Thursday, November 03, 2011

Bulgarian MOU Comment Statistics

The latest comment submissions all appear to be recorded now. There were a number of website problems on the last two days of the comment period which resulted in some comments being recorded as having been posted on 11/3. Here is the statistical breakdown:

342 commented registering an objection to coins being included in the MOU

13 commented supporting coins being included in the MOU


146 commented approving of the MoU;

353 commented disapproving of the MoU.

The actual total of relevant comments was 499 (not 504 as recorded on the DOS website) -- a couple of people (including one AIA member) were so confused that their comments indicated they thought they were replying to the Belize request instead of the Bulgarian request.

The result to the nearest percentage point is 71% Against, 29% For.

Especially significant is this response from one AIA member requesting that coins should NOT be included:!documentDetail;D=DOS-2011-0115-0503
<;D=DOS-2011-0115-0503 >

This courageous AIA member, Gerard Casale, did not run with the herd but remained an independently thinking individual.

That was not typical of most others in the archaeology camp. Most of the late AIA generated responses were due to a late email campaign by the AIA -- the majority clearly having been hastily written by cut and paste methods from templates provided for them by the AIA.

That sharply contrasts with the clearly thought out posts from US collectors (and a few coin dealers such as myself) protesting the expected inclusion of ancient coins in the forthcoming Memorandum of Understanding. These pro-collecting comments are well worth reading. All of them express genuinely sincere, individually composed opinions.

There was no robosigning in any of this public pro-collecting commentary, no easy and unthinking adding of one's name to a carefully composed and organizationally drafted petition. Instead we here confront a body of sincere, deeply felt and individually composed evidence attesting to the reaction of US coin collectors outraged by the unreasonable and unfair manner in which the US State Department maladministers the 1983 CCPIA implementing US accession to the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

A greater number of the late AIA responses (9) mentioned coins, as it was obviously important for them to do so if they looked at the comments made up to that point. In all, only 14 members of the AIA seem to have understood the issues well enough to mention coins, and one of these did not want coins to be included at all! That's a really pathetic response, considering their huge claimed membership (the circulation base of Archaeology magazine).

Responders opposing the Bulgarian MOU and its prospective inclusion of coins improved slightly upon the 70% of responders who had objected to the Greek MoU.

John Hooker compiled these statistics for the ACCG.


Once again, US citizens interested in ancient artifacts have made it clear that they strongly disapprove of import restrictions, especially the prospect of import restrictions on coins.

Once again, the State Department's Cultural Heritage Center had already negotiated the details of recommendations that will eventually be made by the CPAC supporting what the Bulgarian government has asked for, prior to the submission of Bulgaria's request. There is every reason to expect that it has long since been decided that ancient coins will be included in the Designated List.

Once again, the Cultural Property Advisory Committee process has been nothing more than a deceptive, dishonorable, ritualistic pro forma sham. No facts were actually found. No verification of specific statutory criteria was actually carried out. The legislative intent of Congress will once again be thwarted, and rights of concerned citizens interested in ancient artifacts will once again be ignored - as will be State Department responsibilities to evenhandedly administer the CPAC so as to ensure fair representation and judicious balancing of interests of all concerned parties.

Prior to US accession to the 1970 UNESCO Convention, antiquities experts worried that it would create a "blank check" which would be used to benefit foreign countries and to destroy the US antiquities market, and that the statutory requirement to reach certain findings through consultation with a panel of experts before imposing restrictions would in practice be ritualistic and pro forma. These concerns have become realities. The Cultural Heritage Center bureaucracy, pursuing its ideology-driven agenda to promote interests of US archaeologists in collusion with foreign governments, continually and overtly ignores both the legislative intent of Congress and the legitimate interests and rights of concerned US citizens.

As an interested citizen, I expressed my own intense disgust with this disgraceful maladministration in the public record, where it will hopefully be visible to elected officials, Senators, Representatives and their legislative staffs.

If by some miracle our elected and appointed officials responsible for this process should finally decide to see that justice is actually done to the interests of concerned US citizens, the Bulgarian request will be rejected - and no further import restrictions or renewals will be granted until administration of the CCPIA is reformed, so that the legislative intent of Congress and the rights and interests of collectors are fairly and justly weighed in an open, verifiable process - as the State Department indeed promised when accession to the 1970 UNESCO Convention was under consideration.

Disturbing News regarding Greece

Specter of Greek default rises over G-20 meeting

PM Papandreou calls for emergency cabinet meeting as his government teeters on brink of collapse

Greece's embattled Socialist government was on the point of imploding Thursday as a revolt against Prime Minister George Papandreou's planned referendum on the country's hard-won international bailout package gathered pace.

