Wednesday, March 22, 2023

State Department Announces Proposed Renewals of MOUs with Bulgaria and China

 The State Department’s Cultural Heritage Center has provided advance notice of an upcoming CPAC meeting on April 26-27, 2023, to consider renewals of current MOUs with Bulgaria and China  For more, see

The State Department will accept comments on these MOUs from the public at a future date when official notice of the meeting is provided in the Federal Register. 

Both MOUs already impact the ability of American collectors to import historical coins of the sort widely and legally collected elsewhere.   Once a coin type is placed on a “designated list,” U.S. Customs can detain, seize and repatriate it unless the importer produces provenance information that is usually unavailable for most coins, particularly the inexpensive types most people can afford to collect.  These rules apply to all coin imports, not just to imports directly from countries for which import restrictions have been granted.  Ever broader (and sometimes overlapping) lists have made it increasingly difficult to import coins for the US Collector market even if enforcement remains spotty.

The designated list for Bulgaria covers a wide variety of Greek, Roman Provincial, Byzantine, Bulgarian Empire and Ottoman coins that were either made or circulated there.  For more, see 79 Fed. Reg. 2781-2785 (January 16, 2014), available at

The designated list for China covers all Chinese coins from the earliest times to the end of the Tang Dynasty.  For more, see 74 Fed. Reg. 2838-2844 (January 16, 2009), available at

Right now, there are no all-encompassing import restrictions on Roman Imperial coins, but this is subject to change.  Hobby leaders are particularly worried about a staff driven effort to use the Bulgarian renewal to expand current import restrictions to include widely collected Roman Imperial coins of the sort that circulated throughout the Roman Empire and beyond.  See  Roman Imperial coins are by far the most available and widely collected type of ancient coins.  New restrictions on Americans importing such coins from legitimate markets in Europe could greatly damage the US ancient coin market and collecting as a whole. 

Of course, there are other concerns with both MOUs.  One can ask about the efficacy of any MOU with Bulgaria when it is estimated that up to 4% of the population is engaged in treasure hunting for fun or profit.  As for the China MOU, one wonders why the US denies its own citizens the right to import ancient Chinese coins when the Chinese government itself encourages its own citizens to buy, sell and collect the exact same coin types.   Also, does the authoritarian Chinese high-tech surveillance state really need US help to police its own archaeological sites?

Watch here for updates for when the State Department accepts comments for these upcoming renewals on the website.   

Update:: 4/12/23- The Cultural Heritage Center website now indicates that the CPAC hearing has been postponed until a future date.  Watch this website for additional updates. 

Update:  5/1/23-  The Cultural Heritage Center website now indicates that the CPAC hearing will now take place on 6/5/23 and that any comments will be due on or before 5/26/23.  See  It also suggests that there will be no changes in any renewal with China.  While it states that no additional categories of archaeological materials will be considered for times when coins circulated, it is not entirely clear whether this really forecloses consideration of new import restrictions on Roman coins.  The website is yet to go live which gives the ability to comment.  Watch here for an update when it does. 

Update: 5/24/23- The State Department finally published the noticed of meeting on 5/19 and enabled comments on 5/22/23, giving 4 days for the public to comment before the 5/26/23 close on these important renewals.  Cynics will conclude that the exceptionally short time frame allowed for public comment was designed to limit it as much as possible so that the State Department bureaucracy could claim these renewals "were not controversial."  The Federal Register notice and comment button can be found here: