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Import Restrictions
Effective 6 January 2014
MOU Affecting the Import of Certain Bulgarian Coins

On January 16, 2014, U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced new import restrictions on all Celtic, Greek, Roman Provincial, Bulgarian and Byzantine Imperial and Ottoman coins made in Bulgaria as recently as 1750. The restrictions also encompass unidentified “Greek coins from nearby regions that are found in Bulgaria.” This is another major expansion of import restrictions, and one that for the first time reaches coins made as recently as the 18th c.

Specifically, the designated list, taken from the Federal Register (a publication that announces new federal regulations) is as follows. .

7. Coins – In copper, bronze, silver and gold. Many of the listed coins with inscriptions in Greek can be found in B. Head, Historia Numorum: A Manual of Greek Numismatics (London, 1911)and C.M. Kraay, Archaic and Classical Greek Coins (London, 1976). Many of the Roman provincial mints in modern Bulgaria are covered in I. Varbanov, Greek Imperial Coins I: Dacia, Moesia Superior, Moesia Inferior (Bourgas, 2005), id., Greek Imperial Coins II: Thrace (from Abderato Pautalia) (Bourgas, 2005), id., Greek Imperial Coins III: Thrace (from Perinthus to Trajanopolis), Chersonesos Thraciae, Insula Thraciae, Macedonia (Bourgas 2007). A non-exclusive list of pre-Roman and Roman mints include Mesembria (modern Nesembar), Dionysopolis (Balchik), Marcianopolis (Devnya), Nicopolis ad Istrum (near Veliko Tarnovo), Odessus (Varna), Anchialus (Pomorie), Apollonia Pontica (Sozopol), Cabyle (Kabile), Deultum (Debelt), Nicopolis ad Nestum (Garmen), Pautalia (Kyustendil), Philippopolis (Plovdiv), Serdica(Sofia), and Augusta Traiana (Stara Zagora). Later coins may be found in A. Radushev and G. Zhekov, Catalogue of Bulgarian Medieval Coins IX-XV c. (Sofia 1999) and J.Youroukova and V. Penchev, Bulgarian Medieval Coins and Seals (Sofia 1990).

a. Pre-monetary media of exchange including “arrow money,” bells, and bracelets. Approximate date: 13th century B.C. through 6th century B.C.

b. Thracian and Hellenistic coins struck in gold, silver, and bronze by city-states and kingdoms that operated in the territory of the modern Bulgarian state. This designation includes official coinages of Greek-using city-states and kingdoms, Sycthian and Celtic coinage, and local imitations of official issues. Also included are Greek coins from nearby regions that are found in Bulgaria. Approximate date: 6th century BC through the 1st century B.C.

c. Roman provincial coins – Locally produced coins usually struck in bronze or copper at mints in the territory of the modern state of Bulgaria. May also be silver, silver plate, or gold. Approximate date: 1st century BC through the 4th century A.D.

d. Coinage of the First and Second Bulgarian Empires and Byzantine Empire – Struck in gold, silver, and bronze by Bulgarian and Byzantine emperors at mints within the modern state of Bulgaria. Approximate date: 4th century A.D. through A.D. 1396.

e. Ottoman coins – Struck at mints within the modern state of Bulgaria. Approximate date: A.D. 1396 through A.D. 1750.

What is the Impact of Import Restrictions on "Coins of Italian Type?"

Prepared by Peter Tompa

Many collectors have expressed understandable concern about the impact of new import restrictions on "coins of Italian type." Hopefully, this overview will be of some assistance.

I. What Coins Are Now Restricted?

The January 19, 2011 Federal Register contains a notice that restrictions are extended to certain coins of Italian type:

View the Government Record.

The categories of coins subject to the restrictions are as follows:

F. Coins of Italian Types—A type catalogue of listed currency and coins can be found in N.K. Rutter et al. (eds.), Historia Numorum: Italy (London, 2001). Others appear in G.F. Hill Coins of Ancient Sicily (Westminster, 1903).

1. Lumps of bronze (Aes Rude)— Irregular lumps of bronze used as an early medium of exchange in Italy from the 9th century B.C.

2. Bronze bars (Ramo Secco and Aes Signatum)—Cast bronze bars (whole or cut) used as a media of exchange in central Italy and Etruria from the 5th century B.C.

