Sunday, June 30, 2013

Polish Government Seeks to Reclaim War Trophy

The Washington Post has reported on the Polish Government's efforts to take a rare Polish WW II era  rifle  from a Polish-American gun collector.  The Poles claim the gun is Polish Government property that was stolen by the German Army.  The collector argues the gun is a war trophy.   The US Attorney's office, which initially brought a forfeiture action on behalf of Homeland Security and the Polish Government, has had a change in heart and has evidently withdrawn from the case, presumably leaving the Poles to pursue their own claim.   It will be interesting to see how serious the Polish Government is about the case now that the US taxpayer will no longer be footing the bill.   But shouldn't the US Government done an adequate investigation BEFORE seizing the weapon?  And why didn't the Polish Government ask the collector-- who is a a proud Polish-American-- if he wanted to sell or donate it to a Polish Museum?  As it is, this looks like yet another case where Homeland Security shoots first and asks questions later based on nothing more than the self-serving declarations of a foreign power.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Keeping Interest in Ancient Coins and Culture Alive

The Ancient Numismatic Society of Washington, DC has been active since the 1960's.    Here are PowerPoints of just some of the talks given at recent meetings.  I've learned a lot over the years and have enjoyed friendships with  club members from all walks of life.  Coin clubs like the ANSWDC help keep interest in ancient coins and culture alive in an era where the study and appreciation of ancient cultures is on the wane.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Renewal of China MOU in Diplomatic Trouble?

China's refusal to extradite Edward Snowden, who has been charged with espionage for his leaking of sensitive information gained while working as a contractor for the NSA, raises the question whether the US State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and its Cultural Heritage Center should renew the current MOU with China.  This particular MOU is probably the most dubious of any of them.   Given China's own huge internal market in Chinese artifacts of the sort restricted under the current agreement, its net effect has only been to give Chinese commercial interests a leg up on their foreign, particularly American competition.  American archaeologists and museums may conduct useful collaborative efforts with their Chinese counterparts, but these will presumably continue without any MOU based on their own merits.   Import restrictions on the ability of Americans to import cultural goods are only supposed to be  imposed with due regard for the significant procedural and substantive constraints found in the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act.  To the extent these statutory constraints have been ignored as a diplomatic gesture to China, China's own actions suggest that the US should reevaluate this MOU and other forms of diplomatic cooperation.  In short, if China won't repatriate Snowden to the US, why should the US repatriate undocumented Chinese artifacts to China?

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Sicilian Cultural Bureaucracy Imperils Exhibit

Hugh Eakin writes of Sicily's demand that key objects meant to travel from the Getty to Cleveland for an exhibit celebrating ancient Sicilian culture instead be returned to the Island.   More evidence, if any was really necessary, that that the museum community's decision to drop its opposition to MOUs and to repatriate artifacts with little question has not brought the collaboration that was promised.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

ACCG Answers Forfeiture Complaint

The ACCG has filed an answer to the Government’s complaint seeking forfeiture of the coins minted in Cyprus and China that were imported for purposes of a case to test regulations imposing import restrictions.   That lawsuit was dismissed, but an appellate court indicated that the ACCG could still press a particularized challenge to the Government’s claim that the imported coins are subject to import restrictions.  The Answer disputes that the ACCG’s coins are subject to forfeiture, arguing  that the subject coins are not treated as “archaeological objects” under applicable law and that the Government has no probable cause to believe that the coins were “first discovered in” and “subject to the export control” of Cyprus or China, a prerequisite for the restrictions to apply.   A copy of the ACCG’s answer can be found here.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Bad Choice for Tourism and Preservation

Mohammad Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood President of Egypt, has selected a former terrorist to become governor of Luxor.  Asaad al-Khayyat is a founding member of Gamaa Islamiya, a terrorist group that killed 58 tourists outside Luxor in 1997.  Luxor is the site of a major Egytian cultural heritage site, Hatshepsut’s Temple.  Egypt needs tourism to thrive.  Egypt's cultural heritage sites need tourism to survive.  President Morsi's decision to appoint a former terrorist to act as governor of Luxor is a bad choice for both. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

