Friday, January 28, 2011

Barford the Ignoramus

In the ongoing debate between "cultural property retentionism" and antiquities collecting Paul Barford has often taken provocative stances which demanded exposition of his social views regarding private collecting.

I have previously clarified my views regarding Mr. Barford's opinions as an archaeologist. The purpose of this post is to expose the limitations of his q.v. expertise.

Mr. Barford pretends in excruciatingly voluminous yet utterly misleading online utterances to an understanding of issues regarding private collecting of antiquities, which is neither accurate, nor ever likely to result in anything resembling an enduring settlement of fundamental issues.

Mr, Barford is instead an agent provocateur. He has nothing to offer which might tend to any resolution of issues, but instead seeks to perpetuate and expand upon divisions between collectors and archaeologists -- to the detriment and ultimately the ruination of both.

The true way forward for archaeology and collecting is cooperation. The UK has devised means to implement that in the Portable Antiquities Scheme and Treasure Act, however Mr. Barford has chosen to address his objections to this generally compulsively preservationist approach in terms which distill down to "he who is not with me is against me." As that view evidently includes most of the European world, prospects for Mr. Barford being able to pursue his provocative interests in exploring the early origins of European Slavic cultures seem dim.

Dave Welsh
Unidroit-L Listowner

Barford: A Frustrated Talent

Readers of this blog will be familiar with the ins and outs of my tempestuous and often oppositional relationship with Paul Barford, an archaeologist whose views regarding private collecting of "archaeological artifacts" have led to frequent conflicts in his and my blogs.

In this post I seek to unveil Mr. Barford as perhaps being a possibly once very highly regarded antiquarian talent whose career in archaeology was somehow derailed by processes unclear to me, which have never been publicly explained and which might not stand the light of day if they were now fairly exposed.

Perhaps one of the most burdensome aspects of my conflicting views regarding Mr. Barford is that he is without question a very knowledgeable, perhaps definitive expert in many aspects of archaeology. Whilst I do not include numismatics in that informed appraisal of his professional expertise, I still consider it to be on the whole very impressive. One could fairly characterize my perspective of Mr. Barford as a "love-hate" relationship. I love his impressive expertise. I hate his reckless and (in my view) often irresponsible tendencies to pass judgment upon issues regarding which he is not an expert. I would be glad to pass many agreeable hours in a discussion of the merits of "top brewing" vs. "bottom brewing" with Mr. Barford in a less oppositional environment. I have no doubt that his knowledge of antique brewing practices vastly exceeds anything I could ever hope to attain.

But in struggling with that clearly favorable impression of Mr. Barford, I am also oppressed by my informed view that if Mr. Barford devoted the remainder of his life to an intensive study of numismatics, he could not hope to learn half of what I (or many other experts in that discipline) presently understand.

In taking a rational view of the merits of expert opinion, society long ago came to realize that experts are not infallible, nor are they free from bias. Such a perspective characterizes my informed view of Mr. Barford and his opinions. His views are not evenly founded upon infallible expertise, nor are they unbiased. But still, these views should not be ignored.

In those seven words is a significant statement which I do not now pretend to be able to fully encompass. Others understand Mr. Barford much better than I, perhaps much better than he does himself. Possibly their insights will become available as insights into how the present conflict between collecting and archaeology may ultimately be resolved.

Others, perhaps better qualified than I, have decided to negatively characterize his provocative remarks and often outrageous assertions. But for all the distaste and overt offence that I often feel for the lack of nuanced sensitivity and fairness in Mr. Barford's biased views, that bias, more than anything else, is the reason for which I believe that they cannot be ignored.

There is more than one way to deal with perspectives that are controversial and seemingly irreconcilable. During the worldwide catastrophe that took place between 1939 and 1945, it became clear that doctrinaire pursuit of such conflicts in the face of evidence that they were socially irresponsible had become disastrous to the regimes imposing those conflicts.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Import Restrictions "Check Valve"

In my last post I discussed political and moral implications of the latest State Department outrage against the US collecting community. There is another side to this decision, however, which must also be considered.

As an engineer I am very familiar with a mechanical device known as a "check valve." It is used to control the flow of fluids and gases in order to ensure that these substances pass only in one direction.

The State Department has just placed a "check valve" into the flow of ancient coins between the USA and the rest of the world. The effect of this is to prevent certain types of ancient coins from coming into the USA without documentation that for most practical purposes will prove to be impossible to obtain.

