Thursday, August 15, 2013

Numismatics Is A  Science
by Paul Barford

"Coin collectors like to dignify their acquisitive habits by calling it numismatics and suggesting it is a discipline (though apparently one without a formalised methodology of its own). They claim that we have to allow them to buy smuggled coins no-questions-asked, because the other approach (getting them to acquire these study material responsibly like in other disciplines) would in some way hold up the science."



The remainder of Mr. Barford's remarks in this post reiterate his well-known insistence that "the archaeological record" is "irreparably damaged" whenever ancient coins find their way into the hands of collectors without a documented record of their provenance being preserved.

Numismatic experts have observed that creating and maintaining such provenance records for objects of small value (nearly all ancient coins, for example) isn't economically feasible. Neither Mr. Barford, nor any other advocate of the thesis that provenance records must be created and maintained for all ancient artifacts, has ever attempted to address the economic issues of documenting provenance.

Practical realities evidently count for little or nothing in the perspective of such fanatics, who never mention in their incessant ant tiresome moralizing that there is no legal requirement mandating such provenance records. The term "illicit," which in plain English means "illegal," is falsely and unjustifiably being used to describe coins and other ancient artifacts that are lawfully traded and collected without provenance.

That necessary observation is all that will be said upon that subject. The real reason for this post is the provocative, disparaging and extremely misleading terminology of  Barford's first two sentences.

Let's consider this statement:

"Coin collectors like to dignify their acquisitive habits by calling it numismatics and suggesting it is a discipline (though apparently one without a formalised methodology of its own)."

Apparent to whom? 

Mr. Barford actually knows very little about the subject he ignorantly disparages in these ill-chosen words. Numismatics is in reality a recognized science dating back to the 14th century, with a long-established formal methodology for classification and analysis cf coin types, and of the dies used to strike coins. The first numismatic book, Budé’s De Asse (an erudite treatise on the cast bronze coinage of the Roman Republic) was published in 1515. Fulvio’s Illustrium Imagines, published in 1524 with many fine engravings, was the first illustrated numismatic book,

Archaeology on the other hand has a fieldwork methodology and publication  format that traces back only so far as the excavations of Knossos, by Arthur Evans (1900-1905),  and of Tutankamen's tomb by Howard Carter (November 1922). Previous field work by Schliemann and at Pompeii/Herculaneum is today regarded as only the first tentative steps beyond organized tomb robbing. The seminal publications of Evans and Carter came four centuries after these first printed numismatic books, and since De Asse was published only seventy years after the Gutenberg Bible, they are among the first printed scientific works.

As an organized science, numismatics is four centuries senior to archaeology. It has a vast printed literature. This was preceded by two centuries of handwritten letters and illustrated manuscripts which circulated between leading numismatists. For examples of lithographic reproductions of modern illustrated manuscripts that remain  essential references today, see Ivan Tolstoi's "Monnaies Byzantines" (1912-14, with Russian manuscript text), W.H. Valentine's finely handwritten "Copper Coins of India (1914)" and David Sellwood's calligraphed "Introduction to the Coinage of Parthia (1980)."

Mr. Barford undoubtedly knows his own subject, having published a significant work on early Slavic cultures, however he is disagreeably inclined to caustically disparage the views and work of those who do not agree with his extreme personal bias against licit collecting of unprovenanced antiquities, the antiquities trade, and metal detectorists who lawfully discover and excavate antiquities on private land.

This observer believes that Mr. Barford would do well to learn more about numismatics, and metal detecting (which has transformed British archaeology), before venting disparaging, ill-founded criticism based upon nothing better than his own prejudice against collecting.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Evan Ryan Nominated to be Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs
by Peter Tompa

On July 8, 2013, President Obama nominated Evan Ryan to serve as the new Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.  The Senate Foreign Relations Committee acted on  Ms. Ryan's nomination with unusual dispatch, holding a hearing on July 30th and reporting the nomination favorably out of Committee on August 1, 2013.

In her new post, Ms. Ryan will be the deciding official for import restrictions under the CPIA.  One can only hope that she will receive honest assessments about the issues each MOU raises, particularly where there is an effort (as in the case of China and Italy) to preclude Americans from enjoying access to the exact same artifacts that are widely traded within those same countries.  But, more likely, it will be business as usual.

