A Call to Action
From The Celator, July 2004
Wayne G. Sayles, "Through the Looking Glass" |
July 01, 2004
"In the April installment of this column, we suggested that it may be time for collectors of ancient and medieval coins and antiquities to unite for the common cause of preserving our hobby. Buoyed by widespread and sensational press coverage of the reported looting of archaeological sites in Iraq, the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) has redoubled its efforts to drive a stake into the heart of private collection of virtually anything historic. In spite of a massive letter and fax campaign by ancient coin collectors, the legislation to restrict imported coins that might be perceived as being of Iraqi origin has been passed by both the U.S. Senate and U.S. Congress and awaits only some final committee work. As we have explained earlier, this bill is potentially devastating to the hobby because the burden of proof that an imported object is NOT from Iraq will certainly fall upon the importer. This, in many cases, could prove to be an impossible burden to meet because antiquities do not bear the "Made in China" declaration of modern imports. Even coins of obvious origin outside Iraq are subject to being detained by customs due to a lack of understanding on the part of inspectors who are far from knowledgable about the ancient world. In many cases, the cost of defending a seized coin could far outweigh the value of the item. In fact, there have already been several seizures in recent years for very spurious reasons-giving us a hint of what is to come when more restrictive laws are on the books.
The ink has not even dried on the Iraqi bill, and the AIA is at it again through their friend from Pennsylvania, Representative English. A new bill sponsored by the Quaker State legislator proposes similar restrictions on any antiquities (including coins) whose origin might be from Afghanistan. The bill's introduction was accompanied by a publicity campaign that is already working to undermine the rights of private collectors and to propagandize the agenda of the AIA. Meanwhile, collectors of ancient coins are nearly powerless to stop this zealous crusade by the archaeological community's current leadership. We simply do not have an organization with the mandate and focus necessary to sustain a first line defense. Our best ally could have and should have been the American Numismatic Society, but the leadership of that organization has opted, as an institution, to stay out of the debate. In all fairness, this is probably what we should have expected since the ANS has very strong ties to the academic community. We can fully expect that, unless something is done soon, we will be seeing an epidemic of similar legislative attempts to throttle trade in all but the most modern of items. Today, the focus is on imports from rather remote parts of the world, but tomorrow we could easily find ourselves defending the right to collect Indian arrowheads from Wisconsin and Civil War bullets from Virginia. How long will it be before they confiscate and burn our books? The zealotry of the AIA knows no bounds and is not governed by reason.
As a person who is fairly self-reliant, I try to avoid involvement with "organizations". But the reality is that none of us, by ourselves, can stand in front of this AIA steamroller. We can only prevail if we are united, active and enduring. Because I can see no other recourse, I am therefore proposing the establishment of an Ancient Coin Collector's Guild to organize a coherent and effective response to this and other threats to the hobby. Although the primary issue at the moment is legislation pending in the US Congress, ACCG will also strive to satisfy a broader need in the area of consumer protection. By the time this column hits the street there will be a preliminary web site at http://accg.us explaining the nature and purpose of this guild and providing opportunities for volunteer work and personal involvement.
We are already behind the power curve and will have to work hard and fast to do as much "damage control" as possible in the coming months. In addition to assembling a board of directors, we will be developing a strategic plan and a specific program of activities oriented toward making our message clear and persuasive. This will have to be a continuing effort and it will require serious cooperation and support from collectors, dealers, other organizations and hopefully from some members of the academic community who see collectors as a resource rather than a threat. Anyone who is willing to get involved in committee work or contribute their energy or resources is encouraged to contact me personally by telephone at 417-679-2142 or by email to email@example.com .
Fortunately, our hobby is blessed with a solid core of talented people who are successful in many different professions. We will need help on several fronts, and hopefully some of our readers and fraternity members will offer their "services in kind" as a contribution to this united effort. We hope to coordinate with, if not integrate, the efforts of individuals who are already doing much in support of the hobby and as soon as possible we plan to develop standing committees that will manage the hard work ahead and distribute the load over a broader work force.
The hobby of ancient coin collecting is a venerable pursuit and much good has come from the efforts of private collectors in the past. All of our lives have been enriched by the ability to own ancient coins and to study and enjoy them at our leisure. Consequently, we have an obligation to the past, as well as to the future, to protect the rights that we presently enjoy and to keep the hobby healthy for the generations that follow us. It seems ironic that in America, the showplace of freedom, we are immediately at risk of losing our freedom to collect objects from the past. Together, we can make an impact on those who would have it that way. Don't wait for the problem to go away-get involved!"