Tag Archives: numismatics

Test Case: Peter Tompa on CPAC, the Supreme Court and the Trade in Ancient Coins

Athens Tetradrachm, ex Morcom Collection

On Monday morning, the Supreme Court of the United States is expected to respond to a petition from the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild challenging federal import restrictions on ancient coins with unclear ownership histories.

The ACCG case started in 2009 when the Guild illegally imported 23 Chinese and Cypriot coins of unclear provenance from London in an effort to challenge import restrictions granted to those countries by the State Department under the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA). The coins were seized by US Customs officials and ACCG challenged the seizure in court. Both a district court and an appellate court have upheld the seizure and rejected the Guild’s arguments. If the Supreme Court refuses to hear the case, as is expected, the test case is effectively dead.

UPDATE: As expect, this morning the Court declined to hear the case.

So what was this costly legal experiment all about? We thought it a good opportunity to ask the man behind the lawsuit: Peter Tompa.

Tompa is a a lawyer, a collector of ancient coins and a registered lobbyist for several groups of coin collectors, for whom he frequently advocates at CPAC hearings at the State Department, one of the few places where issues relating to looting and the antiquities trade intersects with the federal government. He is also the author of the Cultural Property Observer blog, which champions “the longstanding interests of collectors in the preservation, study, display and enjoyment of cultural artifacts against an ‘archaeology over all’ perspective.” On the blog, he clearly relishes his role as a bête noire to archaeologists and foreign governments that are alarmed by the link between looting and the antiquities trade.

The dialogue between archaeologists and antiquities collectors like Tompa in online forums frequently starts with substance and quickly descends into sniping and personal attacks. Both groups share a passion for the ancient world but very different values about how to enjoy and preserve it. In an effort to open a more civil dialogue on the issues, we decided to launch our own test case and invited Tompa to answer a few questions here.

Chasing Aphrodite: You’re a collector of ancient coins and a registered lobbyist for several coin collecting groups. Broadly speaking, what’s the ultimate goal for these groups?

Peter Tompa: To ensure the continued access of Americans to ancient coins of the sort openly collected world-wide.

CA: Coin collectors seemingly have every reason to deplore the loss of archaeological context, and yet they often find themselves on opposite sides of the argument as archaeologists. Why is that?

att-tompa-peter2

PT: The single-minded obsession with archaeological context puzzles most coin collectors. Numismatists derive their own context by studying the inscriptions and iconography found on coins, by reconstructing the chronology of dies used to strike a given series, and by analyzing the weight standard and the metallurgical content of each issue. The coins themselves often provide amazingly detailed information about the politics and economic circumstances of the time, the course of military campaigns, religious practices, and artistic development. Coins include portraits of individuals whose appearance is otherwise unknown and depictions of lost architectural and artistic monuments. That’s not to say preservation of archaeological context is not a worthy goal, just that it should not be allowed to control all else.

 CA:  Much of the debate revolves around the link between the antiquities trade and looting. In your view, what percentage of ancient coins on the market are the product of modern looting (ie post 1970)? Is looting a necessary consequence of a free market in ancient art? What do the various coin groups you’re associated with do to prevent looting and the discourage or expose the illicit trade?

PT: “Looting” is a rather loaded term, particularly when one jumps to the conclusion that anything that cannot be traced back to 1970 “must be looted.” Whatever laws may be on the books, countries like Bulgaria, Italy, Greece, Cyprus and China tolerate (if not encourage) their own citizens to collect unprovenanced coins. So, perhaps American collectors are being asked to be “holier than the Pope.”  Indeed, what’s most different today from when the Cultural Property Implementation Act (“CPIA”) was passed is that a number of “source countries” like Italy and China have also become major “market countries” due to their increasing wealth.

hoard

I can’t say what percentages of coins were excavated since 1970. However, I suspect they vary by type and country. For example, coins have been found in Italy since the Renaissance. On the other hand, lots of mostly low value late Roman bronze coins came out of the Balkans right after the fall of Communism. Looting equates more closely with poor governance and political and economic turmoil than free markets.  Look currently at places like Egypt, Syria and Greece.    

