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State Department Continues Stonewalling
By Richard Giedroyc

Collectors are likely unaware of it, but a Memorandum of Understanding or MOU was signed by someone in the U.S. State Department just prior to the inauguration of President Barack Obama through which import restrictions on cultural patrimony originating from China are now in place.

According to Ancient Coin Collectors Guild representative Wayne Sayles, in his "Through the Looking Glass" column in the March issue of The Celator, no representative of China to whom his organization had contacted was aware of the MOU, but nevertheless this MOU bans the import of certain "ancient" Chinese coins.

The ACCG is one of many entities having trouble understanding the MOU. Raleigh, N.C., coin dealer Bob Reis wrote in his March fixed price list titled "Anything Anywhere," "[The] U.S. State Department just put out a 'memorandum of understanding' that seems to require new paperwork for import from China of coins, etc. before 960 A.D. China had been asking for before 1911. A colleague in Hong Kong thinks that this doesn't apply to HK dealers. It certainly does not apply to import from countries other than China. Since a similar agreement with Cyprus I have not noticed that Ptolemaic tetradrachms from Paphos have disappeared from the market, though Iraqi cylinder seals and clay tablets have. So I don't know what this new China thing means."

Returning to Sayles' column, Sayles adds, "&nobody on this end knows very much about it either. The State Department obviously knows, but they aren't telling. They steadfastly refuse to reveal the text of the original request. Not only will they not share it with us [ACCG], the lowly collector of ancient coins, but they will not share it with U.S. Senators and Congressmen either. Several have asked on our behalf and have been stonewalled."

Sayles is accusing the State Department of secrecy, secrecy being something the Obama administration generally views anywhere in government as blasphemy.

"Can elected officials and their appointed department heads really get a grip on controlling a bureaucracy that has lost its bearings?," Sayles asks. "That remains to be seen."

Let me give the reader some background. Congress agreed to specific provisions but not to the entire Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act during 1983. What this provisional approval means has been manipulated and redefined ever since. There are huge ramifications to coin collectors regardless of whether the entire act is at sometime passed or not.

One of the problems is the potential manipulation of the legal definitions of the word "ancient" and of the phrase "cultural patrimony." Either can be extended to encompass almost anything the country demanding the return wants. China has already proved this, claiming the word "ancient" draws the line between the imperial and modern periods of their history.

Put this into personal terms. What about that silver ladle grandma brought over from the old country? If the U.S. State Department has its way you might be forced to return this family heirloom to Gerkistan or to Upper Slabovia. Your coin collection, including coins dating from the 20th century - not just coins collectors regard as ancient - could likewise become an endangered species.

This is why the ACCG has raised the alarm. ACCG is seeking both new members and financial contributions so the organization can continue to fight against legislation that will allow foreign governments to demand the return of antiquities, including coins. Contact ACCG at www.accg.us.

There are some bright spots in the ongoing fight to protect the rights of the individual and of the museum to keep antiquities and coins that were acquired legally. Legislation that restricts importation of coins from Iraq expires Sept. 30, 2009, and it does not appear likely to be renewed. On the other hand, the Cyprus MOU banning the import of ancient coins from Cyprus will continue to remain in force.

The importation of items of antiquity from such places as Honduras is totally illegal. You can go to jail if you try to export ancient coins from Italy or Greece. Turkey successfully regained possession of the famed Decadrachm Hoard, only to store it somewhere where no one, including scholars, can gain access to it. Why did they bother?

 



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