Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Report from Isreal: Antiquities Still There for the Buying

Some archaeological commentators imply that antiquities trading in the Middle East is forbidden, but while this may be true in places like Egypt, Syria and Iraq, this is certainly not true in democracies like Israel and Lebanon.  Indeed,  CPO's "eyes and ears" in the Middle East, Arthur Houghton, reports that loads of antiquities are still there for the buying in places like the Old City of Jerusalem.  So, by all means, next time CPO's readers are in Jerusalem, look, and perhaps buy a piece of history.

Monday, March 30, 2015

ISIS Destruction Prompts Debate on Repatriation

The New York Times reports how ISIS' jihad against Iraq's and Syria's cultural heritage has prompted questions about the wisdom of repatriation of disputed artifacts.  And so it should.  Dispersion through lawful trade and museum loans helps ensure preservation.  Concentration and worse yet repatriation to active war zones does nothing but ensure destruction of irreplaceable artifacts.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Assad Loyalist Support for HR 1493 Should Raise Serious Questions

Franklin Lamb, an unapologetic supporter of Hezbollah and the odious Assad regime, has written an op-ed supporting HR 1493, a bill that purports to offer protection for international cultural property due to political instability, armed conflict or natural and other disasters.  And no wonder.  While offering some improvements from its predecessor, HR 5703, that failed to pass last term, the new bill retains many of its defects.  Most notably, these include authorizing repatriation of such Syrian artifacts that may be seized by US Customs back to the same government whose military likely looted Apamea and Palmyra and most certainly has unmercifully bombed and shelled the old city of Aleppo and early Sunni religious sites into dust.   Hopefully, these and other serious problems that remain can be addressed as the legislative process unfolds.

Art Newspaper Calls for Selective Deaccession of Italian Museum Stores

Using materials recently repatriated from an old investigation by Switzerland as a jumping off point, Anna Somers Cocks, writing for the Art Newspaper, calls for selective deaccession of artifacts in Italy's immense museum stores.  And why not?  Italy is broke and should sell what it can't properly maintain, study and display for the benefit of its underfunded cultural establishment.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Italian-American Expresses Concern About MOUs Impact on the Study and Appreciation of Italian Culture

Karen Antonelli, a dual citizen of the US and Italy, expressed these heartfelt concerns about the impact of the MOU on Italian Americans:

Dear Cultural Property Affairs [Advisory] Committee,

I am a dual citizen of the United States and of Italy living in San Francisco, California. I have a Ph.D. in Italian Literature from the University of California at Los Angeles as well as an M.B.A. from the University of Southern California. Although I lived most of my first twenty years in Italy (but born of American parents of Italian descent who were working for the U.S. government at the time), I have resided, full time, in the United States for more than forty years and treasure both my U.S. and my Italian heritage. I get tremendous satisfaction sharing my Italian heritage and culture with my fellow Americans and promote business relationships between Italy and the U.S. by teaching Italian language, literature and film classes as well as by performing professional translations for individuals and companies.

Unfortunately, the proposed extension (and perhaps expansion) of the present Memorandum of Understanding with Italy will do little to help, and a great deal to harm, the study and understanding of Italian heritage and culture, at the very least to the extent that it will restrict the import into the United States of abundant small objects like coins and other common artifacts. This is especially true as these objects were intended to, and did, travel great distances. These objects are useful not only in teaching the history of ancient Rome, its successor city-states and the modern Italian Republic, but in understanding so many aspects of its culture...societal relationships, religion, cultural tropes, trade and economics.

The proposed MOU only harms United States citizens...restricting the import of the coins and similar common artifacts here, while they continue to be bought and sold, and travel widely, throughout Europe and even in Asia.

As an Italian citizen, if I can purchase these objects in Italy as my heritage, why may I not bring them to the U.S. to share and teach?

Of course, I support the suppression of looting of archaeological sites (as I understand it, the purported reason for the ban on importation) but there are much better ways to do this than the extension of the MOU. Please do not renew it, or at least exempt from the extended MOU all common, abundant artifacts like coins. The goal of the Committee should be to preserve culture, not as an end in itself, but to promote the availability and awareness of culture to the citizens of the United States.

