What an ethical guideline for coin collectors could look like

by Shanna Schmidt

October 13, 2016 – I understand the need for restrictions to exist. Preservation of archaeological sites is extremely important for coin collectors. The largest point of debate is that most people involved in collecting or dealing would contend that coins really do not fit the true classification of precious cultural property. Source country governments are rarely interested in the majority of coins. Yes, there does exist some that fall in the category of cultural heritage, but this is more the exception than the rule. The vast majority of coins however are ubiquitous objects and furthermore are not typically found with other types of objects, rather on their own in large hoards. Additionally, what is most important in hoards is that they are properly catalogued and then real learning can occur and possibly history rewritten. This means cooperation between government, trade, museums and finally collectors must exist. Collecting is something that is human nature and to believe that people will stop collecting the world over because a government tells them they can’t is not consistent with actual behavior.

That said, everyone involved understands that what was acceptable twenty years or more ago is changed. The most ethical solution would be to adopt the UK model of the Treasure Act and the PAS (Portable Antiquities Scheme). This model seems to be an effective compromise for all sides. Cooperation means working together though and that is the point where things fall apart. It is unfortunate but I believe that rational minds eventually find a way. There are several ways to accomplish this but first the PAS model would need to be heralded across all source countries which is a difficult endeavor. Afterwards it would need to be embraced by all. That for me at least is the gold standard.

An alternative ethical solution is something that is already in the works in the United States. The U.S. trade has already started to form a task group that have met on several occasions to adopt guidelines that all dealers would adhere to. Membership in this group would mean adhering to these guidelines and thus satisfying the current mandates forwarded by the CPAC and other U.S. authorities. These guidelines are already being followed by any ethical dealer but now will be formally introduced.

The guidelines are straightforward:

1. Knowing your supplier

Recording and retention of information about sellers, the amounts paid and what was purchased. This includes recording the contact details of all suppliers and retaining a photographic record for all coins purchased or consigned with a market value of approximately $1,000 or above.

2. Provenance information

Retention and transmission of pedigree information prior to the most recent sale, if known. Members should work to educate collectors about the importance of retaining provenance information.

3. Database checks

While serious practical difficulties remain, members should be committed to the development of databases that display provenance information for historical coins.

4. Authenticity of coins

Guarantee the authenticity to the buyer of all items offered for sale for the life of the selling company.

5. Record retention

Members should retain the records of all purchases and sales of coins for a minimum period of seven years from the transaction date.

6. Good title guarantee

Members should guarantee good title accompanies all coins they sell and shall never knowingly deal in any numismatic item stolen from a public or private collection or reasonably suspected to be the direct product of an illicit excavation.

7. Proper importation and exportation

Members shall adhere to all U.S. laws relating to the importation of cultural goods as well as the export rules of all countries where members do business.

Why it would make sense to implement an ethical guideline?
It makes sense because collecting will not go away and to suggest otherwise is absurd. Ideological shifts in attitude are difficult to change so it is understandable why each side can’t find a bridge to the other. In the end we must meet in the middle and find solutions. The original intent of the MOU was to help source countries to begin the process of better reaction to solving their internal issues. Unfortunately the U.S. is largely alone in acting, thus MOUs are only one-sided and not as effective.

I think if we go back and look to when all museums were forming collections we will be struck by the fact that none would have existed without the generosity of collectors. We should respect that tradition and find a way to work together to make a better system; not fight and try to ignore something that can be a wonderful thing on many levels. Preserving history is the goal of all responsible collectors.

Please find more information about Shanna Schmidt at our Who’s who.

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