“Document your collection” was the cautionary phrase used by Ancient Coin Collectors Guild spokesman and attorney Peter Tompa as he gave an update of the status of cultural patrimony seizures Jan. 13 during the New York International Numismatic Convention.
Collectors and dealers both need to ensure “old tickets” get passed along with the coins these tickets document, including if the coin is now being encapsulated by a third party certification service.
Tompa spoke of Matthew Bogdanos, New York County prosecutor, who is trying to make a name for himself through the seizure of objects deemed to be the cultural patrimony of other countries. The individual or organization from whom these antiquities or other objects are being seized are then threatened with criminal prosecution if they attempt to challenge the seizure.
Tompa noted coins are seldom accompanied by documentation and for that reason could become a target of such seizures.
Tompa also noted that the ACCG imported some coins the organization knew would be challenged by U.S. Customs so the ACCG could make a test case of existing U.S. restrictions on the import of such items. The case, according to Tompa, is still being litigated after eight years in the courts.
The Trump travel ban cases may provide precedent for the proposition that the government must be held strictly to its proofs when a constitutional due process claim arises as is the case in that litigation.
Tompa brought those in attendance up to date on other developments in U.S. policies regarding the repatriation of antiquities, including coins to be repatriated to other countries.
Libya restrictions on exports now include coins found in Libya dated as late as 1750, regardless of the origin of those coins.
Germany is likewise assuming any imported antiquity after a certain date needs to be documented. According to Tompa, the European Union (of which Germany is a member) is considering this policy for the entire EU membership. Germany still allows the export of ancient coins to the United States, but the coins still need to pass through U.S. Customs.
U.S. Customs has restricted coin type imports “to make it easy on themselves,” according to Tompa.
There are also archaeologists who are suggesting the terrorist group ISIS is making money by dealing in antiquities. Tompa reported “possession crime” legislation was proposed but has been defeated in the U.S. Congress.
Tompa backgrounded his report by explaining the 1970 UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) convention allows countries to repatriate illegally exported antiquities or other objects those countries determine to be of cultural value.
The United States only signed onto the agreement with strong reservations ensuring the U.S. would retain its “independent judgment” over such matters; however, the U.S. has imposed some restrictions on imports that follow what is in the agreement. The concern for coin collectors is that the U.S. State Department has been using these restrictions as a diplomatic tool rather than following their own policies. It is for that reason that during 2007, restrictions began on certain coins due to the lobbying of some archaeologists. The individual who favored the attitude of these archaeologists has since retired from the State Department.
UNESCO is a specialized UN agency based in Paris.
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