Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Development of a Collector

Here is a story about a collector which I remembered after a remark was made in the Moneta-L Yahoo group about the ways people begin collecting ancient coins. It recounts the development of a collector, who went from a specialist in very high-grade US coins to a knowledgeable, studious collector of ancient coins, and wrote several interesting articles for the Celator magazine. The remark that caught my attention was:

" I am certain there are some who begin their hobby by purchasing rare and expensive coins."

I responded:


I had a very interesting and mutually rewarding long term relationship with a collector who began collecting Roman coins by purchasing one denarius in FDC condition. This collector had amassed a large collection of US coins that were of exceptional "condition rarity." They were valuable only because of their condition, not for scarcity in other grades.

This collector was quite knowledgeable in his US coin specialty and had a valuable collection. He gradually sold it off at the peak of the market to amass an eclectic, valuable collection of ancient coins, mostly Roman with a few other types acquired after I succeeded in broadening his interests.

This collector was very inquisitive. He took full advantage of my inclination toward educating collectors and my capabilities in researching difficult subjects. Here is one that I remember very clearly:
'UFO' jeton 'UFO' jeton reverse

This jeton from the 1680s is a sort of token that was very common in parts of France in those days. There was then a great shortage of "small change" and almost all of the officially issued copper coins in circulation dated back to Roman times. These French "jetons" were throws that were scattered as a form of largesse by feudal lords, in much the same manner as "doubloons" in Mardi Gras parades.

All sorts of speculative theories were inspired by this jeton, on the premise that it depicts a "flying saucer" or some other sort of UFO.

For example, here are links to some of this speculation:

I really made an impression on that collector when I finally decoded this mystery. The design of that jeton was inspired by a story from the mythical early days of the Roman Republic, and after I came up with the real explanation he shared it with others and it finally reached the Internet: 

The design depicts Numa's Shield falling from the sky, sent by the gods to protect and save the land from disaster.

from Plutarch's Lives, Volume I:

"In the eighth year of Numa's reign an epidemic raged throughout Italy, and afflicted the city of Rome. Now amidst the general distress it is related that a brazen shield fell from heaven into the hands of Numa. Upon this the king made an inspired speech, which he had learned from Egeria and the Muses. The shield, he said, came for the salvation of the city, and they must guard it, and make eleven more like it, so that no thief could steal the one that fell from heaven, because he could not tell which it was. Moreover the place and the meadows round about it, where he was wont to converse with the Muses, must be consecrated to them, and the well by which it was watered must be pointed out as holy water to the vestal virgins, that they might daily take some thence to purify and sprinkle their temple. The truth of this is said to have been proved by the immediate cessation of the plague. He bade workmen compete in imitating the shield, and, when all others refused to attempt it, Veturius Mamurius, one of the best workmen of the time, produced so admirable an imitation, and made all the shields so exactly alike, that even Numa himself could not tell which was the original. He next appointed the Salii to guard and keep them."

The actual ancilia were twelve "figure 8" shaped shields of the type used by spearmen in early Classical times, who fought in line for many centuries before the full development of the phalanx and adoption of the round shield (hoplon). There was a good depiction of this formation in the film Troy.

File:Ancile, Nordisk familjebok.png
"Figure 8" spearman's shield

On denarii of P. Stolo, of the Licinia family [one of the moneyers of Augustus] is a reverse type of the ancilia, between which is the apex, or cap, of one of the Salii, with the legend P. STOLO. III. VIR. 
Article Image

The obverse depicts Augustus with the legend  AVGVSTVS TR. POT.

Such shields of course were not used in the seventeenth century, and what was actually depicted on this unusual jeton was a contemporary buckler: a cavalryman's round shield that had a short spear point protruding from the boss in the center:

All good things must come to an end. This very interesting and studious collector eventually passed away, and his collection was sold at auction. I recognized many fine and rare "old friends" I had supplied to him in that sale.


