Friday, April 25, 2014

Let's not forget to comment on the ancient Egyptian coins for the proposed MOU

Last week Peter Tompa suggested we should comment on a proposed emergency restrictions on the import of ancient Egyptian coins being considered by the US State Department.

I don't have much to say about Egyptian coins. I have three in my collection. I don't see a sudden surge of them in dealer inventories; but I haven't really looked.

These US-only MOUs are annoying. An example of my frustration: the picture below shows two ancient coins struck for the Greek city-state of Apollonia Pontika circa 400 BC. Around 630 AD the area was conquered by Bulgarians. The US signed a Memorandum creating import restrictions on material of Bulgarian origin in January, 2014.

What's unusual about the coins below is that the first is broken and has bits flaking off. It was sold openly on eBay Germany by a well-known long-time ancient coin dealer as a 'fourree', or silver-plated ancient counterfeit, in 2012. Yet the second coin seems to be struck properly in solid silver. It was also offered openly in an online German auction, but in March 2014, and without the paperwork to get the coin into the United States. So I declined to bid.

It certainly would have been interesting to bring those two coins together. It shouldn't be possible for the same dies to create both a fourree and a silver coin… Perhaps the first is not a fourree, but merely crystallized? Luckily I own the former, and now I'm incredibly curious to figure out what it really is. Yet what I really want is to have a chance to rejoin it with it's brother; a chance I almost had, but missed. The US stopped letting collectors import coins from Apollonia Pontika two months before this coin was offered. I will continue looking for an example with more documentation, but it can be difficult to find matches at all, let alone well-documented ones.

Egyptian coins from the Greek, Roman, and early Islamic periods are collected in the United States, yet also in Europe and in Arabia. If the US were joining a coin export ban popularly supported in Egypt and being implemented in other collecting countries it would be reasonable to support implementing it here. Having the US Customs go it alone without multinational support seems likely to have no effect on world collector markets nor on Egyptian archeology.

Read Peter's piece and if you agree follow his instructions.

UPDATE: added image in response to comment 1


Paul Barford said...

Did you actually ask the seller whether details needed to comply with the CCPIA were out of the question? What did he say? Did you actually ask, or did you just assume?
section 307.
Since you are importing from Germany and not Bulgaria, the requirement section 307 (a) does not apply.

Your import would, in the event of any queries, come under section 307(b) and (c).

Note the requirement in (c) is for the importer to supply customs with one of two types of documents. These are in fact "best belief" statements. Could you not do that if you believed that the coin you bought was indeed legal to import into your own country under the CCPIA?

The wording of the CCPIA involves quite a lot of wiggle-room, don't you think? It actually is an incredibly poorly-drafted law.

So, how do you think that coin reached Germany? If you believe (or ascertained) that the German dealer could not assure you that it was by squeaky-clean legitimate means, then is the MOU
not doing its job? Other countries have similar legislation, a UK buyer could not legally buy it if it was illegally excavated and smuggled (2003 Dealing in Cultural property (offences) Act).

On the numismatic front,
I do not see how you can say these were struck from the same dies, there are number of differences on both the obverse and reverse. It may be the same type, but not the same die surely.

As for Egypt, why would anyone want to oppose an MOU on a whole range of artefacts because you Americans want the "freedom" to buy loose coins without having to ascertain whether they were on the international market outside Egypt before a certain date? Given the degree of thefts from museum stores and sites 2011 onwards, why would anyone WANT to buy such items blind? Surely anything which cleans up the US market should be welcomed by buyers?

Ed Snible said...

I did not ask the auctioneer about the possibility of documentation. My habit has been to ask European dealers offering fixed-price items if there is documentation. For auctions I look at the auction details -- sometimes there is a blanket statement, like the "RBW" Roman Republican auction, or sometimes a provenance listed. My assumption is that if there is no provenance listed for a lot that the seller's original receipts are lost.

I see the MOU's job as getting accidental finders to report discoveries to the Bulgarian authorities instead of having them handed off to antiquities "runners". I'm not making the claim that all possible MOUs are bad, just that a US-only import freeze is unlikely to have the desired effect. I can't think of a system that would have the effect you want except a PAS-like scheme implemented on the Bulgarian side.

On the numismatic front, I remain convinced these two coins are from the same dies. The broken one has a lot of damage. But look at the similarities! I couldn't figure out how to add a picture in a blog comment so I created a composite image and added it to the original post.

