Friday, August 26, 2011

ACCG to appeal Baltimore case dismissal

Board Authorizes Baltimore Appeal
By Wayne G. Sayles

On August 23, 2011 the ACCG Board of Directors voted in favor of a proposal that authorizes an appeal of the decision rendered in Baltimore by District Court Judge Catherine C. Blake on August 8. The initial motions in the case led to oral arguments on the government's motion to dismiss. Judge Blake subsequently granted that motion for dismissal in a 52-page opinion. ACCG is represented in the case by attorneys Peter Tompa and Jason Ehrenberg of the Washington DC firm Bailey & Ehrenberg.


As reported earlier, the case was essentially dismissed on a technicality. The grounds for appeal distill down to the argument that the ACCG is entitled to have the case tried on its merits, specifically the issues of first discovery and ultra vires review.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

ACCG loses test case involving coin imports

Group tested regulations for Cypriot, Chinese coins

By Steve Roach - Coin World Staff

A United States District Court in Maryland has held that import restrictions on ancient Cypriot and Chinese coins are not subject to judicial review, ruling in favor of the government on a test case initiated in 2009 by the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild.

District Judge Catherine C. Blake’s comprehensive 52-page opinion, filed on Aug. 8, dismissed the ACCG’s case and granted the government’s request for summary judgment. The ACCG is a nonprofit organization “committed to promoting the free and independent collecting of coins from antiquity.”

The United States entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with Cyprus on July 16, 2007, that imposed import restrictions on archaeological material including coins of Cypriot types. The Cyprus action reversed a long-standing tradition that exempted coins from import restrictions. The U.S. State Department restricted certain designated Chinese coins pursuant to an MOU effective Jan. 16, 2009. Thus far, U.S. Customs has not shown a strong interest in enforcing the import restrictions as they relate to coins, which on Jan. 19, was expanded to include certain coins of Italian types.

ACCG initiates a test case

In April 2009, the ACCG purchased 23 low-value ancient Chinese and Cypriot coins from the London coin dealer Spink and imported the coins via a London to Baltimore flight on April 15, 2009. U.S. Customs detained the coins for alleged customs violations upon their arrival in Baltimore and issued a Notice of Detention to “allow for determination of import eligibility and/or requirements.” On May 13, 2009, Peter Tompa, counsel for the ACCG, wrote to Customs formally objecting to the detention of the coins.

Two days later, Customs amended the detention notice to request additional evidence regarding the coins.

On May 27, 2009, the ACCG disclaimed any ability to present such evidence writing that because, “the coins — like the vast majority in circulation in the collector market — have no known ownership history, ACCG cannot say if they were first found in the ground of either China or Cyprus.”

The 23 coins were seized on July 20, 2009, and the ACCG was informed of the seizure the next month. Tompa wrote Customs to formally claim the coins on Sept. 8, 2009. The ACCG brought the lawsuit against Customs, the Commissioner of Customs, the State Department and the assistant secretary of state on Feb. 11, 2010, and filed an amended complaint on July 15, 2010.

In the lawsuit, the ACCG alleged that the actions of both the State Department and Customs in connection with the import of Cypriot and Chinese coin types were “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.”

Court rules against ACCG

The court’s ruling stated that when the government seeks the forfeiture of cultural property subject to import restrictions under CPIA — the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act — the initial burden is on the government to show that the material has been listed by the secretary of the Treasury on a designated list. Once this is shown, the burden shifts to the ACCG to show that the coins were legally importable. Since there is no dispute that the ACCG’s coins appeared on the list, the ruling focused on whether Customs and the other defendants had authority under the CPIA to restrict the importation of those coins.

Analyzing this point, the court found that under the CPIA, Congress assigned various responsibilities to the president and that the actions by the State Department and assistant secretary, while not directly undertaken by the president, derived from the president’s authority under CPIA.


In a novel argument, the ACCG contented that the import restrictions were a violation of the First Amendment, which protects freedom of speech, because the inscriptions and designs on ancient coins is “information or speech” as coins communicate “the ethos of a people, the means by which the ancient society expressed that ethos, and the individual expression of the coin maker.”

Judge Blake wrote that the imposition of the import restrictions were within the constitutional power of the government, and that combating looting and the illegal trade in looted ancient objects that threatens the cultural patrimony of other countries is a compelling government interest.