Friday, October 26, 2018

An Epic Legal Battle

The Long Legal Contest Against Arbitrary Import Restrictions

An Epic Battle: U.S. v. 3 Knife-Shaped Coins

Peter K. Tompa, of Bailey & Ehrenberg PLLC, Washington, D.C., lead attorney in the ACCG test case.

Upholding the CPIA: Congressional Mandate or Unlimited Executive Authority

A lawsuit involving fifteen coins from China and Cyprus, none very beautiful or valuable, began as a test case in 2009, and has been vigorously contested at every one of its many steps by the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG). 

An important goal of this test case was to challenge the State Department’s actions in going far beyond the definitions and requirements enacted by Congress for import restrictions under the 1983 Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA).

The result, after nine years of litigation, is that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the original seizure of the coins, and also re-interpreted the plain language of the CPIA, by emphasizing ease of enforcement over due process and the clearly defined legal requirements in the original legislation.


I won't go into all the details of the history and complex legal issues of this landmark case, which are ably and clearly presented in the Cultural Property News article by Peter Tompa. 

Instead I will comment upon the results achieved, and their significance, and why this case was of such great importance to all collectors of antiquities - not limited to, but importantly including, ancient coins - everywhere.

I'm able to do so with significant background knowledge of this case because I was intimately involved in the initial decision to begin this legal initiative, and in much of what went on behind the scenes. This was, essentially, a dramatic and tense legal battle between an unscrupulous bureaucracy with a secret agenda, dedicated to using every possible legal and regulatory artifice to advance that ideological agenda, and a much smaller collectors' rights advocacy, dedicated to requiring the law to be interpreted as Congress intended it to be.

Every important participant on both sides of this battle knew very well that the key personalities in the deliberations and proceedings involved in the drafting and enactment of the 1983 Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act did not intend or expect that it would be twisted into a tool for relentlessly and zealously pursuing the ideological objectives of the Archaeological Institute of America, without regard for legislative intent or anything resembling fairness and equity to all concerned interests, as Congress clearly expected. 

That was, however, the end result of appointing archaeologist Maria Kouroupas to oversee the advisory committee of experts created to review and comment upon all requests for US imposition of import restrictions on cultural property. In hindsight, that end result could have been foreseen. 

In 1983 however, none of the key personalities - including those in the State Department - realized the extent to which archaeologists think of "protecting the archaeological record" as a sort of "higher law" that takes precedence over all considerations of impartiality, fairness and equity in administering the regulatory responsibilities with which they are entrusted.

What this test case did achieve was to force the bureaucrats of the Cultural Heritage Center to understand that everything they did was being scrutinized and analyzed by very competent observers who were out to publicly expose their private agenda and their disregard for observing fairness and equity in administering the law, to all concerned interests, as Congress had intended. 

One way to describe the effects of this steadfast, relentless opposition is to draw an analogy to a well-known military operation. 

At the beginning of the 1864 campaign of the Army of the Potomac, a Northern newspaperman asked General Grant how long it would take to reach Richmond. Grant responded airily, ‘About four days–that is, if General Lee becomes a party to the agreement; but if he objects, the trip will undoubtedly be prolonged.’

It took Grant two months of extremely bloody battles, during which Lee's army inflicted more casualties upon the Army of the Potomac than the total strength of Lee's army at the beginning of the campaign, to reach Richmond - and then a siege that lasted nine months began. 

In April 1865, superior resources ultimately prevailed and Lee was forced to abandon Richmond. His outnumbered, exhausted army was unable to elude the Union pursuit, and ten days later Lee surrendered at Appomatox.

The Union won the Civil War, and at this point, many would be inclined to think that the Cultural Heritage Center bureaucracy led by Maria Kouroupas has won the Cultural Property War. That isn't over yet, and the test case is still being pursued by appeal. 

The tremendous resistance put up by the gallant Army of Northern Virginia in the 1864 campaign and the later siege became an enduring part of US history. At the surrender ceremony, the Union army treated the dejected Confederates with great respect. An unexpected and much appreciated formal military salute expressed deeply felt admiration for their legendary fighting qualities.

