Here is what I said more or less at today's CPAC meeting:
I am speaking on behalf of the International Association of Professional Numismatists and the Professional Numismatists Guild, which represent the small businesses of the numismatic trade. In many ways, this hearing is a much greater test for CPAC than for ancient coin collectors. This is a very troubling request being rushed through the system, but for what purpose? Libya has no government to speak of, much less one that can ensure that any artifacts that may be repatriated will be protected from the militias really running the country. As such, IAPN and PNG believe this request should either be tabled pending receipt of more information, or at most treated as an emergency request with restrictions only granted for site specific material from Libya’s 5 UNESCO World Heritage Sites as well as any material—including coins—that is identifiable as being stolen from public or private collections.
There is no reason for more ill-considered import restrictions on coins that don’t mesh with the CPIA’s requirements that restrictions only be placed on objects of “archaeological interest” of “cultural significance” “first discovered within,” and “subject to export control by” the requesting state, here Libya.
There is a history here which most of you probably don’t know. For 25 years after the CPIA was passed, there were no restrictions on coins. This should be no surprise. Coins are items of commerce. So, it is difficult for modern nation states to justifiably claim them as their “cultural property.” They are probably amongst the most common of historical artifacts and are not of “cultural significance.” They are avidly collected and traded worldwide—including in places like Libya. It simply makes no sense to preclude Americans from importing coins where there is no real “concerted international response.” Indeed, when the CPIA was being discussed, Mark Feldman, a high ranking State Department lawyer, represented to Congress that it was “hard … to imagine a case where we would need to deal with coins except in the most unusual circumstances.”
In 2007, this changed with Cypriot coins. According to the declarations of two former CPAC Members that change was made against CPAC’s recommendations. In 2011, a federal court was asked to look at the issue, but determined that the matter was non-justiciable which is just a fancy way of saying it’s not my problem. So, if anything, that makes the issue “your problem” all the more.
Why shouldn’t coins be restricted? The CPIA only limits restrictions to objects of cultural significance. Just because an object is of archaeological interest does not give it cultural significance. Coins which exist in multiples lack cultural significance. The CPIA also limits restrictions to archaeological material first discovered within and subject to the export control of the specific country, here Libya. The hoard evidence we discuss in our paper confirms that one simply cannot safely assume Libyan coins are found at Libyan archaeological sites.
Let me touch on some issues raised by Dr. Nathan Elkins in his papers. First, Dr. Elkins claims that restrictions are proper for any coins that predominantly circulated in Libya. However, this proposed test is inconsistent with the plain meaning of the CPIA that limits restrictions only to artifacts “first discovered within” and “subject to export control by” Libya. This language makes clear that only coins actually found in Libya and hence subject to its export control can be restricted. Second, even under Elkins’ standard, Libyan coins could not be restricted because all recorded hoards of Libyan coins are found outside Libya. [Note, Dr. Elkins disputed this point. My written comments and research can be found here.] Finally, given the small number of such coins on the open market, there is no reason to believe they are “gushing out” of Libya as he claims. If anything, the small number and modest values of such coins on the market suggest that any restrictions would not deter pillage. Thank you on behalf of the small businesses of the numismatic trade and collectors for your consideration of our views.