Wednesday, March 18, 2015

American collectors should comment on the pending renewal of the MOU with Italy

Under Italian law, all antiquities must be registered with the government. Newly found antiquities belong to the government. So if Italians are digging a well and find some old coins, they must surrender them to the police.

Under US law, countries that have a serious problem with looting / grave-robbing / metal-detecting are allowed to ask for a "Memorandum of Understanding" which lists the kind of artifacts being looted. Currently the US and Italy have one and it covers, among other things, coins of Greek Sicily. So Americans can't just bid in British and German auctions for such coins, because without paperwork showing the coins have been on the collector market for years it is against the law to bring them to the US.

The Italians are asking for an extension. The extensions last for five years. The extension doesn't have to cover the same stuff. It could cover fewer coin types or more coin types. If it covered all Roman Imperial coins it would be frustrating, because these coins would be selling openly in many EU countries, but Americans wouldn't be able to buy them.

Some folks would like to see all ancient artifact sales banned. Others feel the sale of common objects like coins and rings is not a big deal. The purpose of filing comments is so that the US representatives don't just rubber-stamp whatever the Italian representatives ask for.

American collectors should read It's Not Too Late on Cultural Property Observer's blog and leave comments for the US Government's Advisory Committee.


Paul Barford said...

Since the CCPIA only requires importers of antiquities (including just six types of coins with limited original circulation) to have export licences, or a statement that the objects left the source country ten years prior to import into the US, I really do not see what the fuss is about. Do you want people to be able to buy FRESHLY smuggled items of all types taken out of the source country? Is that what this is about? Freeing the supply of freshly smuggled artefacts for American buyers? Is not the supply of fresh imports of the thousands of coins not on any designated list insufficient for US collectors?

The "open market" elsewhere for smuggled coins you lot bang on about only exists in countries where criminals get away with it - why should the US not be a country where criminals find it harder to get away with profiting from culture crime because that's where they find lost of willing customers?

Why are responsible collectors not instead opposing imports of freshly smuggled antiquities into huge market created by 50 000 ancient coin collectors [ACCG figures] in the US?

Roman imperial coins never were and never will be on any US designated list - as I suspect you full well know. So why uncritically repeat the alarmism of the dealers' lobbyists here, instead of being a source of reliable information?

Ed Snible said...

I hope you are right about Roman Imperial coins never being added to the list!

As an amateur I face a difficulty -- I can listen to Peter Tompa and the ACCG, or I can listen to people like Simon MacKenzie and the Trafficking Culture website. The former seem only interested legal issues. The latter explicitly state they only study looted object trade.

But I take your point and will try to write more in the future about why collectors should seek out and value provenance information.

Paul Barford said...

If you look back at the previous renewal, Peter Tompa made the same nonsensical claim to rile people up (and it's the only reason) five years ago. Lots of collectors fell for it, and then the ACCG could claim a "victory" that they prevented it !

If you read the 1970 Convention, Arts 1, 2 and 4 - there is no way Italy can claim as their heritage under it of Roman coins legally metal detected in Lincolnshire England and reported to the PAS, is there? Whatever came into your mind to suggest they could? The CCPIA implements the Convention, not introduce anything new which is not in it (or it would not be implementing it would it?). If anyone could claim Roman coins excavated in England back under the 1970 Convention it would be the UK, but you have no MOU with them, do you?

Mr Tompa is refusing to accept comments on his latest post on this. It is not difficult to guess why.

Cultural Property Observer said...

Ed, I hope you and others don't think Mr. Barford has the best interests of collectors in mind.
His blog screams otherwise. Just look at the insults he has hurled at collectors commenting on the MOU.

With regard to Roman coins, we've argued in the past and now as well that it would not be lawful to restrict them because one cannot assume they are only found in Italy.

The problem is that the DOS does not seem to take that legal requirement (or any other) seriously. Don't believe me, read Urice and Adler, and even former Assistant Legal Adviser Mark Feldman.

As for Italy asking for Roman Imperial coins, I was there last time around (at the interim hearing) where Stefano de Caro, Italy's representative, asked for them. At the second renewal hearing, Sebastian Heath, who at the time was the AIA's go to person on the issue, certainly talked about Roman Imperial coins, implying that they should be restricted.

We've asked the State Department in the past for clarification of such things, only to receive no response or one so guarded to be meaningless.

Barford also is misstating the issue as we see it. That is, is it is reasonable to put restrictions on American collectors that Italy does not put on its own citizens? Why can't US collectors continue to import items legally exportable under EU law from places like the UK or Germany?

Incidentally, US Customs has plenty of tools to stop freshly smuggled antiquities leaving aside the CPIA.

I'm also all for provenance information, but let's be reasonable about it. There is no legal requirement to retain it either here or in Europe. Italy itself is full of unprovenanced coins, so its a bit hard to expect importers to come up with it, particularly for inexpensive items.



Ed Snible said...

Let's prove Mr. Barford is wrong by sending some partially provenanced coins. Maybe three crummy Sicilian bronzes:

1. With a signed statement it has been on the market > 10 years
2. With a notorized statement it has been on the market > 10 years
3. With an auction catalog with no photo but a weight

... and show US Customs is in fact seizing them.

Cultural Property Observer said...

Clever, but we've already tried a version of this in the ACCG test case and what we got was Customs just holding onto the items until ACCG brought a lawsuit.