The legal battle against the immense resources of the State Department has, from the beginning, likewise been a struggle against impossible odds. The question was, whether to delay the onset and limit the extent of the threatened isolation of the US antiquities market from the rest of the world. 

Ten years after the decision to begin the struggle was taken, it is apparent that much was achieved. As unpleasant as the import restrictions are, they would have been far worse and come sooner without that effort.

The legal parameters and issues involved have been clarified and in part tested, although the State Department has thus far prevented the "day in court" sought by the collectors' rights advocacy. 

This clarification, and the manner in which an open and fair legal hearing has been evaded and denied, are important grounds upon which a case can be made for future legislative action to restore proper respect for Congressional Mandate instead of unlimited executive authority.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

State Department Propaganda Magazine

The US State Department's Propaganda Magazine

The current (June 2018) issue features an 8 page article about the Cultural Heritage Center

Cultural Heritage Center
Preserving and Protecting the World's Historic Treasures

By Erin Concors

The following is an extract from the article:

Protecting Cultural Heritage for Future Generations

In addition to the Cultural Heritage Center’s oversight of more than 130 active Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation projects worldwide, the Center manages 17 bilateral cultural property protection agreements.

The United States is one of approximately 134 states party to a 1970 UNESCO convention on cultural property that facilitates collaboration to prevent the theft of culturally significant archaeological and ethnological material. Such theft deprives nations of their cultural identity and encourages unscientific digging that destroys the archaeological context in which the cultural materials are found. In 1983, in support of the convention, President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA). Under this legislation, countries may request that the U.S. government work with them to protect their
archaeological and ethnological items through agreements that impose import restrictions at ports of entry to the United States on cultural objects without export certifications. 

Such agreements also benefit bilateral relationships by supporting economic development through tourism, increasing local skills and employment, and enhancing law enforcement cooperation.

The first actions taken under CPIA protected cultural property from El Salvador, Bolivia, Peru and Guatemala. All of these countries suffered from catastrophic looting and violence that fed the international art market in the 1980s. Over time, the situation in these countries improved, as incentive to loot was reduced and nations took steps to protect their own heritage. However, other regions suffer increasing threats. In 2016, in response to rampant looting of its cultural sites at a time of political upheaval, Egypt became the first country in the Bureau
of Near Eastern Affairs region to sign a bilateral cultural property agreement with the United States. AFCP also supports several tangible and intangible conservation projects in Egypt including the preservation of wooden coffins at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and the restoration of the 13th-century al-Imam al-Shafi’i
Mausoleum in Cairo’s “City of the Dead”—the prominent burial place of Sunni Islam’s foremost moderate figure and the founder of one of its schools of jurisprudence.

Similarly, in Cambodia, U.S. government support to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the ancient temple of Phnom Bakheng reflect a holistic approach to protecting cultural heritage that includes conserving these sites for future generations.

The Phnom Bakheng temple was built between the ninth and 10th centuries in the ancient Khmer city of Angkor, now an archaeological park and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Prior to receiving U.S. government support, it was at risk of destruction by erosion and humidity. As urban development has rapidly
accelerated in Cambodia’s urban centers, the risk of looting and trafficking of precious heritage items has become a growing problem—thus the country’s cultural patrimony is protected through the important restrictions enforced by the bilateral agreement that was first signed in 2003.

Libya became the most recent partner country when it signed a bilateral cultural property agreement Feb. 23 in Washington, D.C. The Department first began partnering with Libya through a 2005 AFCP project grant that preserved the archaeological and photographic collections of Cyrene, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Since then, the Department has significantly increased and expanded its support for conservation and capacity-building in Libya by providing training to diverse groups including Libyan law enforcement and leaders of the Libyan Boy Scouts and Girl Guides.

State Boosts Interagency Training Efforts to Combat Looting and Trafficking

While AFCP and the cultural property agreements often address the problems of looting after the fact, another program administered by the Cultural Heritage Center addresses the prevention side of antiquities trafficking. 

