Skip to main content

The Baltimore Coin Test Case

Last November, after the decision over the FOIA case, it was announced, "the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild still plans to pursue a test case regarding whether those import restrictions were promulgated in an arbitrary and capricious fashion".

Now a Washington-based attorney, Jason H. Ehrenberg of Bailey & Ehrenberg PLLC, has filed an action on behalf of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) (plaintiff) against the US Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security; the Commissioner,  US Customs and Border Protection; the US Department of State; and, the Assistant Secretary of State (educational and cultural Affairs), United States Department of State. (The pdf can be found here.)

Ehrenberg's expertise lies, according to his firm's website, in "employee benefits, employment and civil rights law, and higher education law, representing both individual and organizational clients on a broad spectrum of issues within the employment relationship".

Apart from wanting the return of coins brought into the United States apparently without the appropriate paper trail, the action seeks:
ACCG requests the Court: (a) to declare that the decision to impose import restrictions on ancient coins of Cypriot type is arbitrary and capricious because, pursuant to applicable law, State failed to disclose to Congress a rational basis for the reason, or reasons, behind State’s decision to reject the advice of its own advisory committee and also in departing from prior agency practice; (b) to declare that the decisions to impose import restrictions on ancient coins of both Cypriot and Chinese type are also arbitrary and capricious because they are both contrary to law and the product of bias, prejudgment and ex parte contact; and (c) to declare that under the applicable statutes Customs must prove that the Cypriot or Chinese coins at issue were illicitly removed from Cypriot or Chinese find spots before they may be forfeited.
However this "test case" is more than about Cyprus and China.

There is an attack on the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA):
Upon information and belief, the Archaeological Institute of America (“AIA”) is a nonprofit group that promotes professional archaeology. Upon further information and belief, although the AIA maintains it has some 200,000 members, this figure is derived from the circulation of its magazine, Archaeology. In contrast, upon further information and belief, a small number of professional archaeologists – many of whose careers are dependent on excavation permits issued by Cultural Nationalist states like China, Cyprus and Italy—actually govern the AIA and formulate its public stances. According to one such pronouncement, the AIA maintains that all unprovenanced artifacts should be deemed to be “stolen” and repatriated to their supposed countries of origin.
There is a comment on the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute (CAARI):
Upon information and belief, the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute (“CAARI”) is a nonprofit group formed to promote the study of Cypriot archaeology and related disciplines. Upon further information and belief, the careers of many CAARI associated archaeologists are dependent upon the Cypriot Department of Antiquities issuing them excavation permits. Upon further information and belief, CAARI also maintains that all unprovenanced artifacts should be deemed to be “stolen” and repatriated to their supposed countries of origin.
I note that among the grumbles in the submitted action is this one:
Allowing Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns to influence the decision to impose import restrictions on coins of Cypriot type, though he had just received an award from Greek and Greek Cypriot interests and had displayed bias in favor of such interests.
I have commented on this issue before. I asked then:
What about organisations that reward congressmen for supporting "collector rights" or intervening "in issues of importance to ancient coin collectors"? Or is that different?
Given the recent comments about academic journals by a partner at Bailey & Ehrenberg, it is curious to see that one of the authorities cited in the legal papers is Wikipedia (section 61).

It is interesting to note that among the cases cited was one where "Supreme Court ruled agency’s decision to be arbitrary and capricious because the agency failed to offer any reasoned explanation for its refusal to decide whether greenhouse gases caused or contributed to climate change" (section 132). Does Mr Ehrenberg side with those who believe that there is no climate change? Or does he prefer to drive a "gas-guzzler" rather than do his little bit to save the planet?

And does he care if archaeological sites on Cyprus are being looted to provide archaeological material for the market? Or is the issue about the right to collect and to own antiquities?

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know


Wayne G. Sayles said…

Thank you for the first half of your post, which was factual. I can understand your difficulty in understanding U.S. law and U.S. politics (it's not entirely logical). The fact is that in America, there are rules (call them laws if you like). ACCG is playing by those rules. There are some who would like the rules to be different. Well and good for them, but the rules are still the rules. Don't universities have rules? Is it ok to ignore them if you don't like them?

If you or your colleagues think ACCG has broken any rules, please don't hesitate to consult an attorney familiar with U.S. law and check that out. If you doubt that some members of the U.S. government have broken the rules that guide their activity, stay tuned and see what the courts ultimately have to say about that. In the meantime, academic ethics would, I think, suggest that you abstain from ill informed and uneducated comments about government ethics and responsibilities or case law and its citation. By the way, what Mr. Ehrenberg drives is not a matter for litigation, even though you may like it to be. You did at least get the last sentence right. This is very much about the right to collect and own antiquities and about the preservation of that existing right. Does that bother you?



Popular posts from this blog

Marble bull's head from the temple of Eshmun

Excavations at the temple of Eshmun in Lebanon recovered a marble bull's head. It is now suggested that it was this head, apparently first published in 1967, that was placed on loan to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (Tom Mashberg, "Met Museum Turns Over Another Relic With Disputed Past to Prosecutors", New York Times August 1, 2017 ). The head is reported to have been handed over to the Manhattan district attorney after a request was received from the Lebanese authorities.

It is suggested that the head may have been looted from an archaeological storage area at Byblos in the 1980s during the Lebanese civil war. Mashberg has rehearsed the recent collecting history:
The owners of the bull’s head, Lynda and William Beierwaltes of Colorado, say they have clear title to the item and have sued Manhattan prosecutors for its return.  The Beierwaltes bought the head from a dealer in London in 1996 for more than $1 million and then sold it to another collector, Michael …

Sardinian warrior from "old Swiss collection"

One of the Sardinian bronzes of a warrior was seized from an as yet unnamed Manahattan gallery. It appears to be the one that passed through the Royal-Athena Gallery: Art of the Ancient World 23 (2012) no. 71. The collecting history for that warrior suggests that it was acquired in 1990 from a private collection in Geneva.

Other clues suggested that the warrior has resided in a New York private collection.

The identity of the private collection in Geneva will no doubt be telling.

The warrior also features in this news story: Jennifer Peltz, "Looted statues, pottery returned to Italy after probe in NYC", ABC News May 25 2017.

Attic amphora handed back to Italians

The research of Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has led to the return of an Attic red-figured amphora, attributed to the Harrow painter, to Italy (Tom Mashberg, "Stolen Etruscan Vessel to Be Returned to Italy", New York Times March 16, 2017).

The amphora is known to have passed through the hands of Swiss-based dealer Gianfranco Becchina in 1993, and then through a New York gallery around 2000 (although its movements between those dates are as yet undisclosed).

During the ceremony, Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., the District Attorney stated:
“When looters overrun historic sites, mine sacred spaces for prized relics, and peddle stolen property for top dollar, they do so with the implicit endorsement of all those who knowingly trade in stolen antiquities” More research clearly needs to be conducted on how material handled by Becchina passed into the North American market and into the hands of private and public collectors.