More Breaking News: Time for Malefactor Source Countries to Take Some Heat

Arthur Houghton, former State Department diplomat, White House official, museum curator and CPAC member, is again in the news.   Last week, Houghton exposed Government surveillance of the CPO blog.  This week there are far bigger fish to fry, in particular malefactor source countries.  Arthur states,

"Peter, I have completed my discussions in Washington with political figures associated with the Congress and can report that there is considerable interest in ensuring that Americans are not disadvantaged by the practices of other countries with regard to cultural property matters, but also that countries that willfully destroy their own past, either by allowing their domestic markets to flourish -- or -- far worse in everyone's view -- by permitting and even encouraging public and private development that destroys their past history and their archaeological sites. China is, of course, the prime example, but the destruction of the Mayan temple in Belize, and the long distant but comparable case of the Bamiyan Buddhas was also mentioned several times. One asked what would be more effective -- modifying the Convention on Cultural Property to exact sanctions against states that violated the precepts of the Convention, or enacting legislation that would have the same effect and that, even if unilateral, could motivate other countries (the EU say) to do the same thing.

The idea would be to have a world in which our archaeological friends would get exactly what they want, enough punishment for malefactor source countries to ensure that they began taking care of their own history.  Any existing MOU with a malefactor country would be made null and void and would remain so unless and until the country involved could demonstrate compliance with the Convention.  Other acquiring countries would be encourage to do the same.

The essence of the idea is, of course the concept of "willful misbehavior". We all recognize that many source countries have adequate laws but inadequate enforcement and oversight, and do what they can to ensure that development policies do not do damage to their antiquity sites. Every effort should be made to help these countries protect their patrimony, consistent with their own laws.  But there are the others, the malefactors, and as my contacts believe, they should suffer the consequences of their actions.

"Can you see any reason why anyone would disagree?" one asked. I thought for a minute and then replied. "not one." He then went on to suggest that a study group be formed that would look at the matter and propose recommendations for action. He asked if I knew of people who might join such a study group. "Yes," I said, "I believe I can find one or two." 

Please feel free to publish this information and comment on it as you wish.

With warm best wishes,


Comment:  I myself think its high time to focus some attention on malefactor source countries.   All the archaeological community's selective outrage against collectors has had the effect of diverting attention from poor stewardship of cultural resources in countries like Greece, Italy, and China.   Under the circumstances, Houghton's initiative should be welcomed by everyone who truly cares about cultural heritage. 

Addendum:  AH asked me to add this definition of "Malefactor Source Countries":

"Malefactor Source Countries are those that a) have unregulated markets in antiquities that motivate the looting of archaeological sites or material; b) engage in public development (roads, buildings) that destroy archaeological sites or material; or c) have laws that allow or encourage private development that has the effect of destroying archaeological sites or material."

A list of these should be posted.  I nominate China as exhibit A.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Subject: Urgent - TropenMuseum petition

This petition request was sent to me.  I'm publishing it here for your consideration. 

Dear Friends  of Tribal Art and Textiles,

We are at a crossroads where one of the great lights of non Western world heritage will be extinguished  in  name of budget cuts. This is not just a loss to the Netherlands but to the World and the Dutch Government should know we care! Please read below and add your name most urgently to this petition as described. Time is of the essence!

Amsterdam's Tropenmuseum (Museum of the Tropics) is one of Europe's leading ethnographic museums. Between its rich permanent collection, which reflects Dutch colonial history, and its vivid temporary exhibitions, visitors can glimpse the past, present and future of non-Western cultures around the globe. A visit to the Tropenmuseum is a journey through time and around the world. One gets to know widely different cultures and get an excellent impression of everyday live in the tropics. The museum accommodates eight permanent exhibitions and an ongoing series of temporary exhibitions, including both modern and traditional visual arts and photographic works. The museum's rooms, expertly guide people through Asia, Oceania, Africa and Latin America via authentic art, household and religious objects, photographs, music, film and interactive displays. The museum is also renowned for its efforts in child-friendly exhibitions. Tropenmuseum Junior offers an educational, inspiring and entertaining programme for kids (6 to 13 year olds), aimed at introducing them to different cultures.

