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Author Topic: Legal issues with owning coins in different countries (import/export)?  (Read 334 times)

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Offline RealGeekDad

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I purchased a lot of coins and various other items from an antique dealer in Sofia, Bulgaria back in the mid-1990s. There were coins and items from the Ottoman and Soviet eras, but there were also two Roman coins from the 2nd and 3rd centuries as well as a Bulgarian coin from the 9th century. I have lived and worked in various countries in the meantime, always taking my coin collection with me as I moved from place to place. No one ever gave the coins any scrutiny, but I was told some anecdotal stories about people getting into legal trouble over owning "ancient artifacts" that belong to "the world's cultural heritage". I'm planning an upcoming move, possibly to Germany, and I started doing some reading on the Internet about laws regarding buying and selling ancient coins. It's not 100% clear to me, but it looks like I might be OK with just a small collection that I'm not intending to sell, right? If anyone gives me any trouble, I do have a the hand written name and address of the business owner I bought the coins from originally. Would that be sufficient paperwork for provenance?

I would appreciate any knowledge or insight anyone can give from personal experience.

Thank you,


Offline Mark Fox

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Dear Jeff and Board,

It would be helpful to know what country you are planning to move from.  I am most accustomed with American and British laws.  If we were talking about moving the coins from the US, for instance, you should be okay for a number of reasons, including the simple fact that the coins would be exported from the country and not imported, which is where the real collecting issues have been growing in recent decades. 

In Germany/the EU, the legal system on portable antiquities was recently overhauled and/or refined, with very unfriendly effects for collectors.  That said, due to a large amount of pressure from our side, a small clause was added to one of the laws (German or EU) exempting importation restrictions on ancient coins that are not of national, cultural, or scientific importance---or something to that effect.  The exception is apparently enough to allow dealers in ancient coins to still operate successfully in Germany.  I can't say you will not have a potential problem with importing your small collection there, but from the little you have described of the collection, the chances of experiencing issues are low, especially if you can provide a vintage receipt.                           

Hope some of this helps a little.

Best regards,

Mark Fox

Offline SC

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    • A Handbook of Late Roman Bronze Coin Types 324-395.
When you move to a new country you have two issues.

First, the collection you bring.  You can document this in your personal inventory.  You will presumably have to clear your household goods through customs anyway.  Ensure your records are as detailed as possible.  You will perhaps want a detailed inventory for move-related insurance anyway.  I had a huge list of my collections plus photos to accompany my inventory.

You should then be safe in any country with decent laws.  Personally, I would not trust this in countries that fail to respect any private ownership of antiquities - e.g. Italy, Greece, Turkey, etc. - or that fail to respect private ownership period - e.g. Russia, China.

The second issue is if you keep collecting in your new country.  At that point you are under local laws.

So, in theory, you could take a huge collection to Greece (not that I would trust that) but be unable to buy or import anything further. 


(Shawn Caza, Ottawa)

Offline Sap

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The two issues you face are: exporting antiquities from the country where you're living now, and importing them into the new country. You need to do the research and find out the antiquities laws in both countries, so you don't fall afoul of either of them as you cross the border.

Be aware that for numerous countries, having a handwritten piece of paper is not considered sufficient proof of providence, nor are receipts from coin dealers considered proof of ownership.

Greece is perhaps the most extreme case. Any artifact older than 1826 that is on Greek territory, belongs to the State. You cannot actually buy and sell ancient coins, because you do not legally "own" them; instead, Greek citizens can buy and sell the right to be the custodian of an ancient coin (non-citizens do not have this right, and "becoming a Greek citizen" is not legally possible unless your ancestors have lived in Greece for 3 generations). Private collections of ancient coins are thus legal but the collections must be fully documented, catalogued and registered and be made available for government inspection on demand - in effect, your "private collection" becomes a small state-owned museum. While the importation of non-Greek ancient coins is theoretically legal, the onus in on you, the importer, to prove that the coins were not illegally dug up in Greece or anywhere else. You will need a verifiable provenance chain that goes back at least 50 years, and that provenance chain must not include anywhere in Greece. Artifacts that fail these strict criteria are treated as if they had just been dug up by looters yesterday - which means they become property of the State, you won't be allowed to re-export them, and if the Greek government believes they have discovered the origin country that the coins were stolen from, they will repatriate them to that country's government.
I'll have to learn Latin someday.


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