Thursday, April 22, 2010

Back to Reality

Now that we've seen some of the misinformation and scare tactics used by coin collectors and dealers in regard to the Italian MOU, I thought it would be a good time to bring some reality back to the discussion.

First of all, as I said in my earlier post, nothing is being banned, as people would like you to believe. What would be required by the CPIA if this MOU is extended is EITHER an export permit OR proof that the item was exported from Italy prior to the date the restriction goes into effect. In the event that coins are added to the list of items, they would only have to be shown to be out of Italy before the date that restriction goes into effect, and that hasn't even happened yet.

So in the absence of an export permit, what would constitute proof that an item is out of Italy before the date of restriction? Not much really. Here are the requirements copied from this website:

(c) DEFINITION OF SATISFACTORY EVIDENCE.-The term "satisfactory evidence" means-
(1) for purposes of subsection (b)(2)(A)-
(A) one or more declarations under oath by the importer, or the person for whose account the material is imported, stating that, to the best of his knowledge-
(i) the material was exported from the State Party not less than ten years before the date of entry into the United States, and
(ii) neither such importer or person (or any related person contracted for or acquired an interest, directly or indirectly, in such material more than one year before the date of entry of the material; and
(B) a statement provided by the consignor, or person who sold the material to the importer, which states the date, or, if not known, his belief, that the material was exported from the State Party notless than ten years before the date of entry into the United States,and the reasons on which the statement is based; and
(2) for purposes of subsection (b)(2)(B)-
(A) one or more declarations under oath by the importer or the person for whose account the material is to be imported, stating that, to the best of his knowledge, the material was exported from the State Party on or before the date such material was designated under section 305, and
(B) a statement by the consignor or person who sold the material to the importer which states the date, or if not known, his belief, that the material was exported from the State Party on or before the date such material was designated under section 305, and the reasons on which the statement is based.

So what it says is you need is a sworn statement by either the importer or the exporter that the coins were out of Italy prior to the date of restriction, and why they believe that to be true. Boy, sounds darn near impossible, right?

Foreign countries ask the US to enter into a cultural property MOU in an attempt to protect their cultural heritage from the damage done by illegal digging. This is without a doubt fueled by "don't ask-don't tell" collecting. It's not some sinister plot to keep coins out of American collectors' hands. When the US agrees to enter these MOUs we are simply saying "We will do our part to help you protect your cultural heritage by not allowing items that can't be shown to be legally acquired to enter our borders." I don't see anything wrong with that, and it certainly won't mean "the end of collecting if it gets through". There are many MOUs with other countries currently in effect, yet collecting still continues. That will still be the case if the Italian MOU is extended, even if it's amended to include ancient coins.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Scare Tactics and Misinformation

Scare tactics and misinformation seem to be the norm these days in discussion groups all over. A few of my favorite tidbits:

"The Untied States government is about to decide whether cultural property of Italian origin should be restricted from entry into the U.S. unless accompanied by Italian export permits." (

This is false! The will be subject to the same restrictions outlined in the CPIA. You need EITHER an export permit from that country OR proof that the item was out of the country before the date of the restriction.

NOW!!!!" (Dave Welsh)(

Really?? Does anyone other than him actually believe this?? Adding coins to the existing MOU will end coin collecting? The MOU has already been in effect covering other antiquities for a while now, there hasn't been an end to the trade in any other antiquity. This is just a scare tactic to prompt coin collectors who can't be bothered to research what is really going on to quickly send a fax in support of the ACCG.


The only things being banned are coins that either don't have an export permit or can't be proven to be out of Italy before the date the restriction takes effect(and that date hasn't even come yet!)

"Unless you can prove your coins were exported from Italy before 1970 or you have an export permit from the Italian government, your coins could be confiscated and "returned" to Italy."(In an email from Forum Ancient Coins that has circulated the internet)

False again, you would have to prove that the coins were exported from Italy before the date of the restriction.

"We must tell our government that we should not be denied the opportunity to buy ancient coins just because we are American. We must tell our government that our children should not be deprived of learning the learning experience ancient coins provide just because they are American." (Same email from Forum Ancient Coins)

We're not being deprived of anything "because we're American". America does happen to have one of the largest collecting communities, so why wouldn't it be logical for Italy to ask us to help protect their cultural heritage from looting by imposing import restrictions on undocumented items entering our borders?