Metal detectors are the real issue for coins. You simply can’t find ancient coins in any number without them. There are two rational ways to deal with the issue: an outright ban or a mandatory recording system that allows the State to retain any coin for its collections based on payment of a fair market value to the finder. The problem arises where you allow individuals to buy metal detectors, but then naively expect them to either not use them at sensitive sites or turn in whatever they might find for just a token reward.

Of course, the coin trade prefers a recording system like the Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme (“PAS”) operating in England and Wales because most coins end up in the collector market after recordation. However, PAS has also garnered considerable support amongst local archaeologists because these reports have led archaeologists to sites they would not have otherwise have known existed.

Coin groups believe that such issues are best addressed at the source with such programs. Nonetheless, they also have codes of ethics.  For example, IAPN (The International Assoc. of Professional Numismatists) members agree “To guarantee that good title accompanies all items sold, and never knowingly deal in any numismatic items stolen from private or public collections or reasonably suspected to be the direct products of illicit excavations in contravention of national cultural heritage legislation.” Those who have been found in contravention of this requirement have been given the choice of either resigning voluntarily or being suspended.

CA: You’ve asked the US Supreme Court to hear your challenge of the State Department’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) decision to include ancient coins in import restrictions on antiquities from Cyprus and China. What’s the crux of your complaint?

The Ancient Coin Collector's Guild imported these Chinese and Cypriot coins into the United States to create a test case of the law barring their import.

The Ancient Coin Collector’s Guild imported these Chinese and Cypriot coins into the United States to test the law barring their import.

PT: I disagree with your premise. CPAC’s former Chairman has stated under oath that CPAC did not recommend import restrictions on Cypriot coins. We also have evidence China never specifically asked for import restrictions on coins. All we seek is judicial review of whether government decision-makers complied with the law before they changed prior precedent and placed import restrictions on coins.              

We also believe that current restrictions are grossly overbroad. The CPIA only authorizes restrictions on coins “first discovered in” and “subject to the export control” of a specific country, but U.S. Customs has instead placed far more extensive restrictions on coins based on their place of production. This has greatly limited the ability of American collectors to legally import historical coins openly available abroad.

 CA: As you’ve noted, two lower courts have both ruled against you and the odds are very slim that the high court will agree to hear your case. If the Supreme Court does not agree to review it, what next?    

PT: We will continue to press our case before Congress, CPAC and in the press.  Nor do we foreclose further litigation.

CA:  What’s your relationship with the museum community these days? In the past, you were often joined by museum officials in testifying against import restrictions before CPAC. These days, that is less common. What changed? What are your views of museums adopting the 1970 rule for acquisitions? Will coin collectors adopt similar standards?

PT: You should ask AAMD why it no longer presses government decision-makers to comply with the CPIA before imposing import restrictions. The 1970 rule is an arbitrary construct that has created a huge universe of “orphan artifacts,” — legitimate material that museums can no longer acquire. It has no impact on current looting, and indeed only distracts attention away from the poor stewardship of cultural resources in places like Greece and Italy.  Coins have routinely been traded for decades and centuries without ownership history being retained when they pass from one person to another, and only the smallest number of coins has records of sale or purchase.  I can think of no good reason for coin collectors to voluntarily adopt rule as flawed as the 1970 stipulation as a result.

We’re grateful to Peter for his responses and look forward to answering questions on his blog in the coming weeks. For more about the ACCG’s Petition for Certiorari, see hereFor more on coin collectors’ view oncultural patrimony issues, see here

 

 

Castor and Pollux, Forgeries and Loot: Reflections on the Arnold Peter Weiss Case

original art by Elli Crocker (http://www.ellicrocker.com)

Looting and forgery are the Castor and Pollux of the antiquities trade, bound together by a love of murky origins.

