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HomeAncient CoinsCoin Import Restrictions: Planning a Vacation in Italy? -- DON'T

Coin Import Restrictions: Planning a Vacation in Italy? — DON’T

By Wayne Sayles Ancient Coin Collecting Blog …..

Today, the U.S. State Department (DOS) imposed import restrictions on numerous types of ancient coins cast or struck in Italy. Although the clear majority of public comment on the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Italy was in opposition to restrictions on coins from any period, DOS sided, as usual, with the views of the archaeological community and a nationalist foreign government. Ironically, this announcement comes on the heels of Legislative and Executive Branch appeals for less government regulation, especially of small businesses, where President Obama called some restrictions “just plain dumb.”

At the same time, appeals to DOS from a bipartisan group of twelve U.S. Representatives to exempt coins from any MOU extension with Italy went unheeded. Obviously, the communication from the government’s highest levels has not trickled down through the morass of bureaucracy at the State Department, where they continue to thumb their nose at critics of their policies—including elected officials. Although technically under the direction of the president, DOS has traditionally marched to the beat of its own drum.

The trade in licit coins of the types covered in this MOU will certainly be repressed because of the widespread absence of provenance information for coins and other minor antiquities in general—never before required, but now instantly mandatory. Maintaining provenance records for every coin struck in the history of civilization is about as useful and realistic as counting raindrops in a thunderstorm.

While the impetus for restrictions of trade in objects like ancient coins is purportedly for the preservation of cultural information, the actual effect of these restrictions is to repress a natural interest by Americans in cultures from abroad, to create hurdles for independent scholarship, and to cloister academic activity within a narrow and ideological special interest group that has the undivided attention of the State Department’s Cultural Heritage Center. All that would have been necessary to comply with the governing law and to protect the interests of Italy and the archaeological community was to impose import restrictions on coins “first found” in Italy — as CPIA clearly and specifically mandates.

Instead, it has been the choice of DOS to use the phrase “of Italian type”, which applies as well to coins first found outside of Italy. The distinction is enormous in that it not only criminalizes countless “orphans” that do not have recorded provenance even though they have been in the trade for centuries, but it also shifts the burden of proof from the accuser to the accused when a coin is detained at Customs. This is not some mere semantic issue, it is a purposeful phrasing with full knowledge of its impact and ambiguity.

In recent months, the media has been inundated with reports of a pandemic in Italy where cultural property has been literally crumbling from neglect and mismanagement. Countless genuine treasures from the past have been lost forever. The government is simply unable to deal with the scope of preserving the millions of objects already in its possession—let alone the new finds every time a new road or building is built. Yet, the very thought of private citizens owning, cherishing, and preserving ancient objects is anathema to the intelligentsia of Italy and apparently of America.

The elitist attitude of professional stewards, and their self-serving protectionism, is medieval. Yet, they claim a peremptory right of total control over objects from the past. After all, how could a stupid peasant adequately study and preserve anything? It must be in the best interests of Society (with a capital “S”) that they “save antiquity for everyone.” No? Well, in my considerable experience as an observer, I have come to realize that diplomas and intelligence are not necessarily related.

As a solution to its cultural property woes, Italy is now contemplating the commercialization of its precious cultural heritage in true Casino and McDonald’s fashion. I wonder if they’ll pass out an ancient coin with every McFlurry? (Offer does not apply to residents of the U.S.). They must think this approach is preferable to allowing private stewardship. After all, Casinos make enough money to hire more “experts” (like the ones they have now). All this rhetoric about the preservation of priceless artifacts is at best disingenuous. Cultural Property policies in Italy are all about control and job protection and everyone knows that.

So, if you’re planning a trip to Italy to see all those fantastic sites, think about the MOU and what it does to your rights. Do you really want to reward Italy for its intransigence? Maybe you’d do better to visit Britain where they have a few treasures as well, along with a law and an attitude that actually does help preserve our knowledge of the past.

Wayne Sayles
Wayne Sayles
Retiring in 1982 from the U.S. Air Force, Wayne earned a MA degree in Art History at the Univ. of Wisconsin. In 1986, he founded The Celator — a monthly journal about ancient coins. He co-authored "Turkoman Figural Bronze Coins and Their Iconography" (2 vols.) and wrote the six vol. series "Ancient Coin Collecting" (3 are in expanded 2nd ed.), the monograph "Classical Deception" and the exhibition catalogue for the Griner collection of ancient coins at Ball State University. He wrote the "Coin Collecting" article and revised the main "Coins" article for Encyclopaedia Britannica. Wayne is a Life Fellow of the ANS; Fellow of the RNS (London); Life Member of the Hellenic Numismatic Society (Athens); Life Member of AINS; and member of numerous other numismatic organizations including the American Numismatic Association and the Numismatic Literary Guild. He is the founder and current Executive Director of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild, has lectured extensively, written more than 200 articles about ancient coinage, and is a recipient of the "Numismatic Ambassador" award from Krause Publications. He is a biographee in Marquis, "Who's Who in America" and in "Who's Who in the World".

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  1. Typical, American government interference with private citizens rights. What’s not to despise about them. They will not rest until they steal the pennies out of your dead eyes.

    • Italian Type coins are now restricted from entering the US.

      If an US Citizen purchases an ancient coin from a US vendor he does not have to worry about Customs seizures or possible legal action.

      BUT, Ancient Coin Vendors outside the USA Are Negatively affected, since their mail is scrutinized by US Customs and Border Control.
      The Bavarian Government filed a complaint.
      Bavarian Minister of Economic Affairs, Martin Zeil, registered his government’s opposition to import restrictions on coins saying in a letter to the State Department that proposed restrictions “would negatively impact the legitimate numismatic trade between Germany and the United States of America and also people to people contacts between US and German citizens.”

      We will have to see what happens next.


  2. This is a problem for respectful collectors and dealers and I’m very happy for what Wayne Sayles writes about the right-commies and left-commies that rules Italy like private property was an anathema, this is the truth, hope in USA it’s not the same way.

  3. This law is too difficult to interpret.
    Import ancient coins 50 miles north, south, east or west of Campania, Italy and they are legal?
    Import any ancient Jesus Coins and they are legal.
    Constantine the Great Coins are all legitimate.
    But, Some minted Julius Caesar coins may not be imported?
    Import a coin from the south of Italy from a region during the time Italy was a part of ancient Greece and you could be breaking the law?
    I have been collecting ancient coins for over ten years and I can comprehend the ancient regions that are specifically not allowed for import. But does a customs Agent know the difference between Campania and Bruttium? Need I say more?

  4. This import restrictions are a nonsense, as I have read the coin from the Republic are not allowed and coins from ancient Magna Grecia (as we call them in Italy) are not allowed too but there is a little problem, yet explained in some way by Alex: if you buy one coin and the coin is described the problem is solved but what happens if you buy a lot of coinage in which they are mixed culture ancient coins? How many time should a collector wait, three months to have the items cleared? And if you for your business buy coins in USA that aren’t checked have I to check them before shipping to USA citizens to be sure there aren’t restricted items? Ah, let the people collect coins without too many restrictions and rules at least from USA and to USA, here in Italy there are so many rules about ancient coinage than you can imagine and now legitimate and respectful dealers have another problem not only Italian restrictions but also USA restrictions. Wow, it’s a miracle for collector that we are still able to collect coins without having to ask a written permission by some governative agency!!!!


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