Court ruling on importation of ancient coins!

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Mat, Aug 7, 2018.

  1. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    Link below to Fourth Circuit United States Court of Appeals decision today (August 7, 2018) finding in favor of the government in forfeiture proceeding for the seizure of ancient coins.

    I am sure this will affect many of us.
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2018
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  3. furryfrog02

    furryfrog02 Well-Known Member

    Lots of legal-ease. What's the short and skinny?
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  4. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

    Short and skinny: we-- ancient coin collectors and dealers-- lost.

    Here's a longer version but it is still just skimming the surface and I am most certainly not an expert in these issues. If anyone with more knowledge finds errors in what I've said please correct me. I'll give some background and then a very capsular version of the ruling.

    The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG; a US organization) maintains that ancient coins are not cultural patrimony; they were used in commerce just like we use coins today. Coins were and have always been intended for exchange of goods, often across geopolitical boundaries. They were exchanged for goods and services far and wide.

    Let's say an ancient coin is found modern Turkey. It is a type known to have been struck in ancient Cyprus. For purposes of this question, disregard any issues of Turkish laws. Who does that coin belong to? Turkey? Cyprus? It was struck in Cyprus but somewhere in time it was brought to Turkey. Does that make it the property of the Turkish government, or the Turkish finder if that is allowed by that country's laws? Does it belong to Cyprus, simply because we know it was made in Cyprus long ago?

    Historically, the find spot for most ancient coins is unknown or not recorded but in most cases there is little reason to believe ancient coins stayed in the city or country in which they were struck. There are millions of ancient coins in the hands of collectors and museums with more found every day. Most of them are of very low market value. Think of the millions of late Roman bronzes. Who is going to record and keep track of a find spot for a coin worth dollars (or pennies, going back in time)? It just isn't done, or at least it wasn't done in the past many hundreds of years of the hobby nor is it feasible to do so for such common and low value items.

    It has become fashionable in recent decades for the US to enter in to these MOUs with various countries as part of diplomatic relations. Ostensibly, these understandings are to help prevent looting (in reality, they don't). Some countries are lumping coins in with their culture heritage items. Cyprus, for example has a MOU with the US and currently, ancient coins are considered their cultural property.

    Cutting to the chase, the ACCG began fighting this nonsense in 2004. US MOUs with Cyprus (2007) and China (2009) placed onerous restrictions on US importation of coins from those respective countries.

    (paragraphs in blue are copied from the ruling)

    The Guild opposed the Cypriot and Chinese MOUs, believing that State Department officials had acted in bad faith in adopting the import restrictions. That belief was bolstered by what the Guild perceived as failures of government officials to comply with the CPIA. To remedy those perceived failures, the Guild sought to have its grievances heard and resolved in the courts. The Guild therefore decided to manufacture litigation by deliberately importing restricted ancient Cypriot and Chinese coins into the United States. Once the coins were detained, the Guild planned to sue the federal agencies and officials responsible for imposing and enforcing the import restrictions.

    And that's what they did. Hoping to create a test case he ACCG bought and arranged importation in to the USthree Chinese knife coins, seven Cypriot coins, and five other Chinese coins in 2009. The coins items were seized by US Customs. The coins are the Defendants in this case which was heard by the US Court of Appeals Fourth Circuit in March 2018-- it is the last stage of the legal process which began in 2009. ACCG is the claimant-appellant.

    The ACCG's legal case reached many obstacles and this ruling is apparently the end of the story. The ACCG's litigation and appeal failed. The US government maintained that the coins were illegally imported.

    It was a very long slog... 2009-2018.
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2018
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  5. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    I've always found that to be extremely bizarre!

    The ACCG also imported 7 unattributed Chinese coins which may or may not have been prohibited types (i.e. Tang dynasty or earlier). Since the court found that the burden of proof was on the government to show the coins were prohibited types before initiating forfeiture proceedings, and no such proof was provided, those coins were permitted to be imported. The practical upshot seems to be that when exporting anything that might be subject to restrictions to the U.S., don't include anything beyond a vague description of the coins. In the unlikely event that they're seized, make sure you have documents you can provide to the importer showing one of three things, that the coins are:
    (1) lawfully exported from its respective state while CPIA restrictions were in effect;
    (2) exported from its respective state more than ten years before it arrived in the United States; or
    (3) exported from its respective state before CPIA restrictions went into effect.​
    But if the coins are not described very specifically in the package, you probably won't have to go to the trouble of providing those documents.

    Does that sound right?

