Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Memorandum of Understanding with the Republic of Bulgaria Enacted, Coins Included in the Protective Measures

Bulgarian news agencies are reporting that the United States and the Republic of Bulgaria signed a Memorandum of Understanding to prevent the trafficking of looted and stolen cultural items.

Bulgaria and the US signed on January 14 a memorandum of understanding on the protection of cultural heritage, meant to prevent the illicit trade of Bulgarian cultural heritage items and allow the return to Bulgaria of such items smuggled into the US.
The agreement was signed by US ambassador to Bulgaria Marcie B. Ries and Bulgaria’s Culture Minister Petar Stoyanovich at the National History Museum in Boyana.
The agreement authorises the US department of homeland security to prevent the import into the United States of Bulgarian cultural heritage items without a licence issued by the Bulgarian government and commits the US government to publish a list of prohibited items, which are to be seized unless the importer presents such a license.
The import restrictions will apply to a broad range of archaeological and religious items, as set forth in a designated list, to be published in the US Federal Register in the coming days, Ries said.
In addition to the import restrictions, the memorandum promotes further cooperation and information sharing between US and Bulgarian law-enforcement agencies.
“Of course this agreement will not eliminate the problem overnight. We recognise that and we also recognise that we must continue to work creatively together to preserve what we all recognise to be an invaluable cultural heritage. This agreement is of importance for its substance but also because it means more cooperation on a daily basis in the area of culture which is of importance to both Bulgarians and Americans,” Ries said.
(From: "US, Bulgaria Sign Cultural Heritage Protection Memorandum," The Sofia Globe, January 14, 2014)

Archaeologists, art historians, and academic numismatists had endorsed the MoU at the hearing of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee on 16 November 2011 (see here for a summary of comments).  Commercial lobby groups in the United States and abroad have fought vigorously against the inclusion of ancient coins in Memoranda of Understanding.  It is, therefore, notable that coins that primarily circulated in and are found in ancient Bulgaria are subject to protection. 

7. Coins – In copper, bronze, silver and gold. Many of the listed coins with inscriptions in Greek can be found in B. Head, Historia Numorum: A Manual of Greek Numismatics (London, 1911) and C.M. Kraay, Archaic and Classical Greek Coins (London, 1976). Many of the Roman provincial mints in modern Bulgaria are covered in I. Varbanov, Greek Imperial Coins I: Dacia, Moesia Superior, Moesia Inferior (Bourgas, 2005), id., Greek Imperial Coins II: Thrace (from Abderato Pautalia) (Bourgas, 2005), id., Greek Imperial Coins III: Thrace (from Perinthus to Trajanopolis), Chersonesos Thraciae, Insula Thraciae, Macedonia (Bourgas 2007). A non-exclusive list of pre-Roman and Roman mints include Mesembria (modern Nesembar), Dionysopolis (Balchik), Marcianopolis (Devnya), Nicopolis ad Istrum (near Veliko Tarnovo), Odessus (Varna), Anchialus (Pomorie), Apollonia Pontica (Sozopol), Cabyle (Kabile), Deultum (Debelt), Nicopolis ad Nestum (Garmen), Pautalia (Kyustendil), Philippopolis (Plovdiv), Serdica (Sofia), and Augusta Traiana (Stara Zagora). Later coins may be found in A. Radushev and G. Zhekov, Catalogue of Bulgarian MedievalCoins IX-XV c. (Sofia 1999) and J.
Youroukova and V. Penchev, Bulgarian Medieval Coins and Seals (Sofia 1990).
a. Pre-monetary media of exchange including “arrow money,” bells, and bracelets. Approximate date: 13th century B.C. through 6th century B.C.
b. Thracian and Hellenistic coins struck in gold, silver, and bronze by city-states and kingdoms that operated in the territory of the modern Bulgarian state. This designation includes official coinages of Greek-using city-states and kingdoms, Sycthian and Celtic coinage, and local imitations of official issues. Also included are Greek coins from nearby regions that are found in Bulgaria. Approximate date: 6th century BC through the 1st century B.C.
c. Roman provincial coins – Locally produced coins usually struck in bronze or copper at mints in the territory of the modern state of Bulgaria. May also be silver, silver plate, or gold. Approximate date: 1st century BC through the 4th century A.D.
d. Coinage of the First and Second Bulgarian Empires and Byzantine Empire – Struck in gold, silver, and bronze by Bulgarian and Byzantine emperors at mints within the modern state of Bulgaria. Approximate date: 4th century A.D. through A.D. 1396.
e. Ottoman coins – Struck at mints within the modern state of Bulgaria. Approximate date: A.D. 1396 through A.D. 1750.

 (From the designated list).

The MoU with Bulgaria is momentous.  This is the first Memorandum to protect some post-Classical coins as coins of the First Bulgarian Empire and Ottoman Empire are subject to restrictions.  Most importantly, Bulgaria is one of the primary source countries for illicitly traded metal artifacts and ancient coins.  Smuggled finds are imported and sold in the United States by the tens of thousands; the problem has been written about and studied extensively since the 1990s. 