As the public face of the Royal Tropical Institute, a foundation that sponsors the study of tropical cultures around the world, the Tropenmuseum is a grand institution, both inside and out. The museum was established in 1864 and it's beautiful brick building dates from 1926 and sits alongside the spacious greenery of Oosterpark. The Tropenmuseum is one of the most fascinating anthropological museums in the Netherlands, but is now in great danger.

URGENT please help the Tropenmuseum stay alive and open...- if it disappears nothing will ever be able to replace it !!

PLEASE SIGN before 30 June !!!

Send this email also to other people who would be willing to participate in signing this important petition

Please read the following information regarding the Tropenmuseum's current plight and sign the petition as requested. On the agenda is a Dutch government decision to give the Tropenmuseum funds to survive another two years, after which the Tropenmuseum will be have to merge with the Volkenkunde Museum in Leiden and the Africa Museum in Berg en Dal. If this does not happen the museum will be closed down !

The KIT Library and research and Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam's ethnographic and multicultural museum, is being hit hard by budget cuts. Over half of the staff will lose their jobs and the research library, filled with one of a kind publications from around the globe dated from as early as 1400 AD, will simply shut down. We need 40,000 signatures Dutch or Worldwide, to put the Tropenmuseum back on the government agenda and to tell the government that the public is not okay with this closing down of this universal institution!

We need the signatures BEFORE 30 JUNE!

For non dutch speakers, on the site: please fill in your first name and last name (Ik = Identity = put your name), city (Wonende te = City = put your city) and your email and send.

Then click on the confirmation link in the email you will receive after from the petition site

Please help us save the Tropenmuseum - if it disappears nothing will ever be able to replace it !!

Please forward this request for help to whom ever you think is interested.

Thank you

Friday, June 14, 2013

Breaking News: CPO Subject to Government Surveillance?

Breaking News:  Arthur Houghton has uncovered this shocking information which I publish in full.  I direct all inquiries to him.  I would have not believed it myself, save for all the recent revelations of Government misconduct at State, the IRS and NSA:  

Peter, it has come to my attention that the FBI, Criminal Justice Information Systems, has begun to surreptitiously monitor your blog and in particular the several exchanges that we have had in recent days.  I have this information from sources that are internal to the Bureau and that I do not wish to reveal further -- but I can say that they are firm and incontrovertible.    It is a remarkable event, unparalleled in my experience, but consistent with what we now know about the monitoring of US citizens by our national security services.

The fact that this information should become known to us, moreover, should be an extreme embarrassment to the Bureau -- even a breach of security.  I submit that the Department of Justice Inspector General should be asked to investigate who is doing the monitoring, whether they have been authorized to do so and if so by whom, what legal authority lies behind it, and whether there are others, perhaps many others, who are being subjected to the same secret surveillance.

Would you be good enough to let me have your thoughts on this?

Many thanks,


Thursday, June 13, 2013

ICE Blackens Reputation of Refugee Lawyer and Nuremberg Prosecutor?

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has issued a press release about parts of a Nazi-Era diary that has been turned over to the Holocaust Museum for preservation and study.

While I’m happy that the “Rosenberg” Diary is going to the U.S. Holocaust Museum rather than being repatriated to Germany as some in the archaeological blogosphere have demanded, I think it’s wrong for ICE to blacken the reputation of a refugee German lawyer and Nuremberg Prosecutor to justify doing so.

Here is what ICE says about the lawyer, Robert Kempner,  who held the diary in his papers:

Robert M.W. Kempner
Dr. Robert M.W. Kempner was a German lawyer who fled Germany for the United States during the war. At the conclusion of the war, Kempner served as the deputy chief counsel and was the chief prosecutor in the "Ministries Case" at the Nuremberg Trials. In this role, Kempner had access to seized Nazi documents in his official capacity as an employee of the U.S. government. At the conclusion of the Nuremberg Trials, Kempner returned to the United States and lived in Lansdowne, Pa. Contrary to law and proper procedure, Kempner removed various documents, including the Rosenberg Diary, from U.S. government facilities in Nuremberg and retained them until his death in 1993.
But the Holocaust Museum’s website tells a different story:

As the Nuremberg trials drew to a close, Kempner received permission from the Office of the Chief of Counsel of War Crimes to retain unclassified documents “for purposes of writing, lecturing and study.” He returned home with an unknown number of documents in his possession.

