World Coins

What could Cuban embargo easing mean for coin collectors?

Changes in U.S. economic policy toward Cuba announced Wednesday by President Barack Obama could have an affect on American collectors of Cuban coins and paper currency. 

Obama made a statement Wednesday afternoon in Washington, D.C., saying, according to CNN, that the United States would “end an outdated approach” toward its relations with Cuba and ease the embargo sanctions that have been in effect since 1962.

The change is being announced on the same day the Cuban government announced its release of U.S. contractor Alan Gross, who has been held since 2009 after being arrested while helping deliver phones and communications equipment to the Jewish population in Cuba through a U.S. Agency for International Development program.

The purpose of the embargo, a reaction to Cuba's nationalizing of property belonging to U.S. citizens and corporations following Fidel Castro's successful Cuban Revolution, which deposed dictator Fulgencio Batista's regime in 1959, has been to sanction Cuba in an effort to persuade its government to embrace democracy and human rights.  

The embargo began to be partially enacted in 1960. Strengthened significantly in 1962, it wasn't until 1993's Cuban Democracy Act that the embargo was codified into law.

According to CNN, only Congress has the authority to formally lift the embargo, though the president can free up trade and travel. Obama said he plans to "engage Congress in an honest and serious conversation" about lifting the embargo. 

The embargo on Cuban imports has included numismatic items.

Embargo regulations ban the importing of Cuban coins and paper currency issued since 1962, but items issued prior to 1962 can be purchased and brought to the United States from Cuba.

Francis X. Putrow, whose 10-year stretch as president of the Cuban Numismatic Assocation ended in January, said he's thrilled. 

"I’m really tickled to death with today’s announcement," the Clearwater, Fla., resident said. 

Putrow, 78, has been collecting Cuban coins for more than 20 years. He said that despite the embargo, Cuban coins that would be considered banned according to the embargo have been getting into the United States through Canada over the years. 

Putrow said he became interested in Cuban coins because of their rarity, as well as the commemorative themes that include the sea and animal kingdom, and the beautiful workmanship of the coins that come out of the Havana Mint.

"They do a great job with coins," Putrow said. "It's a good mint."

As Coin World reported in 2013, eBay angered many of its customers, including Putrow, when it went above and beyond embargo regulations and prohibited the sales of all Cuban coins and paper currency on the site, including those items issued before 1962.

Coin World has reached out to the media relations department of eBay and is awaiting a statement from the company on Wednesday's developments. 

Julian Leidman, who owns Bonanza Coins outside of Washington, D.C., deals extensively through eBay and said he has been disappointed that he's unable to sell through the site any Cuban coins he carries. He thinks coins shouldn't be subject to politics.

"I think the actual numismatic marketplace, it will only benefit from being able to see [them] and buy [them]," Leidman said of Cuban coins. 

While serious collectors of Cuban coins will find them through auction houses and other dealers, Leidman said, his aim in putting the coins on eBay is to expose them to younger collectors who might not otherwise know about them.

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