That appears to be the lesson of the guilty plea earlier this month by coin dealer Dr. Arnold Peter Weiss, which came with a twist – the “looted” coins he was hawking at the Waldor Astoria were actually forgeries.

Dr. Arnold Peter Weiss

But why would Weiss brag so openly – to both a confidential informant and an undercover agent posing as a buyer, according to the complaint – that the ancient coins he was trying to sell had been recently looted in Sicily? Wouldn’t that fact lower the value of the coins and made them harder to sell?

And how could the three coins – which were proved forgeries by a scanning electron microscope only after being found authentic by several experts – fool so many, including Weiss and his Nomos partners and Herbert Kreindler, Weiss’ reported source for the coins? Who was duped, and who was complicit in the fraud?

The answers may come out as the on-going investigation unfolds in the coming months. But the case of another famous fraud, the Getty Kouros, offers some interesting hints.

The outlines of the Kouros story are well known: In 1985, the Getty paid $9.5 million for a 7-foot-tall Greek marble youth with a thoroughly detailed ownership history, amid speculation that the piece was a modern forgery. There are only a dozen such intact kouroi, making the Getty’s a truly remarkable find. The question of its authenticity has been hotly debated ever since. Today most are convinced the statue is a fake, though it remains on display at the Getty Villa, labeled “Greek, about 530 B.C., or modern forgery.”

In the opening chapter of his bestselling Blink, Malcolm Gladwell suggests Getty officials were blinded by bad science in their decision to buy the statue. In Chasing Aphrodite we revealed that science was the public reason to justify the purchase, and the one given to the Getty board. But behind the scenes, museum officials concluded the Kouros was authentic because they heard from the dealer that it had been recently looted in Sicily.

As we write in Chapter 4:

Speaking in confidence, [Sicilian dealer Gianfranco] Becchina had cautioned [Met curator Dietrich] von Bothmer to ignore the cover story about the statue coming from Greece or being in the family of a Swiss doctor. He suggested instead that the statue had been found recently in Sicily, an origin that would explain many of the stylistic anomlies that had initially troubled him. It also suggested that the piece was freshly excavated and, by extension, authentic. The statue’s suspiciously voluminous ownership history must have been forged to cover the kouros’s illicit origins. Bolstered by the new information pointing to authenticity, [Getty director John] Walsh once again recommended the purchase of the kouros.”

This illustrates the first lure of loot: In a market rife with forgeries, evidence of looting is the ultimate badge of authenticity.

It is worth noting that one of the Weiss coins in question was a silver decadrachms of Akragas. Before being confiscated by authorities, it was given a record-setting estimate of $2.5 million because it was one of only 12 known such coins. That happens to be precisely as rare as an intact Kouros. When trying to explain the appearance of a rare masterpiece out of thin air, looting is the most palpable answer. The only other is forgery.

The second lure of looting is the uncanny appeal that “fresh” antiquities have long had for collectors and museums. Few have explained this better than Bruce McNall — who coincidentally used to employ Weiss’ Nomos business partner Eric McFadden.

McNall proved prescient in our January interview  about the Weiss case:

“[As a collector in the 1980s,] any time you find something brand new, it’s sexier,” he said. “Otherwise it’s been around, it’s been seen, and maybe there’s a reason someone else hasn’t bought it…Nobody wants some old broad that’s been around on the town for too long.”

Ironically, McNall thinks that may explain the case of Arnold Peter Weiss, who was allegedly recorded by a confidential informant bragging that he knew the 4th century BC silver tetradrachm from Katane he was selling was “a fresh coin, this was dug up a few years ago” in Italy. Such talk is common in the coin trade, said McNall, but “90% of the time it’s just a sales tool.” McNall also finds to be credible the rumor circulating in the coin world that one or more of the coins Weiss was offering for sale may have been fakes.

