Import restrictions be damned!

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by ancientnut, May 22, 2015.

  1. ancientnut

    ancientnut Well-Known Member

    These have become, and will continue to be, very frustrating and limiting for collectors. Many dealers who represent buyers in European auctions will not bid on coins without pedigrees that comply with import restrictions. A recent example, which affected me personally, is this coin which was offered in NAC 84 last Wednesday:

    Described as being “Of the highest rarity, the finer of only three specimens known”, the description included this fascinating story:

    The umbelliferous [aromatic herb of the parsley family] plant silphium must have been the most celebrated, and most profitable, export of Cyrene, for it is the perennial emblem of its coinage. It reputedly was a gift of the healing god Apollo and had a wide range of medical applications. The herbalist Dioscorides (III.94) lists a great many of them, ranging from relief for a tooth ache to a remedy for menstrual problems and epilepsy. Being such a valued product, its harvest was carefully regulated, similarly to how the Athenians enforced strict laws concerning the stewardship of olive trees in Attica. Even with such controls in place, demand for silphium was so great that it appears to have become extinct by about the 1st Century A.D. Perhaps the best known use of silphium was as a method of birth control, to which this obverse may bear reference. It shows a silphium fruit behind the eponymous city nymph Cyrene, seated, and extending her right hand toward a full silphium plant as she places her left hand in her lap. It has been suggested that the conspicuous placement of her left hand in this composition alludes to the value of silphium juice for the prevention of pregnancy.

    The coin sold for CHF 32,500 and I was willing to go to 35,000 or more. Even though there are no import restrictions on ancient coins of North Africa, I could not bid on it, pedigree! If an MOU affecting these coins is signed in the future, the owner could encounter legal problems when trying to sell it. :rage:
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  3. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

    Grrr! That's very unfortunate. Fascinating coin.
    stevex6 and ancientnut like this.
  4. John Anthony

    John Anthony Ultracrepidarian Supporter

    I don't follow you. If many dealers won't bid on coins without a pedigree, that means some will. Why didn't you just find one that would? Do you mean agents, instead of dealers?
    swamp yankee and Mikey Zee like this.
  5. ancientnut

    ancientnut Well-Known Member

    Yes, I meant dealers who are agents for bidders who can't view the coins and attend European auctions. I didn't look for another agent because of the potential future legal problems if an MOU for North African ancients is signed. For inexpensive coins, this is usually not a problem. But for high-priced items, I might be buying trouble.
    Mikey Zee likes this.
  6. John Anthony

    John Anthony Ultracrepidarian Supporter

    I can see your concern, but since I don't operate in this realm, let me ask another question. How does an MOU affect coins already out of the particular country that the US has the MOU with? Or is the coin in question still in Libya?

    All the major auction houses routinely sell Roman coins without pedigrees, even though the US has an MOU with Italy - but my understanding is that that MOU applies only to antiquities currently in Italy. How would the coin from Cyrene be any different?
    chrsmat71 likes this.
  7. ancientnut

    ancientnut Well-Known Member

    The coin in question was presumably in Zurich, Switzerland, since that's where the NAC auction was held. I am not certain about all the details, but as I understand it, coins purchased and exported before the MOU (in the case of Italy, it is a date in January, 2011) are not subject to any legal action by the country of origin. But, a coin of Magna Graecia or Italy sold in an auction after that date must have either a signed statement from the country of origin that it is not subject to import restrictions, or must have appeared in a published auction (or fixed price list?) before the effective date, or it is subject to legal action by the country of origin.
    Mikey Zee likes this.
  8. John Anthony

    John Anthony Ultracrepidarian Supporter

    It still sounds to me like you would have been OK to bid. The US has no MOU with Libya currently, so if that did happen in the future, the coin in question would have appeared previously in a printed auction, namely the one you linked. Still, I can understand the hesitancy to gamble a large sum of money on a coin you might have legal problems selling.
    Mikey Zee likes this.
  9. ancientnut

    ancientnut Well-Known Member

    I'm not sure, but I know that my agent would not bid on the coin for me, so apparently there are potential future legal issues.
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