Monday, March 4, 2013

Import Restrictions on Ancient Coins

A lobbyist who works on behalf of trade organizations has suggested that ancient coins currently protected by memoranda between the U.S. and certain foreign governments are not legally placed there since the basis of those restrictions is "place of production" rather than where they are found.  He alleges the CPIA is thus violated.  The exchange is in the comments section of a previous post here and his take is also presented on his website.

As I pointed out in that exchange, coins that are protected are types that are found in that country.  The memorandum with Italy, for example, protects early Roman coinage (aes signatum, aes grave, and the early republican struck coinage, as well as Roman colonial coinage) and the coinage of Greek cities in southern Italy.  Scholarly publications demonstrate that such coins had a primarily Italian circulation.  The memorandum with Italy even cites one of many sources that reference circulation and find patterns.  Widely circulating types where a find spot cannot be attributed (e.g. most Roman republican and imperial coins) are not protected by existing legislation.  As most republican and imperial coins were struck in Italy, a country with which the U.S. has an MOU, one is left to question Mr. Tompa's allegations.

The "scholarly evidence" submitted to CPAC by ACCG that Mr. Tompa refers to as an apparent indication that where such coins are found is not considered by CPAC is a simple list of hoard finds of types outside of the borders of countries that request MOUs.  It suggests a limited number of coins circulated out, but it totally ignores the fact that the vast majority of such types are found in the country of origin.  It is common knowledge among numismatic scholars that many coin types (e.g. some Greek coins and Roman provincial coins) had a very limited circulation and it is curious that the trade lobby does not acknowledge this in communications with CPAC; instead they argue more simply (and too simply) that coins can be found anywhere.  Would one really expect to see aes grave exavated in Israel or Jordan?

In considering whether Mr. Tompa's take on the situation is legitimate, one may recall that ACCG's lawsuit against the government, which has been handled by Mr. Tompa, has been dismissed on multiple occasions.  Legal authorities have not agreed with ACCG that there is any mishandling of import restrictions philosophically or legally. 

Rather than lawsuits and sniping over the interpretation of CPIA, would not a better approach be to recognize that indiscriminate attitudes in the sourcing of ancient coins promotes looting and destroys historical information?  And recognizing that, would it not be a better approach to engage in a productive dialogue about how ethical collecting can exist without maintaining a damaging status quo?



You might note that the litigation in question was not decided on the merits, but dismissed because the courts did not feel empowered to conduct judicial review of the State Department's and US Customs' decision making.

As to the data, I would note there was considerably more presented than Wayne Sayles' piece.


If there were more than the lists from hoard publications it was not made public by those commentators. And as for those lists, pretending the other side of the evidence doesn't exist is hardly scholarly. My students know this. One cannot come up with a conclusion and cite only convenient evidence while disregarding everything else. It is through the weighing of all available data that interpretations and conclusions must be made.