Perhaps another lesson from the Weiss case, then, is that in the world of ancient coins, these two lures of loot appear to be as strong today as they were in 1985.

You can find all our coverage of the Weiss case here.

Arnold Peter Weiss’ 46 donations to RISD Museum of Art

The Rhode Island School of Design has provided a complete list of donations made by former museum chairman Arnold Peter Weiss, the Providence doctor and collector of ancient coins who was arrested in New York last month for possession of a coin he allegedly knew had been recently looted in Sicily. (See our earlier stories here, here and here.)

Dr. Arnold Peter Weiss

Weiss donated 46 objects to the museum between 1997 and 2010, according to museum spokeswoman Donna Desrochers. Sixteen of those donations were ancient coins. We’ve posted the complete list of the Weiss donations, with images, here.

Below are the ownership histories for the ancient coins, with select images:

Six Lycian staters, 1997.42.1-6 cf. L. Mildenberg, “Mithrapata und Perikles,” Atti, Congresso Internazionale di Numismatica, Roma 11-16 Settembre 1961 (Rome 1965), 24, pl. 4; N. Olçay and O. Mørkholm, “The Coin Hoard from Podalia,” Numismatic Chronicle, 1971, nos. 26, 27, 414-418.

Stater of Locris Opuntia, 2001.81.1 ex CNG private purchase, 1999; ex US dealer; ex Edward Gans Collection, 1940s-50s

RISD 2001.81.2

Tetradrachm of Amphipolis, 2001.81.2 CNG Mail Bid Sale 49, 19 March 1999, lot 158 ex California collection, early 1970s-1990; ex English collection, 1940s

Decadrachm of Syracuse, 2001.81.3; ex CNG direct purchase; ex Zurich auction, late 1990s; ex Swiss collection, early 1900s

Tetradrachm of Amphipolis, 2007.89.1
ex Gemini III, 9 January 2007, lot 88; ex LHS Numismatik, auction 95, 25 October 2005, lot 559; ex MMAG auction XIX, 5-6 June 1959, lot 372; ex Charles Gillet Collection, Lausanne

RISD.2007.89.2

Stater of unknown Ionian mint, 2007.89.2
ex NFA auction XVIII, 1987, lot 95 ex von Hoffmann Collection; cf. Price, “A Field in Western Thrace” (Coin Hoards 2, no. 1, 1976)

Tetradrachm of Thebes, 2008.60.1
ex CNG Triton IX, BCD Boiotia Collection, 10 January 2006, lot 439; ex BCD Collection; ex MMAG XXII 1961 auction, lot 467

Tetradrachm of Rhodes, 2008.60.2
ex CNG Triton IX, 10 January 2006, lot 966; ex CNG Mail Catalogue Sale 63, 21 May 2003, lot 557; ex Leu private purchase, 2001; ex Marmaris hoard 1970/71 (ICGH 1209)

RISD 2010.56.1

Persian daric, 2008.60.3
ex CNG private purchase, 2005
ex Edward Gans, 1964, lot 78

Bronze 2-litrae of Syracuse, 2008.60.4
ex Gorny and Mosch, auction 156, 6 March 2007, lot 1139
ex Gorny and Mosch, auction 107, 2 April 2001, lot 75
ex Moretti Collection, Basel, 1920s

Tetradrachm of Naxos, 2010.56.1
ex Leu private sale, 2010; ex Leu, 1980s; cf. Ludwig Grabow, Rostock, 9 July 1930, lot 196

RISD 2010.56.2

Stater of Mysia, 2010. 56.2
ex Jean Vinchon Numismatique, 2007; ex Bank Leu Numismatique AG, 1969; ex Charles Gillet, Lausanne, 1952

Stater of Mysia, 2010.56.3
ex Herren Collection; ex Ready (in commerce), 1929; ex Gulbenkian Collection, 1920s

Another donation of interest, not an ancient coin, is this:

Etruscan bronze relief, 2002.114.2
ex Denyse Berend Collection, Paris and Geneva, early 1960s; ex Cahn, Basel

RISD 2002.114.2

“Cahn” is likely Herb Cahn, the Classical numismatist and antiquities dealer who was investigated by Italian authorities for participating in the illicit trade, as recounted by Robert Hecht in his unpublished memoir.

