Wednesday, March 13, 2019

CPAC to Consider New MOU's with Jordan and Chile

On April 1, 2019, the U.S. Cultural Property Advisory Committee will consider proposed MOU's and associated import restrictions with the Kingdom of  Jordan and the Republic of Chile.Please consider commenting before the March 25, 2019 close.  

More about the CPAC meeting, including a public summary of the Jordanian request, can be found here.

To comment, click on the blue "Comment Now" button here.  If that does not work, paste this address into your web browser and try:

The State Department Cultural Heritage Center's updated website provides much better information than in the past about what CPAC considers before recommending import restrictions.  This information may be accessed here.

To the extent possible, members of the public should try to comment on these factors.  Collectors and members of the trade should particularly be well placed to discuss how import restrictions negatively impact the study and appreciation of the history and culture of Jordan and Chile, and the people to people contacts collecting fosters.

The prospect of import restrictions on ancient Jordanian and Colonial and Republican era coins from Chile also raise specific factors that should be addressed.

Ancient Jordan was part of much larger Empires.  Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Islamic coins minted elsewhere also circulated in Jordan, but we cannot assume all such coins-- or even a substantial percentage of them-- were found there.

Even more "local issues" circulated regionally outside of Jordan.  For example, the coins of the Nabatean Kings would have circulated  throughout their kingdom, which included parts of modern day Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Palestine and Israel.  Moreover, later Greek Imperial coins of the Decapolis also likely circulated throughout the area, which included Israel and Syria.

There is a threshold issue of whether Chilean coins meet the definition of "archaeological" or "ethnological" objects that are a predicate for them to be restricted. Coins struck in the 17th century and later are likely never to have been buried in the ground.  Moreover, as products of what were then considered modern industrial processes, one would be hard pressed to consider them "ethnological objects."

It is also difficult to assume coin types that circulated within Chile were found there.  Chile also was part of a much larger Spanish Empire that issued similar coins from multiple mints intended not only for use throughout that Empire but as trade coins.  These trade coins were also used extensively in the United States (where they were legal tender until 1857) and Asia, particularly China.  Even after Chile broke away from Spain, it struck similar trade coins that again ciruclated as far away as Asia and the United States.  So once again, it is impossible to assume that such coins were found in Chile.

Update 3/14/19:  The State Department has released a public summary of Chile's request.  It is focused on Pre-Columbian archaeological objects. One issue that should be noted is whether import restrictions may be placed on fossils because Chilean law includes paleontological material as a subset of archaeological material. The Chilean Public Summary can be found here.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Supreme Court Denies ACCG's Petition for Certiorari

On Feb. 19, 2019, the Supreme Court denied the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild’s petition for certiorari. See
That petition asked the Court to review the Fourth Circuit’s decision that treats import restrictions on ancient Cypriot and Chinese coins under the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA) as embargoes. The Guild had argued the plain meaning of the statute and the Guild’s Fifth Amendment Takings and Due Process rights require the CPIA to be read to only apply to coins of types on designated lists proven to be illicitly exported from Cyprus or China after the effective date of government regulations. The Fourth Circuit instead approved the forfeiture of Cypriot and Chinese coins of types on designated lists imported into the United States after the effective date of the applicable regulations, i.e., an embargo of all coins of restricted types rather than targeted, prospective import restrictions that do not impact the purchase of coins from the legitimate marketplace abroad.
Denials of certiorari have no precedential value. The Fourth Circuit’s opinion is only binding within its jurisdiction (Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North and South Carolina). Nevertheless, the decision will likely be cited as precedent elsewhere, and the archaeological lobby and the US cultural bureaucracy will likely pitch it as approving broad executive authority in the area.
CPO finds it frustrating that broad declarations of executive authority that find little support in statutory language and raise constitutional concerns only seem to provoke public outrage and judicial scrutiny selectively.  That in turn also raises the fundamental question whether Fifth Amendment Takings and Due Process rights are as jealously guarded today as other constitutional rights.  Or, maybe this is just another example where private property rights-- which were of great importance to the "Founding Fathers" -- are being eroded further without much notice from the general public and the media. 

Monday, February 4, 2019

Public Consultation on Proposed Changes to UK's Treasure Act

The UK Government is considering changes to the Treasure Act.   Collector based organizations have supported the Treasure Act because it encourages the reporting of finds.  It also ensures the State pays fair market value for finds it keeps and remits back all others to the finder, who may sell them on the open market.  The coins that are recorded are then uploaded on a publicly accessible website.   This has led to the availability of coins on the numismatic market that can be identified as coming from specific, UK find-spots and hoards. 

 Most of the proposed changes appear non-controversial, but certain of the proposals that require permits to metal detect, that create a new offense for purchases of undeclared artifacts, and declare archaeological finds Crown Property, are potentially very problematic. 

 A permit requirement could be used to preclude detecting from “archaeologically sensitive areas,” which could mean everything.

 The proposed new criminal sanction could catch unwary buyers of objects that did not realize they were buying "treasure."  Moreover, collectors should oppose the proposal's efforts to shift the burden of proof in a criminal matter.