The specter of a Greek default and exit from the eurozone hung over a meeting of Group of 20 leaders beginning in Cannes on Thursday, highlighting Europe's frailty just when French president Nicolas Sarkozy wanted to showcase his leadership of the world's major economies.

The summit on the French Riviera had been meant to focus on reforms of the global monetary system and steps to rein in speculative capital flows, but the shockwaves from Greece have upended the talks.

President Barack Obama arrived Thursday morning ahead of separate planned meetings with Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, key players in trying to solve the European crisis.

Obama has been a key player at past G-20 summits. But his role in these two days of meetings, his fifth G-20, will be overshadowed by the situation in Europe.


Earlier Thursday Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos broke ranks with the Prime Minister Papandreou on the referendum proposal, which horrified Greece's international partners and creditors, triggering turmoil in financial markets as investors fretted over the prospect of a disorderly debt default and the country's exit from the eurozone.

Several ministers and lawmakers called for an emergency meeting of the governing Socialists in the Greek parliament, where Papandreou has convened a cabinet session for noon (6 a.m. ET).


French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Merkel told Papandreou at a torrid meeting in Cannes that Athens would not receive a cent more in aid — Greece was due an 8 billion euros aid payment this month — until it votes to meet its commitments to the euro zone.

Earlier Thursday, Socialist lawmaker Eva Kaili also said she would not support the government in Friday's confidence vote.

Kaili urged Papandreou to reverse his decision to call a referendum. Without Kaili's support, the governing Socialists hold a one-seat majority in the 300-member parliament.

On his return with Papandreou to Athens from Cannes, Venizelos issued a defiant statement, saying Greece's euro membership was a historic achievement and "cannot depend on a referendum."

A finance ministry source told Reuters that Venizelos, who was kept in the dark by his Socialist rival about Monday's referendum call, opposed risking a public vote at this crucial moment.

"Under these conditions, a referendum is exactly what the country does not need," the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

More dissident lawmakers in the ruling PASOK party spoke out against a referendum and called for a national unity government or early elections, casting doubt on whether Papandreou can win a confidence vote Friday or pass a bill to hold a plebiscite.


Euro area leaders talked openly for the first time of a possible Greek exit from the 17-nation currency area, seeking to maximize pressure on Athens and to preserve the euro in case of a Greek "no" vote.

Merkel told a midnight news conference that while she would prefer to stabilize the euro with Greece as a member, the top priority was saving the euro, not rescuing the Greeks.

The chairman of euro zone finance ministers, Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, said policymakers were working on possible scenarios for a Greek exit.


France's Europe minister, Jean Leonetti, said bluntly the euro could survive without Greece.



I have previously observed that several European Socialist governments, such as that of the Hellenic Republic of Greece, have for a long time been living far beyond their economic means. Such fiscal irresponsibility cannot go on forever. Debts keep piling up while confidence that they will ever be repaid keeps sinking, and eventually that situation must be dealt with.

It's unclear at the moment whether the Greek people will be able to find a solution that does not involve defaulting on their enormous debt and a consequent exit from the EEU economic system. For Greece, a return to the drachma may temporarily ease their difficulties, however in the long run the Greek currency would suffer a precipitous devaluation which might perhaps bring to mind the economic collapse of the Weimar Republic.

As I pointed out in a previous post,

spendthrift nations such as Greece have a relatively simple (though not necessarily easy) option available to them, which would do much to ease their financial situation. That option does however involve recognition that they cannot afford to maintain their present policies regarding state custody of cultural property.

One thing is certain: economic realities will now control events. As I have pointed out in previous posts, the laws of economics cannot be evaded. No government has the power to supersede these laws. They will inexorably take priority over every transient political, bureaucratic and diplomatic policy decision.

Personally I am very far from certain that the EEU can cope with the impending default and exit of Greece without very serious adverse effects upon the cost of financing the staggering, perhaps insupportable debts of other nations, most notably that of Italy.

Perhaps certain denizens of Foggy Bottom should consider the implications of this reality in making an important impending decision.

Perhaps President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton should also consider the implications of this reality, in deciding whether to leave that impending decision in the control of bureaucrats who have previously made so many other decisions which have ignored economic reality, with consequences seriously adverse to the interests of US citizens.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

A Body of Evidence

Posts from US collectors (and a few coin dealers such as myself) protesting the expected inclusion of ancient coins in the forthcoming Memorandum of Understanding whose details have unquestionably already been negotiated with Bulgaria, are definitely well worth reading. These comments all (including my own probably futile attempt to bring a modest dose of reason and fairness to an inherently irrational and unfair process) express genuinely sincere, individually composed opinions.