Take away? Many of the coins appear to have ownership histories going back several decades. Others are vague (“ex-California collection”) or are linked to dealers whose names come up in the Italian investigation (Cahn; Bank Leu; NFA = Bruce McNall). We leave it to our more informed readers to draw their own conclusions about these donations, and welcome your thoughts in the comments field below. We are curious if Dr. Weiss took tax write-offs for these donations, and if so how the donations were valued.

We’re grateful to RISD for their transparency on this matter, and wish other universities would take a similar stance.

Arnold Peter Weiss’ Coin Partner and The Getty Connection

A surprising detail emerged while we were reading about Nomos AG, the Swiss coin dealership whose principal, Dr. Arnold-Peter Weiss, was arrested on January 3 for felony possession of an ancient coin allegedly looted recently in Sicily.

One of Weiss’ partners in Nomos is Eric McFadden, a senior director of Classical Numismatic Group, one of the world’s leading dealers in ancient coins. McFadden has an impressive resume — he received degrees in Classics from Pomona College and Oxford University before getting a law degree from Harvard University.

But here’s the detail that caught our eye, described in a 2008 profile of McFadden in Pomona College Magazine:

“McFadden began his career in the coin world in the summer of 1977, after graduating from Pomona College with a degree in classics. He volunteered to work on the coin collection of the then fledgling Getty Museum in Malibu. There, he learned that it’s virtually impossible for a new museum to build an outstanding collection of ancient statuary or ceramics, because the finest quality items are not available at any price. However, it is entirely possible for a well-funded museum to collect first-rate ancient coins, which are still regularly sold in the marketplace.”

At the Getty in 1977, McFadden would have been working under Jiri Frel, the rogue Czech antiquities curator who ran the department until he was chased out of town in 1984 amid a tax fraud investigation by the IRS.

As readers of Chasing Aphrodite know, Frel was charming, brilliant and deeply corrupt. A confidential Getty damage assessment later found that Frel had falsified provenances for recently looted antiquities, given inflated attributions to objects in the collection and recommended the purchase of several multi-million dollar fakes in exchange for kickbacks from dealers. (The assistant curator who exposed Frel went on to become a prominent name in the numismatic world as well: Arthur Houghton III, president of the American Numismatic Society from 1994-1999 and currently a lifetime trustee.)

McFadden’s work at the Getty is likely where he met Bruce McNall, the cherubic ancient coin dealer who ran Numismatic Fine Arts, the Beverly Hills gallery on Rodeo Drive. McNall had opened NFA in 1971 and built it into the world’s leading ancient coin dealership, eventually branching out into Classical antiquities (Summa Gallery) with the help of his silent partner, the antiquities dealer Robert E. Hecht Jr. Hecht had been selling recently looted antiquities since the 1950s, and his network of loyal suppliers reached deep into tombs across the Mediterranean.

As we recount in Chapter Two of Chasing Aphrodite, it was this crooked triumvirate — Hecht the supplier, McNall the salesman, and Frel the curator — that cooked up one of the largest tax fraud schemes in American museum history. Thousands of recently looted antiquities and coins were donated to the Getty Museum by Hollywood elites looking for a tax dodge. In exchange for donating objects they often never saw, they got tax write-offs at inflated values thanks to appraisals forged by Frel.

photo by Ed Alcock/NYT

Robert Hecht

Nomos’ McFadden worked for McNall during those years, first during his summer breaks at Oxford, then for another three years after completing his degree. In an interview this week, McNall recalled McFadden as “a knowledgeable, nerdy kind of guy,” which was helpful. “You don’t want to be looking like a slick car sales man selling ancient art,” McNall said.

