by Wayne G. Sayles
In 2004, the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild was formed as a Missouri Not for Profit Corporation. As detailed in its Bylaws, the ACCG’s purpose is to (1) promote and nurture the free and independent collecting of coins from antiquity through education, political action and consumer protection; (2) foster an environment in which the general public can confidently and legally acquire and hold numismatic items of historical interest regardless of date or place of origin; and (3) declare that we neither support the looting of designated archaeological sites nor the violation of any nation's laws concerning the import or export of antiquities.
The ACCG’s governing Board consists of seven individuals with diverse experience who all share a love of ancient coins. The organization enjoys the support of more than twenty Affiliate Member coin clubs across the country. Each year, the Guild conducts an educational program at the New York International Coin Show. Board members have also spoken at other coin shows around the country and have provided commentary about issues important to ancient coin collectors to the press. The Internal Revenue Service has approved the Guild’s application for 501( c)(4) non-profit status, which specifically authorizes it to engage in lobbying activities.
The Guild was formed because ancient coin collectors sensed a growing opposition to private collecting of ancient coins that originated in the archaeological community. Guild members were concerned over the growing influence of an anti-collecting view in Washington and at the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC). The CPAC is the creation of the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA),a statue that authorizes import controls on cultural goods at the behest of signatories to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transport of Ownership of Cultural Property. To ensure that pertinent interests and parties were heard, the CPAC includes presidentially appointed members from several elements of society, including members of the trade. The primary task of the CPAC is to make recommendations to the President regarding cultural property Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) between the United States and other countries. These MOUs, if approved, provide the basis for import restrictions on cultural goods coming into the United States.
The first MOU in which ancient coins were considered by the CPAC was with Cyprus in January of 1999. After their meeting, CPAC recommended some restrictions on ancient artifacts but voted against restrictions on ancient coins. Later in October, Italy requested a MOU that would include ancient coins but the CPAC again recommended against the inclusion of coins. These CPAC recommendations against including coins were adopted by the State Department in both cases. This activity, along with efforts to blame collectors, for the looting of the Iraq Museum in the aftermath of the First Gulf war, prompted the founding of the ACCG in 2004.
In 2005, the collector and dealer base were galvanized, by a proposed MOU with China and the threat of coin restrictions being added to a renewed MOU with Italy. With the help of Missouri Senator Kit Bond, ACCG became a spearhead in the battle against the import restrictions of ancient coins. The flashpoint came early in 2007 when the Cyprus MOU renewal request included a last minute proposed addition of import restriction of ancient Cypriot coins. The circumstances and details raised serious conflicts of interest questions, but let it suffice to say that the bureaucracy prevailed. In 2009, ancient Chinese coins were added as an import restriction, setting a new problematic precedent to anyone interested in the collection of ancient coins.
At this point, the ACCG developed a legal plan, to import a mixed group of ancient Cypriot and Chinese coins which we expected to be seized by Customs, which would allow for a legal challenge under the provisions of CPIA. Washington D.C. attorney and ACCG Board member Peter K. Tompa led the arduous legal journey that followed. It resulted in two actions in the U.S. District Court of Maryland, two appeals, and two petitions for writ of certiorari before the U.S. Supreme Court. In the end, while the courts declined to determine whether the actions of the State Department complied with CPIA, the District Court did recognize that “Congress only authorized the imposition of import restrictions on objects that were ‘first discovered within, and [are] subject to the export control by the State Party.” Ancient Coin Collectors Guild v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 801 F. Supp. 2d 383, 407 n. 25 (D. Md. 2011). While the legal battle took the better part of a decade, and ended in frustration, the battle nonetheless made clear to the State Department bureaucracy and archaeological lobby that U.S. collectors are willing to fight for their rights to collect ancient coins of a sort collected world-wide, including in China and Cyprus.
As alluded to above, the Congressional origins of the CPIA goes back to the 1970’s UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. That Convention, attended by representatives from 61 countries, established very broad parameters governing trade and private ownership of cultural property. The 13-year delay between the Convention and Congressional legislation was due to a prolonged debate over details, among which was a primary concern regarding the Act’s impact on the constitutional rights of American citizens. After lengthy testimony in Congress, with the views of interested parties having been heard, the CPIA was enacted with measures that provided for the protection of both State and private rights and interests. It appeared to be a strong, fair and effective approach to the support of UNESCO’s goals, while protecting private collectors, museums and the trade in cultural property. While the first twenty years of this Act’s history were virtually free of controversy, at least from the perspective of ancient coin collectors, problems now exist since CPAC has begun to adopt MOUs with counties that prohibit the importation of ancient coins.
Truly, while the ACCG was born of necessity then, the ACCG continues to be a necessity today. Through its continued advocacy before the Congress and administrative agencies, and in litigation before the courts, the ACCG has earned the respect and support of many in the ancient coin collecting community as well as leaders from similar cultural property focused organizations. Today, the Guild is actively engaged in Washington, along with some of the leading collector and trade organizations of this country and abroad. With its proactive efforts on behalf of ancient coin collectors, the ACCG has definitely had an impact and looks for a far brighter future today than a decade ago.