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Ancient Coin Collectors Influence Expands
By Richard Giedroyc

A cautious but upbeat assessment of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild and its impact on people outside the coin collecting hobby who would demand certain coins be returned to their place of origin due to their being cultural patrimony was given Jan. 12 at a meeting of the ACCG during the New York International Numismatic Convention.

"Through the year we really got good publicity," said ACCG Director Wayne Sayles. "We finally have an even playing field and the ability to push back."

By pushing back Sayles meant against foreign governments and professional archaeological groups that have demanded coins these groups deem to be "ancient" of Cyprus, Italy, and China be returned to those countries because the coins are their cultural patrimony. Similar demands have been made in recent years regarding antiquities as well.

The United States government recently allowed Cyprus' demands regarding prohibition of import of its ancient coins to be honored, which in turn according to ACCG member and Washington lawyer Peter Tompa could open the door to revisit similar demands made in the past by Italy. Speaking at the NYINC meeting, Tompa said there is concern such demands by Italy could impact the entire ancient Roman coin collecting community.

Tompa added that a recent lawsuit filed by Sayles against the United States State Department was initiated due to concerns of insider manipulation within the State Department to ensure coins would be lumped together with antiquities in any rulings allowing the return of such items to foreign countries as being the cultural patrimony of those countries. Tompa pointed out that while the Peoples' Republic of China is one of the countries of concern, Chinese art dealers have political clout that could blunt recent Chinese demands for return of any antiquity, including coins, originating prior to 1911.

Tompa acknowledged that one of the problems is that there are institutions that are involved in excavations on Cyprus and other countries that want antiquities returned and for that reason don't want to upset the government by supporting any organization resisting their demands.

Sayles said the mission of the ACCG is "the preservation of ancient coin collecting." He estimates the organization now represents about 5,000 collectors. ACCG has about 600 members and another 20 affiliate member clubs.

The lawsuit brought against the State Department has gained national publicity, including in the Congressional Quarterly, New York Times newspaper, and the Seattle Times newspaper, according to Sayles. He said, "This is really getting to be a national issue."

Podcasts and U-Tube exposure to the cultural patrimony issue are also being considered by the ACCG. The ACCG has, in addition, given educational grants to several public schools as well as ACCG Friends of Numismatists awards to influential people.

Coin dealer Harlan Berk of Chicago recently supported the educational grants effort by contributing ancient coins to be used as learning tools in the schools. Berk said he was told an archaeologist told a school teacher it was a bad thing to give ancient coins to children.

Speaking at the NYINC meeting Berk said, "I am angry at the archaeologists and I want to beat them."

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