The Cultural Antiquities Task Force (CATF), established in 2004 by Congress and integrated into the CHCC in 2016, supports a results-oriented “One Government” approach to countering the criminal networks that traffic in cultural property. Chaired by the Cultural Heritage Center, the CATF supports hands-on training for both domestic and international law enforcement and cultural heritage professionals. One country of focus for such training is Peru.

Looting of cultural heritage sites poses an ongoing threat in Peru, as thieves target churches for their Colonial-era paintings, icons and religious items, and search for pre-Columbian and Inca pottery and textiles at other sites. In recent years, with the support of the CATF, the U.S. Embassy in Lima has cooperated with the Peruvian Ministry of Culture and archdioceses to train priests, nuns and lay persons in local laws for cultural heritage protection and in preventative measures against theft and trafficking. CATF-sponsored trainings have increased awareness among lay persons and law enforcement officials about the problem of cultural antiquities trafficking and its links to criminal networks. A partnership between the Department, DHS and the Smithsonian Institution, led by Immigration and Customs Enforcement–Homeland Security Investigations, has trained hundreds of law enforcement officers on cultural property investigative methods and proper documentation and handling of artifacts.

As the threat to cultural heritage worldwide increases, the work of the Cultural Heritage Center becomes even more important to advancing foreign policy goals. Through the center’s efforts, the United States is able to promote stability, economic development and good governance in partner countries, while denying critical financing to terrorist organizations and other criminal networks that engage in illicit trade.

Erin Concors is a strategy and outreach officer in the Cultural Heritage Center


To really understand the pervasive anti-collecting and anti-trade bias that saturates every aspect of the Cultural Heritage Center and its activities, it is essential to read this sort of propaganda very carefully.

  • ... the Center manages 17 bilateral cultural property protection agreements.
Nowhere does this presentation indicate that such agreements were very clearly defined as being last-resort emergency measures intended to provide temporary relief from "rampant looting of ... cultural sites."

The 1983 CCPIA (the authorizing law for the Cultural Heritage Center and its activities) provides that each such agreement must be periodically reviewed:
"Agreements are in effect for five years, and may be extended, following a statutory process that includes a review by the Cultural Property Advisory Committee."

See A. Section 303 (19 U.S.C. § 2602): Authority to Enter into Agreements

These import restriction agreements have however been converted by the Cultural Heritage Center into ongoing programs, each of which is "managed" as though it will go on forever without any prospect of ever being discontinued. In fact, no "cultural property protection agreement" has ever been allowed to lapse. Renewal has in reality become an automatic process that follows a pro-forma ritual whose outcome has been predetermined.
  • ... another program administered by the Cultural Heritage Center addresses the prevention side of antiquities trafficking.
Nowhere does this presentation indicate that there is a licit international trade in antiquities, nor does it indicate that antiquities collecting is an important aspect of "cultural heritage." The presentation instead refers only to "the problem of cultural antiquities trafficking and its links to criminal networks," without ever indicating that the great majority of "cultural antiquities" transactions are licit exchanges between responsible, ethical collectors and the licit trade that supplies them. This presentation instead suggests that international "cultural antiquities" transactions are "illicit" criminal activities.



Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Illicit Art and Antiquities Trafficking Prevention Act

A bill to extend the U.S. Bank Secrecy Act to regulate the art trade is now  before the US Congress’ House Financial Services Committee.

Peter Tompa describes the implications of HR 5886, the Illicit Art and Antiquities Trafficking Prevention Act, here:

According to Congressman Luke Messer, its Indiana Republican sponsor, HR 5886 is intended to “reduce international money laundering and crack down on terrorist organizations like ISIS.”

According to Tompa,

"Passage of HR 5886 would add dealers in antique coins, art and antiquities, even small businesses selling $50,000 per year, to the Bank Secrecy Act, 31 USC § 5312. Currently, the Bank Secrecy Act applies to banks, financial institutions, credit card institutions, casinos, and dealers in precious metals. The regulations are not specified in the bill, but release from Congressman Messer suggests that they will be similar to those applied to the category of dealers in precious metals, stones and jewels (31 CFR 1027.100).