CPO (as an Italian-American himself) understands and agrees with these concerns.   MOUs such as this only cut-off access to common artifacts like historical coins that provide us with a tangible link to our own culture of birth.

Ms. Antonelli's letter has been published on the website of Primo Magazine, which celebrates Italian culture.

Organizations Overwhelmingly Against Renewal of Italian MOU or Import Restrictions on Coins

CPO previously reported that 94% of the public comments on the regulations.gov website either oppose the MOU's extension or import restrictions on coins.  It also appears that comments of  organizations representing the interests of their members also follow that trend.

Trade Associations

Educational Organizations

Both the American Numismatic Association and Ancient Coins for Education expressed concerns about import restrictions on coins. 

Professional Organizations

The Association of Art Museum Directors took a nuanced approach to the MOU.  While supporting the renewal, AAMD requested changes to encourage Italy to live up to its part of the bargain.

Advocacy Groups

Two groups that advocate for the interests of dealers and collectors, the Association of Dealers and Collectors in Ancient and Ethnographic Art and the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild, also argued against renewing the MOU or extending restrictions on historical coins.

In contrast, only one advocacy group associated with the archaeological lobby, the Lawyers' Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation, supports the extension unequivocally.  

All in all, 7 organizations oppose the renewal or import restrictions on coins, 1 organization supports the renewal, but with significant qualifications and only 1 organization supports the renewal unequivocally. 

They've Got it Backwards

Arturo Russo, a principal of Numismatica Ars Classica NAC AG, a numismatic firm and auctioneer with offices in Milan, Zurich and London, knows first hand about the frustrations of dealing with the Italian cultural bureaucracy.  As he states in his comments to CPAC:

As a quid pro quo for all prior MOUs, Italy promised to facilitate the issuance of export certificates for archaeological objects artifacts legitimately sold within Italy itself. 2001 MOU, Art. II, F; 2006 Extension, Art. II, F; 2011 Extension, Art. II, G.

This has not happened. In fact, since coins were added to the designated list for import restrictions in 2011, the Italian cultural bureaucracy has made it almost impossible for me to export coins from the country.

I used to be able to secure export licenses for collections of ancient coins so they could be sold at auction abroad. After restrictions were placed on Greek coins from Italy and Sicily, Etruscan coins from Italy, Early Roman Republican coins, and early Imperial Colonial and Provincial coins to 37 AD, I was told this would no longer be possible. When I enquired why, I was told that if such export licenses were granted, the Americans would not think that the Italian cultural bureaucracy was serious about protecting its cultural patrimony. It is important to state that these denials have been issued for coins with a legitimate provenance.

This is entirely backwards. The MOU purports to require Italy to make such objects legitimately sold within Italy available for legal export abroad, but instead the MOU is being used to justify precluding legal export of even common coins sold within Italy itself. Furthermore, Italian authorities deny export licenses even for very common coin types based on the argument that even a small variety is a good reason to decline an application. Please note that they also deny export licenses for coins of non-Italian origin with the premise that they would be difficult to acquire for Italian Institutions.

Another major problem is that most of the staff is not qualified to cast informed judgment on the rarity or importance of a coin, in fact they are archeologists and not numismatists. I must admit on several occasions I found myself informing them of the existence of the proper reference works required to establish the rarity of a coin type or even worse I had to draw their attention to the fact that several coins of that type were already in Italian Museums.

Unfortunately, since 2012 the attitude of the Italian officials towards export licenses for coins have changed dramatically. Italian collectors are still important buyers in auctions abroad, but in the eyes of Italian authorities every single coin of average rarity should remain on Italian soil. I find this position unfair and unreasonable especially considering that Italy has a gigantic numismatic heritage which is not published and more importantly very difficult to access for scholars and collectors.

In my experience, almost all European countries take a reasonable position by granting export licenses for most of the coins excluding only the exceedingly rare coin types.