Why then is ICE claiming Kempner misappropriated the diary?

Let’s keep in mind Kempner preserved it and other Nazi papers for decades before his heirs turned over a major trove of such documents to the Holocaust Museum.   Government procedures of the late 1940’s were likely not as clear as ICE now claims.  Nor is it likely that as much historical significance would be attached to the diary back then as today. 

Under the circumstances, shame on ICE for suggesting that Kempner—who can no longer defend his own reputation-- was a crook rather than a hero in the fight against Nazism. 

One can only hope that the cultural property cops at ICE issue a “clarification” and soon. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Repatriate all Nazi Artifacts to Germany?

Archaeo-blogger Paul Barford has suggested that Nazi artifacts should be repatriated back to Germany.  Presumably, such a rule could take in a huge amount of material, including many "battlefield souvenirs."  But why does Barford once again only pick on Americans to do the repatriating?  If  he is really serious about this proposal, I think he should press it first in his native Poland. Sure, Poland suffered grievously from Nazi aggression, but should that factor be considered at all as part of the mix?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Cover-Up Culture at the US State Department?

CBS News has broken a story about the cover-up  culture at the US State Department.  But coin collectors have already had a taste of this mentality. Before the ACCG brought its test case that was ultimately dismissed by the Courts on "justiciability" grounds, the numismatic trade sought to bring its own concerns about the actions of the State Department's Cultural Heritage Center to the State Department Inspector General.  The result?  The State Department Inspector General merely referred those issues back to the very State Department office which was the focus of these concerns.  And of course, the State Department then went about announcing import restrictions on "coins of Cypriot type,"  and claiming falsely that CPAC had supported the decision.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

D-Day Battle Still Imprinted on Normandy Beaches

Almost 70 years have passed since Allied forces invaded Normandy on June 6, 1944.  Today, only military cemeteries and a few German concrete defensive emplacements remain visible indications of the battle, but believe it or not, the sand itself still remembers in its own way too.

Professional Numismatist Publishes Lord Renfrew's Coin Collection

Lord Renfrew, a vocal critic of the antiquities trade, has graciously allowed his collection of Etruscan coins to be published in Italo Vecchi’s impressive new corpus. The work publishes thousands of specimens from private and public collections and includes many coins that cannot be traced back to the 1970 date favored by archaeologists and some museums.

In supporting this endeavor, Lord Renfrew has demonstrated a commitment to scholarship shared by many collectors and,  indeed, professional numismatists like Italo Vecchi.

Richard Doty, Smithsonian Curator and Collector, Passes Away

Coins Weekly has reported on the passing of Richard Doty, the senior numismatic curator at the Smithsonian Institution.  The well-deserved tributes will focus on Dr. Doty's scholarship, but I also think it's worth noting that Dr. Doty was also a fixture at coin shows in the Washington, D.C. area.  Like his predecessor, Elvira Clain-Stefanelli, Dr. Doty was both a scholar and a collector. I'm sure he will be much missed.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

More on the Size of the Internal Chinese Market for Antiquities

James Fitzpatrick has written CPAC to provide the following additional information about the immense size of the internal Chinese market in cultural goods.  The key question for CPAC and those in the archaeological community supporting restrictions is why impose them on American interests when their net effect is merely to give Chinese collectors and dealers a leg up on their foreign competition?  Is it all about conservation or control?   Mr. Fitzpatrick's letter is quoted in full as follows:

May 31, 2013

 Ms. Patty Gerstenblith
Cultural Property Advisory Committee
State Department
Washington, D.C.

Dear Ms. Gerstenblith,

In my recent comments to CPAC on behalf of James J. Lally in connection with the reauthorization of the MOU with China, I emphasized the significance of the internal Chinese market for antiquities.  I noted the failure to meet the statutory standard of effective self-help measures by the Chinese given the great bulk of the sales of Chinese antiquities (which sales presumably prompt looting) taking place within China itself and abroad, involving Chinese buyers.  Notably, one of the key archaeologist witnesses at the hearing agreed that there was a significant internal market.

To support this proposition, in his statement to CPAC, Mr. Lally noted that:

Chinese buyers of Chinese art … dominate the market outside China.  Sales statistics for the three leading international auction houses show that over 70% of the dollar volume of Chinese art sold by Bonham’s, Christie’s and Sotheby’s in 2012 was sold to  Chinese buyers. 

