Gainesville, MO (PRWEB) February 14, 2007
Coin collectors, who think of themselves as “the most harmless, diversified and non-political special interest in America”, are in the fight of their lives against academic ideology and government regulations that they claim would destroy a 600-year-old love affair with the ancient world. According to Wayne G. Sayles, executive director of the national nonprofit Ancient Coin Collectors Guild – ACCG, few Americans realize that coins from as early as 500 BC are collectibles or that the legitimate market for these coins dates back to the Italian Renaissance–much less that they are common and typically inexpensive. Even fewer Americans would know that there is a 37-year-old United Nations sponsored movement to restrict the flow of these coins internationally.
The 1983 Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA) authorized emergency import restrictions for the “protection” of cultural property. This U.S. law implements a controversial 1970 UNESCO accord through the consideration of requests from other UNESCO members by a Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC). Peter K. Tompa, a Washington DC attorney specializing in cultural property law, points out that this law was meant to allow restrictions only in certain narrow circumstances. Instead, he explains, “it now threatens private collecting by entertaining broad sweeping restrictions.” Collectors feel that its intent has been forgotten and that their hobby has been harmed in the process. In a current request from the Republic of Cyprus for U.S. import restrictions, coins became a major issue. When the request was first submitted, five years ago, coins were exempted from the formal Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. and Cyprus. Now up for renewal, a high ranking member of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) advised the numismatic community by electronic correspondence that no changes were anticipated in the list of “designated items”. However, after the public comment period had closed, the State Department accepted an alteration of the request from Cyprus to include coins.
In the view of Sayles, this infuriated collectors who already felt that they had been manipulated in another pending request for restrictions from the People’s Republic of China. He explained that “while that request supposedly asked for import restrictions on coins as well, subsequent Freedom of Information Act searches failed to surface any evidence that the Chinese asked for them in the first place.” Faxed letters of objection from collectors, in response to this widely perceived “sandbagging”, were so numerous that they reportedly overloaded ECA equipment at one point. Tompa, who currently serves as president of the ACCG, contends that “The Cultural Property Advisory Committee’s ability to provide useful advice in this area has been compromised by recent appointments of individuals expressing the extreme archaeological view to CPAC slots reserved for museums and the public.” This problem is compounded, according to Tompa, by the fact that career employees of the ECA’s “Cultural Heritage Center” appear to sympathize only with the views espoused by the archaeological lobby.
Why would the U.S. State Department take an adverse position against collecting? Sayles, himself a collector and author of several books about ancient coin collecting, suggests that “The movement to restrict international trade in ancient coins is really a special interest in itself. The archaeological community has launched a serious campaign against private collecting in the misguided belief that eliminating the market will stop looting of archaeological sites.” He added that “the interests of archaeologists are very much at stake and their advocacy groups have characterized import restrictions as being necessary to ‘save’ their profession. The opposing collector view is that killing the trade in ancient coins is like killing the goose that laid the golden eggs.” The coin collecting community prides itself on the many and varied contributions it has made to society at many levels, especially in the fields of independent scholarship, public education, and cultural interaction. The ACCG bylaws, which include education as one of the key purposes of the organization, state in part: “The guild does not in any way support, condone or defend the looting of designated archaeological sites, nor the violation of any nation’s laws concerning the import or export of antiquities.”
The growing conflict between collectors and archaeologists, two groups with similar interests and goals but radically different approaches, has been characterized by Sayles as the “Cultural Property War.” While not the biggest or bloodiest war in America’s history, it is becoming hostile nonetheless. It is, as Tompa and Sayles agree, certainly one that no one will win.
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