The ACCG is currently reviewing its legal options, according to an official for the organization.


The legal situation is complex, because the judge did not rule on the substance of the complaint but essentially dismissed the case on a technicality. The following are sound reasons to think that an appeal might prevail:

1) the weakness of her ruling on the extremely important issue of “first discovery.” The State Department has construed this as PROSPECTIVE first discovery, issuing in its MOUs an interpretation that certain coin types will be presumed to have first been discovered in the territory of the requesting nation. That interpretation is not justifiable according to the 1983 CPIA: the place of modern discovery is the country of origin for purposes of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act.

2) the fact that she allowed “ultra vires review,” but then ignored the fact that the ACCG raised the issues to which this related, i.e. “concerted international response,” and the need to consider less onerous remedies first (like requiring regulation of metal detectors).

In other words, there are significant grounds to contend that the State Department is not administering the 1983 CPIA as required by US law. The judge did not address the substance of these issues in her decision, and the ACCG has the right to have these issues judged in a court of law.

Who owns Numismatics?

In a recent rant in his blog, anticollecting archaeoblogger Paul Barford confirms that he simply does not know what he is talking about regarding the science of numismatics:

Numismatics is not and never has been defined or controlled by academia or archaeologists. It is defined by numismatists, those who actually carry on its everyday business and research, and very few archaeologists or academics can by that definition be considered numismatists. Although their contributions are often valuable, academics and archaeologists don't in any sense own this discipline and Mr. Barford's views to the contrary are unrealistic.

Like all but a relative handful of archaeologists and others involved in the pernicious campaign against private collecting of ancient coins, Mr. Barford apparently feels no inhibitions whatsoever about pontificating upon a subject he does not understand and in which he has no actual qualifications.

What Mr. Barford had to say regarding my comment that few on his side of the dispute regarding collecting of unprovenanced ancient coins would do well in a simple test of one's knowledge of the subject is very revealing:

"Welsh then defines "professional expertise" as defined (in the discipline of numismatics) by ability to sort through a bulk lot of ancient coins. We are obviously talking about different things here. Whatever Welsh thinks it is, when I talk about a professional, I mean somebody with qualifications that go beyond mere hand-eye coordination. I think most of us equate the word "professional qualifications" in a discipline as consisting of something on paper, exams passed, courses completed, academic publications in peer-reviewed journals, that sort of thing."

Mr. Barford does not seem to understand that all real numismatists equate the word(s) "professional qualifications" with demonstrable knowledge of the source material, not academic rituals such as those he catalogues above.

A great many real numismatists would agree with me that the most distinguished living numismatist specializing in ancient coins is my colleague David Sear. David Sear has never attended a university, passed an exam, completed an academic course in numismatics, or (to my knowledge) authored an academic publication in a peer-reviewed journal. He has, however, written many of the most important papers and books upon the subject of ancient numismatics. He knows the source material intimately, and can perform sight attributions and authentications perhaps better than anyone else.

If we are to believe Mr. Barford, that sort of practical capability counts for nothing compared to accumulating academic credentials.

It seems to me that Mr. Barford's warped perspective can be exploded by considering the case of a person suffering from a medical disorder, who needs professional assistance. Would such a person be better served by a vocational nurse with no academic degree but extensive practical experience, or a Ph.D. lecturer-researcher without any actual experience in diagnosing and treating patients?

Numismatists - collectors and institutional curators - similarly need expert assistance to ensure that the coins they acquire for their collections are accurately identified and authentic. These capabilities are analogous to medical diagnostic skills, and they are what defines a true professional numismatist, as opposed to the mere accumulation of academic credentials.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Gospel According to St. Paul Barford

In responding to my last post it seems that archaeoblogger Paul Barford may have actually taken leave of his senses:

"... for a number of years I was employed by the editorial board of the Polish academic numismatic journal Wiadomości Numizmatyczne, though sometimes my name appeared on the cover (like vol XLVIII zes. 1 (177), 2004 which I have before me), some of the time it did not.