Thankfully not everyone is buying the hype. Here are 2 comments left by someone on Forum Ancient Coins:

"Now, the argument for import restrictions is precisely that they might help prevent looting by making illegally dug coins and similar portable antiquities much harder to sell. It’s meant to discourage the bad guys. It’s not some vindictive attack on coin collectors nor is it a devious government plot to take away our liberties." (Bill R. Forum Ancient coins)

"Thanks, Alfred, for posting the Sayles blog extract, though I have to say I found it very strange. The idea that there is some vast conspiracy involving the academic archaeological community and ‘nationalist governments’ (whatever they are) is, frankly, bizarre."(Bill R. Forum Ancient Coins)

He was subsequently chastised by the owner of the group, Joseph Sermarini:

"The idea of banning the import of Roman coins into America while continuing to permit trade within the EU is bizarre and anti-American. The restrictions don't apply to the UK. You don't live in America, so the restrictions don't apply to you. We are not discussing banning imports to the UK. You are under the mistaken impression that this is an appropriate place for discussion and debate of this issue. You are under the mistaken impression that it is OK for you, who does not live in the U.S., to express your support here for this bizarre MOU, which does not impact you. It is not." (Joseph Sermarini- owner Forum Ancient Coins)

So much for the open discussion that coin dealers and collectors are always complaining they wish would happen. And if it doesn't impact anyone except those in the US so they are not allowed to express their thoughts, why in the world are members of the ACCG asking everyone from every country to voice their opinion the the US State Dept?

I urge collectors everywhere to do their own research into what the MOU on cultural property with Italy (or any other country) really means and make an informed decision.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Are Coin Archaeological Artifacts?

Many coin dealers maintain that coins shouldn't be considered archaeological artifacts. Anyone who is on the fence about whether or not to believe that should read this article:

Pay particular attention to the part that says:

The archaeologists also found a gold relief showing the four sons of the Egyptian god Horus, other plaster masks of women's faces, several glass and clay utensils and some metal coins.

The metal coins are being checked to see whether they can date the era of the tomb more precisely.

Those coins, found in context, are being used to help date a unique site. What knowledge would have been lost if someone with a metal detector had gotten there first and yanked those coins out of the ground? What other damage would have been done to the site in the process?

How can anyone read that article and not agree that coins are indeed archaeological artifacts, deserving of the same protection and subject to the same restrictions?

What Is It With Coin Dealers?

For some reason I still can't fathom, many continue to deny that "don't ask-don't tell" buying and selling contributes to looting. They also don't understand that despite their great numbers and relatively low value, coins are still archaeological artifacts and should be treated as such.

Many of the coins on the market now may not have provenance, but dealers and collectors could start building them now by keeping and passing on paperwork. Their argument against that is it would cost too much and take up too much space to keep paperwork on all their coins. Frankly I don't give a hoot if it costs you a bit more to do business or takes up more space for storage for you to keep paperwork on the coins you sell if it helps to curb looting. It's the right thing to do.

The ACCG claims to be fighting for "collector's rights" yet the Italian MOU has been in existence for a while. So have the Chinese and Cyprus ones. Not a peep from the ACCG. The only time the ACCG decided to step in was when the possibility of coins being added came up. The ACCG is not fighting for "collector's rights", they're fighting to be able to continue to do business as they've always done instead of having to make sure that the coins they are buying and selling aren't recently looted. They freely admit that they have no idea where or when the coins used in their "test case" were dug up.

Wayne Sayles himself says (in response to my calling him paranoid when he said "It has nothing at all to do with preserving sites in Cyprus, it has to do with eliminating private access to the coins in America. Now that is a fact" ):
Are we paranoid? Well one thing in itself, like the Cyprus or China MOU would not cause me to be "paranoid". But a decade of well planned and executed steps toward eliminating free trade does cause my radar to paint danger signs. I would call that caution and concern rather than paranoia.

So if the ACCG has seen this coming for a decade, why didn't dealers start documenting coins back then? If only out of "caution and concern" about what might be coming in the future?