Wednesday, July 30, 2008
From 24 July through 26 October 2008, the British Museum is hosting an exhibition entitled 'Hadrian: Empire and Conflict' (official website). The scope of the exhibition has been outlined in a recent CNN article and a number of lectures, workshops, and other events are being offered in conjunction with the exhibition. One of the highlights is a colossal head of Hadrian that was recently excavated in Sagalassos (modern Turkey) and was part of a statue that stood over 5 meters tall.
The Roman Empire reached its greatest geographical extent under Trajan, but his successor, Hadrian is known for withdrawing the Roman military presence from Mesopotamia, roughly the area of modern Iraq, and for consolidating borders by reinforcing and erecting permanent limes. In Britain he is known for constructing a stone wall, which divided the Roman south from the tribes living in the north. The writer of CNN article expects that the exhibition will resonate with modern viewers in the context of modern conflict and military occupation.
A fine time to visit London!
Image: Bust of Hadrian from Hadrian's Villa at Tivoli, now in the British Museum.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
- New Weblog on Numismatics and Archaeology (26 April 2008)
- Human Race Near Extinction 70,000 Years Ago (27 April 2008)
- CNN Coverage of Syria's Return of Iraqi Antiquities (28 April 2008)
- Article on the Coin Trade Now Available on FeRA (28 April 2008)
- The Illicit Antiquities Trade in Bulgaria (28 April 2008)
- A New Resource for the Study of Applied Numismatics (30 April 2008)
- Meso-American/South American Cache of Antiquities Seized in Munich (30 April 2008)
- Materielle Kultur (6 May 2008)
- 'Dilettanti and Shopmen': Divergent Interests in Looting and Cultural Heritage Issues (7 May 2008)
- Oldest Bust of Julius Caesar Found in France? (14 May 2008)
- Coins from the Martberg (14 May 2008)
- 'That Belongs in a Museum! (21 May 2008)
- Even Stonehenge Can Fall Victim to Souvenir Hunters (24 May 2008)
- Differing Viewpoints on the Value of Import Restrictions (28 May 2008)
- Coins from Yotvata (10 June 2008)
- Revue Numismatique Available Online (12 June 2008)
- Harrison Ford and the AIA (13 June 2008)
- The American Numismatic Society Collection Moves (17 June 2008)
- Good Faith, Due Diligence, and Market Activities (1 July 2008)
- Just in Time for July 4th: Discovery of Washington's Boyhood Home Announced (4 July 2008)
- The ACCG "Benefit Auction" and Intrinsic Interests (8 July 2008)
- Personal Note (11 July 2008)
- Ebay.de (Germany): New Rules on the Selling of Archaeological Materials (14 July 2008)
- Ancient Coin and Antiquities Registers (18 July 2008)
- Some Resources for the Study of Excavated Coin Finds (20 July 2008)
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Austria's Die Fundmünzen der römischen Zeit in Österreich (FMRÖ) series began in 1971 and follows the same format as the FMRD inventories which began in 1960 (see Germany below) and is one the most extensive inventory of coin finds in Europe after Germany's FMRD. [WorldCat].
Hans-Christoph Noeske has published two important books inventorying and analyzing coin finds from Egypt: H.-Chr. Noeske. 2000. Münzfunde aus Ägypten I: Die Münzfunde des ägyptischen Pilgerzentrums Abu Mina und die Verleichsfunde aus den Diocesen Aegyptus und Oriens vom 4.-8. Jh. n. Chr. (SFMA 12, Berlin: Gebr. Mann Verlag) and id. 2006. Münzfunde aus Ägypten II: Die griechisch-römischen Münzfunde aus dem Fayum. (SFMA 22, Mainz: von Zabern). [WorldCat].
Friday, July 18, 2008
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.
Monday, July 14, 2008
The new policy defines "archaeological finds" as follows:
"An archaeological find is an object of historical, artistic or scientific importance, which laid for a time in the ground or under water."It continues in providing non-exclusive examples of certain objects covered by the new policy, which include:
"Ein archäologischer Fund ist ein Objekt von geschichtlicher, künstlerischer oder wissenschaftlicher Bedeutung, der vorübergehend im Boden oder unter Wasser ruhte."