McNall said that it was common knowledge that many of the coins he was getting in those days had been recently — and therefore illegally — excavated. “Fresh” coins were were more attractive to buyers. “Any time you find something brand new, it’s sexier,” he said. “Otherwise it’s been around, it’s been seen, and maybe there’s a reason someone else hasn’t bought it…Nobody wants some old broad that’s been around on the town for too long.”

Ironically, McNall thinks that may explain the case of Arnold-Peter Weiss, who was allegedly recorded by a confidential informant bragging that he knew the 4th century BC silver tetradrachm from Katane he was selling was “a fresh coin, this was dug up a few years ago” in Italy. Such talk is common in the coin trade, said McNall, but “90% of the time it’s just a sales tool.” McNall also finds to be credible the rumor circulating in the coin world that one or more of the coins Weiss was offering for sale may have been fakes.

McNall, who no longer trades coins but still follows the market,  sees parallels to today’s coin market and that of the late 1970s, when he pitched ancient coins as safe harbor in a troubled economy. Investors “have gotten burned in supposedly safe sources, and they’ve gone back to things like coins. If your other investments hit the fan, you’ve always got these things, which have found a market for the last 2000 years.”

In time, authorities caught up with the triumvirate. McNall got out of the coin business after declaring bankruptcy and spending four years in federal prison for bank fraud. Frel left the country in 1984 amid an IRS investigation into the donation scheme, and died in 2006.  Robert Hecht, 92, has been was on trial in Italy since 2005 for trafficking in looted antiquities until Jan 16th, when his trial ended with no verdict.

Eric McFadden was never, to our knowledge, accused of a crime. He left NFA in the mid-1980s for Harvard Law School, and practiced in Los Angeles for several years before returning to the coin trade and joining CNG in 1990. He apparently maintained his ties to Bob Hecht. Over the years, CNG has sold several ancient coins tied to Hecht, including its 2008 sale of Hecht’s collection of Byzantine coins.

Most recently, McFadden has been a vocal opponent of import restrictions on ancient coins, submitting statements to the Cultural Property Advisory Committee in opposition of restrictions for Greece and Bulgaria, calling them “unworkable, ineffective, and ultimately counterproductive.”

In his letter arguing against restrictions for Greek coins, McFadden wrote,” “…there is no simple way of determining either where or when a coin might have been found before being moved from its find spot.” The Weiss case, which appears to rely on the testimony of an informant, may test that theory.

We’ve reached out to Nomos and McFadden, who lives in London,  for comment and will post any response here.

ALSO: Attorney Rick St. Hilaire has posted a helpful update on the legal case of Ancient Coin Collectors Guild v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection; U.S. Department of State; Assistant Secretary of State, Educational and Cultural Affairs.

ALSO: David Gill at Looting Matters notes that Nomos AG is a member of  the International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN) which “has apparently paid $100,000 over the last two years for lobbying services in the US.”

Arnold-Peter Weiss and the Rhode Island School of Design

*UPDATED: See below for additional information from RISD and Harvard Art Museums.

Dr. Arnold-Peter Weiss, the Rhode Island coin collector arrested Jan. 3 for felony possession of an ancient coin that authorities say he knew was recently looted from Sicily, has deep ties to the Rhode Island School of Design. He is a former trustee of the university and currently serves as former* chairman of the board of the university’s museum, to which he has donated several objects.

According to the criminal complaint against Weiss, he told a confidential informant wearing a wire that he knew where the coin “was dug up two years ago.” Weiss is innocent until proven guilty, and his lawyer has not responded to two requests for comment. If the allegations hold up in court, its appears to be a fresh example of the alarming link between the black market in looted antiquities and (apparently) respectable collectors and museums that we detail in Chasing Aphrodite.

By participating in the illicit antiquities trade, museums and collectors betray  their professed educational mission and encourage the destruction of context that happens as objects are looted and laundered through the black market.

