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All Posts Tagged With: "Wayne Sayles"

Ancient Coins: How old is “Ancient”?

By Wayne Sayles – Ancient Coin Collecting Blog

The classification of cultures generally tracks along two interrelated lines: chronological and geographical. For centuries, coin collectors struggled with the lack of a coherent system for cataloguing the vast array of issues from antiquity through the modern era. Joseph Eckhel (1737-1798), a secularized Jesuit abbot who served as numismatist to the imperial court of the Holy Roman Empire, devised a system for arranging coins geographically that is still in use today.

This system basically records coins in a progression beginning at the northeast quadrant of the Mediterranean basin and continuing from west to east, then south through the Levant and from east to west through northern Africa. Though far from perfect, nobody has yet devised a better approach for non-Roman coins. The classification of coins and cultures into chronological divisions is far more complex than the Echkel scheme.

Chronologically, the primary divisions of coinage are almost universally accepted as being Ancient, Medieval and Modern. Within the United States, collectors tend to separate U.S. coins from the modern coins of other nations by referring to the latter as “World Coins.” Coins in the West were first struck in Western Anatolia during the 7th century BC. The transition point between ancient and medieval is more difficult to date.

Some would argue that the end of the ancient period is coincident with the fall of Rome in AD 476. Others choose the accession of Anastasius I in AD 491 as the transition point. But, almost everyone who collects “Byzantine” coins thinks of them as being “ancient” even though they start with the accession of Anastasius and end in 1453 with the fall of Constantinople.

Likewise, coins struck in India and Central Asia are typically thought of as ancient up to the Islamic conquests, which did not happen at a single point in time.

Further complicating the chronological classification, coins of the post-Roman era in western Europe (e.g. Spain, Gaul, Britain and Germany) from as early as the sixth century AD are thought of by many as ‘Medieval”.

In fact, by the time of Constantinople’s fall, some coinage in western Europe is already being thought of by collectors and scholars as falling into the “Modern” or “World” classification. The incongruity is difficult to understand and even more difficult to explain to a new collector.

Illustration Note: [Above] Imago Mundi – Babylonian map, the oldest known world map, 6th century BCE .

From a purely practical point of view, the distinction may not be all that important. After all, a rose is a rose…. But, to a cataloguer it is frequently a conundrum. Perhaps the next Joseph Eckhel is reading these lines right now and conjuring up a system that will allow for the vastly differing cultural environments and reshape our definitions in a way that seems sensible.

The Whole Cultural Record

By Wayne Sayles – Ancient Coin Collecting

In the latest issue of Archaeology magazine (Nov-Dec 2010) AIA President Brian Rose proposes an intriguing professional goal, saying — “We must preserve the whole cultural record.” By “We”, I presume that he means archaeologists, since nobody else on the planet would dare to dream so big. We need not guess about what he means by the “whole” record. Dr. Rose decries a series of events from the Damnatio Memoriae of Nero to the anti-Saddam activities of president day Iraqis and views a panoply of destructive events in history as examples of “Iconoclasm”. He makes the interesting statement that “For me, as an archaeologist, there is no excuse for the destruction of cultural property…” he goes on to say “We may never be able to temper the passion for destruction, but we can at least situate those passions in historical perspective and ensure that today’s historical evidence will still be here tomorrow.”

The logic itself escapes me because the “iconoclastic” events mentioned were in themselves cultural acts and just as historical and important as the events they reacted to. Deplorable and despicable as their destruction may have been, are the empty niches of the Bamiyan Buddhas any less a cultural record than the statues that once stood there? His statement is all the more remarkable since some archaeologists have openly advocated destroying cultural property recovered from their excavations, rather than allowing it to fall into private collector hands—and who in fact followed through with the deed.

How, I have to wonder, could everything listed in the UNESCO resolution as “cultural property” be stewarded by archaeologists ad aeternum? Here is the laundry list of items so defined in that resolution—I’ve posted it before, but it’s worth another look:

(a) Rare collections and specimens of fauna, flora, minerals and anatomy, and objects of palaeontological interest;

(b) property relating to history, including the history of science and technology and military and social history, to the life of national leaders, thinkers, scientists and artist and to events of national importance;

(c) products of archaeological excavations (including regular and clandestine)
or of archaeological discoveries ;

(d) elements of artistic or historical monuments or archaeological sites which have been dismembered;

(e) antiquities more than one hundred years old, such as inscriptions, coins and engraved seals;

(f) objects of ethnological interest; (more…)

Ancient Coins: The Yin and Yang – A Smorgasbord of Views on Cultural Property

This week I was treated to a smorgasbord of views on cultural property from members of the archaeological and collecting communities.