- coins (Münzen)
- weapons (Waffen)
- grave goods (Grabbeigaben)
- ceramics (Keramik)
- jewelry (Schmuck)
- tools (Werkzeuge)
- sacral objects (sakrale Gegenstände).
The new policy requires sellers of antiquities to provide documentation (pedigree) for their auctions and to picture and describe it within the auction. For example, an object must have a document demonstrating that the find was reported to the ministry or have a history of being in the trade before going to auction at Ebay. Items originating from other countries must have a valid export license. For full details on each category of documentation and what the seller must provide (and how the seller can obtain such documents), see the new policy.
Ebay.de (Germany) should be applauded for being more sensitive to the role it has played in the illicit trade in antiquities and taking proactive steps to diminish its use as a market for recently looted material.
Internet auction platforms, such as Ebay, play an important part in the trade of recently looted material. For a general essay see Chippindale, C. and D.W. J. Gill, "Online Auctions: A New Venue for the Antiquities Market," Culture Without Context 9.
Cross-Posted at SAFE's Weblog, Cultural Heritage in Danger: "Ebay.de (Germany): New Rules on the Selling of Archaeological Materials"
Friday, July 11, 2008
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
In November of last year, the ACCG announced it was suing the U.S. Department of State under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for more transparency on the process under which it decided to impose import restrictions, at the request of Cyprus, on certain ancient coins of Cypriot type. Many who are familiar with the "blogstorm" last fall about these issues will recall that several vocal ACCG members and dealers were alleging various conspiracies between archaeologists and State Department officials (links here and here to relevant posts, some of which reference dealer accusations). A "benefit auction" for which the ACCG has been soliciting donations, which it will auction on August 17, 2008, has now sparked my interest.
In March 2008, it was announced that the ACCG would host a "benefit auction" in order "to raise funds for anticipated legal expenses in opposition to State Department imposed import restrictions on ancient coins" (for the notice on the ACCG website, dated in April after an update, click here). What I find most peculiar, and perhaps telling, about the ACCG's announcement is that it came only one month after a judge set the schedule for the pending lawsuit, in which it gave the State Department until May 9, 2008 to handover requested documents or request exemptions and the ACCG would have until June 2, 2008 to decide whether or not it would continue to pursue action. The State Department's deadline was still months away as the ACCG was soliciting donations for "anticipated legal expenses" to challenge the State Department further.
What does this mean? Is this about more than transparency? One can only speculate.
In any case, the auction itself is interesting in the context of other discussions I have had on the ACCG and its activities (again, see a list at the end of this post). As expected, the level of provenance reporting is very low; only 12 out of 265 ancient objects donated so far have any recorded history whatsoever and only six of those have a pre-1970 collection history or are recorded in the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS). See Figure 1 for the level of reporting (click on the figures to enlarge). This falls in line with many ancient coin auctions. In the SAFE Feature, "Why Coins Matter..." [similar version at FeRA], I demonstrated that CNG, a major auction house for ancient coins in the U.S., only reported the history of a coin in about 20% of its lots, with only 0.17% of these pre-dating 1973 in its Triton X sale (Jan. 2007). Further research has indicated that in all of its printed sales in 2007, which included 22,681 ancient coins, 77.28% had absolutely no recorded history and only 1.89% had a history before 1973. Another major ancient coin auction house in the U.S., Freeman & Sear, offered 3,384 ancient coins in its printed auctions and mail lists in 1973; less than 5% of the descriptions provided any previous history on the coins and only 1.15% (39 coins) had a history before 1973.
