Monday, May 10, 2010

Report on CPAC Hearing on Italian MOU-Part II

Here is a continuation of my report on last Thursday's CPAC hearing.

Art Friedberg, past president of the International Association of Professional Numismatists, spoke on his own behalf. He outlined the concerns that import restrictions on ancient coins struck in Italy would raise. These include: difficulties in identification for US Customs; questions about a coin’s country of origin; prohibitive compliance costs and prohibitive litigation costs. He indicated the broader the restrictions are the more unenforceable they will be. He also indicated that the regulations would only punish those who already properly declare coins on entry to the United States and encourage efforts to evade the law, particularly through the use of the mail. CPAC member Robert Korver (Trade) asked Friedberg if there were any export controls on classic US rarities like the 1804 Dollar (the answer is “no”). He also asked Friedberg about the Treasure Act, which Friedberg agreed is an excellent system.

Clifford Mishler (ANA President) and Douglas Mudd (ANA curator) represented the American Numismatic Association. Clifford Mishler requested that a letter from the Italian Numismatic Society opposing restrictions be entered into the record. Douglas Mudd spoke how restrictions would hamper the ANA’s educational mission and ability to procure coins for its collections. He also indicated that the Committee ought to also consider the effect of restrictions on the willingness of collectors to fund numismatic research. CPAC member Nancy Wilkie (Archaeology) indicated that the restrictions would not be retroactive, but Mudd insisted that such restrictions would be of concern for the future. In response to a question from CPAC member Joan Connelly (Archaeology), Mudd defended the practice of using low value coins “with dirt still on them” for educational purposes. He noted that if archaeologists are concerned about this, they should advocate laws akin to the UK Treasure Act that encourage finders to report artifacts. He also indicated that the tactile experience of holding ancient coins makes for an excellent educational tool.

Wayne Sayles spoke for the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG). He noted that almost 2000 coin collectors used the ACCG fax wizard to express concerns about the possible inclusion of coins in the MOU. Those restrictions could keep ACCG members from importing coins legitimately in markets abroad. Concerns about State Department transparency and accountability motivated the ACCG’s FOIA lawsuit and Customs Test Case. CPAC should be wary of extending import restrictions to “coins of Italian type” given Customs’ and State’s handling of that test case. The ACCG imported the coins in April 2009. ACCG’s Customs Broker had to tell Customs that the coins were subject to potential restrictions. On the 5th attempt to bring the matter to Customs' attention, Customs seized the coins, but instead of filing the required forfeiture action, Customs did nothing. ACCG waited for almost a year, and then filed its own suit against Customs and the State Department. The government’s first move was to ask for yet more time to respond. Most collectors and dealers cannot afford to wait so long or afford a lawyer. This suggests if the Italian MOU goes through, many coins will just be abandoned after if they are seized. This reality should weigh heavily on CPAC.

To be continued.

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