Towards the end of the string of comments on my post "The ACCG Benefit Auction and Intrinsic Interests," Ed Snible, a collector, brings up the idea of registries for ancient coins. I have heard some discussion about a possible register before from some collectors and dealers and I have been intrigued by the idea myself (e.g. SAFECORNER, "Towards a Forum for Constructive Dialogue," 13 December 2007).
Ed has now explained his thoughts in some detail in a recent blog entry, "Very Low Cost Antiquities Registries." He does not think it would be expensive for dealers and collectors to inventory and register their objects via an online database, though it could be time consuming.
In my opinion, if the trade community were to create an object registry and formulate universal rules and regulations against the sale of unregistered material, it would go a long way towards curbing the flow of recently looted material into the marketplace. Peter Tompa, a collector and president of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG), has pointed out that it would be difficult to provide a pre-1970 (UNESCO Convention) date for most ancient coins in such a registry. Certainly this is true since so much of the material on the market surfaced after that date and there was a surge in supply of ancient coins and other antiquities after the fall of the Iron Curtain as metal detectorists began mining Eastern Europe (they still do). Nevertheless, if we are all concerned about the flow of recently looted material into the marketplace, then we must "draw the line" somewhere and even if an arbitrary date were chosen as the deadline to enter material into a registry (e.g. 12 to 18 months after its launch), and if collectors and dealers were diligent about not dealing in unregistered material, this - I think - would curb the flow of any future material. This, of course, would require the commitment of dealers and collectors and a successful database would not be able to allow for any loopholes. Anything which was not registered before a deadline would either need to be published and photographed in an auction catalogue beforehand or have been legally exported and/or inventoried by the authorities of the source country. There are some informal inventories already online that were formed for other purposes, such as Coin Archives and Tantalus, and perhaps the data from some of these online sources could be migrated into a registry.
As Ed points out, there are other internal benefits that such a registry might provide the market, such as added protection for insurance purposes. Certainly, a wide-ranging registry such as this would also serve some research purposes as well (die studies, etc.). I do hope that Ed's discussion, and Peter's interest in it, will prompt further discussion on a registry and that the trade community will seriously consider it. If successful, perhaps a register might be useful for other forms of antiquities in addition to ancient coins. I would also be interested in hearing what others, outside of the trade community, think about the notion of a registry.