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Guidelines for documenting ancient coins proposed

The United Kingdom has the Treasure Act and the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Collectors and coin dealers in the United States are seeking common ground for collectible coins with the U.S. government and archaeologists through several organizations including the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild.


Similar problems with how to deal with the ownership of antiquities and coins defined as being ancient are being experienced in Germany and elsewhere within the European Union as well. Guidelines hoped to be adopted universally regarding how to handle reasonably freshly discovered ancient coins are presented in an article by Shanna Schmidt appearing in the Oct. 13 issue of the online publication

Schmidt brings out some good points. She asks, “Why would it make sense to implement an ethical guideline?” then answers her own question, “It makes sense because collecting will not go away and to suggest otherwise is absurd.”

Schmidt points out “…if we go back and look to when all museums were forming collections we will be struck by the fact that none would have existed without the generosity of collectors … Preserving history is the goal of all responsible collectors.”

The article seeks to find a bridge between those individuals who want to collect or place objects including coins in museums and those individuals, primarily some archaeologists, who oppose any form of individual or corporate ownership of these same objects.

“In the end we must meet in the middle and find solutions,” said Schmidt.

She notes that what she calls a task force has already met in the United States in an effort to adopt guidelines by which dealers can work within what authorities and other interested groups want regarding ancient coins. She pointed out that most ethical dealers already follow a similar format.

Schmidt presented seven guidelines for consideration. Knowing your supplier is the first. The proposal that would be challenging for any dealer or collector is to photograph all coins of $1,000 value or greater.

Provenance information, the second suggestion, is likely the most important since the concern of governments and other organizations is if the coins were legally removed from archaeological dig sites and if they were legally exported.

Most of the other proposals are somewhat common sense. These are: database checks, guaranteeing the authenticity of coins, purchase and sales record retention, good title guarantee (from the point of origin of each coin), and proper import and export documentation.

The proposal suggests members adhere to U.S. laws relating to the import of cultural goods as well as the export rules of the countries where members do business.

Schmidt’s proposal suggests dealers in the United States are moving in the right direction. While this may be true, there is significant opposition to the very right of individuals or institutions to own these coins privately. On July 14 the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild filed a motion for summary judgment in a forfeiture case involving undocumented ancient coins from Cyprus and China. The U.S. State Department is considering renewal of a Memorandum of Understanding with Cyprus restricting the import of undocumented coins from that country to the United States.

Many times it is the place of origination and their export to the United States of undocumented coins that are being challenged.

The U.S. State Department currently restricts the import of certain coin types from Bulgaria, China, Greece, Iraq, Italy and Syria. Coins were not part of the antiquities being banned from importation until an expansion of the interpretation of what is an antiquity came about in 2007 at the urging of some militant archaeologists. The Schmidt proposal is important; however, getting all dealers, collectors and museums to comply would be challenging, especially since many so-called undocumented coins have been in the market for many years.

Ancient coin collecting became popular during the Renaissance. The definition of an ancient coin varies from country to country.

This article was originally printed in World Coin News. >> Subscribe today.

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