rejects the notion that overregulation creates a black market and defines “organized crime” quite broadly to include any three or more persons acting in concert to violate some some source country regulation, no matter how draconian.  For instance, I presume under this definition an Italian farmer and his two sons who fail to turn over ancient coins they find on their own land to the State which will not compensate them are involved in “organized crime.” And what of a tourist who buys inexpensive antiquities for his children sold quite openly in a shop in Rome, but the shop owner refuses to go through the bother of securing export licenses for such insignificant artifacts?  Would Mackenzie and friends treat such tansgressions as "serious" enough to constitute "organized crime" too?  I bet they would.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Government SLAMMED Again

A U.S. District Court has denied the Government's motion for reconsideration of its order dismissing a forfeiture action filed against the Ka Nefer Nefer mask owned by the St. Louis Art Museum (SLAM).  For more, see this report from "Cultural Heritage Lawyer" and former SAFE VP Rick St. Hilaire:

Saturday, June 2, 2012

AIA Posts Pics from Posh Party

The Archaeological Institute of America has posted pictures of “the beautiful people” attending its posh gala in New York. See

Talk about “the One Percent!”

Certainly, the optics of such an event do not square very well with the rhetoric one sometimes hears at Cultural Property Advisory Committee meetings and elsewhere vilifying “wealthy collectors” and US business.  Or perhaps, it is just done for effect.

Slippery Slope

Cambodian cultural bureaucrats, no doubt emboldened by the US Government's case against Sotheby's, have now set their sights on more Cambodian statuary that has been on display at the MET for years.  See

The statuary in question apparently arrived in the US years before import restrictions on undocumented Cambodian artifacts were imposed.  Moreover, unlike the Sotheby's case, there does not appear to be any hard evidence that the statuary came from a specific site.  Accordingly, at this point any Cambodian claims would seem to be based on little more than speculation and a cultural nationalist view that anything of Cambodian manufacture "belongs" to the modern nation state.