Jump to content

CoinWeek Article -- "Collecting Ancient Coins in an Era of Import Restrictions"


Roman Collector
 Share

Recommended Posts

Collecting Ancient Coins in an Era of Import Restrictions

Interesting article in a recent CoinWeek. It has MUCH IMPORTANT INFORMATION. Here's an excerpt:

Ask a collector of ancient coins if they have ever bought a coin from an overseas vendor, and you will more likely than not receive a positive response.

And while many collectors will have never experienced a problem with Customs, everyone will have heard at least a few horror stories of coins being delayed or even seized. While these collectors are not smugglers–and the vendors have almost definitely filled out the paperwork as accurately as possible–they have still fallen victim to an overly complex and ill-defined system of enforcement that represents what has been called by my CoinWeek colleague Mike Markowitz a “global war against collectors” of ancient coins.

 

 

  • Like 9
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Setting aside  whether I agree with how current import restrictions (to some countries) and export restrictions (from others) are written and implemented, I get a lot of peace of mind by doing everything possible to comply with them (and documenting it). Note, for everything below, I've never been to law school or practiced law, this is all just my experience and what I've learned from reading and dealing w/ the relevant actors. Please correct me if mistaken.

It's worth becoming familiar with the different rules for different countries. In the US, it depends on the year that the US entered into an MOU ("Memorandum of Understanding" -- a diplomatic treaty) with the source country. It can be confusing if you're checking the "Federal Register" or other government documents, because the MOUs are renewed and revised every so often. Best to go with the earliest date of MOU for archaeological objects or coins. From my notes (not bothering with dates, just years): 

Italy (2011), Greece (2011), Cyprus (2002), Turkey (2021), Egypt (2005), Iraq (1990), Syria (2005). Many others, more always being added. (* See Note below.)

That's when the coin needs to have been out of the source country. (Not good enough, technically, just to have been in old collections within the source country. Must be out by those years to be exempt from specific permission from the source country.)

Some auction firms print a statement about import restrictions to the U.S. in their catalogs or on their websites, usually with key dates as above. (E.g., check Leu; also check the letters that usually accompany orders from Leu or Savoca.)

I'm sure it's a burden for some sellers, but as someone who prefers coins with documented histories in collections or publications, it hasn't caused me too many problems personally.

I've had a number of coins held up in U.S. Customs, but was always able to provide adequate documentation and/or get the auction houses to supply the info. (I've shared my experiences/offered advice to others in the same situation, as I'm always happy to do.)

I mention it from time to time, but I may be the only person who appreciates having to pay and wait for export licenses for Spanish coins. Being a "papyrophile" (I keep boxes and drawers of file folders with any possible paperwork about my coins), I enjoy receiving hard copies of export paperwork like this, which came with an order from Jesus Vico:

image.jpeg.2a9cc9a01b5dacc2c092d591720b9980.jpeg

If they have to get the export licenses, Vico has always sent me copies. Other Spanish dealers you have to ask for the hard copies. (They're not always required; some coins are exempt, so don't expect them with every coin). A few other countries seem to have similar systems (e.g., Italy and Israel).

For most countries, the closest you get are the Customs forms/declarations and sometimes a written statement declaring the coins are legal.

* Note regarding dates: Dates above are for the MOUs and what matters for Customs/importation to the U.S.

Certain publications and museum collections have much stricter, earlier standards (e.g., if you want to donate your collection some day).

Usually pre-1970 (or 30 Dec 1973 for the AIA) based on the UNESCO convention and its adoption in the UN ("Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property"). The US Congress ratified it in 1983, usually the earliest legal standard in the U.S. But in certain cases, usually high profile ones with an accusation of intentional fraud or theft, items can be in jeopardy much earlier. (Stuff looted by Nazis, for example.)

Then, of course, for important objects and collections, there is the question of political or public pressure, which, as we're seeing now, can be relevant to objects in private collections for more than a century.

