The State Department has announced a proposed renewal and amendment of a Cultural Property Agreement or Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Republic of Cyprus. The State Department has also announced a proposed renewal with the Republic of Peru. Import restrictions under the current MOU with Cyprus cover all ancient coins struck in Cyprus through 235 A.D. Roman or Byzantine coins of Imperial types and other types that circulated in Cyprus are not subject to import restrictions. Because this MOU is subject to amendment, there is a chance that the State Department may seek to extend current restrictions to other types of coins, particularly those issued by the Crusaders. The current MOU with Peru does not include colonial or early Republican era coins, but there has been some “chatter” that restrictions should be extended to them too.
Further information about the October 5, 2021 public meeting of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) can be found here: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2021/09/13/2021-19670/cultural-property-advisory-committee-notice-of-meeting To comment, go to the regulations.gov website and enter the docket DOS-2021-0032 to comment or comment from this link here: https://www.regulations.gov/document/DOS-2021-0032-0001 Alternatively, the Federal Register page listed above should be modified to include a “comment here” button. The comment period ends on September 26, 2021.
A. Background for Coin Collectors
There are large numbers of coin collectors and numismatic firms in the US. Very few collectors do so to “invest.” Most collect out of love of history, as an expression of their own cultural identity, or out of interest in other cultures. All firms that specialize in ancient coins in the US are small businesses. Private collectors and dealers support much academic research into coins. For example, an American collector collaborated with academics to produce an extensive study of Seleucid coins. A further clamp down on collecting will inevitably lead to less scholarship.
While what became the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA) was being negotiated, one of the State Department’s top lawyers assured Congress that “it would be hard to imagine a case” where coins would be restricted. In 2007, however, the State Department imposed import restrictions on Cypriot coins, against CPAC’s recommendations, and then misled the public and Congress about it in official government reports. What also should be troubling is that the decision maker, Assistant Secretary Dina Powell, did so AFTER she had accepted a job with Goldman Sachs where she was recruited by and worked for the spouse of the founder of the Antiquities Coalition, an archaeological advocacy group that has lobbied extensively for import restrictions. Since that time, additional import restrictions have been imposed on coins from Algeria, Bulgaria, China, Egypt, Greece, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Syria, Turkey, and Yemen.
1. Current Cypriot Import Restrictions
Current import restrictions apply to the following coin types:
1. Issues of the ancient kingdoms of Amathus, Kition, Kourion, Idalion, Lapethos, Marion, Paphos, Soli, and Salamis dating from the end of the 6th century B.C. to 332 B.C.;
2. Issues of the Hellenistic period, such as those of Paphos, Salamis, and Kition from 332 B.C. to c. 30 B.C.;
3. Provincial and local issues of the Roman period from c. 30 B.C. to 235 A.D. Often these have a bust or head on one side and the image of a temple (the Temple of Aphrodite at Palaipaphos) or statue (statue of Zeus Salaminios) on the other.
See 72 Fed. Reg. at 38,471-73 (July 13, 2007).
With respect to the wording of the restrictions themselves, Customs has issued restrictions based on place of manufacture rather than find spot.
This is significant because such restrictions ignore evidence that demonstrates that Cypriot mint coins are regularly discovered outside of Cyprus. Indeed, in a document released under the Freedom of Information Act, a Cypriot cultural official admitted as much in a communication with the State Department:
It is true that Cypriot coins shared the same destiny as all other coins of the ancient world. As a standard media of exchange they circulated all over the ancient world due to their small size, which facilitated their easy transport… The continuous circulation of coins for many centuries amongst collectors and between collectors and museums make any attempt to locate their exact find spot extremely difficult.
Under current Customs procedures, the above types can only be imported into the United States with: (a) an export certificate issued by Cyprus (which do not exist); (b) “satisfactory evidence” demonstrating that the coins were exported from or were outside of Cyprus at least 10 years prior to importation into the U.S.; or (c) “satisfactory evidence” demonstrating that the coins were exported from or were outside of Cyprus before restrictions were announced on July 13, 2007. What constitutes “satisfactory evidence” is ultimately left to the discretion of Customs, but usually takes the form of a declaration by the importer and a statement by the consigner.