Typically, auction houses are the most diligent about recording provenances; when one considers the masses of coins that are sold on eBay, VCoins, and in other venues, we can imagine over 99% of ancient coins are sold without any recorded history. One coin dealer has vigorously asserted that very little in the way of fresh material enters the market and that much of what is sold has been bought and sold since the Renaissance and the provenance merely lost. Can he really expect us believe this, when we constantly hear of reports of antiquities smugglers and looters in sources countries being caught with large caches of ancient coins among other objects and when massive shipments are intercepted by Customs officials? (R. R. Dietrich, "Cultural Property on the Move - Legally, Illegally," International Journal of Cultural Property 11.2 (2002): 294-304, discusses a literal ton of ancient coins (c. 350,000 coins) that were smuggled out of Bulgaria into the U.S. by just one dealer in a short amount of time). Even on eBay tens of thousands of soil-encrusted coins are sold each week in bulk lots and online correspondence indicates these same "wholesalers" and "importers" also supply many individual dealers in private transactions. Certainly import restrictions are designed to counter the sort of wholesale destruction of cultural heritage and archaeological sites caused in the procurement of such masses of material.
We have constantly been told that dealing in ancient coins is not a profitable venture and that it is merely the extension of an innocent hobby. Curiously, however, two of the ACCG's biggest financial backers (benefactors), are the aforementioned auction houses. In 2007, CNG reported $9.7 million in gross auction sales, excluding its 15% buyer's fees or any consignment fees. It also hosts bi-weekly internet auctions, which are not included this figure. Freeman & Sear offered $4.38 million in its printed auctions and fixed price lists in 2007; this again excludes any fees and its electronic auctions. Even the ACCG's founder and executive director (and also a benefactor) has a respectable inventory as co-owner of Sayles & Lavender. As of 14 April 2008, his online inventoried included ancient coins valuing approximately $258,583 in total.
Interestingly, the biggest financial backers of the ACCG and its efforts to combat such protective legislative measures and preserve a "free-market" in ancient coins are also dealers and auction houses. Figure 2 shows that 75% of donors to the ACCG "benefit auction" are ancient coin and antiquities dealers.
If we break down the data a bit more, it is clear that those investing the most into the ACCG's operations are those who would stand to lose the most if the trade in ancient coins and antiquities were to begin valuing documentation and the recent history of an object. At present it is very easy for an ancient coin, or any antiquity for that matter, to make it from the ground where it was removed by gangs of metal detectorists, tombaroli, or other looters, to a dealer's inventory.
To date, an estimated $26,875 worth of merchandise has been donated to the ACCG's "benefit auction" where 100% of the proceeds will go to these "anticipated legal expenses" in opposition to import restrictions. The material donated so far includes 263 ancient coins, 2 other antiquities (an Egyptian scarab and a Roman glass bracelet), a book, and five $100-gift cards for use to buy more coins or antiquities from VCoins. Over 40% of the estimated market value in this auction was donated by Freeman & Sear and CNG auction houses (see figure 3). Other dealers donated about 44% of the remaining worth and collectors and anonymous donations comprise the remaining 14%.
What about the history of the objects the ACCG is now auctioning to further their own interests? Where are they from? Under what circumstances have they entered the market? We only know for certain that 6 coins in the entire auction come from old collections or were recorded in the PAS (1 from a 1923 collection, 5 from the Braithwell hoard, recorded in the PAS). What is the ACCG trying to do with the money it raises from the sale of this material and what are the consequences of its actions? There is some irony here.
Suing the State Department must be a costly task indeed. But what about the fate of our past and the material and intellectual consequences of indiscriminate market activity and the apparent lack of concern that trade interest shows for it?
"Why Coins Matter..." SAFE Feature; similar version at FeRA
Archaeologists Don't Care about Coins? (Nathan Elkins)
Can Cultural Property Legislation Kill an Academic Discipline? (Nathan Elkins)
Codes of Ethics vs. the Financial Interest (Nathan Elkins)
Coins, Ethics and Scheduled Monuments (David Gill)
Coins, Contexts and Collecting (Fleur Kemmers)
It's All the Same: The Looting of the High Arts vs. the Looting of the Minor Arts (Nathan Elkins)
"Dilettanti and Shopmen": Divergent Interests in Looting and Cultural Heritage Issues (Nathan Elkins)
Also checkout relevant posts with the keyword "coins" at David Gill's Looting Matters blog
Friday, July 4, 2008
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
Yesterday, David Gill reported that a relief fragment from an Egyptian tomb was repatriated to Egypt after it had been withdrawn from a sale at Bonhams (London) earlier this year, when someone from the Metropolitan Museum of Art recognized it from an Egyptian tomb, where it was once in situ (“Tomb of Mutirdis (TT410): Update,” Looting Matters, 30 June 2008). A spokesperson for Bonhams would not identify the individual or dealership from whom they acquired the object, but stated that it appeared to have been acquired in "good faith."