More reason, if any were needed, to free the coins from foolish import restrictions or at least give them a "pass" and require US Customs to accept EU export permits or evidence no export permit is required for imports of "coins of Italian types" from the EU.  After all, Italy, as part of the EU, is also bound not only by the MOU, but EU law.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

AAMD to CPAC and Italy: Free the Coins!

The Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) presents a sobering portrait of Italy's unwillingness or inability to live up to its end of the current MOU with the United States.  Simply, Italy's grossly underfunded and over-bureaucratic cultural establishment is not up to the task. 

Italians are a wonderful people, with an unparalleled culture, and with great and innovative artisans with the business acumen to make Italian products much desired world-wide.  However, a distinct lack of effective and honest governance is a problem that negatively impacts all else, including the preservation of Italy's tremendous cultural heritage.

So, given the dismal performance of Italy's public sector, why not instead unleash some of that Italian entrepreneurial spirit and let Italy's antiquities and coin dealers sell not just to other Italians, but to the world?  After all, each MOU  has already called for Italy to ease the process for granting export permits for artifacts legally sold within Italy itself, something that has not happened (along with much else) courtesy of Italy's choking bureaucracy.

In particular, AAMD advocates opening up the Italian auction market so it can not only be a source of legitimately acquired artifacts, but help bring much needed money to help fund Italy's underfunded cultural establishment. 

And what of coins?  The AAMD rightly states they should be freed of foolish import restrictions: 

Export restrictions on many ancient coins...are illogical because they are not specific to Italy in origin and there is a ready, legal market for them in Italy. Many dealers in Italy advertise ancient coins for sale.Either Italy must agree to issue export permits for coins sold legally in Italy or the designated list should be amended to allow such coins to be brought into the United States.

Yes, by all means, free the coins!  Rome should rejoin the list of recognized world numismatic capitals like New York, Hong Kong, London, Paris, Munich, Vienna, Zurich, and new hot spots like Budapest, Prague and Warsaw as a place where ancient coins are bought and sold at auction for an international audience of serious collectors. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

94% of Public Comments Posted on Regulation.gov Website Opposed to Renewal of Italian MOU and/or Restrictions on Coins

CPO counted 326 responsive comments on the regulations.gov website (not 321 as stated).  Of this number, 308 either opposed renewal of the Italian MOU and/or restrictions on coins.  The vast majority of  these comments again come from coin collectors.  Of the rest, 3 comments from museums and/or the AAMD supported the MOU with reservations.  Another 15 from academics (most of whom likely depend on the Italian cultural bureaucracy to issue them excavation permits), bloggers associated with the archaeological lobby and an archaeological advocacy group (Lawyers Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation) supported the MOU unequivocally.

By CPO's count that means approximately 94% of the public comments posted on the regulations.gov website either opposed the renewal of the MOU and/or restrictions on coins.  While it's possible CPAC also received other comments by mail (one anti-collector academic has apparently used this method to avoid public scrutiny in the past), it's unlikely that there was a large number of such "off the record" comments. 

The large percentages of the public comments opposed to MOUs that negatively impact coin collecting has been consistent over the past several years though the absolute numbers of those commenting has declined markedly over time given the equally widely held public perception that the State Department could not care less what collectors think.   CPO nonetheless continues to believe silence will be taken as acquiescence so public comment remains important.

In any event, the low numbers of public comments supportive of MOUs and the fact that most comments come from academics with a vested interest in keeping the foreign cultural bureaucracies that issue excavation permits happy should raise another important question:  Are MOUs merely a special interest program for a small group of politically connected academics and the foreign cultural bureaucracies they do business with?