The current restrictions do not extend to Roman or Byzantine coins of widely circulating Imperial types or later coins that circulated in Cyprus that are popular with collectors. However, we cannot afford to take this for granted; we simply cannot assume that the archaeological lobby—which actively opposes private collecting—will not press for “more” this time around particularly because the Federal Register indicates that Cyprus itself seeks not just a renewal, but an amendment of the current agreement. Accordingly, if one feels strongly about their continued ability to collect such coins, they should comment on the regulations.gov website. Why? Because silence will only be spun as acquiesce. So, serious collectors should oppose restrictions on coins or their expansion to widely circulating trade coins as unnecessary and detrimental to the appreciation of ancient culture and the people-to-people contacts collecting brings.
2. Proposed Peruvian MOU Renewal
The proposed renewal of the MOU with Peru could also possibly impact collectors of popular Spanish Colonial and Peruvian Republican era coins. To date, the State Department has not imposed import restrictions on such coins, presumably because they circulated so widely that they were legal tender in the US before 1857.
3. The Negative Impact of Import Restrictions on People-to-People Contacts Collecting Brings
The cumulative impact of import restrictions has been very problematical for collectors since outside of some valuable Greek coins, most coins simply lack the document trail necessary for legal import under the “safe harbor” provisions of 19 U.S.C. § 2606. The CPIA only authorizes the government to impose import restrictions on coins and other artifacts first discovered within and subject to the export control of Italy. (19 U.S.C. § 2601). Furthermore, seizure is only appropriate for items on the designated list exported from the State Party after the effective date of regulations. (19 U.S.C. § 2606). Unfortunately, the State Department and Customs view this authority far more broadly. Designated lists have been prepared based on where coins are made and sometimes found, not where they are actually found and hence are subject to export control. Furthermore, restrictions are not applied prospectively solely to illegal exports made after the effective date of regulations, but rather are enforced against any import into the U.S. made after the effective date of regulations, i.e., an embargo, not targeted, prospective import restrictions. While it is true enforcement has been spotty, we know of situations where coins have been detained, seized, and repatriated where the importer cannot produce information to prove his or her coins were outside of a country for which import restrictions were granted before the date of restrictions.
B. What You Can Do
Admittedly, CPAC seems to be little more than a rubber stamp. Still, to remain silent is to give the cultural bureaucrats and archaeologists with an ax to grind against collectors exactly what they want-- the claim that any restrictions will not be controversial.
As discussed above, further information about the upcoming CPAC hearing and how to comment can be found here:: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2021/09/13/2021-19670/cultural-property-advisory-committee-notice-of-meeting and https://www.regulations.gov/document/DOS-2021-0032-0001 Please note comments must be made on or before the September 26, 2021 close date.
Please also note comments submitted in electronic form are not private. They will be posted on http://www.regulations.gov. Because the comments cannot be edited to remove any identifying or contact information, the Department of State cautions against including any information in an electronic submission that one does not want publicly disclosed (including trade secrets and commercial or financial information that is privileged or confidential pursuant to 19 U.S.C. 2605(i)(1)).
C. What Should You Say?
What should you say? Provide a brief, polite explanation about how import restrictions impact you or your business and/or the cultural understanding and people to people contacts collecting provides. Ancient coin collectors should add it makes no sense to expand current restrictions when the State Department already determined which coins were typically “first discovered within” and “subject to the export control” of Cyprus. Finally, collectors can point out that Cyprus, as an EU member, must respect the rights of other EU members to export coins of types on the Cypriot designated list, and so should the U.S. Comments about Peruvian coins should focus on the fact that they circulated widely and that they were even legal tender in the US before 1857. Comments from collectors outside the US are also welcome.
Personalized comments are best, but feel free to use this submission as a model:
RE Cyprus MOU Renewal
Please either end the current restrictions on coins, or, at least, do not expand them. It makes no sense to expand current restrictions when the State Department already determined Roman Imperial and Byzantine coins did not primarily circulate within Cyprus. Moreover, other EU countries are allowed to export Cypriot coins on the current designated list. So, any MOU renewal with Cyprus should recognize that a legal export of any item on the Cypriot designated list from a sister EU country will be treated as a legal export from Cyprus itself.
RE: Peru MOU Renewal
Please do not use this MOU renewal as an excuse to extend import restrictions to Spanish Colonial and Republican era coins that were struck or circulated within Peru. Such coins are neither archaeological nor ethnological in nature. They are not archaeological because coins this late are not only or often found in the ground. They are not ethnological because they are not the products of tribal society, but of what were then considered sophisticated industrial processes. Such coins also circulated widely elsewhere so one cannot assume they are found in the country. Indeed, they ever were US legal tender before 1857.