World Coins

U.S. adopts Libyan import restrictions on coins

This silver didrachm from the ancient city of Cyrene (also spelled Kyrene) featuring the now extinct silphium plant is covered under new import restrictions from Libya.

Coin images courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group.

Citing the 1970 UNESCO Convention, the government of Libya sought and has received import restrictions for items entering the United States, including a broad range of coins.

The new “emergency” measures were adopted on Dec. 5, and posted at the Federal Register, which notes that the request was “imposed on certain archaeological and ethnological material, the pillage of which jeopardizes the cultural heritage of Libya.”

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Importation of covered materials from Libya will be restricted for a five-year period until May 30, 2022. 

What is covered? 

Coins affected by the restrictions include ancient Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Islamic and Ottoman coins. 

The restrictions are described as follows: 

a.?General—Examples of many of the coins found in ancient Libya may be found in: A. Burnett and others, Roman Provincial Coinage, multiple volumes (British Museum Press and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, 1992-), R.S. Poole and others, Catalogue of Greek Coins in the British Museum, volumes 1-29 (British Museum Trustees 1873-1927) and H. Mattingly and others, Coins of the Roman Empire in the British Museum, volumes 1-6 (British Museum Trustees 1923-62). For Byzantine coins, see Grierson, Philip, Byzantine Coins, London, 1982. For publication of examples of coins circulating in archaeological sites, see La moneta di Cirene e della Cirenaica nel Mediterraneo. Problemi e Prospettive, Atti del V Congresso Internazionale di Numismatica e di Storia Monetaria, Padova, 17-19 marzo 2016, Padova 2016 (Numismatica Patavina, 13).

b.?Greek Bronze Coins — Struck by city-states of the Pentapolis, Carthage and the Ptolemaic kingdom that operated in territory of the Cyrenaica in eastern Libya. Approximate date: 4th century B.C. to late 1st century B.C.

c.?Greek Silver and Gold Coins — This category includes coins of the city-states of the Pentapolis in the Cyrenaica and the Ptolemaic Kingdom. Coins from the city-state of Cyrene often bear an image of the silphium plant. Such coins date from the late 6th century B.C. to late 1st century B.C.

d.?Roman Coins — In silver and bronze, struck at Roman and Roman provincial mints including Apollonia, Barca, Balagrae, Berenice, Cyrene, Ptolemais, Leptis Magna, Oea, and Sabratha. Approximate date: late 3rd century B.C. to 1st century A.D.

e.?Byzantine Coins — In bronze, silver, and gold by Byzantine emperors. Struck in Constantinople and other mints. From 4th century A.D. through 1396 A.D.

f.?Islamic Coins — In bronze, silver, and gold. Dinars with Arabic inscriptions inside a circle or square, may be surrounded with symbols. Struck at mints in Libya (Barqa) and adjacent regions. From 642 A.D. to 15th century A.D.

g.?Ottoman — Struck at mints in Istanbul and Libya’s neighboring regions. Approximate date: 1551 A.D. through 1750 A.D.

Industry response

Peter Tompa, a lawyer in Washington, D.C., has been at the forefront of defending the rights of coin collectors while respecting cultural property laws, pushing for laws that respect both ends. 

The Dangers of Counterfeits”The quality of the coins is getting better, and so are the counterfeits. Europe is experiencing the same problems seen in the United States, warns Coin World's correspondent in Germany.

In a post at his Cultural Property Observer blog about the Libyan restrictions, he wrote: “Once again, grossly over-hyped fears of illicit antiquities funding terrorism appears to be the primary justification for rushing through this dubious request, even though it meets few, if any, of the statutory criteria and it is doubtful the militias running the country will protect any artifacts that may be repatriated under the agreement.” 

Tompa highlights one positive development with these restrictions.

He wrote: “The regulations contain some belated acknowledgement any restricted coins must also be ‘found’ there. (Previous import restrictions on coins have improperly equated where they are found with where they are minted, though they are items of commerce that typically circulated widely.)” 

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