Also on David Gill's weblog, and elsewhere, there has been discussion of the Association of Art Museum Director's (AAMD) new guidelines for the acquisition of antiquities ("AAMD and Antiquities: a Revised Position," Looting Matters, 5 June 2008). In light of this, he has recently discussed the use of a 1970 vs. 1983 date in response to Lee Rosenbaum, who suggested the 1983 cutoff date for repatriations (D.W.J. Gill, "Towards a Ceasefire in the 'Antiquities Wars': a Response to Lee Rosenbaum," Looting Matters, 26 June 2008; id., "The 'Antiquities Wars': Further Thoughts," Looting Matters, 27 June 2008; L. Rosenbaum, "Towards a Ceasefire in the Antiquities Wars: The Next Step (Part I)," CultureGrrl, 25 June 2008; id., "Towards a Ceasefire in the Antiquities Wars: The Next Step (Part II)," CultureGrrl, 27 June 2008). Peter Tompa, current president of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) and an attorney, has also weighed in on the debate ("Memo to AAMD Members: Pick 1970 or 1983 as a Trigger for your Cultural Property Returns," Cultural Property Observer, 26 June 2008). While Gill and Rosenbaum prefer different dates based on various legal and ethical precedents, 1970 (as per the 1970 UNESCO Convention) and 1983 (as per US legislation subscribing to the UNESCO Convention via the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA)), respectively, Tompa suggests that repatriations be based on the date that a foreign nation's request for import restrictions on cultural property is recognized by the U.S. Department of State be used as the guideline. He also makes the statement early on that "Repatriation decisions should never be taken lightly, particularly when lack of provenance information does not necessarily mean lack of good faith."
Last week, it was brought to the attention of the Iraq Crisis Discussion List that some rare Iraqi Jewish books were smuggled out of Iraq and traded in Israel ("Rare Iraqi Jewish Books 'Surface in Israel,'" Yahoo! News, 27 June 2008). There has been a protracted discussion on the Iraq Crisis Discussion List, to which many have contributed, including Jeff Spurr, Dorothy King, Paul Barford, Michael Balter, John Robertson, Patty Gerstenblith, Donny George, Peter Tompa, and others (visit the June and July archives to view individual contributions to the thread). Mr. Tompa and Mr. Barford have both blogged about the discussion and pertinent issues (P. Tompa, "Jewish Books Smuggled from Iraq to Israel," Cultural Property Observer, 28 June 2008; P. Barford, "'Stuff Happens': US 'Torah Rescue' from Iraq?" Cultural Heritage in Danger (SAFECorner), 30 June 2008). In regard to a related issue on these Iraqi Jewish books, Tompa again brings up "good faith": "In any event, the Torah described in the article would not easily fit into either category so I think we must assume (unless proven otherwise) that all concerned have acted in good faith."
It was also reported this month that a Norwegian soldier who served in Afghanistan attempted to donate a hoard of coins and an ancient bottle he acquired there to a museum in Oslo and that Afghanistan is now seeking the return of the illicitly exported - and probably looted - material (N. Berglund, "Afghanistan Seeks Return of 'Stolen Treasures,'" Aftenposten: News from Norway, 18 June 2008). Dorothy King provided a short discussion of it on her blog ("A Little Afghan Looting...Updated," PhDiva, 23 June 2008). In the comments section of this post, Peter Tompa commented:
due diligence" processes in the acquisition of antiquities by dealers, collectors, and museums.
