Friday, June 23, 2017

A Sad Day for America

Today, Friday June 23, 2017, The Financial Services Committee of the House of Representatives held a hearing entitled "The Exploitation of Cultural Property: Examining Illicit Activity in the Antiquities and Art Trade." This is certainly a worthy topic of consideration, though the tone is not exactly what the title implies.  It's heartwarming, in one respect, that Congress has the time to consider these sorts of issues when the viability of our Republic is at serious risk.  On the other hand, it may say something about the very nature of representative government and who is actually represented versus who the electorate is.  The three bureaucrats testifiying before Congress in this hearing presented one point of view.  They understandingly deplored the loss of cultural property, but essentially blamed that loss on private ownership that evolved through trade with illegal sources -- "trafficking" is the operative word.  Not surprisingly, each heralded their own efforts to "save the past" for all of us.  Nobody in the room talked about the failure of law enforcement worldwide to stop "trafficking".  How is any buyer in an international market able to distinguish between an object recirculating in a vibrant and venerable trade from one stolen yesterday?  That is not the "buyer's" job, it is the role of law enforcement and the markets based on verifiable evidence -- commonly called "due diligence".  Does that mean providing extensive provenance on any object offered for sale?  In the case of minor antiquities that is unreasonable and impossible in far too many cases.  Still, some items may well appear "too fresh" and should be avoided by all sellers.  The burden of proof that something is illicit, however, remains with the accuser.

What those few elected representatives in Congress present did not hear (the room was nearly empty) was the six-hundred-year-old story of how private collectors of antiquities have saved countless objects from loss through physical destruction for intrinsic metal value (for example, melting down silver and gold coins) or the countless museums worldwide that are populated with cultural property donated by private collectors.  Why was that perspective not made clear?  Because the Archaeological community stranglehold on academia and bureaucracy has made alternative views all but impossible.  Why was the room nearly empty?  Maybe because this is a special interest and most representatives were juggling impossible schedules.  The approach of bureaucracy, in its mindless support of a small academic ("expert") interest, funded mainly by public support, is actually extralegal and counterproductive.  Academia and Bureaucracy have no actual control over foreign governments, so they turn their attack instead toward the innocent who are blameless.  This is most obvious in the liberal media where hardly a day goes by without some blatant and typically false propaganda.  The actual truth is that private collectors do far more to save the past than the loose-lipped academics ever dreamed of doing.

So, what actually is the chance of a fair discussion of the issues involved?  Virtually zero.  This hearing was essentially a checkmark for the next step in a well planned legislative or bureaucratic event.  The failure of governments and law enforcement in foreign lands to eliminate looting and wanton destruction has become a harpoon in the side of law abiding Americans who love the past.  Worse than that, the U.S. Government has become the advocate for a disgusting array of foreign sovereignties who have not the slightest regard for individual rights.  It's all about politics, not about justice or freedom.  Yet, the LAW is what bureaucracy uses as a hammer by distorting the will of Congress in its letter and intent with impunity.  It's a sad day for those who believe in the American system of Democracy and Justice.
“The Exploitation of Cultural Property: Examining Illicit Activity in the Antiquities and Art Trade”
“The Exploitation of Cultural Property: Examining Illicit Activity in the Antiquities and Art Trade”


Duncan Finch said...

There are numerous 'well-meaning' people who keep claiming that groups like ISIS support themselves by smuggling works of art, including, of course, coins. When people active in numismatics ask where these supposed floods of rare coins (which finance so much) actually are, since there seems to no even vaguely abnormally flood of such things on the market, they are told, "oh, bad dealers are hiding them for 10/20 years until they are less hot."
This implies that there are dealers or buyers who are happy to pay large amounts of money for things they cannot sell for up to 20 years, thus losing huge amounts of money in lost interest. How does this work do they think? Normal dealers now, if they buy a large group of coins, try to sell them off as fast as possible in order to make back their investment. This is because wholesale prices are usually very high. This can be compared to the old days, when Jacob Hirsch could buy the balance of the Rhousopoulos collection in 1905 at a price so low that he still had large numbers at his death in 1955,
So if the supposed buyers from ISIS are buying coins now, they have to buy them at fantastically low prices, otherwise they will lose their shirts (or thobes as the case may be). Does this supply ISIS with vast sums of money (low, low wholesale)?. I bet that if these characters do find silver or gold coins they have them melted down to infinitely more convenient and readily salable bars of bullion.

Wayne G. Sayles said...


Thank you for sharing this rational view. I served in the U.S. Air Force for 20+ years and four of those years were in source countries where ancient coins were technically illegal to sell or purchase. In visiting the public market places, which was a popular off-duty pastime for many, it was not a bit unusual to find buyers and sellers of scrap metal. One could find objects of virtually every sort of metal just heaped in piles mainly by the composition of the item. I have on numerous occasions seen metal washtubs full of copper and bronze coins — from every era including the ancient past — being sold by the kilogram. What one does not see in those shops, are coins struck in precious metals. Not even coins completely devoid of images nor damaged beyond usefulness as collectables. I suspected, even then, that the coins with intrinsic value were being melted down and reworked into jewelry or other salable objects. When I met Bill Spengler, after I had retired from the military, he confirmed that he had witnessed that same activity in the bazaars of Afghanistan and Pakistan where he served with the U.S. State Department as Consular General. He actually observed ancient and medieval coins being melted down for that purpose — sometimes an entire hoard of coins being lost, along with the knowledge that could have been extracted and preserved by a reasonable antiquities policy and legitimate market. The problem, of course, is that ideological, political and diplomatic interests always have outweighed reason and probably always will.