There is no robosigning in any of this public pro-collecting commentary, no easy and unthinking adding of one's name to a carefully composed and organizationally drafted petition. Instead we here confront a body of sincere, deeply felt and individually composed evidence attesting to the reaction of US coin collectors outraged by the unreasonable and unfair manner in which the US State Department maladministers the 1983 CCPIA implementing US accession to the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

This impressive body of evidence ought to give every State Department official, and every other elected or appointed official in the Obama administration who is in any way involved with US cultural heritage policy, reason for serious reflection as to how US citizens perceive the actions of unelected bureaucrats entrusted with the administration of US cultural heritage policy.

Such a reason for reflection of course does not imply that anyone in the present administration can be expected to devote any attention to this situation. We have long ago seen that no one in the Executive branch of government has paid any significant attention to such issues at any point during the past fifty years. Instead the rights and interests of US collectors interested in minor antiquities such as ancient coins have always been viewed as insignificant compared to transient considerations that motivate the State Department to enter into bilateral agreements with foreign governments.

The inescapable conclusion many tens of thousands of US collectors of minor antiquities such as ancient coins now confront is that they cannot trust their government, nor expect just treatment regarding their interest in collecting minor antiquities. This is a disgraceful and reprehensible state of affairs that demands corrective action.

Unless State Department maladministration of the 1983 CCPIA is significantly reformed, so that its provisions will once again be administered in the fair, evenhanded and judicious manner that was clearly the legislative intent of Congress, I can see no alternative to a long-term legislative campaign to repeal US accession to the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

We have recently seen the clearest possible evidence that UNESCO is an organization inherently opposed to and relentlessly working to undermine essential principles and aspects of US foreign policy, notably US support for the continued existence of Israel and a secure Jewish homeland within the historical borders of ancient Palestine.

It is now inescapably clear that UNESCO has become a dangerous threat to important US foreign policy interests, and that the 1970 UNESCO Convention is an agreement being inappropriately exploited for transient diplomatic purposes inimical to the rights and longstanding legitimate interests of large numbers of US citizens.

It is time to send a clear and unmistakeable message to the UN and to all who seek to use that pernicious organization as a tool for promoting corrosive anti-American goals. The United States should now permanently withdraw from UNESCO, in the process denouncing and repealing US accession to all UNESCO conventions, particularly the unjustly and unfairly administered 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Cultural Property.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

ACCG Appeal Brief Text

The ACCG's 57 page appeal brief, written by Peter Tompa, has now been uploaded to the Unidroit-L files archive. Its address is

Apologies for this extremely long URL which will undoubtedly wrap. The full original url is provided according to my standard archival practice, in case the tinyurl equivalent which follows ever should expire. Here is that address, which will not wrap:


This brief is a very important document, both because of the significance of this test case, and also because it is virtually a legal textbook on the subject of the State Department's biased maladministration of the 1983 CCPIA. Peter Tompa has done a superb job in creating this masterful exposition of the law and the many complex and thorny issues involved. His expertise and wisdom have never appeared to better advantage than in this brief. Clearly, his heart was really in this effort.

Perhaps its most significant virtue (apart from completeness and accuracy) is its impressive clarity and readability.

ACCG Test Case Update

Brief Filed in ACCG Test Case
by Peter Tompa

The ACCG has filed this brief in the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit seeking the reversal of Judge Blake's dismissal of its case to test the validity of import restrictions on coins of "Cypriot type" or coins "from China." See

This is from the summary of argument:

The District Court acknowledged that judicial review is appropriate where the Executive’s discretion is limited by statute, but then failed to consider whether the Assistant Secretary, ECA operated outside the law when she imposed import restrictions on ancient coins. Moreover, the District Court’s ruling turns the APA’s presumption of reviewability on its head. At a bare minimum, the District Court should have considered whether the Assistant Secretary, ECA, complied with the CPIA’s requirements or acted ultra vires, and also should have conducted a more thorough, APA-style review of the final agency actions to impose import restrictions on Cypriot and Chinese coins. Finally, the District Court’s rulings that it was unnecessary for China to ask for import restrictions on coins or for the Government to comply with the CPIA’s “first discovery requirement” are at odds with the plain meaning of the CPIA. In particular, extending import restrictions to all unprovenanced coins raises constitutional problems that could be avoided if the “first discovery requirement” were given its plain meaning.

Numismatic News Article on Bulgarian MOU

Bulgaria Seeks Import Restrictions
by Mark Fox, Numismatic News

Bulgaria has now joined Cyprus, China, Italy and Greece in asking the United States to restrict the importation of certain antiquities originating from within their borders.

The agreed to wishes of Greece haven’t been made public yet, and Bulgaria is still under consideration, but in the cases of the first three, ancient coins were successfully restricted in bilateral agreements known as Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs).

Collectors have until midnight Nov. 2 to make their opinions, pro or con, heard on the Bulgarian restrictions. Public comments were to be submitted to the State Department’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) at:!submitComment;D=DOS-2011-0115-0001 .

