Friday, July 18, 2008

More on photo-notarizing antiquities to prove ownership

Peter Tompa and Nathan T. Elkins have both weighed in on my suggestion to use timestamp notary services to register coins cheaply (here and here)

Mr. Elkins likes the idea so much he thinks that there should be a deadline for entering coins into the registery and after that 'regulations' against selling coins without provenance. (I disagree—not everyone who has an ancient coin has a computer!)

Peter Tompa thinks the idea needs goverment blessing. Although I'd like to see a centralized searchable archive for research purposes, perhaps supported by National Endowment for the Humanities grants, but I think the strength of the idea is that no govermental blessing or registry is needed! These certificates prove something in a court of law without needing an organization to administer anything.

The ability to create proveably old photo-receipts is a boon because some folks fake proveances. The ability to do it without a central registry means that folks who are hiding their collection from their ex-wife's divorce lawyer have no excuse not to certify their photo-receipts.

There are technical flaws with the idea. It certifies a digital file, not the coin. One attack against it is create a cast fake, legally export the fake from country X as a replica, create a video of yourself holding the fake up in Time Square and timestamp notarize the video. Then go back to country X and take the original out. If anyone questions you at the border, the video seems to imply the the genuine coin wasn't being illegally exported...

I think extremely hi-resolution pictures protected against this attack, but I just wanted to point out timestamp notarization of physical objects is not 100% unbreakable.

Rather than regulations making it illegal to have unregistered antiquities I want to create an incentives to track provenances. If there are incentives more and more coins will carry histories, and the ones without will start to seem dubious.


Cultural Property Observer said...

Ed- Thanks for this and the other post. My point on a government blessing was predicated on my assumption that your idea might become the basis for a government mandate at some point or evidence that a coin was "legitimate" in the face of a future import restriction.

I agree with you that this idea should be promoted first within the hobby. This will also allow for some trial and error to take place before ultimate standards are agreed upon.

I did get a few emails from dealers. Most did not like the idea because they thought it would be too time consuming for their small businesses to accomplish and the effort would likely not satisfy members of the archaeological community who based on their rules of professional conduct seem to be stuck on a 1970 date.

I do think however that your idea does have merit. All it might take is one prominent dealer who agrees that it is a good idea to make it happen and then see if it takes off.

Best regards,


Ed Snible said...

Peter, as ACCG official if you someday feel a government mandate is inevitable please lobby to allow several competing registration schemes — this scheme can be done with strong privacy controls which is a real benefit.

My hope isn't to convince dealers. I want to persuade folks like the operators of and who are in a position to implement this on behalf of the entire dealer and collector community. I wonder who makes the software many dealers use to print 2x2 labels? Perhaps a 2D barcode could be added to certify the 2x2s themselves.

The 1970 date is a problem. I have an idea that might allow another 1% of coins to re-acquire their pre-1970 provenance (more later) but it's hard in 2008 to figure out where everything was in 1970. S.R.M Mackenzie (Going, Going, Gone, p. 240) thinks we need a new mandated registry that will legitimize everything before the creation of the registry. If that idea gets off the ground the collector community will want the option of using a registry with strong privacy controls like this.

Mackenzie thinks that antiquities turning up after the new registry turns on shouldn't be "registerable". I think they should be "registerable" but in the category of "dubious; no provenance before X". In some countries the "dubious" might prevent selling the "dubiously registered" antiquity. A pre-X provenance might be discovered later and be added. Or perhaps the law might change and an X-dated registration which didn't have legal standing before suddenly becomes meaningful after X+fifty years.