So actually, I know quite a bit about how professional numismatics looks in a European country where it is well developed. From what Welsh says, it certainly is better developed in the country where I have worked alongside numismatists for many years, than it appears to be in the USA. Far from being a "distributed science", here it has a structure and a place within the academic establishment. Oh, and it also has very close ties with the archaeological establishment. We all work together here, often in the same institutions (see below). In the United States one often hears coineys expressing extreme hatred and loathing for archaeologists ("a wolf in sheep's clothing"), the term is commonly used in coiney circles a pejorative one. I have never heard of that happening here in Poland.

Welsh - in explaining why he himself can call himself a "professional numismatist" while he has no academic qualifications in the field - claims that there are very few university programmes of studies. Well here there are a few in this one country alone. He will find that in Warsaw there's a choice of at least two places to study the subject to doctorate level. It is taught at other Universities too - one of them is Poznan, I think Łódź (I'd have to check that), probably others (we have a lot of universities now).

Welsh says that the reason why he is a professional numismatist but has no formal post as such is that there are only "two dozen" professional numismatists employed anywhere in institutions in general. This I find an odd statement. I studied in London, UCL, Institute of Archaeology, and - among others - learnt Roman archaeology literally (his lectures were very popular) at the feet of Richard Reece who I suspect has more numismatic knowledge in his left foot than Welsh has in his spiteful engineer's head. When a few years later I was working on some material in the storerooms of my local provincial museum, I had my tea breaks with the museum's numismatist; working on material from the same site, I went along to the Ashmolean (that's in Oxford Mr Welsh) where I met two numismatists to discuss the finds, corresponded with another. The British Museum has numismatists, though I've only corresponded with some of them. I've travelled to a number of provincial museums in England doing finds research, I cannot say how many numismatists they employ, but I think that its a fair bet that in England alone between the provincial, national museums and universities there will be more than "two dozen" numismatists employed professionally in that one country alone.

In Warsaw, at the University (Institute of Archaeology) where I studied and then was subsequently employed, I was able to take part in seminars on Early Medieval numismatics led by Stanisław Suchodolski, again a brilliant scholar. In the archaeological Museum I know two numismatists, in the Coin Cabinet of the Royal Castle there are I think several, in the (my) university several in teaching and research posts (Institute of Archaeology), in the Academy of Sciences I think now there is only one (hard times) and one professor emeritus. Certainly in Poland there are more than "two dozen" professional numismatists employed as such. Coin dealers are coin dealers here, no more, no less."

If we are to take this verbiage at face value, then according to the Gospel of St. Paul Barford, the nation of Poland alone can claim to the distinction of having a larger number of qualified "professional numismatists" than the United States, in which it is credibly estimated that roughly half of all ancient coin collectors in the world reside and half of the world's numismatic trade is carried on.

I must begin my remarks by noting that I have nothing at all against the progressive nation of Poland, apart from its being the residence of one of the world's most notorious anticollecting archaeoblogger fanatics.

It seems to this observer that Mr. Barford has once again confused academia and its academic "qualifications" with genuine professional expertise. Could Mr. Barford, when confronted with a tray of 100 randomly selected ancient coins of various types - Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Persian - provide a sight attribution of each coin, as to its issuing authority and type, with an error rate of less than five per cent? I can do that, and so can many (if not most) other US dealers in ancient coins. I believe that my ACCG colleague David Sear (who did not ever attend any university) would have an error rate of zero. David Sear is in my view a far more significant professional numismatist than anyone employed in academia today. His name will be remembered for millennia, when that of Mr. Barford (and probably my name as well) have sunk into obscurity.

I do not think either Mr. Barford or very many of those whom he reveres as "academic numismatists" would do well in such a simple test of elementary qualifications, and I caution all observers to realize that Mr. Barford is apparently afflicted by what is at best confusion, and at worst delusions, as to what really constitutes professional numismatic expertise and qualifications.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Numismatic Qualifications

"Answering" the questions in my last post by what can only be described as a strident rant in one of his many blogs, anticollecting archaeoblogger Paul Barford commented:

Now I have answered (actually again),

....I'd like to address the same questions to you.

In answer to my first question:

>> First: Do you hold a baccalaureate (or higher) degree in archaeology from any accredited university?

he wrote:

> yes thank you.

Which obviously leaves open the questions of what level degree Mr. Barford holds, from which university and when it was awarded.