Mr. Barford may think otherwise, but most dealers import with commercial invoices that identify the country of origin (manufacture) for the coin, and the value. These are reviewed (or can be reviewed by Customs.) They won't typically try to import coins on the designated lists UNLESS IT IS PROVENANCED TO AN AUCTION (WITH PICTURES) BEFORE THE RESTICTIONS because there is always the possibility they will be seized if this additional documentary proof (beyond certifications) is not available.

Many European sellers don't want to do the certification anyway and as set forth above there is always a possibility the item will still be seized even with the certification IF THERE IS NO AUCTION RECORD WITH A PICTURE. So, think what percentage of the coins on the various designated lists you can actually import legally-- it's very, very small.

If you or anyone else wants to fund another "test case" related to Italian coins, I'm sure ACCG would be interested.



Cultural Property Observer said...

Just a short note. Reading Barford's latest, it's clear he really doesn't know what he's talking about or is willfully obfuscating. He seems to think the UNESCO Convention is what governs State and CPAC. It does not. The UNESCO Convention is not self-executing, and in any event, the US never agreed to the entire Convention. Instead, it wanted to preserve its independent judgment in such matters so it passed the CPIA. This is what governs everything related to import restrictions-- NOT the UNESCO Convention.

As Feldman has stated, the CPIA contains significant procedural and substantive constrains on executive authority to enter into MOUs. Moreover, by the terms of the CPIA, restrictions only apply to objects of "archaeological interest" that also are of "cultural significance" "first discovered within" and "subject to the export control" of Italy. 19 USC Section 2601. That forms the basis of most of the trade's objections to restrictions. Instead of adhering to the Congressional mandate, CBP has placed restrictions on ALL Greek coins minted in Sicily and Italy, ALL Etruscan coins, All Roman Republican coins struck before 211BC and ALL provincial and Municipal Coins of the Early Empire. Thus, the restrictions appear to be based on place of manufacture as a matter of administrative convenience rather than adherence to the law. Let's hope CBP does not extend the restrictions further to Late Roman Republican and Roman Imperial coins-- which would stretch this all even further.

Ed Snible said...

I am neither a lawyer nor an archeologist. I'm an engineer. Engineers like to do "black-box" testing to see how systems function.

I stopped collecting uncleaned coins in 2001. I have a few Greek poor bronzes from a 2001 batch. I propose that I will send Paul Barford the two coins, two envelopes, $25 in airmail postage, a notarized statement that one coin has a 2001 sales history, and an ordinary paper that just say "Greek bronze coin" with no history.

I propose Paul and I shall ping-pong the notarized coin and the under-documented coin back and forth until we have used up $25 in postage or the coins are seized. The envelops will have customs declarations saying "Antiquity: Ancient Greek bronze coin". We three will then write up our results and send it as a brief notice to a journal on art markets.

Paul, are you game for this? Are there legal rules for exporting on the Polish end? I do not need or want the coins back in the end.

Any predictions on how many trips before the coins are confiscated?

Paul Barford said...

I am afraid you cannot send coins of any kind from here to the USA simply in an envelope (the problem is at the US end the lady in the Post Office informs me). To send a declared (CN 23) package costs 83 zlotys, 21.5 dollars each.

Ed Snible said...

I have no trouble receiving coins in envelopes from EU countries.

One point of the experiment is to see what happens when ordinary people send coins through the mail. Since I don't expect the coins are seized it should not be a problem.

Perhaps we need a third sample: an envelope containing 1 or 2 Grosz, to detect some kind of policy against sending coins in general?

83 zlotys is more than I expected to pay but I am willing to fund at that level if necessary.

Paul, if I send you a few zlotys by Paypal today would you be willing to drop a 1 Grosz or 2 Grosz coin into an envelope and send it to me airmail with tracking number?

Paul Barford said...

It seems I was unclear. You cannot legally send any coins in letters to the USA from here. They have to go in a package with a CN 23 declaration which is then subject to customs control. That is the way the US postal system has decreed and the lady in the post office here says they will not accept for postage anything that goes against the regulations.

The only way you can send them as a letter is by pretending they are something else - but then that is smuggling. Understandably I am not going to take part in any illegal import stunt, I'll leave that up to others.

Why don't we do it this way? You send me those two coins, BOTH of which have a notarised statement saying when they left the source country (ie by 2001) and I will send both back each in a package as per the CCPIA, but at an interval of a week (to get maybe different customs officers).

When you get them, you report that, send them back to me in two envelopes (if that really is legal from your end) with the appropriate customs declaration. and we'll do it again until US Customs stop one or both packages.

By sending them back, let us see if Mr Tompa is right saying that we in Europe can import these things with impunity. Let's see whose customs stops them first.

We'll split the postage costs of the joint journey both ways fifty-fifty.

Can you make sure the coins are not total slugs, that there is a fair chance of seeing what they are?

The coins will remain at all times your property, but I will not guarantee you'll get them back if stopped by Polish customs (I think you will - they'll have a hard time arguing Polish antiquities law with me, I helped draft it).

Neither will either of us divulge the other's address to anyone. OK?

Ed Snible said...

Sounds good.
I noticed that it is apparently illegal to mail coins to Poland. Perhaps I am reading it wrong, and they only mean valuable coins? Anyone know anything about this?

Paul Barford said...

"Import permits are required for many goods. Therefore, senders should ascertain from the addressee before mailing whether the necessary documents are held".

Rather like the coins you folk are up in arms about.