A Matter of Necessity
From The Celator, September 2004.
Wayne G. Sayles, "Through the Looking Glass" |
September 01, 2004
Practically everyone must know by now that the Archaeological Institute of America aims to eradicate the private collecting of practically anything historic, including coins. They plan to legislate us right out of existence.
"Lobbyists on behalf of coin collectors and dealers are working to defeat this legislation [now called HR-1047] in the House unless it exempts coins from any import restrictions. The AIA endorses this legislation and urges its members to support it....."(http://www.archaeological.org/webinfo.php?page=10244)
"[There are] two prevailing myths. The first is that there are separate 'licit' and 'illicit' markets. In fact they are one and the same. The second ... is that of the 'reputable dealer' .... to archaeologists 'reputable dealer' is an oxymoron." (Ricardo, J. Elia, Associate Professor, Archaeology Dept., Boston University)
[The antiquities market is] “a secretive, selfish and immoral trade that erases history and corrupts the study of the past”. (Ricardo J. Elia, The Art Newspaper, No. 139, September 2003.
Lord Colin Renfrew, professor of Archaeology at Cambridge University states: "It is inappropriate for a scholar to authenticate or document an unprovenanced antiquity in such a way as may facilitate its subsequent sale" (Loot, Legitimacy and Ownership, p. 75). He flatly condemns private collecting in his 1993 article, "Collectors are the Real Looters", (Archaeology, 46(3):16-17).
If you still doubt that ancient coin collectors are under attack, read this: "U.S. Customs has established a national cybercenter from which the Web is continually patrolled for various classes of contraband, including antiquities. Often, Customs is alerted by foreign officials because of cultural property that they have seen online. E-commerce circulates worldwide and "donor nations" also are patrolling the Web in the hope of recovering some of their looted past. Customs can make a seizure/arrest under the provisions of the UNESCO Accord or under the National Stolen Properties Act, if the complaining country has legislation that meets the requirements of either of those documents. Then the material enters the U.S. legal system to establish if it has been imported illegally or stolen." (http://www.saa.org/publications/saabulletin/18-2/saa11.html
Remember that ancient coins are already considered "antiquities" and "cultural property" in the eyes of the AIA and in the provisions of pending legislation. We are only a heartbeat away from them becoming "contraband" and being seizable.
Who can we turn to for help? There isn't really anyone to turn to. We have to defend our own interests through our own efforts and with our own resources. Dr. Michael Bates, Curator of Islamic Coins at the American Numismatic Society made this abundantly clear in a recent internet post. He wrote: "I don’t determine ANS policy, and our Board of Trustees has not stated an official position. I assume all members of this list are aware that the professional scholarly community is generally in favor of the legislation [HR-1047], and generally against the pillaging of archeological finds. As a scholarly institution, it would, in my personal opinion, be stupid for us to come out against our professional colleagues."
Even though this is clearly the personal opinion of Dr. Bates, the fact that the ANS has not stated an official position does speak for itself. The IAPN and PNG (dealer associations) have funded lobbying initiatives, but they certainly do not have the resources to carry this battle alone. The ANA is sympathetic and has publicly supported the ancient coin collector's position, but we constitute only a small segment of the ANA membership.
Collectors have only two choices as I see it, we can "cut and run", abandoning a four-hundred-year-old tradition, or we can stand and fight. There are, by their own count, some 8,000 members of the AIA. And, not all of them, by any means, are opposed to private collecting. There are perhaps 50,000 collectors of ancient coins in the United States alone. The only thing that makes the AIA a potent force is the fact that they are well organized and know exactly what they want to achieve. An archaeologist in this country cannot function in his or her field without becoming a member and, at least publicly, a supporter of the AIA. There is no such stranglehold on collectors, so we find it difficult to get any sort of consensus or a unified voice among our own group. It is hard to fathom an organization of ancient coin collectors with 8,000 members, much less 50,000. But, that is precisely what we need.
I cannot stress too greatly the need for support of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (http://www.accg.us
), nor repeat too often the warning of potential devastation that failure to unite could wreak on our hobby. This is not a matter of choice, it is a matter of necessity.