Ancient Coin Collectors GuildIn a test lawsuit filed by the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG), the group sued the federal government over the granting of import restrictions and confiscation of coins that foreign government have declared cultural property. The suit filed by ACCG challenges recent Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the State Department and the cultural regulators of Cypress and China under the Convention on Cultural Property. On March 25, 2013, the case that ACCG appealed to the Supreme Court was denied a hearing (petition for certiorari).

Over the last few years, the Coin Collectors Blog has asked readers to sign various petitions and write to the Department of State to stop restrictions on ancient coins. To understand why this is necessary, we have to understand why this is happening.

For a country to request import restrictions and confiscation of cultural property, they are required to send a letter to the State Department asking the United States to enter into an MOU to restrict the import and export of what the asking country considers cultural property as defined by the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property 1970, often called the 1970 UNESCO Convention. The purpose of the the treaty was to stop archaeological pillaging and trafficking in cultural property. In other words, it would significantly hamper the career of Indiana Jones.

EID·MAR silver coin commemorating the death of Cæsar on March 15

EID·MAR silver coin commemorating the death of Cæsar on March 15

Although this may sound reasonable, Article 1 paragraph (e) of the treaty defines a category of cultural property as “antiquities more than one hundred years old, such as inscriptions, coins and engraved seals.” This means that any coin minted before 1913 can be considered cultural property and not only be subject to restrictions but confiscated.

Under the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA; 19 U.S.C. §§ 2601 et seq.), the law passed by congress upon the Senate’s ratification of the treaty in 1983, requests are reviewed by the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) in the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The CPAC authors the MOU based on the input from the requesting country and publishes the results for public comment. By law, the public has 30 days to provide comments on the proposed MOU. However, it appears that it is very rare that the CPAC makes any changes after the end of the comment period.

The MOU undergoes whatever department review is required and then is signed by the Secretary of State on behalf of the president and made part of the policy and rule provisions granted to the Executive Branch by congress (as part of the CPIA).

The original case was filed in a Fourth Circuit Federal Court in Baltimore. In its suit, ACCG claims that the rules agreed to the by CPAC are arbitrary and made by a panel that does not understand how their decisions affect coin collectors. Even though the intent has not to work against ancient coin collectors, governments have used the law to restrict the export of newly discovered ancient to the United States. The court ruled that it did not have standing to change the law since there is no constitutional question. The appellate division of the Fourth Circuit in Richmond confirmed this ruling in October 2012.

ACCG appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court. On March 25, the court denied the ACCG’s petition for hearing. The Supreme Court’s action means that the result of the test case is only binding in the Fourth Circuit (Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia). In other words, someone has to have been harmed by the results of the law before the courts will agree to hear a case.

Last month, Patrick Heller wrote in Numismatic News that he spoke with a dealer “who had been visited by representatives of a foreign government seeking to confiscate the valuable ancient coins issued by that nation if the dealer could not provide a chain of custody proving that the coins were legally owned before that nation banned the export of ‘national treasures.’” Heller said that the representative were only interested in the more expensive coins and not the common coins from the same country but whose value was much less.

While these issues have mostly affected ancient coin dealers and collectors, some countries have attempted to petition the United States government to make the cut-off date of what is considered cultural property for coins later. In one case, China has suggested that coins from as late as the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) should be considered cultural property but has not petitioned the CPAC for an update to their MOU with the United States. The problem is that these countries have been trying to exercise their “authority” under the 1970 convention putting U.S. dealers and collectors at disadvantage with the rest of world for political reasons.

If the State Department’s CPAC will not work on behalf of the American people, then collectors must stand up and tell the Obama administration it is time to stop. In fact, I created a petition at the White House website. This petition reads as follows:

we petition the obama administration to:
Protect coin collectors from countries using cultural property to prevent the fair trade of ancient rare coins
Using the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act, foreign countries have been asking the State Department’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee to update Memoranda of Understand in such a way that could harm the ancient coin collecting in the United States by declaring coins “Cultural Property” under the 1970 UNESCO convention. The problem is that these countries are only asking the US for restrictions.

In a recent case, a dealer was confronted at a coin show by foreign officials seeking to confiscate expensive ancient coins under a loose interpretation of the law. This is going to harm the small business coin dealers involved.

We the undersigned ask the administration to end the restrictions on the buying and selling of foreign coins mistakenly included in these acts.

Please take action!

I ask all of my readers to go to and sign the petition. And share it on social media. Petitions require 100,000 signatures in order to be answered by the White House. So far there is one signature (mine). Let’s see if we can motivate the coin collecting community to add more before you will not be able to own any foreign coin older than 100 years old!

Logo courtesy of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild.
Image of the Eid Mar silver coin courtesy of

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