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Thank You

CPO thanks all those collectors who again asked CPAC to help preserve their ability to collect "coins of Italian types"  from bureaucratic overreach.  Meanwhile, the New York Times has reported once again that Italy has had difficulty taking care of even major sites like Pompeii without massive cash infusions from the EU and even then major problems remain.  If Italy can't even care for its major sites, aren't ancient coins "of Italian types" better off in private hands in Italy, Europe, the United States and elsewhere?  CPAC should recommend that all coins be delisted.  The Italian State should concentrate its preservation efforts on Pomepii and other major sites.  Let's leave coins to private collectors and institutions both here and abroad that actually care for them.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Another Attack on Cultural Heritage and the People Who Appreciate It

This time at the Bardo Museum in Tunis, which is known for its collection of antiquities, most notably mosaics.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Coin World on CPAC Hearing on Italian MOU Renewal

Steve Roach, Coin World's Editor, questions whether MOUs hurt more than help.  He concludes, "There are perhaps more effective ways to protect cultural property than implementing MOUs that include wide categories of objects that are too broad for practical enforcement."

Coin World also reports on collector comments to CPAC.

Monday, March 16, 2015

It's Not Too Late ...

Fellow Collector:

It’s not too late to post a comment that could help preserve your continued ability to purchase Roman Imperial Coins from abroad.   The State Department and US Customs have already drastically limited your ability to bring Greek, Punic, Etruscan and early Republican coins struck in Italy into the United States legally.  Now, unless collectors engage, there is a real danger the State Department and US Customs will use an upcoming renewal of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Italy to extend current restrictions to Roman Imperial Coins.  That would make them quite difficult to import legally as well.   Current restrictions on other “Italian” artifacts already include the Roman Imperial period so we simply can’t take this possibility for granted.

Please tell the State Department’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee what you think about the issue.  To comment, please go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal (http://www.regulations.gov), enter the Docket No. DOS-2015-0010-0001 (or try this direct link:  http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=DOS-2015-0010-0001) and follow the prompts to submit a comment.  Please note comments may be posted only UNTIL MARCH 20, 2015 at 11:59 PM.  You do not need to be an American to comment and the fact that you may have commented on an earlier MOU is not relevant for purposes of this proceeding. 

What should you say?    Indicate how restrictions will negatively impact your business and/or the cultural understanding and people to people contacts collecting provides.   Add that it’s typically impossible to assume a particular coin (especially Roman ones) was “first discovered within” and “subject to the export control” of Italy.  You might also add that Italian historical coins are very common and widely and legally available for sale elsewhere, and point out the absurdity of restricting coins freely available for sale  in Italy itself.   
For more, see http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2015/02/enough-already-oppose-yet-another.html

Sunday, March 15, 2015

State Department to Repatriate Artifacts to War Zone

The State Department has announced a repatriation ceremony to take place at the Iraqi Embassy on March 16, 2015.  It seems only media are invited.

One would hope the press might ask about the wisdom of sending such artifacts to a war zone, what assurances there are that the sectarian Iraqi government will care for them, and whether there was any judicial determination that the items were smuggled or whether the property was simply abandoned.

Tabloid Journalism

The Daily Mail has claimed that eBay is sellng ancient coins from Apamea stolen by ISIS.  The author, one Jack Crone, does not seem to much care that similar coins have been on the legitimate market for generations or even that Apamea apparently is in the hands of the Assad Regime, not ISIS.  Meanwhile, far more credible sources have questioned whether any material that may have been looted (as opposed to destroyed) by the iconolclasts of ISIS has come here in any quantity.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Lament of a Cosmopolitan Arab

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed, the general manager of Al Arabiya TV, has lamented that the Arab World's penchant to willfully destroy the evidence of past civilizations suggests that its pre-Islamic antiquities are better off in the West.   UNESCO, the sectarian government of Iraq, the odious Assad regime, the Egyptian generals and the archaeological lobby will no doubt disagree.  Yet, CPO sees parallels to China.  There was a time not too long ago when fanatics devoted to Mao's Cultural Revolution purposefully destroyed an untold number of cultural treasures and hounded those with knowledge about them sometimes to death. Now, the Chinese have regained their appreciation of their past, and luckily they can turn to America for access to both artifacts that have been treasured here as well as knowledge about them.  Hopefully, that can happen in the Arab world too, but only if UNESCO and its allies don't get in the way.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Greece Plays Antiquities Card Against Germany

Greece's new leftist government has played its "antiquities card" against Germany in an effort to portray Greece as a victim instead of addressing its serious debt problem with much needed structural changes to the Greek economy  (as difficult as that may be).  According to press reports,

Justice minister Nikos Paraskevopoulos has reportedly called for “war reparations, the repayment of a forced loan and the return of antiquities” from Germany, and said that an old court ruling gave him the power to sanction “the foreclosure of German assets in Greece” as a form of compensation.

