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Coins, cabals ... and huff and puff

There is "said to be" a conspiracy.

Apparently there is a secret "cabal" consisting of organisations such as the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), the Republic of Cyprus, and The United States Department of State (Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs) - and into this clandestine group fall several distinguished scholars.

This alleged grouping is reported to be using "stealth tactics" in its "stealth war on collecting".

Indeed, we are told, this conspiracy is serious:

"This development should concern not only coin collectors, but also every American citizen who values his or her personal freedom. Big Brother is watching you, and Big Brother does not like collecting."

Does anybody believe this nonsense?

The AIA makes its position on antiquities (including coins) quite clear. It publishes its views on its public website.

The US State Department does the same.

Scholars publish their ideas which then fall into the public domain.

So who puts out these unhelpful ideas?

David Welsh in his blog on "Stealth Unidroit: the State Department’s War Against Collecting".

And who is David Welsh?

He tells us, "an early and active supporter of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild, for which he chairs the International Affairs Committee, and has become well known as a collectors’ rights activist".

Please could unfounded and misleading alarmism be removed from the debate?


Peter Tompa said…
While Mr. Welch has blogged as an individual and not in his capacity as a member of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild, his concerns about the tranparency and fairness of the process are shared by many coin collectors after the unprecedented inclusion of coins in the Cyprus MOU.

You may belittle these concerns as "huff and puff," but others "without a dog in the fight" over Cyprus and coins, including the New York Times (See Jeremy Kahn, Is the U.S. Protecting Foreign Artifacts? Don’t Ask (NY Times April 8, 2007) available at A and former CPAC member and Walters Art Gallery Director Gary Vikan (See have also stated similar concerns about the fairness of the process.

In the United States as in the UK, transparency and fairness of process are key considerations in judging the validity of decision making. Here, speaking as a participant, the State Department's handling of this matter falls well below what is normally expected in the adminisrative process. These concerns include: (1) announcement of the Cypriot request for import restrictions on coins ONLY at the CPAC hearing itself (and well after the normal comment period had elapsed); (2) after vociferous complaints, provision of only 10 days for additional comment; (3) failure to recuse a member of the archaeological community from voting on the request even though she is utterly dependent on the good will of the government of Cyprus to continue with her excavations on the island;(4) possible unprecedented rejection of CPAC recommendations in favor of a continued exemption for coins from import restrictions given; (5) justifation of the restrictions on the State Department web site as a matter of "merely" adding coins to the designated list as a procedural matter rather than as a substantive decision requiring full fact finding and deferenece to CPAC reommendations under the governing statute; (6) failure to provide timely responses to Freedom of Information Act Requests and full and honest responeses to letter inquiries; and (7) deleting a reference to Ms. Kouroupas' role at the MOU signing ceremony in the official transcript of the proceedings, presumably to hide an effort to stage manage the proceeding.

Surely, Mr. Welch's blog betrays utter frustration with the process and some of the participants with which you are entitled to disagree, but isn't it possible he may have a point on the fairness of the proceeding?


Peter Tompa

President, Ancient Coin Collectors Guild, writing in his personal capacity.
David Gill said…
Dear Peter
Thank you for your comments. I responded to Mr Welch's blog which accused valued colleagues as being members of a 'cabal': that was, I am sure you will agree, "huff and puff". I was not commenting at this point on his (and clearly your) obvious concerns over due process in the US decision to include coins in the treaty with Cyprus.

I had already responded to the situation on Cyprus elsewhere.

Thank you for taking time to read my blog.
Yours sincerely,

Dave Welsh said…
I would like to make it clear, for the record, that I have no reason to think that Dr. Ricardo Elia was involved in the recent Cyprus MOU process. I would also like to make it clear that there is no reason to think Dr. Elia has ever done or been involved in anything that did not meet the highest ethical standards.

Although he is very prominent among those philosophically opposed to private collecting of antiquities (my reason for including him among notable opponents of ancient coin collecting), Dr. Elia is an honorable and certainly a respected opponent.

I do believe that a secretive 'cabal' of anticollecting activists and State Department officials promoted inclusion of coins in the Cyprus MOU. It is not difficult to understand that you would view the possibility of such conduct as incredible. Events will ultimately show whether my opinion is justified. Any implication that Dr. Elia participated was, however, not intended.
David Gill said…
Dear Dave (if I may)

I am grateful for your comments. I have the highest regard for the work of Professor Elia and I felt it was unjust for him to be accused of being part of a 'cabal'.

I am sorry that you feel you have to use such adversarial language: is 'opponent' helpful?

I hope we can continue and develop a constructive debate over collecting. You will see that I have posted some thoughts on the 'licit' trade.

With best wishes

Wayne G. Sayles said…

Thank you for a reasonable and open blog. It is good to have divergent views aired in moderation. The comments from both sides of the cultural property debate have become strident, and I am as guilty as the next in this regard. This should not come, however, as a great surprise.

If an influential group complained publicly that archaeology, for example, destroys the past utterly and completely, you would probably be upset. If that group had the support of the national press in condemning archaeology, you would feel adversarial. If that group had the active assistance of a U.S. government agency in opposing archaeology, you would be appalled. If you felt that the entire field of archaeology was in jeopardy, you would fight back with passion and vigor. What is so different about what ancient coin collectors, and Mr. Welsh, are doing?

I absolutely agree that dialogue between archaeologists and collectors is essential. As Executive Director of the ACCG, I personally tried to establish a dialogue with the former president of the AIA. I was very rudely put off. The "huff and puff" has not been one-sided. I can quote many inflammatory statements by prominent archaeologists that attack private collecting. In fact, Dr. Elia has made several of them himself.

The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild, in conjunction with the American Numismatic Society, recently hosted Dr. Roger Bland of the British Museum in a presentation at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington about the success of the portable antiquities scheme. The ACCG advocates the British Treasure Act and the PAS as a model for other countries to emulate. To his great credit, Dr. Brian Rose attended this lecture, as did Dr. John Russell and several other archaeologists. This was very encouraging. What happened shortly after that lecture, in regard to import restrictions on coins from Cyprus, was a prime example of old school (radical) archaeologists in action. As long as there is an attitude among archaeologists that private collecting has no place in the cultural property world, there will certainly and understandably be confrontation. We should be working together to preserve voices from the past, not battling over property rights like feudal barons.

Looking forward to better days,

Wayne G. Sayles
David Gill said…
Dear Wayne

Archaeologists do "destroy the past utterly and completely". They work their way down through the strata or layers - and that material cannot be "put back".

However archaeologists have a professional duty to record the removal of the layers and the precise location of finds. And this information is then (or should be) placed in the public domain through publication.

Looting destroys the archaeological context and does not (normally) keep a record. An exception is the infamous looting of the building assocoiated with the Roman imperial cult at Bubon in Turkey.

Best wishes

Unfortunately the huff and puff continues, but some in the collector and dealer lobby seem unhappy with the rhetoric of their leaders:

See Dave Welsh's comments here and a collector's response here. I also came across this amusing gem from a DW post on the Moneta List:

"...Ultimately it is all up to the collectors who populate this list, and how
much they care about defending their right to collect. If the AIA sent a
squad of radical archaeologists to your house to seize your collection, in
the process verbally abusing you as a moral cripple responsible for
everything bad that is happening to archaeological sites, wouldn't you be
mad as Hades? Wouldn't you be ready to fight? Well get ready to fight,
because that is more or less what they intend to do, and actually are doing,
one small step at a time..."

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