Thursday, July 9, 2009

Freedom to Collect

Over on Peter Tompa's blog Cultural Property Observer, he has made a post on freedom to collect.

A couple things jumped out at me in this post that I feel need addressed:

Hopefully, such a day will never come to these United States when ordinary Americans will be unable to study, preserve and display ancient coins just like Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams did generations ago.

This is an argument that is used a lot by collectors. Just because something "has been done this way for generations" doesn't mean that it's the way it should continue to be done. We now know and care more about the destruction looting causes to the historical record, and we can't let this continue.

Instead, it will take the vigilance of collectors and even litigation like the FOIA case against the State Department and a "test case" about import restrictions on coins of Cypriot and Chinese type to ensure that ordinary Americans retain their "freedom to collect."

Yes, as Americans we are free to collect. But that freedom to collect can not and should not supercede the right of another country to pass and enforce whatever laws its government deems necessary to protect its cultural heritage. The ACCG's challenge to the State Dept is attempting to do just that. The US has agreed to help China and Cyprus enforce its cultural property laws by agreeing to not let something illegally removed from either of those countries into the US. Why is that a problem?

The only problem I see with it is that it forces The dealers who are members of the ACCG to be more diligent in their business practices, and lowers their profit margin since they would no longer be able to buy cheap, undocumented objects from any Joe, Stan, or Harry with a metal detector who digs things up illegally and ships them out of the country without reporting them. They would actually have to seek out legally acquired objects to sell.

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