3. Cast coins (Aes Grave)—Cast bronze coins of Rome, Etruscan, and Italian cities from the 4th century B.C.

4. Struck coins—Struck coins of the Roman Republic and Etruscan cities produced in gold, silver, and bronze from the 3rd century B.C. to c. 211 B.C., including the ‘‘Romano-Campanian’’ coinage.

5. Struck colonial coinage—Struck bronze coins of Roman republican and early imperial colonies and municipia in Italy, Sicily, and Sardinia from the 3rd century B.C. to c. A.D. 37.

6. Coins of the Greek cities—Coins of the Greek cities in the southern Italian peninsula and in Sicily (Magna Graecia), cast or struck in gold, silver, and bronze, from the late 6th century B.C. to c. 200 B.C.

Source: Federal Register: January 19, 2011 (Volume 76, Number 12)
[Rules and Regulations] Pages 3012-3013.

Accordingly, although the import of coins of great interest to collectors of Greek coins are restricted, the import of most Republican and Imperial coins remains unrestricted.

II. What are the impact of Restrictions?

The above restricted coins of Italian types can only be imported into the United States with an export certificate issued by the Republic of Italy or “satisfactory evidence” demonstrating that the coins were exported from or were outside of Italy at least 10 years prior to importation into the US or that the Coins were exported from or were outside of Italy before January 19, 2011. What constitutes “satisfactory evidence” is ultimately left to the discretion of Customs, but usually takes the form of a declaration by the importer and a statement by the consigner.

Source: Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (“CPIA”) § 307, 19 U.S.C. § 2606.

III. Open Questions

Under the CPIA, import restrictions only apply to coins “first found in the ground” in Italy. See CPIA § 302 (2). However, if a coin of Italian type was excavated outside of Italy in a country that declares anything found in the ground to be state property (i.e., Egypt, Greece or Turkey), it may still be subject to seizure pursuant to the National Stolen Property Act and other provisions of U.S. law. The same principal would apply to a non-restricted Roman coin proven to have been illicitly excavated in Italy in violation of that country's patrimony laws.

The more relevant question is how U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) will treat "coins of Italian type" which do not have a known find spot and/or whose whereabouts cannot be traced back before January 19, 2011, i.e., presumably an ever increasing number of coins as time passes. In the test case brought by the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild concerning Cypriot and Chinese import restrictions, CBP has taken the position that “country of origin” for purpose of the CPIA is synonymous with country of manufacture because Cypriot and Chinese coins may be found where they are manufactured. The Court has yet to rule on the validity of this claim.

There is another question related to coins already in the United States. Import restrictions should not apply to them, but what happens if they are sent abroad? Can they be imported back into the United States without the usual certifications? Presumably so, but again we will only know once CBP confronts the issue.

There also is the issue of the overzealous CBP officials. For example, one recently retired official in CBP's New York office was known to reject the certifications authorized under the CPIA. Instead, he apparently often demanded that the importer produce pictures of artifacts from auction catalogues to prove that an artifact was out of the country of origin as of the date of the restrictions. Obviously, if applied to coins, this would pose a major burden to importers.

In summary, these unprecedented restrictions promise to be a major headache for everyone, except, of course, their proponents in the archaeological community and the Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Cultural Heritage Center. The best I can suggest is to document your coins as being out of Italy before January 19, 2011 as well as you can and only purchase coins from established sellers.

Peter Tompa
Washington, DC, United States

Peter Tompa has collected ancient coins for thirty years. He has written and lectured about cultural property issues for a decade. He is a contributor to a chapter on numismatics in K. Fitz Gibbon ed., "Who Owns the Past?" (Rutgers 2005). He has lobbied members of the U.S. Congress and the Executive Branch in an effort to ensure that the small businesses of the numismatic trade receive fair treatment from federal regulators. He currently serves as a board member of the Cultural Policy Research Institute and the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild. He also has been appointed a vice-chair of the American Bar Association's Art & Cultural Heritage Law Committee. His advocacy has received notice in the media, including the New York Times, the Art Newspaper and the Voice of America. He hopes his views as a collector and lawyer will provide a counterpoint to the "archaeology over all" perspective found in most blogs about cultural property issues. This Web page is a public resource for general information and opinion about cultural property issues, and is not intended to be a source for legal advice.