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Ancient Coins Case Denied
By Richard Giedroyc, World Coin News
April 23, 2013

This article was originally printed in World Coin News.
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Coins are generally acknowledged by archaeologists to be the most commonly encountered artifact of civilized man, but this apparently hasn’t stopped the U.S. State Department from making it difficult to import them from abroad.

An organization representing coin collectors took action against the State Department through the courts, but just as this article was being written news was received that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against that organization.

The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild had been involved in a test case before the U.S. District Court in Baltimore that challenged the State Department’s interpretation of the law. A trial court dismissed the case, however the ACCG appealed the decision to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court ruling. In that time, which is approximately four years, the question evolved into a Petition for Writ of Certiorari that was presented to the U.S. Supreme Court. The petition questioned the inherit absolute discretion of the Executive Branch when Congress gives the Executive Branch oversight authority.

Washington attorney Peter K. Tompa is the ACCG Counsel of Record. Tompa explained, “Congress limited restrictions to culturally significant artifacts found in a specific country, but now Americans importing common coins made in a specific country are forced to prove the negative—that their coins have not illegally exited a specified country subsequent to the signing of a bilateral agreement between that nation and the United States.”

Initially the ACCG had anticipated a favorable Supreme Court decision on the Petition for Writ of Certiorari during February. The petition was denied by the Supreme Court at its March 22 conference.

Tompa reflected, “The denial has no precedential impact, leaving the disposition of the test case only binding in the Fourth Circuit.”

Tompa acknowledged it is challenging to get a petition for certiorari granted by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court only granted four of the 150 petitions for certiorari that were on that March docket.

The ACCG has indicated that despite this setback the organization will continue to contest any forfeiture action regarding coins being imported into the United States legally.

According to ACCG spokesman Wayne G. Sayles in a Feb. 13 article posted on the Internet, “Since coins have flowed endlessly across national boundaries, without documentation, for more than 2,000 years, collectors argue that it is impossible to say with certainty where any given specimen has been during that time. Literally millions of very common and low value ancient coins lack specific pedigrees of ownership or ‘provenance’ and consequently cannot satisfy the burden of proving a negative. Are these coins all, by default, illicit because it is impossible to say where they were found in modern times?”

“Bureaucratic overkill” is the terminology used by Sayles regarding “where the [US] State Department has reacted capriciously by creating what amounts to broad barriers to trade in all undocumented objects, both licit and illicit, significant and insignificant, that they arbitrarily designate as cultural property at risk. That, collectors feel, is extralegal and ignores the plain language of the law.”

In the article Sayles says, “The potential ramifications are significant and extend well beyond the world of coin collecting. A decision on this question could well set the bar for presidential discretion for years to come.”

The ramifications to coin collecting are far reaching. Several countries have been demanding the return of items they term to be their “cultural patrimony” from museums and private individuals within the United States. This has to date primarily involved artifacts and fine art, however coins too have been involved. There is concern among collectors of foreign and ancient coins that any coin for which a provenance or pedigree cannot be established could be seized and returned to a country insisting the coin originated from their soil. China, as an example, has declared that any Chinese coin produced before 1911 is an ancient coin. In theory China could attempt to get all ancient Chinese coins returned to China due to their cultural patrimony.


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