If so, similar regulations would require detailed reporting to the Department of the Treasury Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). The detailed inventory, customer identification, and audit requirements would place a significant cost and time burden on small art businesses.

In other regulated industries, FinCen has required reporting of currency exchanges totaling as little as $1,000, Suspicious Activity Reports for amounts as low as $2,000, and has a $10,000 Currency Transaction Threshold. FinCEN also has the authority to lower this threshold."

Tompa goes on to point out that:

"There are an estimated 5,000 firms that deal in coins in the United States, mostly small businesses or sole proprietorships with sales under $1 million per year.

Placing regulatory requirements on business that already use regulated institutions for banking seems like regulatory overkill, especially given the high cost of compliance for small businesses (estimates range from $2,000-5,000 per year) ..."

He goes on to observe that

"Most of all, the ancient and antique art industry worries that FinCen will demand provenance information that simply does not exist as part of its due diligence/chain of custody requirements. Dealers would like to have these records and be able to supply them; they often increase the value of an object. However, because many objects have been in circulation through private hands over decades or even centuries, such records rarely exist.

Although this fact is well known to anti-art trade activists, they are likely to be the first to demand that art dealers provide such non-existent records as part of the compliance process."

As the proprietor of a small business in antique coins, I can state that this proposed legislation in its present form would have a very serious adverse effect upon my business, Classical Coins. In fact, at this point it appears that if Classical Coins became subject to such onerous regulations, it would no longer be possible for me to continue to operate my business.

Antiquities collectors worldwide should be alarmed at the prospect that the U.S., comprising roughly 50% of the worldwide market for antiquities, may impose such onerous and destructive regulations upon the trade. It is very probable that if this does occur, there will be an immediate demand from the archaeology lobby for these regulations to also be imposed within the EU and the UK.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Misrepresentation and Deception

Apparently things have gotten rather slow in the English language instruction business in Warsaw.

The focus is now back on "the pirates over on the Yahoo antiquities collecting forum" where "the scum" involved in "the Great Antiquities Trade Scam" seek to "launder antiquities by misdescription." Said "scum" are accused of "trying to avoid a customs official of the importing country ... asking for verifiable document of title and adherence to all the relevant procedures concerning entry onto the market and removal from the source country."

The theme of course is that the version of moral rectitude being preached over in Warsaw requires that anyone sending antiquities from one nation to another must describe them in a manner that openly states (and maybe even highlights) their "true nature" as "ancient artefacts subject to export controls and scrutiny of the importing country to make sure all procedures have been followed."

The said procedures are further described as including "a customs official of the importing country ... asking for verifiable document of title and adherence to all the relevant procedures concerning entry onto the market and removal from the source country."

(In the case of Yahoo dealers exporting or importing coins) "that is what this would be about if the objects concerned came from a dealer who had acquired them in a manner careless of obtaining the supporting paperwork."

Aha! Yet another regurgitation of the same old "broken record" theme: all antiquities are "illicit" if they are traded without full documentation proving their "licit" origin. Ten years ago, the original version of that theme allowed for traceability to a collection predating the 1970 UNESCO Convention being considered "licit origin." Recently it seems that now even this isn't good enough, if the "nation of presumptive origin" had restrictive laws predating that Convention.

Never mentioned in all this monotonous moralizing is the real issue: carrying on the international trade in antiquities would be practically impossible, if "full documentation proving 'licit' origin" is required. While the real objective of all this is to suppress antiquities collecting by attacking the trade that supports it, the blogger in question  has never admitted that (even though it's obvious to the rest of us) which seems to this observer to be utter hypocrisy and misrepresentation, of a character worse than what he accuses the "pirates over on the Yahoo antiquities collecting forum" of practicing.