Only 199 comments had been submitted as of October 25. As they stand, they are unlikely to help sway decisions in either direction.

Several prominent coin dealers and auction houses, including Classical Numismatic Group (CNG) and Harlan J. Berk, Ltd., have already alerted their customers about Bulgaria’s request for an MOU with the U.S. and its possible implications on the hobby if implemented. Use of this public venue to influence the outcome of the upcoming deliberations is also supported and urged by the American Numismatic Association.

Without proper records tracing their chain of ownership to before the dates the MOUs were implemented, ancient Cypriot and Chinese coins, including some issues of medieval Chinese, as well as ancient coins of “Italian type,” are all subject to possible confiscation if imported into the US.


On the other hand, coins subject to import restrictions that are already in the U.S. may freely travel within its borders and even be exported. Importation is the issue, along with corresponding proof that the coins had legally entered the U.S.


“The request from Bulgaria for import restrictions on cultural property is disingenuous at best,” said Wayne G. Sayles, founder and current Executive Director of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG), “because the Bulgarian government is not serious about enforcing their own laws internally.”

Why should the U.S. collector be subjected to sanctions that Bulgaria itself has little stomach for? Sayles asked.

“Ancient coins from Bulgaria are like pollen from a cedar – they are everywhere and land wherever they please, Sayles said. “Trying to suppress the market for ancient coins from Bulgarian mints is absurd, but the U.S. State Department has never let absurdity deflect its ambitions.”

Why the Bulgarian MOU should be especially worrying to coin collectors of all stripes is that while the proposed list of restricted objects is still hush hush, the time span involved is enormous.

In the official U.S. government notice, which can be read on the website here:!documentDetail;D=DOS-2011-0115-0001, import restrictions are requested for “archaeological and ethnological material from Bulgaria dating to the Neolithic Period (7500 B.C.) through the nineteenth century A.D.” In other words, even modern coin issues (most likely hammered Ottoman types) could be at stake as well.

However, the dim forecast concerning their ancient counterparts should not be taken lightly either. The area of what now is Bulgaria was home to numerous ancient peoples who struck coinage under the direction of early Greek cities (such as Apollonia Pontika, Mesambria, and Odessus), Thracian tribes (as in the Derroni and Orreski) and kings (Kotys I, Seuthes III, Lysimachus, etc.), various Roman emperors, and later by Byzantine and other medieval rulers. For many new collectors, the first ancient coins in their collections were likely unearthed in Bulgaria, whether they were coins of Lysimachus, Roman provincial issues struck for the city of Marcianopolis, Nicopolis ad Istrum, Serdica, or Philippopolis, or Roman imperial bronzes minted during the time of Constantine or later.

The motives for requesting the Bulgarian MOU with the U.S. mirror all the others before it: to reduce looting, smuggling, and the destruction of archaeological artifacts and the knowledge gained from them when properly excavated. Clearly these are serious problems that must be addressed, as most numismatists will agree, but to hinder important numismatic research afforded by coin collecting is a hard pill to swallow for most.

Moreover, whether the restrictions, if passed, will even achieve the two countries’ goals has been a subject of considerable doubt. Significantly stricter antiquity laws long endured by collectors and scholars on the Bulgarian side have done little if anything to curb systematic looting at all levels of Bulgarian society. One Bulgarian numismatist outlined for this writer a rare description of what recently happened in his country:

This recent MOU-request of the Bulgarian government is directly linked with the new ‘Antiquities Act’ in Bulgaria—enforced since 10th April 2009 (published in ‘State Gazette’, no.19, of 13 March 2009; full text here: — in Bulgarian, Google it). It was harshly criticized and much debated on all sides and parties; there were a couple of great public disputes; nobody liked it, but it was finally accepted by the previous government (dominated by BSP—the former communists). More recently (in July 2011) two to three minor amendments of that law were passed by the National Assembly, but in effect it is enabled unchanged, however useless and incomplete it is.

According to its regulations, everything found in the lands of modern Bulgaria dating from the Neolithic period to the early 1900s is defined as “national cultural values” equal “antiquity” belongs to the state and cannot be exported (without a special permission by the Ministry of Culture [very hard, nearly impossible to get in fact]).


The law also obliged all collectors to declare all their possessions within a some six- to nine-month period (with an expensive and very slow bureaucratic procedure). Do you know what happened in reality? Of the some 50,000 coin collectors in this country (enlisted in the early 1990s at the numismatic clubs), only around 150-200 collections were de facto declared by this law. The rest simply vanished, buried in bank safes, hidden in the ground, etc. The owners just did not want to bother. Much of it will be exported/smuggled and will finally reach the market, no doubt.