The Other Coin: State Department Restrictions on Coin Imports
The most shocking news in the ancient coin world is that the US State
Department has agreed to extend import restrictions to all coins of Cyprus that
are 250 years old or older. China is trying to get the same agreement and Italy,
Turkey, and Spain are also starting to restrict coin exports and arrest people for
possessing unprovenanced coins as well as artifacts. All this to prevent looting
of archaeological sites.
Coin collectors since the time of the Renaissance have argued that coins are
abundant and minted in the hundreds of millions and are not unique cultural
property as they were spent literally around the world. Cyprus coins could be
found anywhere around the Mediterranean and were part of commerce.
Archaeologist argue that metal detectorists damage archaeological sites seeking
the coins and further coins are used to date sites and their loss prevents this.
Coin collectors have long noticed that hordes of coins are just sitting in piles and
drawers of museums, rarely displayed or open to the public and that
numismatists have long contributed to archaeological and historical studies.
England has created the most practical and successful compromise. Their
Treasure Trove Law encourages amateur digs by setting up the government
right of first refusal. Any ancient treasure found is presented to the local
museum who has the right to buy it, authenticate it, and they pay market value
for the treasure or return it to the finder. The land owner is also compensated.
Everyone has been pleased with this--and there have been weekly great finds of
a Viking treasure horde, Roman and Celtic coin hordes all documented and
enriching their finders with most coins getting onto the market. It is true that
coins are abundant and a wonderful way to hold a bit of history in your hands.
Meanwhile Palestinian, Bulgarian, and Russian metal detectorist finds flood the
market as well as India and Pakistan. However, it appears we have lost Cyprus.
Glad I completed a set of ancient coins of Cyprus a few years ago as my
presentation showed. Wonder if the State Department will be knocking on the
door. This may get as bad as the laws preventing Americans from owning gold
or the controversy over the 1933 double eagle.
Numismatically yours, David Elliott