There has since been a great deal of discussion about the practical implications of this "check valve" upon the international numismatic market. Granted, for the moment it applies only to a small subset of all ancient coins. However, the intention of the AIA and its minions in the State Department is clearly to work toward gradually expanding import restrictions until they apply to all ancient coins.

Whilst the ACCG and to some extent the ANA, together with numismatic trade organizations, are fighting to prevent such a development, it seems clear that the State Department intends to continue to behave as though it were a wholly owned and controlled subsidiary of the AIA. No amount of public input, it seems, has any effect upon such decisions. Nor does there seem to be any respect for hallowed concepts such as due process of law, legislative intent, or fairness to the US citizens affected by these decisions. Archaeologie ueber alles!

The only constraints that appear to have any prospect for derailing this anticollecting juggernaut are legal and legislative action.

Legal action has indeed been initiated, and thus far the results (although not completely successful) have been encouraging. There is good reason to expect that the ACCG's FOIA lawsuit decision will be overturned on appeal, perhaps forcing additional and potentially very interesting disclosures regarding the secretive back-room deals that led to the Cyprus and China MOUs.

Meanwhile Italian (and forthcoming Greek) import restrictions add grist to the mill of the Baltimore test case lawsuit. Perhaps the court may take a different view from that of the State Department regarding the importance of public comment and the legislative intent of the 1983 CCPIA. In this observer's opinion, State has been skating on very thin ice for years in its one sided interpretation of this law and in its failure to comply with mandated reporting responsibilities.

While passage of legislation to permanently remedy these inequities will be a lengthy and difficult process, there is a new mood in Congress these days about "Big Brother" style government. Nowhere are such abuses of power more evident than in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Twelve Members of Congress have already voiced their concerns about the one sided manner in which this out of control agency has mismanaged US implementation of the 1970 UNESCO Convention. The Secretary of State has thus far not seen fit to take action to satisfy these concerns. The logical next step would be investigation of this agency by a Congressional subcommittee.

While such reactions to these import restrictions develop and expand, US collectors and dealers must now consider how they should conduct their activities so as to mitigate, as far as possible, the adverse effects of these import restrictions. The first step is to develop a clear understanding of what they mean in practice.

Peter Tompa has provided useful guidance in this article:

One of the murkiest aspects of these restrictions is that they are prospective. Coins of "Italian types" on the Restricted list (like coins of Cypriot and Chinese types before them) are assumed to have been "first found" in the modern state within whose borders they were struck. That is not, however, the accepted legal definition of discovery and it remains quite likely that this assumption will not be sustained when the Baltimore test case eventually progresses to its conclusion.

Meanwhile importers will be required to satisfy a requirement to provide an export permit from the state with which the relevant MOU was negotiated, or evidence that each item involved was outside that state on the date the MOU was agreed to, or ten years prior to the date the item was shipped. The exact nature of such documentation is not specified, however in the past Customs has shown a strong bias toward photographic evidence.

Importers may expect significant inconvenience (and perhaps also expense) if their shipments are detained in Customs. Should Customs elect to detain anything that resembles illustrations in the guidelines with which they are provided, many types of ancient coins that are not actually covered by these restrictions may be detained, with the burden of proof falling upon the importer. It would be wise for US collectors and dealers to whom coins are shipped from auction houses and dealers outside the US to obtain agreements from their sources that the documentation necessary to satisfy Customs will be sent with the coins. At this moment, it is unfortunately not clear as to exactly what form of documentation will be required.

Those who export ancient coins from the USA also have a concern: the ethics of exporting coins without first providing assurance that they may subsequently be reimported. Collectors, even if they are selling out without expectation of collecting again, have an ethical obligation to their fellow collectors in the USA to ensure that their coins do not leave the country without possibility of return. Dealers, even if they do not expect their shipments to be reimported, have a similar obligation. Here again, there is no clear standard as to the required format for documentation. The matter is presently under discussion and hopefully a standard will soon emerge.

If effective action is not taken by US collectors and dealers to provide assurance that their export shipments may subsequently be reimported, the import restrictions "check valve" will gradually deplete all coins on "restricted lists" from the US market. That would have adverse consequences for collectors and the trade, but also for archaeology. The resulting price rises would create a strong incentive to bring such coins into the USA illicitly, perhaps even adding to existing motivation for looters.