Weiss appears to understand the importance of context in ancient art. In September 2010, when RISD reinterpreted and reinstalled its gallery of ancient, medieval and early Renaissance art, Weiss and his wife, Dr. Yvonne Weiss, a pediatrician in Barrington, RI, were major sponsors of the renovation.

“As a collector of ancient coins,” Dr. Weiss said in a press release from RISD, “my hope for this gallery—and for the entire reinstallation of the Radeke Building—is to provide visitors of all ages with context for understanding these fascinating and beautiful objects.”

The museum describes its collection of Greek, Roman and Etruscan art as “one of the finest collections of any university museum in the country,” and contains about seven hundred ancient coins spanning more than 1500 years. Among the collection highlights on the museum’s website are several recent acquisitions. Collecting histories are not provided for most objects.

In 2010, Weiss donated a silver Greek tetradrachm, ca. 460 BCE from Naxos. The obverse is shown here. Details and the reverse, showing Silenos holding a kantharos, can be found on the museum’s website here.

A similar coin is listed here on the website of Nomos AG, the Swiss coin dealership that Weiss launched around 2007. The Nomos coin is said to be from the Randazzo (Sicily) Hoard of 1980 and is described as “one of the greatest and best known of all 5th century Greek coins.” It sold at auction recentlyfor  775,000 CHF, well over the 400,000 CHF estimate. Weiss’ partners at Nomos are Victor England and Eric McFadden of the Classical Numismatics Group and Alan Walker, who has a doctorate in Classical Archaeology from the University of Pennsylvania.

Note: The Syracuse Decadrachm previously listed here was not a donation by Dr. Weiss but an acquisition made by the museum in 1940, according to RISD director of marketing Donna Desrochers. 

Another Weiss donation to RISD is a Flemish oil painting by artist Hendrik van Steenwyck, ca. 1550-1603. Details can be found here.

We’ve contacted the museum’s curator of ancient art, Gina Borromeo, to request additional details about these objects and any others Weiss may have donated.

We’ve sent a similar request to the Harvard Art Museums, where Weiss’ bio says he is was on the collecting committee until this month. The collection of the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, in particular, has an impressive collection of ancient coins.

We’ll post answers here when we get them.

*Harvard UPDATE: Jennifer Aubin, the Harvard Art Museums public relations manager, provided the following information: “Dr. Peter Weiss was a member of our Collections Committee, an advisory group, from 2006–2012. We have no objects in our collections donated by or purchased from Dr. Weiss.” The Harvard Art Museums did acquire two coins through Weiss’ firm Nomos AG in 2009, both of which appear to have a long provenance. The first, a Drachm of Argos dating to 370-350 BC, can be traced back to an 1886 auction. The second, a fragment of a dekadrachm of Athens dated to 470 BC – 460 BC,  is seen in a 1968 edition of Revue Numismatique. (No images are available.) In addition, a gold wreath was loaned for exhibition by Drs. Yvonne and Arnold-Peter Weiss to the Harvard Art Museums from 2008–2010. No additional information was provided about the wreath.

Harvard UPDATE #2: In response to a follow up question about Weiss’ resignation “in 2012″, Aubin says Weiss resigned from the collections committee on January 9, 2012 — six days after his arrest.

*RISD UPDATE: Donna Desrochers, the director of marketing at RISD’s art museum, noted that Weiss’ online bio is out of date: His term as chairman of the board ended last June, and he no longer sits on the museum’s board. In addition, the Syracuse Decadrachm we listed above was not donated by Dr. Weiss. We’ve corrected the post according, and look forward to additional information from RISD.

ALSO:  Paul Barford at his Portable Antiquities Collecting blog reports an unconfirmed rumor on coin discussion groups that Interpol arrest warrants may have been issued for an American dealer and two Italian dealers. He has additional thoughts and information here, here and here.