On Tuesday morning, I listened with interest to the presentations of several archaeologists at the U.S. State Department’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) in Washington, DC. This was my fifth appearance at a CPAC hearing in as many years. In every case, the general tenor of oral comments by public presenters has reflected a dichotomy of interests—those of collectors versus those of nationalist governments (defended mainly by the archaeological community). The dividing line has always been clear, and not just in the rhetoric that is entered into the public record at these events. Even the informal assemblage of speakers prior to the event (call them gaggles, if you will) is indicative of the diverse philosophical views. I suppose it’s only natural for like-minded people to congregate, but the atmosphere is and has very much been one of “us and them” . This is not to say that either camp is overtly unfriendly, in fact the opposite is true. I think both camps try very hard to be polite and cordial in a personal sense. But camps there are, and gaggle they do.

The Collector camp is comprised mainly of collector advocacy groups. Occasionally, individual collectors, dealers or concerned citizens have appeared or have been represented by counsel. However, the lion’s share of opposition to Memorandums of Understanding these days has come from the Ancient Coin Collecting community and the Art Museum community. The former is represented by advocacy groups, like the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) and the American Numismatic Association (ANA), along with representatives of the numismatic trade and other non-profit organizations like Ancient Coins for Education. The latter is represented primarily by the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD).

The proponents of Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) are primarily the representatives of governments seeking import restrictions and the archaeological community, including its related museums—most of which are institutional. The advocacy group Saving Antiquities For Everyone (SAFE) has consistently supported import restrictions, but has not appeared before CPAC in the public sessions lately. A rather late attempt by SAFE to compile and introduce a petition in support of the MOU with Greece was apparently aborted when it failed to meet the State Department imposed deadline for public comment. (more…)

Ancient Coins: Freedom of Information and New Import Restrictions sought on Greek “Cultural Property”

By Wayne Sayles – Ancient Coin Collecting Blog

Comments related to issues of cultural property management

The Freedom of Information Act, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1966, was born from the notion that “the people” (as in each individual citizen) have a constitutional right to know how the government acts in their behalf. This is of course a democratic notion that nationalist governments do not share. One might wonder at times if it is a notion that the U.S. Government shares?

FOIA has been amended and altered in its execution by Executive Branch order or parallel legislation many times during the past 24 years. While a forest of trees have been exterminated in filling FOIA requests, the amount of information provided to the public has been a matter of constant and continuous concern and variability. What the situation boils down to, in a nutshell, is that the Executive Branch of the U.S. government releases eactly and only what it wants to release and when it wants to release it. The public often is obligated to fight in the courts for the most innocuous of details about some item or action of interest.

Filing a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit is an adventure in frustration—fraught with government impediments. The prosecution of a simple suit can be delayed by repeated government requests for extensions of time and the excruciatingly slow pace of the legal system in general. Then, the ultimate judgement is not always a black and white reflection of law. Political persuasion is not a stranger to the bench, and the outcome of litigation can depend, it seems, nearly as much on luck of the draw as on the merit of arguments presented. The consequence of this cumbersome review process is that the impetus for a request may well be moot by the time a judgement is rendered. The suit itself is sometimes more important, as a statement of dissatisfaction with government, and demand for accountability, than the material that might conceivably be released.

Why should any person, or organization, have to endure the trials and tribulations of litigation against their government to affirm basic rights promised by the law of the land?

The cause of this pervasive and untenable attitude of secrecy and unresponsiveness in American government is its very structure. Law is rightly regarded by the Legislative Branch as a means to assure rights and protections. Elected officials within the Executive Branch typically espouse a similar view. However, neither elected officials nor political appointees are directly involved in the execution and enforcement of law. This key, and often most important, element of any law is delegated to an army of bureaucrats that are directly responsible for that part where the rubber meets the road. The technical authority of politically appointed Secretaries and Undersecretaries, etc., means little in a world of revolving doors. Just as bureaucratic agencies can drag an issue on in the courts for years, they also can “stonewall” the most ardent elected or appointed official with relative ease and virtual impunity. The judiciary often seems, perhaps understandably, reluctant to serve as the nation’s guardian against government excess. (more…)

Ancient Coin Importation Restrictions: Thoughts on becoming a target of the “cultural property” advocates.

