World Coins

MOU results in broad restrictions by State Department,

This Greek silver drachm of Alexander the Great, issued circa 336 to 323 B.C., is of a type whose importation into the United States is now restricted under a Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Greek and U.S. governments.

Images courtesy of HeritageAuctions.com.

The U.S. State Department and U.S. Customs have imposed broad import restrictions on many ancient Greek coins, continuing in the vein of similar restrictions that have been imposed on certain coins of Italian, Chinese and Cypriot types.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security and Department of the Treasury in a notice published in the Dec. 1 Federal Register confirmed that certain Greek coin types will be affected.

Countries seek Memorandums of Understanding that include import restrictions to protect their cultural sites, and the State Department announced on July 17 that it had signed an MOU to “reduce the incentive for further pillage of Greece’s cultural heritage.” That statement did not indicate if coins would be included in the final language.

Included in the new restrictions announced Dec. 1 are three broad categories of coins, including many smaller denomination coins that are commonly collected (descriptions taken from the Federal Register):

a. Greek Bronze Coins — Struck by city-states, leagues, and kingdoms that operated in territory of the modern Greek state (including the ancient territories of the Peloponnese, Central Greece, Thessaly, Epirus, Crete and those parts of the territories of ancient Macedonia, Thrace and the Aegean islands that lay within the boundaries of the modern Greek state). Approximate date: 5th century B.C. to late 1st century B.C.

b. Greek Silver Coins — This category includes the small denomination coins of the city-states of Aegina, Athens, and Corinth, and the Kingdom of Macedonia under Philip II and Alexander the Great. Such coins weigh less than approximately 10 grams and are known as obols, diobols, triobols, hemidrachms, and drachms. Also included are all denominations of coins struck by the other city-states, leagues, and kingdoms that operated in the territory of the modern Greek state (including the ancient territories of the Peloponnese, Central Greece, Thessaly, Epirus, Crete, and those parts of the territories of ancient Macedonia, Thrace and the Aegean islands that lie within the boundaries of the modern Greek state). Approximate date: 6th century B.C. to late 1st century B.C.

c. Roman Coins Struck in Greece — In silver and bronze, struck at Roman and Roman provincial mints that operated in the territory of the modern Greek state (including the ancient territories of the Peloponnese, Central Greece, Thessaly, Epirus, Crete, and those parts of the territories of ancient Macedonia, Thrace and the Aegean islands that lie within the boundaries of the modern Greek state). Approximate date: late 2nd century B.C. to 3rd century A.D.

The Federal Register notice states, “The importance and popularity of such items regrettably makes them targets of theft, encourages clandestine looting of archaeological sites, and results in their illegal export and import.”

However, large denomination Greek silver trade coins as well as all Greek gold coins seem to be excluded from the import restrictions.

In the public comment period, more than 70 percent of the public comments received by the Cultural Property Advisory Committee opposed these import restrictions, with many specifically mentioning coins.

Peter Tompa, a Washington, D.C., attorney who is active with the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild, wrote in a Dec. 1 entry to his blog, “It is also ironic that these restrictions provide for the repatriation of any coins seized by US Customs to the bankrupt Greek state, which has no money to care for major cultural sites, let alone for the thousands upon thousands of ancient Greek coins already within State collections.”

Import restrictions of this type are difficult to enforce, with their specificity in coin types yet broad reach across cultures and periods. Certain “Coins of Italian Types” including many widely collected Roman coins were included in import restrictions published Jan. 19, and currently Bulgaria is seeking protections that may include coins. ¦


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