    As far as I can tell (I'm no expert by any means!) the decision isn't a travesty of justice or anything, given the wording of the relevant statutes. It's just that the import restrictions should never have been imposed in the first place (as we pretty much all agree).
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  6. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

    Hmm, interesting. So... no detailed description on the flip inserts?

    That sounds like a fair assessment of the situation.
    Severus Alexander likes this.
  7. green18

    green18 Sweet on Commemorative Coins Supporter

    You guys/gals have been bibically 'had' sorry.
  8. jb_depew

    jb_depew Well-Known Member

    It seems like a legal precedent has been established. What other countries does the US have memorandums of understanding with, in regard to the import of ancient coins?
  9. V. Kurt Bellman

    V. Kurt Bellman Yes, I'm blunt! Get over your "feeeeelings".

    One of my "buds" is Kerry Wetterstrom, former publisher of The Celator. He has been warning that this has been coming at us/you for YEARS now. Many countries are going to want to drive a truck through this precedent. This is bad, REAL bad.
  10. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    Yes, that's the idea.

    Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Egypt, Libya, and soon Algeria...
  11. green18

    green18 Sweet on Commemorative Coins Supporter

  12. green18

    green18 Sweet on Commemorative Coins Supporter

    Lotta Irish in there.......
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  13. H8_modern

    H8_modern Attracted to small round-ish art

    Wouldn’t suggest buying coins from Cyprus or Bulgaria anyway.
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  14. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    The restrictions don't just apply to purchases from Cyprus or Bulgaria, but to coins that originated there, even if you're buying them from – to pick a country at random :rolleyes: – Canada. That is: anything minted in Cyprus, from their first coins to Roman (end date 235 CE), and anything minted in or around(!) the territory of modern Bulgaria before 1750(!!). So: Dacia, Moesia, Thrace; many Scythian coins and Celtic coins; some Byzantine and Ottoman.

    Totally ridiculous, but there you have it. Keep all your documentation!
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  15. V. Kurt Bellman

    V. Kurt Bellman Yes, I'm blunt! Get over your "feeeeelings".

    If you're a "finder", I assume having full documentation of where and how it was found might be a good idea in some marginal cases, no? The courts didn't seem to be impressed with lack of detail.
  16. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    For sure, assuming it was found outside the protected territories.
    jb_depew likes this.
  17. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    I hasten to add that it also makes sense to ship coins with full documentation proving that they aren't subject to any import restrictions.
  18. Johnnie Black

    Johnnie Black Neither Gentleman Nor Scholar Supporter

    Yikes. Can they appeal the appeal?
  19. red_spork

    red_spork Triumvir monetalis Supporter

    There's always the Supreme Court
  20. V. Kurt Bellman

    V. Kurt Bellman Yes, I'm blunt! Get over your "feeeeelings".

    It stands exactly where the Langbord case (1933 Gold Double Eagles) stood after the first 3rd Circuit appeal. There are only TWO possible next steps. - an en banc hearing before the 4th Circuit, not a slam dunk there since the panel was 3-0 and not 2-1, or a certiorari Petition to the United States Supreme Court, which takes only about 2% of cases filed there. Either way, it's pretty Hail Mary.

    2-1 panel decisions usually are worth a flyer on an en banc appeal. 3-0 is a tough go.
    Paul M., Johnnie Black and red_spork like this.
  21. lrbguy

    lrbguy Well-Known Member

    That struck me about today's decision as well. If the coins had been bunched like uncleaned coins in a non-specific accumulation, they would most likely travel under the radar. However, if a government agent examined them and attributed them, rightly or wrongly, whatever they determined was on the list of forbidden types would be culled out and held. What they cannot do is seize the lot indiscriminately and hold it indefinitely.

    That was not quite what happened today. The precedent you fear was set back on Oct 12, 2012 in the decision of the appellate court of Maryland on the case this court referenced as Ancient Coin I. The court today stood by that earlier set of rulings in denying the ACCG insistence upon the "first discovery" principle, mainly on the ground that it would draw the court into second guessing matters of executive decision making about cultural property and the State Department's need to freely negotiate with foreign powers in diplomacy situations where they need that free hand to assure the greatest good to US interests.

    That was the stopper in 2012, and this court was not going to cross into that again.

    Our condolences to Peter Tompa, who fought the good fight all this time.

    Here's the thing though, if a dealer in London wants to sell me an ancient from Cyprus, or China, that is on the forbidden list for US import, it will be permitted if someone can prove that the coin left the country of first origin more than ten years prior to coming to the US. Buried in all that is the recognition that if coins leave a country as part of international commerce, they are "given up" to the other country by the exchange. If a buyer can establish that for the last ten years or more a coin was not in the country of origin, it can come in.

    As always, know your seller.
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