Monday, August 24, 2009

Numismatic dealers raise concerns about the AIA

The Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG) has at long last broken its silence about the Freedom of Information Act suit that was filed against the US Department of State in response to the restriction of ancient coins from Cyprus back in November 2007 (see my original comment). On Wednesday last week (August 19, 2009) the PNG issued a press release on its website, "PNG Assists in Combating Import Restrictions".

The PNG defines itself as follows:
The Professional Numismatists Guild, Inc. is the only numismatic organization in the United States that restricts its membership to dealers who possess and demonstrate three essential qualifications: Knowledge, Integrity and Responsibility.

Robert Brueggeman, the Executive Director of PNG (and of Positive Protection Inc. [as stated on the PNG website]), is quoted:
The PNG Board of Directors unanimously agreed to contribute the funds to assist IAPN in its lobbying efforts to combat unfair import restrictions. We are concerned that overzealous Customs Bureau agents may unfairly misconstrue even well-meaning regulations by mistakenly claiming that any undocumented ancient coin is a stolen cultural property artifact of another country.
Paul Montgomery, the new President of PNG (and President of Paul Montgomery and Associates of Houston, Texas) says:
This is a frustrating and ironic situation ... The U.S. already has agreements with Cyprus and China that hinder the importation of coins that may have widely circulated centuries ago and, in fact, are now easily available for purchase by the public in those countries. Yet, Customs officials are seemingly doing nothing to stop the egregious importation into the U.S. of counterfeit coins from China and elsewhere.
The PNG is now offering to support "the work" (i.e. "to oppose irrational bans on the importation of coins into the United States") with $12,000.

The Belgium-based International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN) has yet, as far as I can see, to make a formal statement on its own website; however, a press release was posted on the ACCG website in December 2007.

The PNG goes further in its press statement.
PNG and IAPN officials are concerned about efforts by the Archaeological Institute of America to train Customs inspectors to detect and seize coins suspected of being imported in violation of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act.
What this means is that officers of the PNG and the European-based IAPN hold the view that US Customs inspectors cannot receive specialist training to detect potentially "stolen" archaeological material. Why? Are there commercial concerns?

The issue is explained by "attorney Peter K. Tompa of the Washington, D.C. law firm of Bailey & Ehrenberg PLLC." (I note that Bailey & Ehrenberg PLLC appears to be "retained" by the IAPN and the PNG.)
The use of trainers from the archaeological community with ‘an axe to grind’ against professional numismatists and collectors carries with it the danger that unfair enforcement will actually result ... Historical coins have been traded for at least 500 years as collectibles and traditionally have no provenance track record, other than relatively recent sales receipts. It is unreasonable to assume that a coin is ‘stolen’ or illegally imported merely because the holder can not establish a chain of custody beyond receipt from a reputable source.
It is worth reflecting on the archaeological material that had (to use Tompa's phrase) "no provenance track record" which has been returned to Italy and Greece (see the names of North American institutions listed in the Nostoi exhibition). Why?

And how many of those archaeological items now returned to Rome and Athens had been acquired from so-called "reputable sources"?

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1 comment:

Nathan T. Elkins said...

An interesting announcement from the PNG. I wonder why it is implied it is somehow improper that archaeologists or archaeological professional groups like the AIA should not provide training to U.S. Customs enforcers about recognizing stolen or restricted archaeological objects.

When it comes to import restrictions on certain exotic, endangered, or dangerous animals I wonder whether the PNG would think it improper that U.S. Customs enforcers would receive training from zoologists. Would brokers of exotic animals be preferred?

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