More proof, if any were needed, that repatriation has far more to do with "politics" than anything else.

Cuno on ISIS and Repatriation

James Cuno makes the case that far from lending support for repatriation as suggested by UNESCO's allies in the archaeological lobby, the rise of ISIS argues for dispersion of cultural assets in order to save them.

To the Editor:

The recent attacks on the ancient cities of Nimrud and Hatra in Iraq underscore a tragic reality. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization encourages — and provides an institutional instrument for — the retention of antiquities within the borders of the modern state that claims them. That state, very sadly, also has the authority to sell them on the illegal market, damage them or destroy them.

Until Unesco changes its basic position on this issue, antiquities will remain at risk. The world can only be grateful for the earlier regime of “partage,” which allowed for the sharing of Assyrian antiquities with museums worldwide that could preserve them.

This unconscionable destruction is an argument for why portable works of art should be distributed throughout the world and not concentrated in one place. ISIS will destroy everything in its path.

President and Chief Executive
The J. Paul Getty Trust
Los Angeles

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

More Should Care About Iraq's Cultural Heritage

But the problem is that the archaeological lobby has defined "caring" as cracking down on collecting here rather than addressing the problem at the source.  Not surprisingly, that turns off collectors who should be natural allies in efforts to raise consciousness about ISIS' danger to Iraq's cultural heritage.  As one collector quipped, "I might be more interested if I wasn't blamed for it."

Monday, March 9, 2015

Syria: Actually Doing Something Constructive

NPR reports on a small team of Syrian Museum professionals who are making a difference in very difficult circumstances, with training and material assistance from the Smithsonian and University of Pensylvania.

CPO wonders, however, what really can be done if ISIS takes over these areas.  There should also be real concern about Palmyra and other UNESCO world heritage sites.   ISIS seems determined to turn anything "worshiped" by local elites and/or Western art/history/archaeology lovers into dust.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

China Comes to America

The Wall Street Journal reports on Chinese art collectors coming to America to buy up art long held in this country.  The article also notes that American collectors became repositories of knowledge about Chinese art lost in China itself during Communism's darkest periods.  Left unsaid is the impact of U.S. import restrictions on the ability of Americans to replace that which has been repatriated by sale to China.

On the Iconoclasm of ISIS

Elicott Colla, an academic associated with Georgetown University, has written this interesting blog on the iconoclasm of ISIS.  His well-informed conclusions seem far more sensible to CPO than those who see ISIS merely as hypocrites with a political agenda. 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Better Bulldozed than Safe in a Western Museum?

So it would seem, at least according to one archaeo-blogger who professes not to see much of a difference between the actions of collectors and museums and the iconoclasts of ISIS.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Latest Tragedy

Kate FitzGibbon, writing for the Committee for Cultural Policy, reports on the bulldozing of  Nimrud.  Meanwhile, the Economist does its best to explain the iconoclasm of ISIS.  It only fails by repeating disinformation blaming looting at Apamea on ISIS rather than the odious Assad regime.  And what of the culprits?  Archaeo-blogger Paul Barford, relying on Arab sources, suggests that local men may have been responsible for the destruction at the Mosul Museum.  If so, that would once again raise the question whether the "state owns all" approach favored by Barford and the archaeology lobby inexorably leads to the trash the past model of ISIS and others.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Archaeo-Blogger Wonders about Professionalism

Archaeo-blogger David Gill has called into question the professionalism of BM staff in their dealings with his friend, Paul Barford.  But, their private reactions (now made public under the UK version of FOIA) are quite understandable given the discourteous person with whom they were dealing and his "take no prisoners" campaign against the Portable Antiquities Scheme.