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The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild has become a driving force in the ongoing effort to protect coin collectors and museums in which coins are stored from being forced to give up these items to foreign governments under the premise the coins are the cultural patrimony of the claimant nation. — Richard Giedroyc, World Coin News April 26, 2010



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ABA Committee Examines Collecting Chinese Art and Antiquities

A report by Peter K. Tompa on a recent panel discussion hosted by the American Bar Association's International Cultural Property Committee.

May 14, 2007

On May 4, 2007, the American Bar Association’s International Cultural Property Committee hosted a panel with the provocative title, “ [the] Hot Trade Heats Up” Dr. Patty Gerstenblith (DePaul) and Dr. Anne Underhill (Field Museum) represented the archaeological side. The trade side was represented by Jerry Hanifin (Serko Simon Gluck & Kane LLP) and Jim Lally (J.J. Lally & Co.). James Ulak, Deputy Director, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery represented the interests of museums.

Jim Lally impressed all with his command of the facts. He demolished the Chinese request as ridiculous on the facts given the huge free internal market for the very same types of artifacts that are potentially subject to restriction. This presentation effectively questioned why the US should even entertain such a request in the first place.

Jerry Hanifin succinctly and clearly set forth the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act’s criteria for imposing import restrictions. He also made some good points on the transparency concerns raised in the recent article by Jeremy Kahn that appeared in the New York Times, entitled “Is the U.S. Protecting Foreign Artifacts? Don’t Ask.”

Anne Underhill recounted looting at several sites. On a positive note, she indicated that that archaeologists and collectors should work to find common ground. Overall, her theme was that restrictions were warranted because the United States should provide a “good example” to the rest of the world—including the Chinese.

Patty Gerstenblith as always did a good job arguing her position that restrictions are warranted to combat looting. Her response during the question and answer period was particularly revealing. In it, she suggested even common artifacts like coins should be subject to restriction because their archaeological context gives them their own significance. In response, Jim Lally quipped that the Chinese government (other than the archaeological establishment) evidently disagreed because it had actually encouraged the internal market for such items.

James Ulak also made a good presentation. Although he had to be careful with his statements, it was clear that he thought the Japanese regulatory system that “ranks” artifacts to be a good one to emulate and that even under current legal strictures he feels that it is extremely difficult for museums to collect anything “fresh.”

This panel was useful because it provided an excellent introduction to the issues related to the “cultural property war” for members of the most prestigious U.S bar association. Most significantly it underscored the fact that all too often pressure is brought on our government to impose broad import restrictions for “moral reasons” that appear to have little to do with the realities on the ground in the source country in question.

field museum
james j. lally
import restrictions

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