For the reverse look at the crayfish, especially the head. The curve of the anchor is also congruent.
For the obverse I used Gimp's tools to overlay the two images. Notice how the snakes, eyes, earrings, and tongue line up perfectly.

Paul Barford said...

Thanks for the reply. We will have to agree to differ about the dies. You wrote:

"I did not ask the auctioneer about the possibility of documentation"

So I do not see how you can use this as an example of why the MOU is in any way a hindrance. Your problem was your own fear and misapprehensions, than the actual status of that coin.

The problem seems to be that instead of finding out what the CCPIA, together with the Convention mean for you, you have let yourself be led astray by the dealers' lobbyists and tub-thumpers. We see this here:

"I see the MOU's job as getting accidental finders to report discoveries to the Bulgarian authorities instead of having them handed off to antiquities "runners" .

Eh? How on earth do you get from the texts of the CCPIA and 1970 Convention to that odd conclusion? I suggest you stop uncritically accepting what the lobbyists are telling you, and start looking for yourself. Your interpretation 100% parroting Peter Tompa and the ACCG and is 100% wrong.

"I can't think of a system that would have the effect you want except a PAS-like scheme implemented on the Bulgarian side."

Ummmm. I suggest you really have not the foggiest what it is the proponents of the CCPIA consider its only function. Please read it up. It has nothing to do with any "PAS" - this is another Tompa/ACCG red herring which you have allowed to mislead you. If you are going to oppose the MOU, then please at least do it actually knowing what it is and is not and not parroting what others have told you to think.

Cultural Property Observer said...

More red herrings from Mr. Barford. 1. Most European sellers won't sign the required declarations as they don't have provenance information either-- there is no European or US legal requirement to keep it and it often gets lost over time; 2. Even if they do, Customs often won't accept it. They will only accept pictures in an auction listing with pictures predating the restrictions. How many coins do you think have that kind of documentation. 1% or 2% or more? And is anyone going to chance a seizure by importing coins without this information?

And yes, the PAS is relevant to the CPIA. The CPIA requires there to be a finding that less onerous measures are tried before import restrictions are imposed. The PAS -Treasure Act is such a less onerous measure.

The problem with these restrictions is cumulative. When the Cypriot restrictions came out, SAFE and others said not to worry--there is still a lot out there to collect. Well, now 7 years later, that statement is definately untrue and indeed it was a cynical statement at the time given the AIA's efforts to press these restrictions on anything and everything.

Finally, I have to chuckle at archaeologists saying how easy it is to comply with the CPIA. Something tells me they've never personally tried. Or, could I be wrong?

Paul Barford said...

My goodness. Mr Tompa,
1) please give Mr Snible a reference where in the CCPIA the words "provenance" and "auction catalogue" appear.

2) Are you saying that "importer" in the case of material moving from Europe to the US is the seller (why is he not an exporter)?

3) The PAS and Treasure Act (please watch the lips this time as you have to keep being told) have nothing to do with export licences and the movement of material across national and international borders which is what the 1970 UNESCO Convention addresses (and ONLY that). For goodness' sake.

Neither the PAS (or "the recording of finds") is relevant to the CPIA. Not in any way. THAT is the red herring, that is where you are trying to mislead Mr Snible and all the rest.

Cultural Property Observer said...

Mr. Barford, more evidenced you haven't the foggiest idea of what you are talking about. My statements about the auction catalogue requirement don't come from the CPIA, which is the problem. It comes from Customs practice for items designated under the CPIA. Customs takes the position it can ask for additional documentation beyond what is required by the CPIA. This has been verified by importers, other lawyers for importers and a former high ranking customs official.

And you really don't listen or comprehend either. The CPIA requires less onerous options than restrictions to be tried first. I would think the PAS/Treasure Act would fit the bill for coins at least.

Cultural Property Observer said...

See the bit about less onerous remedies being unavailable:

A PAS sort of scheme can also be considered a self-help measure.

Ed Snible said...

Paul, I'm not a lawyer. My rule-of-thumb is to not attempt to import anything minted in a time-period & country covered by an MOU unless there is a provenance predating the MOU. My understanding is that this means from anywhere -- for example, don't import from Canada the coins the Greeks struck in Sicily.

My understanding about the purpose of the Convention on Antiquities comes more from reading the autobiography of smuggler Michel van Rijn than from ACCG's newsletter. Statues and icons were stolen from temples and graveyards. Hacking off statue heads is terrible! My government tells me [ ] that the convention is to "reduce the incentive for pillage of archaeological and ethnological material.".