"This soldier should be given the benefit of the doubt. It is likely he bought these artifacts in good faith from desperately poor farmers who found the material, and I will assume this to be the case unless and until someone proves otherwise. This only became a story when the archaeological blogs picked it up. I suspect they helped egg on the Afghan Museum authorities to demand the repatriation of this material and an investigation. Before the Communists and Taliban took over, the government tolerated sales of minor artifacts such as this. A change of sensibilities in the elites that run the archaeological establishment, will not change the facts on the ground. Desperately poor farmers will sell whatever they find to whomever will buy it. Better to put in some system akin to Treasure Trove, that records everything, rather than assume Afghanistan has the funds and archaeologists necessary to conserve every piece of ancient history in its museums."
In the early spring of 1999, a 60 kilogram parcel of ancient coins, which was only part of a larger shipment, estimated to be in the neighborhood of a ton (literally), was intercepted at Frankfurt Airport (R. Dietrich, "Cultural Property on the Move - Legally, Illegally," International Journal of Cultural Property 11.2 (2002): 294-304). The coins were falsely declared and were spirited out of Bulgaria and destined for sale in the United States. The Bulgarian national was and still is an active coin dealer and wholesaler to other dealers in the United States. Online correspondence on ancient coin discussion lists indicate this dealer was selling coins en masse to other dealers and collectors at a major North American coin show just a few months after customs officials released the parcel under peculiar circumstances (see the article for fuller discussion of the release from customs). Many collectors were excited by these coins and I am certain they purchased them in "good faith," but does this excuse the way in which they made it to the marketplace? Although they may have been buying in "good faith," were the dealers and collectors that purchased from this importer practicing adequate "due diligence"? Were they asking about how he acquired them, and if so, simply taking his word for whatever answer he might have supplied?
A couple of years ago, Classical Numismatic Group (CNG) acquired a very rare coin of Brutus commemorating Caesar's assassination and paid approximately $23,000 for the coin (a wholesale price), which it in turn would have tried to sale for around $30,000 (D. Alberge, "Swoop by Customs Returns Brutus to Scene of the Crime," Times Online, 15 June 2006; L. Worden, "Ancient Coin Buyers, Beware," COINage Magazine 42.11 (Nov. 2006)). The Greek government claimed the coin was smuggled out of Greece and the coin was returned. Mr. McFadden of CNG acted in "good faith" in buying the coin and returned it to the Greek embassy when asked to do so. But how extensive was the "due diligence" process? The Times Online article stated:
"Mr McFadden, whose company is regarded as one of the world’s leading specialists in Greek and Roman coins, told The Times: 'He did some work for Nino [Scavona] in the 1980s ... One doesn’t refuse to deal with someone because he has a slightly shady background.
'One looks at the deal on the table. We’re business people. If there’s any indication something’s not legitimate, we don’t deal in it.'"
Here is an excerpt from the COINage Magazine article:
"'After the cash was seized,' McFadden said, 'his daughter kept phoning up, asking when her father could get his money back.' That provided a clue that the man was indeed the seller. 'That's something that happened after the fact,' McFadden said. 'Not only did I not know about it, but I couldn't have known about it.' After all, it was the coin dealer who vouched for his ability to sell the coin. 'If someone brings a coin in to you and says they own it and they can sell it to you and they guarantee the authenticity — obviously I'm aware of any recent reports of theft, so if the coin had been reported stolen, I would have known about it — then there's nothing more one can do,' McFadden said. Longtime coin dealer Wayne Sayles, executive director of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild, agreed. 'There is no tradition in the world market for the background-checking of sellers, nor is there any real reason for it,' Sayles said. 'There are pertinent and applicable laws in most countries that deal with import, theft, etc., and dealers do, in my experience, try diligently to follow those laws as they apply at the point of sale.' Sayles lamented that 'we may have lost an opportunity to contest a claim that seems to be arguable on several grounds.'
It is clear that existing due diligence processes in the antiquities trade are not as rigorously applied as one might hope and much of the existing processes seem to rely very much on the mere word of profiteers and suppliers. "Good faith" purchases and dealings are not enough. Dealers and collectors would add dignity to their activities if they were to follow the example of the AAMD and adopt more stringent due diligence processes and acquisition guidelines. This would decrease the demand for recently looted material by diminishing the market for it and profitability of it.