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Coins and Cyprus: a partial picture from the NYT

Jeremy Kahn has reported on the decision by three coin groups to take legal action against the US State Department ("Coin Collectors Sue State Department Over Import Rules", New York Times, November 17, 2007). Kahn identifies the trigger as "a controversial decision by the State Department in July to ban imports of ancient coins from the island of Cyprus". The decision was welcomed by archaeologists who perceived it to be designed to protect the destruction of archaeological sites on Cyprus. It was considered to be "controversial" only by those who opposed it and who are seeking to liberalise the movement of archaeological material (including coins).

Safecorner ("All the news that's fit to print?") has posted a response to Kahn - and makes the interesting economic comparison between the cost of providing somebody to guard an archaeological site and the fees charged by an attorney to bring this case.

Meanwhile ACCG has helpfully published the full text of the complaint. Is it significant that the other two bodies, the IAPN and the PNG, have yet to post anything on the news sections of their websites?

Would Kahn like to present a balanced view in his next report? Why does the archaeological record of Cyprus need protecting?


Wayne G. Sayles said…

I am mystified by your comment, "It was considered to be "controversial" only by those who opposed it and who are seeking to liberalise the movement of archaeological material (including coins)."

It seems quite natural and ordinary that proponents of any position will not find their position controversial. Opponents will. That is the very nature and definition of controversy. To any disinterested party, the State Department decision on Cyprus was clearly controversial.

You describe the "opponents" in this case as those "who are seeking to liberalise the movement of archaeological material (including coins)." Here, we again have a problem with definitions. How can support for the status quo be construed as "liberalisation"? It is the introduction of new restrictions and government controls, without due process, that opponents to the Cyprus request object to and find controversial. This is hardly a liberal or liberalizing view. On the contrary, it is the law that has been "liberalized".

I cannot comment on behalf of the IAPN and PNG, the two groups who joined ACCG in this initiative. I can say, however, that the serious and useful collecting or acquisition of almost anything produced by man in times past will ultimately lead to a market for such objects. The ancient coin market became recognizable as such in the late 1300s AD and has been an important aspect of the formation of virtually every major numismatic cabinet in the world, past or present. I think the trade organizations mentioned above are justified in their concern, just as private collectors are through the ACCG. The fact that they have not publicized their cooperation is of no consequence to the issue. The FOIA suit against DOS was proposed by the ACCG and the ACCG is unquestionably taking the lead in its prosecution. There is no attempt by any of the parties involved to obscure that fact.

Finally, I am surprised that there should be any "pushback" on this issue from the archaeological community. Is full disclosure and transparency of government not advocated by archaeologists? Of course it is. Why then should this FOIA suit be presented as a "we and they" issue? Full disclosure is in everyone's interest.

Personally, I thought that Jeremy Kahn's article was quite well balanced and I applaud his fairness. But then, I'm one of those who thought the Cypriot import restrictions were controversial in the first place.

Thank you for bringing this important issue to light on your blog and for allowing a contrary view to be expressed.


David Gill said…
See also Richard Lacayo, "Can Coin Collectors Make Change?", Time at:

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