By Wayne Sayles – Ancient Coin Collecting Blog

Some people crave attention and will do almost anything to draw a spotlight toward themselves, even if it is outrageous. I’m not one of those people by nature. I much prefer the serenity and seclusion of our pastoral environment here in the Ozarks to the hustle and bustle of the city or the glad-handing that people in the corporate and political world call “networking.”

In fact, my most precious moments have been on a sailboat ghosting along in a light breeze with nothing but sky and water to contemplate. I find an isolated mountain stream equally inviting if I have a rod in hand and a trout waiting to be tempted. Yet, I often find myself drawn to the city and sometimes into the spotlight as a matter of necessity. Why? Having endured all that I could stand of the outlandish criticisms and insults hurled by fanatical archaeologists at the antiquities market, and by extension at my lifelong passion of ancient coin collecting, I felt compelled to speak out.

That happened in 2004, and here I am six years later still speaking out against the same atrocious behavior. If anything, the situation has gotten worse since the antiquities trade and the museum world have essentially abdicated before a combination of foreign and home-grown nationalist attacks. The numismatic community seems to be the only roadblock these days to sweeping nationalist and institutional control of cultural property and thereby to absolute control of history and the record of the past. Is that bad? Only from the point of view of those who favor truth over revisionism or those who feel that culture is as much a personal as a national heritage, or believe in personal property rights and freedoms. Of course it is also bad for the numismatists who have suddenly been thrust into that unwelcome spotlight.

Personally, my career in numismatics dates back some 40+ years and I enjoyed that time in the comfort that the discipline, call it a hobby if you will, was genteel. The relationships between professional and amateur numismatists were not only friendly and cooperative, they were in most cases collegial. Respect flowed both ways. What a difference we see today! Understandably, I’ve become a focal point for criticism, along with others, by virtue of my active opposition to cultural nationalism. That, I expected.

What I did not expect and am sincerely saddened by is the depth of hatred and hostility that permeates the opposition today. Being the focus of an ideological polemic is one thing, but being personally villified and ridiculed by educated people, from a discipline that I once respected, is something entirely different. That sort of verbal barrage has now become a daily event in my life. Initially, I was offended.

My career as an officer in the U.S. military instilled in me a very strong sense of personal pride, integrity and responsibility. I founded the ACCG to create a voice for ancient coin collectors that was conspicuously absent in the face of a growing assault. The numismatic trade in this field had its advocacy groups, collectors had none. I’ve spent the past six years, as a volunteer, working for the interests of collectors. (more…)

A Time to Speak Out – Will Ancient Coins from Italy be Restricted?

The U.S. State Department has announced a date of May 6-7 for Cultural Property Advisory Committee hearings on the request for renewal of the Memorandum of Understanding with Italy. Hopefully your eyes are not already glazed over by this first sentence.

In practical terms, the U.S. government is about to decide whether antiquities and other forms of cultural property that Italy claims as its heritage ought to be restricted from entry into the U.S. unless accompanied by Italian export permits. There is already such an agreement in place, but ancient coins have been exempted twice before in these renewal requests that cover a 5-year window.

We have very good reason to believe that Italy and members of the archaeological community will this time seek to add coins to the list of restricted items.

There is a period open for public comment on the issue and the best way to comment is by fax. Don’t despair, this is VERY easily done. Simply go to the ACCG web site at http://accg.us and click on the Fax Wizard link (picture of U.S. Capitol Building) on the left side of the page. It says “Fax Your Legislator” but will indeed send your message to the State Department. You will be guided through a brief and easy to follow process that sends a free fax to the State Department registering your views.

Why oppose these import restrictions? Because Roman coins are at the very core of the cultural experience that we all treasure. They have circulated all over the known world in antiquity and since through trade and collector markets. It is impossible to distinguish a Roman coin found in Britain, for example, from exactly the same type, mint, etc found in Italy.

Requiring an export permit from Italy on a coin found and legally exported from Britain would not only be impractical, it would not have any legal foundation. Still, any court challenge by an individual is unlikely since the legal costs usually far exceed the value of seized objects.

We simply MUST oppose any expansion of the MOU with Italy to include coins. We must do so with an absolutely resounding voice.

