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Draft German law hinders collectors

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By Richard Giedroyc

A third draft of the amendment to the German Law on the Protection of Cultural Heritage includes provisions that could endanger coin collecting and dealing in Germany.

A German law thought to prevent illicit coin trade could become a strong hindrance to coin collecting.

A German law thought to prevent illicit coin trade could become a strong hindrance to coin collecting.

The draft, unveiled on Sept. 14, includes new provisions and legal definitions that could impact collectors of many objects, including those numismatic. Ironically, the amendment is being drafted by the Commissioner of the Federal Government for Culture and Media just as the German Ministry of Finance announced it will be selling off German numismatic heritage through the British auction house Spink.

Spink will be offering what it terms “a unique collection of German economic history,” bonds and Treasury bills issued by the Reichsbank and German Länder between 1889 and 1945 on November 20. Bidding is open to anyone anywhere. No export license was required for the German government to send the bills and bonds to Great Britain, nor is there any current German law that prevents this cultural heritage from being disbursed to collectors outside Germany.

Adding further fuel to the fire German Ministry of Finance (BADV) Vice President Dr. Thomas Dress said, “We are happy to make available these important witnesses of German Economic history to the public and interested collectors.”

The latest draft to the cultural heritage amendment defines archaeological cultural heritage as including items described as being of paleontological, ethnographical, numismatic, or scientific value. Should the draft become law it would impact numismatic items being exported including proving these items are being exported legally. An export license would become required regardless of the value established for these items. (The proposed legislation does include a staggered value scale to apply to export licenses.)

Imports would likewise be impacted by the proposed law. The third draft includes 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 be only for items of special artistic, historic, or archaeological value.

The new legislative draft no longer obligates 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.

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The Standard Catalog of World Coins, 1801-1900, 8th Edition is your guide to images, prices and information on the century's coins.

The proposed German law controlling the movement of anything determined by some government to be its cultural heritage is politically motivated.

According to an article appearing in the Oct. 8 issue of Coin, “…it becomes apparent that this law does not pursue the interests of the German citizens, but rather constitutes a political means to improve the image of Germany in foreign countries…The claim to a cultural good is rather based on the legal provisions of the state that wants it repatriated.”

In an editorial comment of the same date Editor Dr. Ursula Kampmann said, “Nearly every single line of this legal text speaks of the deep mistrust against collectors and dealers. It’s simply depressing. We witness the alienation between the collecting citizen and his government.”

All this comes following the so-called German “research project” with the ominous title “ILLICID” supposedly meant to fight the illicit trade in antiquities, but in fact could and possibly is planned to be used for much more. The Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation announced the project in early May.

Collaborating with the Fraunhofer Institute for Secure Information Technology and the Leipniz Institute for Social Sciences the project includes a secret file that could store information on just about anything regarding antiquity sales. Fraunhofer spokesman Martin Steinebach 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.”

During the 1930s a significant number of German coin dealers relocated to Switzerland because of the dictatorial politics of the time. Modern Germany is a totally different environment, however if the draft of this proposed new German law is approved there might be yet a second wave of coin dealers abandoning the country.

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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