Hobby fighting proposed cultural property regulations in Germany

Thousands sign petition seeking to protect the right to privately collect coins
By , Coin World
Published : 08/03/15
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Collectors in Germany and from around the world have signed a petition to fight tighter cultural property laws that have been proposed in Germany.

Ursula Kampmann, founder and publisher of CoinsWeekly.com, posted the online petition on July 21, and within 48 hours had received signatures from Germany and 57 other countries, including the United States.

The petition may be found at www.openpetition.de/petition/online/fuer-den-erhalt-des-privaten-sammelns

Organizers are seeking 120,000 signatures, and as of July 27 had obtained 8,397. 

Signers are fighting back against proposed regulations on the Protection of Cultural Heritage that Kampmann said threatens the collecting of cultural objects by private individuals.

More than coins

Potentially restricted items include not only coins but other objects as well, according to Arthur Friedberg, a Vermont-based researcher and dealer in coins who is a past International Association of Professional Numismatists president. 

“If this thing goes through, this thing is will kill the trade in cultural goods, not just coins but everything — I’m talking about antiquities, I’m talking about furniture, art, paintings, old cars,” he said.

Items covered by the proposed regulations do not have to originate in Germany to fall under the proposed regulations. Several paintings by American artist Andy Warhol that were consigned by a German casino to an international auction house and sold for millions of dollars would, under the regulations, be considered to have cultural worth and would not be permitted to leave Germany if the regulations are adopted. The same restrictions could apply to U.S. coins held in Germany if deemed significant, according to coin dealers following the proposed regulations.

A statement relating to the proposed regulations was posted online July 17, with an updated version of the proposed regulations due for release in late July at the earliest.

The English language statement from the office of Germany’s Minister of Culture said the regulations are necessary to “improve the protection of cultural goods and take more effective action against trafficking in cultural property.” 

New rules are also needed to comply with a European Union directive from 2014, but Germany would be the first nation to meet those demands, according to Ulrich Künker, director of the German auction house Fritz Rudolph Künker. 

Künker and other hobbyists have reviewed the proposed regulations, but the regulations have not been made public officially. 

The 2014 EU directive gives member nations wide authority in classifying items as cultural property. 

The stated objective of the directive is to “ensure the physical return of the cultural objects to the Member State from whose territory those objects have been unlawfully removed, irrespective of the property rights applying to such objects,” according to the directive.

Germany’s new laws are also intended to improve the implementation of the 1970 UNESCO Convention and bring German law in line with international standards, the Ministry of Culture said. 

Künker adds, “I am afraid if this very strict law becomes active all other EU members will follow the hardliner law.”

Hobby ignored

Promises of hobby involvement in the discussion have not been honored, according to Künker. 

“We have no chance to talk to the responsible persons to get our opinion to the ministry,” he said. “We spoke to ministry of culture, sent letters, said ‘please involve us in the process, we don’t want to hurt the market.’ They said, ‘we don’t want to talk to you.’ ” 

“Fortunately the entire German art industry and most of the collectors are against this law and I still have the feeling that many arguments are on our side,” Künker said. 

“There are also good ideas in the law, all it needs is a discussion with all affected groups,” he added.

Not just German items

Under the proposed regulations, an American piece of art in a German collection could be classified as German cultural property, Friedberg said.

A promise to include special considerations for coins has also not developed as expected, Künker said. 

“They understand that coins are different from other cultural property,” Künker said. “But they never sent a protocol, we’ve found nothing specifically different about coins in this draft.”

The proposed law will mandate a “reverse burden of proof” on collectors, according to Kampmann. 

Per the proposed rules, the owner of a “cultural good” with a value of at least €2,500 would be required to provide proof as to the item’s provenance for the previous 20 years. This mandate would further affect “archaeological cultural goods” with a value as low as €100. 

That could extend to just about every single coin that’s not bronze and many that are bronze, Friedberg said.

The rules also can apply to any German coin that’s over 100 years old, which would cover thousands of coins issued across German states for centuries. 

“If this goes through you’ll never see a German coin at a United States coin convention again,” Friedberg said.

Not only would these laws stop future purchases, and sink the value of many coins, according to Kampmann, but retroactively, the new law would impose due diligence guidelines that are “impossible to follow even for the most meticulous collector,” she said. 

Rules are fine, Künker said, but the process involving the regulations should be democratic. 

“Let’s slow down, let’s talk about facts and not something we can’t imagine, and let’s try to find a solution.”

Terrorists cited

The claim that terrorist groups like the Islamic State in the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) are plundering and trading in archaeological treasures as a major means of funding doesn’t match reality, Künker said.

“If you are talking about ISIS, we all agree that they are evil, but there is no evidence that there’s a connection between [ISIS and] the German coin market, the German art market, and it’s really frustrating,” he said. 

“They [German government officials] are trying to do something good, but they are following the wrong opinion.”

RELATED:  Archaeologist in Germany claims auction houses support terrorism

Kampmann’s online petition aims at “preserving the right to privately collect,” and seeks cultural property laws that are not retroactive, do not require a reverse burden of proof, clearly define terms like “national cultural heritage” and limit claims by the state to items of a clear “cultural heritage” nature. 

Items that are not deemed national cultural heritage must be allowed to move freely, and representatives of the hobby and trade must have a voice in making the new regulations, Kampmann said. 

“You know what brings a smile to my face? All the numbers of Americans that are signing this [petition],” Künker said.

“This impressive number will bring a lot of pressure to the number and if they see a lot of Americans against it, a lot of Germans against it, other Europeans against it, this will be noted by the lawmakers,” Künker added.

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