US Coins

Monday Morning Brief for July 18, 2022: ANS and ANA actions

The American Numismatic Society is seeking to repatriate this silver Abraham Indian Peace medal.

Images courtesy of the American Numismatic Society.

The nation’s two leading numismatic organizations, the American Numismatic Association and the American Numismatic Society, are making headlines this month.

The American Numismatic Society, headquartered in New York City, is repatriating an 1862 Indian peace medal to a Native American tribe. The medal entered the ANS collection in 1915, three years after having been removed, in Nebraska, from the site of a Pawnee Nation burial ground.

In the distant past, museums and organizations such as the ANS generally gave little or no consideration to the origins of artifacts entering their collections. Pride of ownership dominated. It little mattered to museum officials that the artifacts may have been removed from an Indian burial ground or an Egyptian pyramid or the Greek Parthenon. The concept of “cultural property” was not an issue, for the most part. The feelings of Native Americans or Egyptians or Greeks mattered little to the officials of Western museums.

Today, however, the importance of cultural property is more widely acknowledged, though not without controversy. Ownership of the Elgin Marbles currently held in the British Museum in London is disputed, with the British and Greek governments both claiming rights to the marble sculptures. The British government as recently as 2021 stated that the marbles were acquired legally under the laws of the early 19th century; the Greek government asserts that they are the property of the Greek people and that their removal was a desecration of one of the world’s greatest archaeological sites.  

The identification of coins and medals as cultural property is controversial within the numismatic community. The U.S. State Department has supported requests from numerous world governments to identify those nations’ coins as cultural property and to impose import restrictions. The numismatic community here is largely in opposition to such restrictions.

The ANS leadership’s decision to repatriate the Indian peace medal to heirs of the burial ground, the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma, is supported by the U.S. government through the National Park Service. It is also the right thing to do. Even if the medal was removed innocently from a burial ground in 1912 and placed into the ANS collection in 1915, the medal belongs with people who have closer ties to it than the staff and membership of an organization in New York City.

ANA convention

The numismatic community is getting ready for the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money in Rosemont, Illinois, in August.

Things have gotten back to some level of “normal” in the wake of the widespread public-gathering restrictions imposed during the height of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021. The ANA was forced to cancel its 2020 World’s Fair of Money and 2021 National Money Show because of the restrictions imposed in the locales of both shows (and because large public gatherings were a bad idea at the time anyway). The ANA did hold its 2021 World’s Fair of Money convention; mask wearing was recommended but not required, though individual table holders were empowered to ask visitors to their booths to wear masks.

Some major changes were seen at the 2021 convention. The two official auction houses of the ANA convention, Stack’s Bowers Galleries and Heritage Auctions, chose to conduct their respective “ANA convention auctions” at their respective headquarters. That has been their standard business model ever since, with auctions affiliated with a convention not actually held at the show venue. That makes sense for the two firms; holding auctions at their headquarters is certainly a lot less costly than flying a large staff contingent to a distant location and housing them in the show city.

This year’s ANA auction will be quite different. ANA contracts with Heritage and Stack’s Bowers Galleries as “Official Auctioneers” expired at the conclusion of the 2021 World’s Fair of Money auctions. A contract with Kagin’s as “Official Auctioneer” of the National Money Show ended in 2021 as well. In September, the ANA asked for bids for future conventions, and in February 2022, the ANA awarded a three-year contract to GreatCollections to serve as its official auctioneer. We are looking forward to seeing what new approach to the ANA auction this might involve.

The ANA convention, held in a suburb of Chicago, will offer a wide range of educational activities, educational exhibits, and a large bourse. Expect the attendees to be enthusiastic.

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