By Richard Giedroyc
The private collector is under fire in Germany. Not just the coin collector but the collector of many antique or fine art objects.
The problem is the German Law on the Protection of Cultural Heritage. Proposals to the existing law include provisions that could limit coin collecting and dealing, as well as dealing in or collecting a host of other objects including fine art and even fossils.
Designed by the Commissioner of the Federal Government for Culture and Media, the legislation defines archaeological cultural heritage as including items described as being older than 70 years and valued at more than 300,000 euro, these therefore being of paleontological, ethnographical, numismatic, or scientific value. Under this legislation, any numismatic items being exported must be documented to be able to be legally shipped outside Germany, even to other European Union member nations.
Also under this legislation, there are provisions through which any foreign state can block an import if that state decides to classify the import as being a relevant item of national heritage value. Previous drafts limited foreign government interruption of such imports to items of special artistic, historic or archaeological value.
The law doesn’t obligate coin dealers to provide buyers with the provenance of what they are buying at the time of purchase; however, the same dealer must provide the provenance if the legal right to ownership of the item comes into question later.
In the Feb. 28 issue of Lexology, the publication editorializes that “the export license requirement will most likely have a stifling effect on the market. Market participants will have less interest importing works of art into Germany if there is a risk that such works will then fall under the export license requirement. Such works that are already in Germany when the amendments come into force will lose value in the event of them being placed on the list.”
While the proposal isn’t yet law, there is fear among German coin and other collectors that if they sign a petition voicing their opposition to the legislation their names will be stored for possibly future investigation into what they own. A 2014 study conducted as a cooperation between the Research Center for Financial Services and the Steinbeis-University Berlin identified 23.2 million Germans as collectors of something. About 7.7 million of them were identified as being collectors of coins.
The German government has asked those persons voicing their objections to the proposed legislation to sign the German Bundestag’s online petition platform. An alternative favored by coin collectors, coin dealers and others is to file their objections through openpetition.de, a neutral platform not under government supervision that is less likely to identify the signers to law enforcement at some later date.
According to CoinWeekly.com, many people still won’t sign openpetition.de. “They fear that after the law has been enacted, this list of signatures will be used to launch an investigation into the collections of all who supported the petition.”
The Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation was originally meant to protect items of cultural value in Prussia. It more recently established the rather ominous sounding “research project” ILLICID, meant to block the illicit trade in antiquities, likely including coins. The project keeps what CoinWeekly.com has called a secret file where information on anything or anyone identified as being a collector can be stored. Project spokesman Martin Steinebach has acknowledged the uploaded data is for the benefit of “archaeologists or investigators from authorities” as “part of a portal that brings investigators and experts together.”
German Culture Minister Monika Grütters said, “With the amendment of the cultural protection legislation we are adopting one of the most important pieces of cultural politics of this legislature.”
It may be one of the most important pieces of cultural legislation, but it is also one of the most controversial. The deep distrust of the German government by collectors isn’t helping matters either.
This article was originally printed in World Coin News.
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