Monday, January 29, 2007

Restrictions on Cypriot coins

By now you've read that the government of Cyprus wishes to add 'coins more than 250 years old' to the list of restricted cultural objects making it illegal to import such items without a license from Cyprus and requiring our Customs and Border Patrol to be on the lookout for such coins.

Hopefully you've also read Wayne Sayles' response.

I'd like to see a world where numismatists can send coins across borders for study — a Numismatic Free Trade Agreement — and don't like it when governments try to restrict the sale of old coins.

This agreement is more than just a restriction that burdens coin collectors. Adding coins to Cyprus' list means that our customs agents will need to learn to recognize the coins of Cyprus.

Customs is a hard job. (Here is a nice How Customs Works that explains what the officers do.) It's best if the list of things the agents need to monitor is small. It isn't hard to recognize a gun or a brick of cocaine. Recognizing Cypriot coins is harder than detecting guns. Obviously a smuggler isn't going to write 'auto parts' on a shipment of coins. He is going to write something like 'recent silver tokens'. The Customs agent will need to study the difference, leaving little time to look for guns and bricks of cocaine.

When the Iraqi museum was robbed the state department put out a list of stolen Iraqi artifacts, including coins. This was a problem, because no coins were stolen! The list is still there, but now says 'Present, Stolen or Missing'. (Coins are 'Present', but you wouldn't know it from the site.) Look at the 'Islamic Coins' and 'Parthian Coins' on that website. This is the kind of information that will be given to Customs agents.

There is a pre-existing agreement for Byzantine metal antiquities with Cyprus; the images are here. If coins are added you can expect to see 'Greek', 'Byzantine', and 'Medieval' coins added to that list. Having coins on the list means Customs Agent will be spending a lot of time opening boxes when the X-ray shows coins. Recent and old coins look similar under the X-ray.

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