In answer to my second question:

>> Second: What have you accomplished in the field of archaeology qualifying you to pronounce upon matters regarding numismatic science?

he wrote:

> Coin dealing is not a science. Neither is shopping for coins a science any more than buying or selling fashion shoes, house plants, Agatha Christie books or old Beatles LPs. We are talking about "clean" commerce in the public interest.

This is either confusion as to what numismatic science is (it is actually a distributed science primarily carried on by collectors and dealers, with some additional valuable contributions from academics such as archaeologists) or else a deliberate evasion of the question.

"Coin dealing" (as Mr. Barford puts it) can indeed become a scientific activity, to the extent that one involved in it goes beyond simple commerce and becomes involved in making numismatic discoveries and educating collectors. I have discovered several coin types previously unknown to science. Here is one example:

R2959* 1167 Gallienus: AE Antoninianus (silvered)
Obv. GALLIENVS AVG Rad. & dr. bust r.
Rev. FVNDATOR PACIS Gallienus stg. l., togate, hldg. olive branch
Sear 2959v; unpublished and presently unique (cf. Gobl, MIR 1624)
sl. uneven, oth. gVF, silvered

This specimen may be historically significant because it was struck in an eastern mint, as the Roman Empire began to disintegrate during the last years of the reign of Gallienus. Shapur I of Persia invaded Asia Minor while Gallienus was occupied in unsuccessfully attempting to suppress the usurper Postumus in Gaul. This coin may be the sole surviving evidence of an otherwise unrecorded Roman military campaign against Shapur, or alternatively, of an effort to make peace with Persia.

My website,

is as much about education as it is about selling coins, and is recognized as a valuable resource for those who desire to study ancient numismatics. The "Introduction" page provides a concise self-study course in the subject:

I am also actively involved in research into topics of significant numismatic interest. One example is this monograph, published on the Classical Coins website:

Lathe Machining of Bronze Coin Flans

This hypothesis has been widely recognized in numismatic circles as the most convincing explanation for spiral tool marks observed on many large ancient bronze coins.

Another example is this compilation of diagnostic and conservation methods for coins and other artifacts suffering from "bronze disease" :

Bronze disease is a self-sustaining corrosion process, which can destroy a bronze artifact (such as a coin) in a relatively short period of time. It is a principal cause of deterioration and eventual destruction of ancient bronze artifacts (the Capitoline Wolf statue has been severely damaged by bronze disease).

In answer to my third question,

>> Third: Apart from your brief archaeological career, what qualifications do you claim, to represent yourself as being an expert in numismatic science?

Mr. Barford wrote:

> None whatsoever, but we are talking about a commercial activity, not any kind of "science" [37 years is not really all that "brief", its longer than you've been a coin seller]

I dealt with the issue of whether numismatics can be considered a science above. As to the length of my numismatic career, it actually began in 1963 when I was employed by Willoughby's in Los Angeles, at that time one of the largest numismatic firms in the USA.

During this period I wrote many well received articles for publications such as "Coin World," "World Coins" and journals of societies devoted to the study of ancient numismatics, and gained recognition as an expert in detecting forgeries and ancient numismatics, which was then pursued by only a few dealers in the USA. I left Willoughby's in 1965 to become a self-employed dealer in ancient coins. Two years later, I gave that business up because I did not have enough capital to make a decent living at it. During a long second career as an engineer, technical executive and expert consultant, I was able to accumulate enough capital to be able to resume my numismatic career.

That came in 1995 when I began development of the Classical Coins website and acquiring inventory toward the day it would begin operations, which took place eight years later in 2003.

Thus, I have been active as a professional numismatist during the years 1963-1967 and continuously since 1995, a total of twenty years which is perhaps twice as long as the duration of Mr. Barford's actual employment in the field of archaeology.

In answer to my fourth question,

>> Fourth: If you do not (as I believe) have significant demonstrable qualifications in the field of numismatic science, why do you venture to assert that you have any right to criticize and instruct those who do have such significant demonstrable qualifications in the field of numismatic science, as to what they may or may not ethically do?

Mr. Barford wrote a long rant, from which I will address these two extracts:

> Because we are not talking about a science of importing coins legally. There is no such discipline.