Edited by Curtis JJ
  • Like 6
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think it's worthwhile to note that the various memoranda of understanding are in fact the practical implementation of the 1970 UNESCO Convention, which is now law in many countries. I'm not a lawyer but as I understand it, the Convention requires each signatory nation to address any and all trafficking complaints by other signatories. The US State Department addresses these complaints through negotiated memoranda of understanding. If "prior to implementation" is a minimum standard, "pre-1970" is the gold standard. The Convention, by the way, is much wider in scope than most of the memoranda implemented to date, and covers virtually any collectible object more than 100 years old. Specifically mentioned are coins, postage stamps, books, photographs, furniture, paintings, musical instruments, mineral specimens ...

http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=13039&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html

Edited by DLTcoins
  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

The UK doesn't currently have any restrictions. It even repealed an EU law requiring licensing. It's illegal to buy and sell stolen property, of course.

Hopefully, though, all this regulation will encourage people to keep track of provenance, which for some reason few seem willing to do.

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

8 hours ago, John Conduitt said:

The UK doesn't currently have any restrictions. It even repealed an EU law requiring licensing. It's illegal to buy and sell stolen property, of course.

Hopefully, though, all this regulation will encourage people to keep track of provenance, which for some reason few seem willing to do.

My understanding was that the UK technically does require an export license even for coins that have been deemed "treasure," documented in the PAS, and returned to the owners. I can no longer find it on the finds.org.uk website (I'm still looking for the details, I thought I saved it in my notes, but I see explanations of it on coin dealer & metal detecting sites). But I've seen the text from PAS affirming it. (I first went looking because I was shocked to see it mentioned by an outrageous blogger whose name I won't use. Technically, I think he was right.)

I've never, however, heard of anyone actually applying for or receiving the license, nor of it ever being enforced or the UK government indicating they consider it a priority at all. As a practical matter, when a regulation isn't enforced and only a couple bloggers care, one can say it's effectively not a real regulation. EDIT: See the following comment -- that's the first one I've heard of, good to know!

However, I'd like to know, because I can definitely imagine that opinion changing at some point. (Let's say the British Museum is finally forced to repatriate many of its prized holdings and there is a national backlash with wild referenda and tabloid outrage and a new nationalist government -- not unimaginable for the UK anymore! -- and the British public starts demanding foreigners give back, or at least stop buying, stuff without the proper legal documents. Not likely, but much milder versions are imaginable, especially thinking about generations down the line. Which is what one is preparing for by keeping the paperwork in order. Don't want someone pointing out I wasn't even technically legal by today's lax standards.)

Edited by Curtis JJ
Link to comment
Share on other sites

4 hours ago, Curtis JJ said:

My understanding was that the UK technically does require an export license even for coins that have been deemed "treasure," documented in the PAS, and returned to the owners. I can no longer find it on the finds.org.uk website (I'm still looking for the details, I thought I saved it in my notes, but I see explanations of it on coin dealer & metal detecting sites). But I've seen the text from PAS affirming it. (I first went looking because I was shocked to see it mentioned by an outrageous blogger whose name I won't use. Technically, I think he was right.)

I've never, however, heard of anyone actually applying for or receiving the license, nor of it ever being enforced or the UK government indicating they consider it a priority at all. As a practical matter, when a regulation isn't enforced and only a couple bloggers care, one can say it's effectively not a real regulation.

However, I'd like to know, because I can definitely imagine that opinion changing at some point. (Let's say the British Museum is finally forced to repatriate many of its prized holdings and there is a national backlash with wild referenda and tabloid outrage and a new nationalist government -- not unimaginable for the UK anymore! -- and the British public starts demanding foreigners give back, or at least stop buying, stuff without the proper legal documents. Not likely, but much milder versions are imaginable, especially thinking about generations down the line. Which is what one is preparing for by keeping the paperwork in order. Don't want someone pointing out I wasn't even technically legal by today's lax standards.)

I got an export permit with a coin from the UK once, about three years ago - if I recall correctly, the dealer sent on the coin before the paperwork.   I will see if I can find the piece of paper later tonight or tomorrow - it's filed away safely in a bag with 1001 other pieces of paper.   I don't know why it was deemed necesary to apply for a permit to export the coin - it wasn't minted or found in the UK originally.

ATB,
Aidan.

