This article was originally printed in World Coin News.
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By: Richard Giedroyc, World Coin News
A ruling made in Maryland Aug. 8 regarding a lawsuit brought against U.S. Customs and Border Protection by the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild could have far-reaching effects on coin collectors and museums alike.
In 2009, the ACCG purchased 23 Chinese and Cypriot coins between 1,000 and 2,000 years old from a London coin dealer. When the coins, purposely purchased without documentation, were seized by U.S. Customs, the ACCG took their case to court.
At the heart of the issue is the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act. This legislation, passed in 1983, allows the U.S. president to restrict the import of artifacts that are considered to be of archaeological and cultural significance. Restrictions were placed on the import of ancient coins from Cyprus beginning in 2007, and on ancient coins from China during 2009. The dispute between ACCG and the U.S. State Department focuses on whether the State Department can restrict the import of coins when the location where the coins were discovered is unknown.
Within its complaint the ACCG said, “It is... unreasonable to assume that a coin is ‘stolen,’ ‘illegally exported,’ or ‘illegally imported’ when full documentation of the coin’s pedigree isn’t available.”
The ACCG law suit was dismissed under the court’s opinion that the issues raised were largely within the discretion of the State Department. The ACCG is considering appealing the court decision. ACCG attorney Peter Tompa said, “We believe we’ve raised some legitimate concerns about how State Department and Customs both promulgate and apply import restrictions on pieces or goods that are commonly traded here and around the world.”
The looting of archaeological sites is a problem worldwide. However there is reason for concern among coin collectors that if the U.S. enters into agreements with countries including Greece, Italy, Turkey and Spain, coins in private collections might be forcibly repatriated. Since most coins lack a pedigree or documentation regarding their import this could become a problem for private ownership of any foreign coin another country defines as “ancient.”
Perhaps the most well-known case of repatriated coins is the Decadrachm Hoard, a group of very rare Athenian silver decadrachm coins brought to the United States during the 1980s, which was later returned not to Greece but to Turkey where the coins had been illegally excavated.