I have sympathy for laws that help me get the kind of documentation I want for study (findspots) and that you want (stratiography). I would like to see sellers become proactive in documenting coins as being on the market before the MOU. I published an editorial in the major US ancient coin magazine toward that purpose. Unfortunately it isn't happening. My assumption is that there is enough of a market in Europe and the Gulf states for ancient Egyptian coins that a US boycott will not be sufficient to motivate the market to produce the documentation you desire.

Your first reply had 10 questions; sorry if I did not address all of them.

Paul Barford said...

Ed, that you are not a lawyer does not absolve you from getting to know in detail the laws which regulate your hobby (or anything else you undertake to do). Nor is it excusable that someone who is taking advantage of that fact and instead of informing collectors properly, instead attempts to stir them up to the advantage of dealers with half-facts and propaganda.

Please see here for my reply to Mr Tompa, above. (but please also re-read the text of the 1970 Convention and CCPIA too).

To your comment I would add:
"My rule-of-thumb ...."
but that is not at all what the CCPIA and MOUs actually say. It is YOU who are thus making of them a system of regulation more restrictive than they actually are.

"My understanding is .... " wrong.

I suggest you'd get a better "understanding" of the documents by reading their actual texts.

The ones we are discussing are nothing to do with "getting documentation" neither of findspots nor stratigraphy. Really.

"My assumption is that there is enough of a market in Europe and the Gulf states for ancient Egyptian coins..."
The ancient Egyptians did not strike coins. They made a lot of other stuff though which is eagerly collected by others (most of whom, we note are not kicking up this fuss).

"a US boycott ..."
WHAT "US boycot"? One based on your own "rule of thumb"? Get real, you are fighting phantoms.

And of course once again, we are not talking here just about importing freshly dugup coins, as even a cursory glance of a few dealer's webpage shopfronts will easily show, today they are in fact a very minor part of the market for portable antiquities from ancient Egypt. Why oppose the US taking a much-needed lead in cleaning up this market?

Cultural Property Observer said...

See Messrs. McAndrew and McCullough on how Customs deals with imports of cultural goods including under the CPIA.

Ed Snible said...

At least one Pharaoh struck coins. See for an example of a gold stater struck by Nektembo II, probably to pay mercenaries. You are mostly correct in that coin usage did not really take off in Egypt until the Macedonian occupation. I would call the Ptolemaic coinage "Egyptian" but I see your point. Later there was coinage under the Roman occupation, mostly with Roman themes but also series struck for the nomes which I would call "Egyptian".

Paul, I am a collector and not a dealer. I typically buy 12 to 24 coins a year. All I need to learn about the laws is a simple bright line that will keep me out of court. My normal occupation is in software engineering. Reading the law is hard for me, as words like "should" and "must" have different meanings than I am used to.

Yet if I had to make an ethical stand it would be for my current position. I *want* dealers to put provenances in catalogs for future scholars. If I receive the provenance only upon making the winning bid then I become the custodian of that documentation -- a responsibility I do not need.

By "a US boycott" I was referring to "reverse trade sanctions" imposed by the state department but not being picked up by our allies in Europe and the Gulf states. The US is considering voluntarily shutting down imports of minor Egyptian antiquities, a situation analogous to a consumer boycott. I was not referring to a grassroots consumer movement in the US.

As for why I oppose, *for coins*, the proposed MOU, it is because I believe it will provide a false sense of security and accomplishment. Me not buying a coin merely means it goes to the underbidder. There is a whole economic literature on the effectiveness of boycotts and sanctions, which I am not qualified to discuss technically, but I can say a small boycott in a large market does nothing measurable.

To clean the market we need legit antiquities dealers who have the ability to inform on crooks and smugglers. We also need *local* stakeholders, e.g. farmers and municipal authorities, to feel their farm or municipality gets a better deal on the legit market than the black market.

rickwitschonke said...

Congratulations Ed and Peter: you have patiently exposed Mr. Barford's classic tactics of ignoring, twisting, or belittling arguments he finds inconvenient, and finding nit-picking technical errors to try and discredit others. And, of course, no one but he can possibly understand the mysteries of TA/PAS. And, to top it off, he confirms his ignorance of numismatics by insisting that the the two coins are not die matches - ask a real numismatist Paul.

Rick Witschonke