 Declaring all finds crown property may be a way to avoid paying fair market value for finds the State retains.

If you are a metal detectorist, an ancient coin collector, or just think the UK's current PAS and Treasure Act do a great job of bringing the public, museums and archaeologists together in a joint effort to record and preserve the past, please consider commenting.
Comments are due on or before April 30, 2019.
For more about the issue, see
For a direct link to the consultation, see

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

ACCG's Petition for Certiorari to be Considered at Supreme Court's 2/15/19 Conference

The ACCG's petition for certiorari will be considered at the Supreme Court's 2/15/19 conference. The Guild has asked the Supreme Court to keep the burden of proof as to CPIA forfeitures of cultural goods on the government, where it belongs. For more, see

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

ACCG Requests Supreme Court to Hear Forfeiture Case

On December 12, 2018, the ACCG asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its forfeiture case.  Specifically, the Guild has requested the Supreme Court to consider the following questions for review:


            This case arises from the civil forfeiture of ancient Cypriot and Chinese coins under the Cultural Property Implementation Act (“CPIA”), 19 U.S.C. §§ 2601 et seq. The coins are of types that appear on “designated lists” subject to import restrictions.  Congress limited the reach of such import restrictions to archaeological objects “first discovered within” and “subject to export control by” a specific State Party to the 1970 UNESCO Convention, and further placed the burden of proof on the Government to establish that such designated material was listed in accordance with these criteria.  19 U.S.C. §§ 2601, 2604, 2610. Congress also ensured such import restrictions are entirely prospective.  They only apply to designated archaeological material illicitly exported from the State Party after the effective date of the implementing regulations.  Id. § 2606.  The questions presented are:

1.         Did the courts below violate the Guild’s 5th Amendment Due Process Rights when they authorized the forfeiture of the Guild’s private property without any showing that the Guild’s coins were illicitly exported from Cyprus or China after the effective date of import restrictions?

2.         In a civil forfeiture action implicating the Guild’s 5th Amendment Due Process Rights, did a prior decision upholding import restrictions under a highly deferential ultra vires standard of review “foreclose” consideration of legislative history, judicial admissions, and other  information relevant to the Government’s burden of proof?

The Guild's Petition for Certiorari in its entirety can be found here

Friday, October 26, 2018

Building Bridges: A Symposium on Global Cultural Heritage Preservation

This week I attended an interesting seminar put on by the State Department's new Cultural Heritage Coordinating Committee (CHCC) that took place at the Smithsonian Institution.   There were some really enjoyable programs about preservation work, and it was nice to have the opportunity to meet others with different perspectives.  However,  CPO still came away concerned that legitimate collecting is more at risk than ever by grossly over-broad application of cultural heritage laws which Congress originally intended to focus prospectively on specific looting problems in specific countries abroad.

I don't have time to summarize the entire symposium, but here are some of my takeaways:

1.  ISIS may have been defeated on the battlefield, but the terror group still looms large as the justification for all sorts of efforts that impinge on the due process and private property rights of collectors.  The latest claim is that while ISIS may have lost most, if not all, of its territory, it has been warehousing large numbers of valuable artifacts with which to fund its ongoing jihad.

2.  The State Department and law enforcement coordinate heavily with academics and related advocacy groups which are largely hostile to private collecting of antiquities.  Even though the statute that set up the CHCC calls for the committee to coordinate with the trade in addition to cultural heritage groups, there appears to be little evidence of consultations with the trade.  (CPO was happy to get invited, but he was not there for a dealer group.)  This should be particularly troubling because it has certainly contributed to  overboard application of cultural heritage laws in a matter hostile to even legitimate collecting.

3.  Enforcement will be ramped up in the next 18 months, which should be a major concern given the increasing number of cultural property agreements, how broad they have become and how broadly they are enforced.   Apparently, the State Department (with the help of the archaeological lobby)  is working on five new agreements with Middle Eastern countries (most, if not all, of which have authoritarian governments which claim title to anything and everything "old.")  Moreover, there still is no up-to-date guidance for the public in this area, though U.S. Customs at least realizes this is a problem. 

4.  FBI and Homeland Security Investigations are on board with archaeological advocacy groups' and certain compliance vendors' efforts to impose new anti-money laundering (AML) regulations specifically on the art trade because AML violations may be used to pile on charges and encourage guilty pleas.  Still, the evidence presented that money laundering is a real problem in the art trade remains very slim and largely depends on conflating money laundering with other financial crimes.

5.  The Smithsonian has done lots of good work on cultural heritage preservation and restoration projects, but has also joined the cultural property wars on the side of archaeological advocacy groups and has lobbied with them in their legislative efforts that have harmed the legitimate trade in cultural artifacts.  

Friday, October 5, 2018

Jay Kislak dies at Age 96

Jay Kislak, philanthropist and former Chair of the U.S. Cultural Property Advisory Committee, has passed away at the ripe old age of 96.  All coin collectors should be grateful for Mr. Kislak's truth telling about import restrictions on Cypriot coins in the face of State Department claims that the decision was made with CPAC's assent. Jay knew better, and wasn't afraid to say so.