A common sense approach to protecting history

As any collector will tell you, coins and medals are not just something to be collected, they are cultural artifacts.

While for many of us that is a huge part of the appeal of numismatics, it has a negative side as well. Many nations have determined that coins are part of their cultural patrimony and shouldn’t be exported. Now, to some extent that makes sense, particularly in the case of nations such as Egypt and Greece, which were plundered for the better part of a century by artifact hunters, often working for prestigious museums. Various nations have also found allies in the archeological community, which has long been complaining that grave robbers searching out items for collectors often destroy historical information that can never be recovered.

No thinking person can support grave robbery, or theft of any sort.

I am also a big believer in preserving culture. I have always believed that there should be a mechanism to ensure that items with significant cultural and historical interests remain at home. But that doesn’t mean that every single old coin has historic interest and needs to be locked up secure behind our borders for all time.

Yet it gets complicated when we go one step further and state that every coin should have an airtight provenance. Sure, that sounds logical, and in the case of many of the better coins is very possible. Those are coins which have made a number of auction appearances and been documented in named collections.

There are, however, literally thousands of ancient and old coins which have no such provenance. Their modest value and condition mean that they change hands without ever being individually documented. Being able to provide any sort of history for these coins would be difficult at best.

Without a provenance, these coins have the potential to become outlawed, or even seized for repatriation. The collector, who is probably the last link in a chain of conservatorship, is potentially treated as a criminal.

Nations which have attempted to legislate their history have failed because they are placing unrealistic expectations on people. Instead, they should look to Britain, which not only has thousands of years of history in its ground, but has some of the most practical laws in place in the world.

People who discover old coins and similar items are required to report their finds.

The discovery is investigated, items of historical value are set aside for preservation and the rest is made available to the public. History is preserved, finders are compensated, and history is preserved.

It makes a lot more sense than the current approach, which treats everyone but a few anointed academics as a vandal.


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