Import restrictions are simply not a viable solution to protecting archaeological sites. They are an idealist panacea that cause far more harm to society than any possible good. Excluding the U.S. collector and trade from the legitimate world market for Roman coins, or unilaterally forcing draconian documentation requirements on Americans, would be grossly prejudicial and would certainly be against the interests of American citizens and their traditional freedoms. (more…)

Collectors Claim Bias Epitomizes State Department Advisory Committee Management

Kerry Wetterstrom, representing the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild, opposed adding U.S. import restrictions on coins at a Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) hearing November 13, 2009. The occasion was an interim review of a Memorandum of Understanding with Italy. Wetterstrom, publisher/editor of The Celator, wrote in his latest editorial:

accg_cyp_chi_coins“This was the first such hearing that I have attended, and it was an interesting, albeit a bit frustrating, experience. I came away from this hearing with the strong belief that the odds are against the ancient coin collecting community in receiving a ‘fair shake’ from the U.S. Department of State, specifically its Cultural Heritage Center office, at these CPAC hearings.

“The three speakers representing collectors and dealers were invited to speak first, each speaker was limited to five minutes, and we were informed that this would be strictly enforced…

“…though I entered the hearing with a bit of trepidation, the hearing’s casual atmosphere had a calming effect on my nerves. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to finish reading the two-page statement that I had prepared, and after answering a couple of questions from the committee, I walked back to my seat thinking that this was the fastest five minutes I had ever experienced. Later, several people commented to me that they believed I had been cut off before the end of my allotted time.”

Other speakers, who advocate import restrictions on coins, were reportedly allowed to exceed the published time limit with comments ranging up to 30 minutes. Wetterstrom concluded that, “Based on this experience, I now know that the best option that the ancient coin collecting community has for a ‘fair hearing,’… is through the court system…” (more…)

Ruling in FOIA case condones DOS intransigence on ancient coin import restrictions

A long-awaited ruling fails to address serious issues within the U.S. State Department bureaucracy.

accg_cyp_chi_coinsUS District Court Judge Richard Leon—well known for his pro-government views—has issued a ruling upholding the State Department’s refusal to disclose information about the controversial decisions to impose import restrictions on coins of Cypriot and Chinese type. The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild and the other Plaintiffs in this suit remain committed to seeking transparency and accountability from the State Department (DOS) bureaucracy and are considering whether to appeal this ruling to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Despite the disappointing decision, this litigation was in many ways a win for the plaintiffs. The mere fact that ACCG and the other Plaintiffs brought this FOIA action forced the State Department to process all the Plaintiff’s FOIA requests–including some that had been ignored by DOS for as much as three years. As a result of this action, literally hundreds of pages of requested text were released and the State Department was prompted to produce documents implicating high level political interference as the reason for the Cypriot decision. Other information stemming from this litigation suggests that State Department personnel added coins to the Chinese request without a formal request from China for that inclusion. The decision rendered by Judge Leon dealt with those items still remaining on the plaintiff’s list that DOS had refused to release. While the plaintiffs obviously would have been happier with a summary judgment on their motion, the process was not without considerable rewards.

The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild still plans to pursue a test case regarding whether those import restrictions were promulgated in an arbitrary and capricious fashion. A copy of Judge Leon’s Memorandum Opinion can be found here.

Symbiosis Lost and Nuance in New York

By Wayne Sayles – Ancient Coin Blog

Ancient coins have existed since the 7th century BC. They attracted the interest of collectors shortly after that and have continued to inspire ordinary people around the world for going on three millennia.

coin_warsDuring the Italian Renaissance, the collecting of ancient coins became so popular that a sophisticated commercial market emerged and numismatic scholarship blossomed. Anyone with sufficient interest and erudition was able to study the past through its coins. The development of numismatics as a science is a result mainly of private collectors and their dedication to the pursuit of knowledge. When academia became aware of the value of coins as voices from the past, coin collectors and professional scholars found that they had much in common and worked closely together. Yes, that was a long time ago.

What we see today is a bitter turf war between private collectors, independent scholars, museums, nationalist governments and archaeologists. What happened to the symbiosis?

Deep within the collecting community, there is still a longing for cooperation and symbiotic support with those academics who dedicate their lives to study of the past. But, the mutual cooperation and respect of those halcyon days is all but gone. The only words that most private collectors hear from archaeologists these day are disparaging. And, in equal measure, the response is unfriendly.

