Thursday, April 16, 2009

We Need to Change the status quo

Yesterday evening I delivered an invited lecture, "Der Handel mit antiken Münzen in den USA," to the Frankfurter Numismatische Gesellschaft, a local society of collectors, at Frankfurt's Historisches Museum in Römerplatz. I discussed the many problems with an unregulated and unconcerned market, the distasteful nature of the dialogue that has developed in North America, and the urgent need for thoughtful collectors, archaeologists, and law enforcement to find common ground in the face of organized and unconcerned commercial interests.

The presentation lasted approximately one hour and we had a very good discussion afterwards that also lasted about an hour. I also enjoyed conversing further with several members of the society over dinner in a traditional restaurant in Frankfurt’s historic Römerplatz.

Most of the participants in the discussion understood the inherent problems with the current status quo and many were interested in actively working towards proactive solutions. Other activities on these issues are tentatively scheduled later this summer. It was a very open and welcoming group and I would like to reiterate my thanks to them for their invitation and hospitality.

I have put the text of my lecture online, with selected slides from the presentation. I have also put the lecture in the list of links on the left hand side of this webpage.

(Image: Römerplatz - Frankfurt am Main)



"distasteful nature of the dialogue that has developed in North America"

Nathan, definitely agree with you, and the subject of meaningful dialogue has been much discussed on my blog and I've also seen it on Derek Fincham's blog. However, I would not limit the problem to North America. Unfortunately, intolerant and nasty attitudes seem to be at a fairly constant level world-round. There are certainly people still dedicated to finding a solution, but I think it would be unfair to say they come from one continent or country more than any other.

My two cents!



Hi Kimberly,

You are absolutely right.

I was specifically referring to the dialogue regarding the ancient coin trade which does seem to be much more extreme in North America, but certainly there have been instances where the tone of the dialogue on the ancient coin trade in Europe has similarly gone to extremes.

Interestingly, the only real criticism I came away with from this lecture was that the collectors told me I was being far too diplomatic in treating the European trade and should have been more critical of it. Given my experiences with discussing these in the US and the North American trade, I was both surprised but reassured to hear this response. And certainly they - like you - are right.

All best,


I should also mention that middle parts of this lecture are similar to an English version placed online. However, there has been some substantial augmentation to this data in the German version and the opening and closing sections are new.


Although Barford tends to fixate on the US market, I believe Europe is really the key. As the Bulgarian situation illustrates, most looted coins are removed from source countries by locals and "laundered" in Europe--Germany being a prime suspect. A lot of US dealers buy their stock from German auctions and, in general, most material in the US is coming through Europe first. The report ORGANIZED CRIME IN BULGARIA:
MARKETS AND TRENDS, includes this paragraph:

"Bulgarian cultural objects are mostly directed to antique shops in Munich, Vienna, Geneva and other major cities in Western Europe where they are sold to private collectors or exhibited at the famous London salerooms where some of them are auctioned off to US purchasers...These export routes are not merely demand driven, but also preferred because of simplified procedures with respect to antiquities with Bulgarian provenance. Until recently Germany, for instance, did not set any import requirements other than clearing customs and paying a fixed fee, thus asking no further questions about origin or ownership. Similarly they were easily legalized for exhibition at antique outlets and auctioneering inside the country."

So the most effective way to make a difference would be for countries like Germany to tighten up their provenance requirements. I don't know what their specific laws are or what the logistics would be. But I do know that if European sources were required to provide provenance for their coins, it would make provenanced coins available for sale in the US, thus giving US collectors a choice which they don't presently have.

Voz Earl