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The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild has become a driving force in the ongoing effort to protect coin collectors and museums in which coins are stored from being forced to give up these items to foreign governments under the premise the coins are the cultural patrimony of the claimant nation. — Richard Giedroyc, World Coin News April 26, 2010

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Import Restrictions

U.S. Declines Italy’s Request To Impose Restrictions on Ancient Coins

By Peter K. Tompa, MWE Website |
March 31, 2004

On January 19, 2001, the outgoing Clinton Administration signed a memorandum of understanding with the Republic of Italy as a prelude to imposing import restrictions on a wide variety of ancient artifacts of Italian origin. A list of restricted items was published in the Federal Register on January 23, 2001. While Italy had requested restrictions be placed on ancient coins, coins were not listed among the extensive list of items subject to import controls.

Italy made its request for import restrictions back in 1999. Under the terms of U.S. law governing these issues, the request was forwarded to the State Department’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee to study the matter and to make recommendations. Many interested Celator readers wrote the Committee in an effort to convince the body that ancient coins have unique characteristics that argue against placing any restrictions on their free transit in international trade. In particular, ancient and modern circulation patterns of such coins combined with their status as some of the most common ancient artifacts make it extremely difficult to tie them to any particular modern nation state’s cultural heritage. Indeed, it is impossible to characterize Roman coins or Ancient Greek coins that circulated in Magna Graecia as "Italian." Rather, these coins have a history and appeal that transcends the borders of any one country.

Sources close to the Committee indicated that the body was swayed by these arguments, but the Committee’s recommendations were then subject to State Department review and approval. In the end, despite some concern that State might agree to place at least some restrictions on ancient coins based on monetary thresholds, the State Department ultimately decided against imposing any import restrictions on ancient coins. Thus, under current U.S. law, ancient coins may still transit freely into the United States as long as they are properly declared for duty purposes, where necessary. Other provisions of U.S. law operate to bar importation of stolen items, including stolen coins.

While collectors should be gratified their voices were heard, continued vigilance is necessary. Countries like Greece, Turkey and China also are expected to request import restrictions on ancient artifacts, probably including coins. Under statute, these requests must be addressed on an individual basis. Therefore, the favorable result here will not technically bind the State Department in the future. Under the circumstances, collectors again may have to mobilize their efforts in support of their hobby.

Those interested in learning more about the agreement with Italy and the scope of the restrictions that were imposed should review the U.S. State Department Cultural Property Advisory Committee web site at: http://exchanges.state.gov/education/culprop/.

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