As archaeological blog comments about the recent CPAC hearing on Italy reveal, the symbiosis is all but dead. It is unlikely ever to reappear to the extent that we saw in the 19th or 20th centuries. That is sad from a collector’s point of view, but is it equally sad from the academic archaeologist’s point of view? I am coming to doubt that it is. They have very little use for private collectors and are not reticent to say so. (more…)

The “illicit” antiquities trade

By Wayne Sayles – Ancient Coin Collecting Blog

clutural_nationalismFor the past five years I have read a nauseating stream of blog posts, news articles, discussion list comments and convention presentation reports that condemn the “illicit” trade in antiquities. The fact that anyone might condemn illicit activity is not in itself nauseating, but the ringing of the same bell 24/7 until the brain fogs over in biological rejection is not only nauseating but obnoxious. It reminds me of the parent in a grocery story who repeatedly harps (in the most irritating shrill cacaphony) “Johnny, don’t touch that!” over and over and over until you wish they would take little Johnny and paddle his behind (even though that is certainly not PC these days.) Really, it’s not little Johnny that needs paddling, it is the parent for not approaching the problem with a reasonable and effective solution.

When do the harpies of cultural property nationalism ever talk about the “licit” antiquities trade? From the ratio of ink spilled, one would presume that there is not even a legitimate trade in existence. Never mind that there are laws in Britain and the United States that protect private collectors and the legitimate trade in antiquities. Never mind that countries like Greece, Italy and Israel (among others) have state licensed and regulated antiquities dealers. Never mind that EC rules prohibit restrictions on the legitimate exchange of antiquities between private citizens and businesses within the European Union. Is there a legitimate trade? Of course there is, only an idiot would suggest that there isn’t. But is there any attempt among cultural property nationalists to work with the legitimate trade and private collectors to reduce incidents of archaeological looting? Very little if any, and none that I am personally aware of. In fact, as Executive Director of the ACCG, it has been my observation that the door is not and has not been open to any such collaboration for well more than a decade—and, in fact, the ACCG has tried.

The obsession among cultural property nationalists (especially those archaeologists who blog about the subject) has been to label everything without a documented provenance as illicit. Because much of the trade in antiquities does not require documented provenance, and because provenance is not especially valued by collectors of minor objects, it often does not exist. Consequently, the entire trade is painted with a broad brush as illicit. Excuse me, but that’s an asinine position and one that is a non-starter for any serious discussion. No legal system, short of autocratic government, recognizes a premise where something is illegal unto proven legal. In fact, attempts to create this sort of legal environment have led to several major upheavals in global society. A common coin or a clay pot, that is literally one of millions of surviving specimens, is treated by hardline nationalists in the same light as the Rosetta Stone. They can rave on about context and priceless information, but really, one doesn’t have to think very hard to see through that. (more…)

Ancient Coin Collectors Challenge U.S. State Dept. Bureaucrats After Baltimore Seizure

A small packet of inexpensive Chinese and Cypriot coins imported from England by the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) have been seized by Customs in Baltimore, Maryland.

coin_import_banThe coins were imported to test the legitimacy of State Department (DOS) imposed import restrictions via two Memoranda of Understanding (MOU). ACCG maintains that actions of DOS relating to implementation of the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA) have been secretive, arbitrary and capricious and will contest the seizure in the U.S. Federal District Court in Baltimore.

Information from another Freedom of Information Act lawsuit suggests that the DOS failed to follow the recommendations of its own experts on the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) in extending restrictions to Cypriot coins, and then misled Congress about this decision. Other information implicates DOS bureaucrats adding coins to the Chinese MOU even though Chinese officials never asked for their inclusion.

The Obama Administration has promised transparency and accountability in government. ACCG hopes its challenge to the ban on ancient Chinese and Cypriot coins will lead the Court also to address these and other concerns about the process for imposing import restrictions on cultural goods.

During a 2008 International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR) discussion, former CPAC Chairperson Jay Kislak (2003-2008) said, “I am not necessarily against any actions that were taken on any of the MOU’s which were recommended by the Committee and put into action. I am, however, opposed to the way it is done because I think it is absolutely, completely, un-American, and I don’t mind saying that. Not anywhere in our government do we do things this way, except with this group.”

Kislak also addressed government transparency by saying, “In every other branch of government, there is disclosure, and information is made public. We have a democracy, and it is government of the people, for the people, by the people, not by the bureaucrats over them.”
(more…)