Evan Ryan, Nominee for Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs, Department of State
Evan Ryan served as Assistant to the Vice President and Special Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement, a position she held from 2009 to 2013. Prior to this, she was Deputy Campaign Manager for the Biden for President Campaign. Previously, Ms. Ryan was a Consultant for the Education Partnership for Children of Conflict. In 2006, she served as Political Director of Unite Our States and prior to that, she was Deputy Chair in Governance for the Clinton Global Initiative in 2005. From 2003 to 2004, she served as a Deputy Director of Communications for the John Kerry for President Campaign, and before that as the Director of Scheduling for Hillary Clinton’s 2000 Senatorial campaign. Ms. Ryan previously served in the White House from 1994 to 2000, including as Deputy Director of Scheduling for the First Lady from 1997 to 2000 and as Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff to the First Lady from 1994 to 1997. From 2003 to 2008, she served on the board of Peace Players International and from 2008 to 2013, she was a Term Member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Ms. Ryan received a B.A. from Boston College and a M.I.P.P. from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.



Every time there is a change in the politically appointed leader of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, there is also an opportunity for the new Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs to realize that this Bureau is administering U.S. responsibilities relating to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. in a manner that is inconsistent with the law, unfair to more than 50,000 US citizens who collect ancient coins, and unfair to the small businesses which supply these collectors.

Cultural Heritage Center Director Maria Kouroupas and her staff do good work in helping to preserve ancient monuments and other really important cultural heritage resources. However, not everything that is ancient is important. Vast quantities of objects which archaeologists describe as "artifacts" have survived from the millennia of antiquity until the present day, and many of our citizens desire to collect them, as do citizens of other nations.

Some artifacts are so common that they have, over the centuries, been transformed into commodities. There are roads in Turkey paved with pottery shards. During the 19th century the mummified bodies of millions of ancient Egyptian cats were loaded into British ships and transported to England, where they were ground up to become fertilizer.

Among these very common artifacts are ancient coins, which were issued in enormous quantity because during antiquity, there were no credit cards, checking accounts or derivative financial instruments other than coins with which to buy necessities of life and pay for governmental obligations, such as the military and public works. During the Constantinian dynasty, hundreds of millions of Roman bronze coins were struck each year in more than twenty Imperial mints, each with numerous workshops. Tens of thousands of slaves and free artisans labored in the production of this coinage. From the invention of coins in the 7th century B.C. until the fall of Constantinople in 1453 A.D., a period of two thousand years, many billions of ancient coins were produced. It is estimated that at least one in a thousand have survived until the present, so that many millions -- in this observer's opinion, more than a hundred million -- exist today.

Ancient coins have been treated as collectible commodities since the 14th century, and very few of them have a recorded provenance. Collectors historically have only been interested in recording provenance for coins with high value or a notable past, for example those which originated in an important hoard, or which were once part of a significant collection. Individual collectors typically accumulate hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of specimens.

Archaeologists, however, do not think of artifacts as collectibles. Many archaeologists are adamantly opposed to the private ownership of antiquities and to the trade that supplies collectors.

Among these archaeologists is Maria Kouroupas, whose entire thirty year tenure as the leader of the Cultural Heritage Center and its predecessors has been devoted to opposing, restricting and hampering the antiquities trade, including the licit, scholarly and honorable trade which for many centuries has supplied collectors of ancient coins. Since July 16th 2007, under her administration the US State Department has imposed restrictions on importation of ancient coins "of Cypriot types" issued prior to AD 235. To this ban have subsequently been added import restrictions on coins of Italian, Greek and Chinese origin.

These restrictions invoke a doctrine of "presumptive origin," which holds that the place of origin is the place where an artifact was made, or where it is most commonly "found in the ground." This contravenes the legally accepted definition of origin -- the place of modern discovery.

As a result it is becoming difficult for US collectors and dealers to participate in European sales, and hampers the right of individuals to transport their collections or stock across the borders of the USA.

In the opinion of this observer, the Kouroupas regime has gone much too far in extending the "remedy" of import restrictions, originally authorized by Congress only as an emergency measure to temporarily deter out of control and rampant looting and pillaging of important artifacts and hacked-off pieces of larger monuments, to apply to relatively insignificant mass-produced artifacts such as coins, scarabs, amulets, common jewelry and common pottery such as oil lamps.

The "cure" has become far worse than the disease, and this situation seemingly will never end as import restrictions are routinely renewed without the critical review and searching investigation that Congress specified.

Perhaps the new Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs will understand that justice and fairness have been subordinated to the fanaticism of Kouroupas and her staff, and that the public interest is not well served by their one-sided and unfair maladministration of the 1983 CCPIA. Perhaps something will finally be done to restrain their evident desire to strangle and ultimately suppress collecting of, and trade in, common ancient artifacts such as coins.

Peter Tompa is perhaps the most knowledgeable observer of the manner in which the Cultural Heritage Center operates, and his opinion that "it will be business as usual" is distressing.