  • Like 1
  • Thanks 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

14 hours ago, DLTcoins said:

I think it's worthwhile to note that the various memoranda of understanding are in fact the practical implementation of the 1970 UNESCO Convention, which is now law in many countries. I'm not a lawyer but as I understand it, the Convention requires each signatory nation to address any and all trafficking complaints by other signatories. The US State Department addresses these complaints through negotiated memoranda of understanding.

That's a good point. It also depends on whether/when those countries became signatories to UNESCO and whether/when they ratified it and have their own antiquities laws. (Basically, once they are signatories, and we have reached an MOU with them, we agree to enforce their antiquities laws beginning with the date the MOU goes into effect.)

The different bodies recommending, legislating, ratifying, and enforcing these agreements can be confusing and contradictory. But here's my understanding (at present!): 

I believe the UNESCO convention was first adopted in an official law in the USA ten years later, in 1983, once Congress passed legislation and Regan signed it ("Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act"). 1983 became the earliest year we (the US) enforce other countries' cultural property laws. I believe that's why sometimes you see the year 1983 in the regulations/language of the MOUs (e.g., that an item was not known to have been stolen or looted from a museum collection AFTER 1983).

I believe the 1970 gold standard usually isn't enforced by the government, but by museum associations and academic associations. Actually, I think they generally use a slightly later date, usually c. 1973, when they passed their own resolutions to follow UNESCO's recommendations (not the date of the conference itself). (I've always understood "1970" as kind of a shorthand for referencing "the 1970 UNESCO" convention.)

The Archaeological Institute of America uses 30 December 1973, when their resolution passed: "The Archaeological Institute of America believes that Museums can henceforth best implement such cooperation by refusing to acquire through purchase, gift, or bequest cultural property exported subsequent to December 30, 1973, in violation of the laws obtaining in the countries of origin"
https://www.archaeological.org/resolution-on-the-acquisition-of-antiquities-by-museums/

For other countries: I believe this website lists when each country ratified the UNESCO convention in their own legislative systems: https://en.unesco.org/about-us/legal-affairs/convention-means-prohibiting-and-preventing-illicit-import-export-and . (I'm not entirely sure what "State Parties" to UNESCO 1970 are -- the list is somewhat different, and the US appears on it c. 1973 rather than 1983: https://whc.unesco.org/en/statesparties/ )

Edited by Curtis JJ
  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

5 hours ago, Curtis JJ said:

My understanding was that the UK technically does require an export license even for coins that have been deemed "treasure," documented in the PAS, and returned to the owners. I can no longer find it on the finds.org.uk website (I'm still looking for the details, I thought I saved it in my notes, but I see explanations of it on coin dealer & metal detecting sites). But I've seen the text from PAS affirming it. (I first went looking because I was shocked to see it mentioned by an outrageous blogger whose name I won't use. Technically, I think he was right.)

I've never, however, heard of anyone actually applying for or receiving the license, nor of it ever being enforced or the UK government indicating they consider it a priority at all. As a practical matter, when a regulation isn't enforced and only a couple bloggers care, one can say it's effectively not a real regulation. EDIT: See the following comment -- that's the first one I've heard of, good to know!

However, I'd like to know, because I can definitely imagine that opinion changing at some point. (Let's say the British Museum is finally forced to repatriate many of its prized holdings and there is a national backlash with wild referenda and tabloid outrage and a new nationalist government -- not unimaginable for the UK anymore! -- and the British public starts demanding foreigners give back, or at least stop buying, stuff without the proper legal documents. Not likely, but much milder versions are imaginable, especially thinking about generations down the line. Which is what one is preparing for by keeping the paperwork in order. Don't want someone pointing out I wasn't even technically legal by today's lax standards.)

Sorry yes, I'm talking about importing (which for me is into the UK, not out to the US). There are plenty of rules about exporting cultural items from the UK.

  • Thanks 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I've been increasingly ordering from Europe, and other than some slow deliveries, no problems so far, knock on wood. Recently; 60% Europe, 35% USA, 5% Canada.  10 years ago; 60 pct. US, 35 pct. canada, 5 pct. Europe.

Another one (since retired) pretty much declared the restrictions BS (right on!) and offered to sell me ones which had gone on the restriction list back then.

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...