This blogger's refusal to own up to his true goals, while hypocritically attacking antiquities collectors and their suppliers, led to unending controversy and his eventual expulsion from the Moneta-L and Ancient Artifacts groups by their listowners, and to his being driven away from the Unidroit-L group (now inactive) by an ad hoc coalition of members who saw through his false pretenses.

Friday, April 21, 2017

More Maladministration of the 1983 CCPIA

Taking a Closer Look At The Evidence

This image appears in an Obama Administration PR release from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency

ICE, CBP seize illegally imported ancient Roman coins

Further images of coins involved in the seizure appear here:

These images are, of course, not of sufficiently high quality to allow for reliable attribution, however they have been examined by interested collectors, and it seems clear that some of these coins were struck in Middle Eastern mints, and are therefore clearly not of "Italian origin."

It unfortunately appears to be the case that the officials involved in deciding whether coins should be detained in Customs for "illegal importation" are either not competent to accurately identify the actual location of their manufacture, or far worse, are ignorantly assuming that "Roman means Italian."

Italy was only one province of the enormous Roman Empire. At the time these coins were struck there were more than twenty active mints, most of which were located outside the borders of modern Italy. All of these mints had their own identifying marks, just as do US mints today. Collectors of the coins of the later Roman Empire understand these mint marks, which first appeared in the late Third Century a. d.

There are many ways in which maladministration of the law causes injustice and unfair hardships to law-abiding citizens. One of these ways is the unjustifiable and detestable practice of arbitrarily refusing importation of objects whose appearance merely resembles items included in the "Restricted List" published after the implementation of a Memorandum of Understanding with a state requesting import restrictions on ancient artifacts. That unfair and unreasonable practice enables an official to order Customs detention without going to the trouble of carrying out a detailed investigation, and places the entire burden of the investigation upon the importer, who then must assemble entirely at his own expense (and without much time to do so) a documentation package proving "legal origin" of the artifacts.

"Guilty until proven innocent" is a standard that the archaeology lobby very much desires should be applied to every ancient artifact. However, it is not a standard that is in any way compatible with with the time-honored traditions of English Common Law, which became the origin of both the British and US Constitutions, and the legal rights of citizens of the English-speaking nations.

It is to be hoped that the impending review and restructuring of the US State Department and the Department of Homeland Security will include elimination of the scandalous maladministration of the 1983 CCPIA.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Reorganizing the US State Department

US Implementation of the 1970 UNESCO Convention Should Be Transferred to the Department of Commerce
The White House has solicited input from the public concerning reorganizing the Executive branch of government.

On behalf of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild, Peter Tompa made the following request that the US State Department should be reformed:

"The State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and its Cultural Heritage Center should be reformed by moving the Cultural Property Advisory Committee and decision making on import restrictions on cultural goods to the Department of Commerce.

The Cultural Heritage Center has mal-administered the Cultural Property Implementation Act.  That well considered statute was meant to balance the interests of the public, the trade, museums and archaeologists in coming up with import restrictions which were to be limited in time and in scope to objects of cultural significance first discovered within and subject to the export control of a specific UNESCO State party.  Instead, the anti-trade and anti-collecting biases of the extremists within the archaeological lobby have been allowed to dominate.  The result has been very broad restriction on all cultural artifacts from placed on a given culture.  These restrictions have gravely damaged legitimate collecting and people to people cultural exchanges it engenders at $0 cost to the US taxpayer.  Instead, the Cultural Heritage Center has promoted expensive academic projects and studies of looting that have cost the US taxpayer millions of dollars with little to show for it.  In addition, it has required little, if any, self-help measures from other countries, placing most of the burden of policing the area on US Customs, which is ill equipped to perform the job in a manner that is fair to importers. 

Moving CPAC and decision-making to the Commerce Department would likely break this cycle and return our policy for imposing import restrictions back to a more targeted, fair approach."


Dr. Tompa's request is appropriate and sensible. I would add that the administration of the Cultural Property Implementation Act should be placed under the direction of an experienced administrative law judge, as I discussed in this post:

Political Correctness Loses