The State Department has announced that Italy has requested a renewal of its current Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) with the United States. That MOU first authorized import restrictions on Italian cultural artifacts from the Pre-Classical, Classical and Imperial Roman periods in 2001. The restrictions were extended 2006 and again in 2011 and 2016. The 2011 renewal added new import restrictions on Greek, early Republican and Provincial coins from the early Imperial Period. Now, the archaeological lobby, which actively opposes private collecting, has indicated it will press for import restrictions on Roman Imperial Coins—the heart of ancient coin collecting—as well. Accordingly, if one feels strongly about their continued ability to collect Roman Imperial and other historical coins and artifacts, they should comment on the regulations.gov website. Why? Because silence will only be spun as acquiesce. So, serious collectors should oppose yet another renewal as unnecessary and detrimental to the appreciation of Italian culture and the people to people contacts collecting brings. Moreover, they should clearly state under no circumstances should import restrictions be extended to Roman Imperial coins.
Further information about the July 22, 2020 Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) meeting and how to comment before the July 8, 2020 deadline can be found here:
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, Syria and Yemen.
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. In particular, 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, CPO knows 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.
For comments, either comment through the Federal Register notice above or use Alternatively, click this link and click on the Blue “Comment Now” Button which should pull up a screen that allows you to comment (Please note comments may be posted only UNTIL July 8, 2020 at 11:59 PM.), enter the docket [DOS-2020-0022] and follow the prompts to submit your comments.
Please also note comments submitted in electronic form are not private. They will be posted on . 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 why the renewal should be denied or limited. Question CPAC why it’s necessary to renew this MOU yet again when looting is under control and the real jeopardy to Italy’s cultural patrimony comes from poor stewardship by the Italian State. Indicate how restrictions will negatively impact your business and/or the cultural understanding and people to people contacts collecting provides. Coin collectors should add that it’s typically impossible to assume a particular coin (especially Roman ones) was “first discovered within” and “subject to the export control” of Italy. In fact, by far most Roman Imperial coins are found not in Italy, but on the Empire’s frontiers. You might add that Italian historical coins are very common and widely and legally available for sale elsewhere, and point out the absurdity of restricting coins freely available in Italy itself. Finally, you don’t have to be an American citizen to comment—you just need to be concerned enough to spend twenty or so minutes to express your views on-line. Comments from Italian collectors are particularly welcome!
Personalized comments are best, but feel free to use this submission as a model:
Enough is enough. This MOU should be allowed to lapse. Its negative impacts on collecting and the appreciation of Italian culture and people to people contacts collecting brings now far outweigh any benefits. At a minimum, please free all ancient coins from restriction. Such coins are openly and legally available for sale within Italy itself. It makes absolutely no sense to continue to restrict American access to what Italians themselves have enjoyed since the Renaissance. Finally, please do not recommend new restrictions on Roman Imperial Coins. As the products of a great empire, these coins circulated throughout Europe, the Middle East and beyond. They “belong” not to Italy, but to us all.
Addendum (July 10, 2020): The State Department has announced that it has extended the deadline for comments set forth in the Federal Register from July 8 to July 14. Cynics will wonder whether this change is to allow time for the archaeological lobby to gather more comments. As of July 9, there were 388 comments received and 72 comments posted, of which only 2 supported the MOU with Italy.