This is once again evading the question. Of course there is no such science as "importing coins legally," any more than there is a science of "excavating Egyptian tombs." "Importing coins legally" is instead one of many aspects of being a professional numismatist.

> I have as much right to disapprove of a form of commerce in archaeological artefacts which is leading to damage to sites and monuments as I do to express my disapproval of the form of commerce and consumption that endangers whales, rhinos and our urban green spaces.

Mr. Barford is completely misled if he actually believes that collecting unprovenanced ancient coins has anything to do with "damage to sites and monuments." There is no credible evidence to support such an assertion.

Finally Mr. Barford attempts to turn the tables by asking me to answer the same questions regarding my qualifications as a professional numismatist:

> First: Do you, David Welsh, hold a baccalaureate (or higher) degree in numismatic science from any accredited university in the US or abroad?

I hold baccalaureate and master's degrees in Engineering. No accredited university in the USA (and only a few elsewhere in the world) offers a degree program in numismatics. To my knowledge there is only one dealer in the United States who has a university degree in numismatics - Jonathan Kern. A degree in numismatics is not, obviously, a required qualification for following numismatics as a profession.

> Second: What have you, David Welsh, accomplished in the field of numismatic science (publications in accredited peer-reviewed numismatic journals, book chapters, conference papers not cribbed from Wikipedia) qualifying you to claim the academic authority to pronounce upon matters regarding numismatic science?

I don't claim any "academic authority" - only professional expertise. I have above discussed my career as a professional numismatist in enough detail to establish that my qualifications in that field are as good as Mr. Barford's qualifications in the field of archaeology. As to numismatic publications, I wrote many well received articles between 1963 and 1967. Since then I have published on my website.

> Third: Apart from your brief career as a part time numismatic dealer, what qualifications do you claim, David Welsh, to enable you to represent yourself as being an expert in numismatic science?

Twenty year is not "brief," and I have addressed my qualifications in detail above.

> Fourth: If you do not (as I believe) have significant demonstrable academic qualifications in the field of numismatic science, why do you, David Welsh, venture to assert that you have any right to criticize and instruct others as to what conservation concerns they may or may not raise about the no-questions-asked commerce in dugup ancient artefacts of any type?

I have the same right any professional does to criticize those who engage in unjustified innuendoes and accusations regarding my profession. Such unjustified innuendoes and accusations have made Mr. Barford notoriously unwelcome in every online discussion forum he has participated in, except for Unidroit-L (a discussion list on the topic of cultural property law) of which I am the founder and listowner.

Mr. Barford ends his rant with a characteristic (and utterly misinformed) sneer:

> I think there is a great difference between a professional numismatist working for a museum, such as the British Museum, or the Fitzwilliam, or Yale University, and somebody who merely sells dugup coins.

Mr. Barford's profound ignorance regarding ancient numismatics as a profession goes very far toward explaining his antagonistic attitude toward dealers in ancient coins. I do not believe that there are more than perhaps two dozen "professional numismatists working for a museum, such as the British Museum, or the Fitzwilliam, or Yale University," or holding teaching appointments in universities. As I pointed out above, numismatics is a distributed science, and the vast majority of professionals in the field of ancient numismatics are dealers. Dealers and expert collectors have contributed perhaps ten times as much to the immense literature that has been published on that subject as have academics and those employed by institutions.

Clean Trade according to Barford

Archaeoblogger Paul Barford shouts imprecations at the US coin collecting community:

Well, Mr. Barford, it now seems appropriate to inquire a bit further into the question of who you are, to presume to instruct US coin collectors or dealers as to what we may or may not ethically do?

I have three questions I would like to ask, not that I really believe there is any possibility you would respond with an honest factual reply.

First: Do you hold a baccalaureate (or higher) degree in archaeology from any accredited university?

Second: What have you accomplished in the field of archaeology qualifying you to pronounce upon matters regarding numismatic science?

Third: Apart from your brief archaeological career, what qualifications do you claim, to represent yourself as being an expert in numismatic science?

Fourth: If you do not (as I believe) have significant demonstrable qualifications in the field of numismatic science, why do you venture to assert that you have any right to criticize and instruct those who do have such significant demonstrable qualifications in the field of numismatic science, as to what they may or may not ethically do?