You forgot to mention the governing statute only allows for restrictions on coins first discovered in and subject to the export control of Bulgaria, that there is a huge legal internal market in the exact same coins within Bulgaria itself, and that 70 per cent of the comments opposed either the MOU or its extension to coins. It's pretty apparent CPAC hearings have become nothing more than a farce, something one might expect in infamously corrupt countries like Bulgaria, but not here. The State Department has gone native so to speak.


The restricted types ARE types that are typically first discovered in Bulgaria. It is well known in numismatic and archaeological research that Thracian and Hellenistic coins of the region are found in greater quantities nearer their production centers than further away. These coins were local or regional, unlike the more international Athenian tetradrachm or Aeginitan staters. Roman provincial coinage is also known to have circulated locally. You wouldn't expect to find many provincial coins from Bulgaria too far outside of Bulgaria or in the same frequency as in Bulgaria. The repeated assertion that these import restrictions are somehow invalid because of the untheorized supposition that "coins circulated widely" is invalid. There is a lot of scholarship on coin circulation.

As to collecting in Bulgaria, I had the opportunity to speak to some Bulgarian law enforcers at a conference last year. As such, they are very familiar with Bulgarian law. They said Bulgarian law requires all private collections to have been registered by a deadline that has already passed. All other undocumented collections are considered illicit in the eyes of Bulgarian authorities.


The wording of the statute is far stricter than you suggest. The plain meaning of the statute limits restrictions to artifacts first discovered in and subject to the export control of a particular country-- you are expanding that wording dramatically. The registration issue was covered in documentation provided to CPAC. As set forth in an official US Government report of which you are well aware, there are a huge number of collectors that have not registered because they are afraid of being robbed by dirty cops. And you are confusing registration with restrictions on purchase and sale. The fact is Bulgarians can buy import what they want (there are no internal import controls in the EU) and stuff goes out easily too.


I do not think it is a "dramatic expansion" of the statute. I recall that the federal district court also had something to say about this. They wrote “[I]nterpreting the ‘first discovered in’ requirement to preclude the State Department from barring the importation of archaeological objects with unknown find spots would undermine the core purpose of the CPIA, namely to deter looting of cultural property. See 19 U.S.C. § 2602(a)(1)(A)” (p. 35). The court further notes that the “ACCG’s argument, if taken to its logical conclusion, could bring into question the import restrictions on every, or almost every, item on the designated lists (p. 36). I agree. You cannot expect to have a find spot for a stolen and looted object; the looting destroys that information, the very need for protective legislation. If your arguments were to succeed, nothing would be protected, which is what I expect a great many in dealing world would like to see.

And whatever the reason Bulgarian collectors have not registered, according to Bulgarian law, there is not a licit market. Furthermore, I don't know about you, but I do not believe that I should participate in theft by rationalizing that other people participate in theft.


We'll see if Judge Blake sticks with that or not in the pending forfeiture action where she will be obliges to apply the statute to the question of whether particular coins should be forfeited. I'd also note since that ruling was made higher courts have once again emphaszed that a lower court is not entitled to depart from the plain meaning of the statute. No one has suggested what Congress stated is ambigous because it isn't.


In these many years, ACCG has been unable to compel the courts. I expect this will continue to be the case. But, you are right: we will see.

Your motive, of course, is to undermine import restrictions. I don't think that will happen as the whole point of the legislation is to deter looting. And I find your made in vs. found in arguments weak. Clearly existing import restrictions are at pains to restrict only regional and locally circulating types, such as the provincial coins, while more broadly circulating types such as republican and imperial denarii are not included in restrictions. If your argument is valid that restrictions cover only types 'made in' not found in a country, then many of these would be in the Italian MoU. They are not. The preponderance of evidence indicates that locally circulating types, of the sort protected in MoUS, are primarily found in the countries with which there are agreements. It is much more likely the Cypriot coins ACCG imported deliberately in contravention of import restrictions were 'first found in' Cyprus. Surely you're not suggesting they're first found in Britain. Again, there is a vast body of literature on ancient coin circulation. The mantra that "coins circulated widely" is a sweeping statement with limited applicability.


Mr. Tompa proposes a commission to study coin circulation expressly for the purpose of MoUs ( It would be easier to open some books. Research is already there. There is also some irony in his proposal to quantifyfind spot data to excuse importing looted coins for commercial profit, the consequence of which is the loss of find spot and archaeological data.


You might note the proposal is under the label humor/satire/irony. I guess you don't get this either.


Oh I definitely get that it was intended as "humorous" in that mean-spirited way that many of your posts are intended. What I don't get is your insistence that everyone do the work and research that you don't want to do, or which is simply too inconvenient to acknowledge. And it is hardly humorous that ACCG and the like have already wasted taxpayer money by forcing the government to defend against your repeated lawsuits.