Any illicit excavation is regrettable not only because deprives the community of more or less valuable objects, but especially because it destroys documentation; this is exactly equivalent to the fire of an archive, the cards of which have not been read. (Ranuccio Bianchi Bandinelli, Introduzione all’archeologia, Roma, 1976, p. XV)
Through this article, which is the English twin brother of http://www.mondoclassico.it/wp/index.php/2016/08/05/collezionare-monete-antiche-eticamente/ and the ideal continuation of the previous one (http://www.mondoclassico.it/wp/index.php/2016/07/27/letica-nel-collezionismo-de-lamoneta/), I try offering a compromise solution for those who want to collect ancient coins, but at the same time have ethical qualms about it.
First step is recognizing the reality of the facts and abandon every form of intellectual hypocrisy. The situation is well described in the article by Prof. Nathan Elkins:http://savingantiquities.org/why-coins-matter-trafficking-in-undocumented-and-illegally-exported-ancient-coins-in-the-north-american-marketplace/. It seems therefore undeniable that most of the ancient coins available on the market come from illicit, or al least unknown, sources, although it’s hardly ever possible to find the real provenance in individual cases.
Second step is to ask ourselves what we want to achieve. I think the most important thing is to try to minimize further ravage of archaeological sites and plundering of artifacts in them from treasure hunters / grave robbers (which in many cases loot coins). We will have to try to diminish as much as possible these criminal activities and to safeguard the archaeological contexts so that, thoroughly studied by professionals in their entirety, can bring benefits (cultural, moral and not instead narrowly economic) to all humanity.
The ideal solution, from ah ethical point of view, had been adopted by Prof. Elkins, who, thanks to a strong will, decided, quite rightly, to stop collecting ancient coins. But is the majority of collectors willing to adopt such a drastic solution? I don’t think so. It’s necessary to take account of the hard facts and therefore, if we want to obtain something, compromise is absolutely inevitable.
We must find and adopt the most ethical solution that is realistically possible.
Initially, Professor Elkins had continued his collection, but only acquiring specimens with proven pedigree pre-1973. Why this date? Because in 1972 the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, 1970 (http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=13039&URL_DO= DO_TOPIC & URL_SECTION = 201.html) enforced. This Convention is now also applied by some of the major cultural institutions in the world (regarding coins ANS and the British Museum, for example). But is the majority of collectors willing to adopt such a quite drastic solution? I don’t think so. Ancient coins with such characteristics are very few on the market and almost always belong to a qualitatively low-end you want to ennoble through a beautiful pedigree, or, on the contrary, extremely high and therefore expensive. Collecting ancient coins, especially Greek, but not only, would become job for rich people.
Actually, not every coin sold without pedigree don’t have it, but in many cases, within the commercial chain, it get lost. There are two reasons: 1- to not let know how much a coin has been paid out previously; 2- to not give a chance to see what appeareance had a coin previously. In fact, almost magically, many specimens seem to rejuvenate and this miracle leads to greater gains than those who could produce a good pedigree (especially for mid-range coins). See: http://www.coinweek.com/expert-columns/some-appreciate-rare-coin-pedigrees-some-destroy-pedigrees/
I found a service to recover lost pedigrees, but it is extremely expensive (https://www.ex-numis.com/). I also note with regret that the ethical motivation is not even considered unlike those related to economic selfishly aspects: added value, safe investment, preservation of your own collection in relation to growing legal limitations to trade and ownership of ancient artifacts …
I think the best solution is try to break this vicious circle through the union of all collectors of ancient coins that really care about the knowledge of our past. The action of an individual is not enough. To change the market and make it more ethical, the good will of a large number of collectors it’s necessary. I love animals, but I also like meat. I love the past, but I also like collecting … How, then, to reconcile the two things in the less worst way?
It’s necessary that from today, August 5th, 2016, all collectors will refuse to buy ancient coins that do not have a clear, certain and documented provenance. I am not referring exclusively to ancient pedigrees, but also simply to a sale in a recent auction prior to that date, because what we aim to achieve is not the destruction of the numismatic market and the possibility of collecting ancient coins, but avoid that further damage would be incflicted to the world’s archaeological heritage.
If we will adopt this solution market participants would also be incentived: to recover lost pedigrees, which would also provide a kind of assurance against the adulteration of specimens themselves; not to trade coins of unknown origin, which, dropping the demand, would be sold at lower prices; to move towards a quality and not a quantity trade.
This solution is not so far from the MOU signed by the United States with various countries unwillingly “exporters” of ancient coins: bilateral agreements to prevent illicit trafficking, but without affecting what is already on the market.
http: //www.coinsweekly. com / en / News / US-MOU-with-Italy-Renewed / 4? & id = 3883
This is what traders think about them. Let’s see it on page 4 of the Classical Numismatic Rewiew October 2014. Speaking of pedigrees, Bradley L. Nelson writes that “Unfortunately, today we are faced with a new reason to records pedigrees for coins. Over the past few years, the US Department of State has signed new Memoranda Of Understanding (MOU) with Bulgaria, China, Cyprus, Greece, and Italy That restrict the trade of many ancient, and in some cases, medieval, coins, to the United States … “. What an unfortunate coincidence…
There are already enough ancient coins in the market for everyone. We will have a small increase in prices of coins with provenance, but would it not be a small price to pay for promoting the preservation of what remains of the world archaeological heritage?