ALSO: David Gill at Looting Matters digs up this quote from Weiss from a 2002 NYT story: “They [ancient coins] have good rates of return — not as good as when we were riding the Internet bubble, but the coin market hasn’t burst.”

EXCLUSIVE: NYC DA Says Prominent Surgeon Knew He Was Selling Looted Coin

A prominent Rhode Island surgeon and collector of ancient coins was arrested on January 3rd in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City for felony possession of an ancient coin recently looted from Sicily.

Arnold-Peter C. Weiss, a world-renowned hand surgeon who teaches at Brown University, was selling ancient Greek coins at the 40th annual New York International Numismatic Convention. Weiss is the former treasurer of the American Numismatic Society, chairman of the board at RISD’s art museum and on the collecting committee of the Harvard Art Museums, according to his bio.

According to a criminal complaint filed with the NYC District Attorney’s office, Weiss was secretly recorded telling a confidential informant that he knew one of the coins he was selling had been recently looted: “There’s no paperwork, I know this is a fresh coin, this was dug up a few years ago,” the complaint quotes Weiss telling the informant. “This was dug up two years ago. I know where this came from.”

Weiss also told DA investigator John Freck that he knew the coin had been recently looted and belonged to the government of Italy, the complaint alleges. Under Italian law, all antiquities in the ground belong to the Italian state.

The coin in question was a 4th century BC silver tetradrachm from Katane, listed at $300,000 in the auction catalog. Weiss said he had bought the coin in 2001 for $250,000 and hoped to sell if for $350,000, the complaint says. According to Coin World, that and a second coin were seized: a 4th century BC silver decadrachm from Akragas, one of the most coveted coins in the world. It was listed at $2.5 million and expected to be the most expensive Greek coin ever sold.

Weiss has been accused of one count of criminal possession of stolen property, a felony. He is due in court on March 21 for “possible grand jury action,” said NYC DA’s spokeswoman Diem Tran. (Case number 1299081) We’ve posted a copy of the complaint here.

Weiss’ attorney Helen Cantwell did not return two calls seeking comment. We’ll update this post if she gets back to us. Coin World quoted Alan Walker, director of Nomos, the coin dealership where Weiss is a partner, saying: “All the coins are in the U.S. legally. All of the coins left Europe legally. It was all handled 100 percent by the law, as far as we know.”

The case is in the early stages yet, but given Weiss’ prominence in the numismatic community, it bears some early similarities to the criminal case against Fred Schultz, the head of the national antiquities dealers association, who was  convicted in 2002 of knowingly trafficking in looted antiquities from Egypt. The Schultz case proved a watershed in the art world, underscoring the fact that trafficking in looted antiquities was a violation of American law.

The case could also influence the on-going battles over whether coins should be included in bi-lateral agreements between the US and foreign nations aimed at preventing the traffic in looted antiquities. Numismatists have long argued that coins should be exempted from import restrictions. As the American Numismatic Society states on its website, “…Because most coins in private collections have been traded and held without any provenance, it is unreasonable to assume that a coin is stolen, illegally exported, or illegally imported merely because the holder cannot establish a chain of custody beyond receipt from a reputable source.”

That position may be more difficult to maintain in the face of a criminal case against Weiss, who was treasurer of the ANS from 2005 – 2009.

Hot Doc: US vs. Weiss criminal complaint

Hat-tip: David Gill at Looting Matters was the first to break the news of the arrest. His blog has excellent analysis of the illicit trade.

Update: Cultural Property Attorney Ricardo St Hilaire has a good analysis of the legal implications of the case, apparently a novel use of state law, at his blog. Paul Barford has also been following the case closely on his blog.

Update #2: In other news, Swiss authorities have seized a valuable 5th Century silver Thracian octadrachm that was recently sold at auction in Switzerland. The move came at the request of Greek authorities, who claim the coin was  illegally removed from the country. The name of the owner, who is facing criminal charges, was not released. See the AP story here.