The Committee asked how one could make the statement that more than 70% of the buyers were in fact Chinese buyers.  In response to my inquiry, Mr. Lally made clear that the estimates came directly from the auction houses themselves upon reviewing their internal documents:

Regarding the fact that more than 70% of all Chinese art sold at public auction around the world by Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Bonham’s was bought by Chinese buyers, that is an understatement. I did not simply look at the buyers’ lists—the names of buyers are no longer disclosed on public auction price lists—but I did gather the information directly from the auctioneers (as the State Dept.’s “researchers” easily could have done if they were at all serious about gathering facts). I asked the Chinese art department at each of the “big three” international auctioneers to review their private records and tell me what percentage of their worldwide Chinese art sales in the year 2012 were purchased by buyers resident in mainland China (including Hong Kong and Macao) and Taiwan. The auctioneers did not want to allow any comparison between one auction house and another, so I agreed not to publish separate statistics for each auctioneer, publishing only one aggregate figure for all three together. All of them reported total sales to Chinese buyers well over 70 percent and at two of the auctioneers the total was over 80 percent.

Clearly, these data are not limited to MOU-covered antiquities, but there is every reason to believe -- indeed Mr. Lally feels strongly on this point -- that the overall statistics apply across the board -- to MOU antiquities, non-MOU antiquities, and contemporary art.

As for the overall dominance of Chinese buyers for Chinese art -- and antiquities, Lally has replied:

It is true that the great majority of the published sales statistics on the internal Chinese domestic market are reporting sales of non-MOU antiquities and contemporary art. No private market statistics are available—only public auction sales statistics are published, [as noted above: more than 70% of sales made to Chinese buyers] and of course antiquities are a very small fraction of the sales volume at public auction. (The same is true in US and Europe public auction sales—antiquities of all kinds account for only a very small fraction of auction turnover). Nevertheless, the extraordinary, unprecedented growth of the art market inside China—where only Chinese art is traded, raising the turnover from zero in the mid-1980’s to a multi-billion dollar total  rivaling total sales for all art in New York and London today, does clearly indicate the strong demand for all Chinese art including ancient art in the internal, domestic market in China.

Lally has written that this fact can easily be confirmed by CPAC and its investigators and staff:

Although it is impossible to provide statistics, a strong market for ancient Chinese art does thrive inside mainland China, with active collectors and traders at all levels of the market. If you ask any informed dealer in China or Europe or America or Hong Kong everyone would say that the mainland Chinese buyers are dominant in all sectors of the Chinese art market, including ancient art, and we do have public record of strong Chinese buying of ancient Chinese art at auction in the US, London, Europe, Taiwan and Japan.

We do know that there is clearly a large public market in ancient Chinese art in Hong Kong and Macao, with public auctions and private trading of ancient Chinese art. The PRC—which has taken over those two very active trading ports more than 15 years ago—still has not taken any action to regulate the art market or even establish any cultural relics bureau office in either city. 

Why is there obvious failure of the PRC to regulate the market for ancient Chinese art in Hong Kong and Macao never discussed? If the PRC does nothing to enforce restrictions on the trade in ancient Chinese art in two of the wealthiest, most active art market cities in China, why should US customs enforce restrictions on US citizens while Chinese citizens and all other collectors and dealers and museums around the world carry on with no restrictions?

At the end of the day, CPAC should pause and consider the rationale for closing the U.S. market for antiquities while a thriving market exists for those very objects in China, Hong Kong and Macao.

A further public hearing should be convened to permit the Chinese delegation to explain why our markets should be closed, consistent with the statutory criteria, when the very same embargoed objects are freely available in the greater Chinese market.

The internal Chinese market is the key to the integrity of these proceedings.


                                                                                    James Fitzpatrick

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Sofaer Collection

The ANS has published the Sofaer collection of coins of the Holy Land.  This publication will add to the scholarship in the area.   The coins were all purchased on the collector market in the United States, Europe and Isreael.  Yes, numismatists can derive significant meaning from studying coins independent of any archaeological context.  Abe Sofaer is a former federal judge and State Department legal adviser.