Facebook Twitter

Opinion: Ancient coin collecting is at risk

Ever increasing numbers of import restrictions are making coin collecting a more difficult hobby

SHARE Opinion: Ancient coin collecting is at risk
Ever increasing numbers of import restrictions are making coin collecting a more difficult hobby.

Ever increasing numbers of import restrictions are making coin collecting a more difficult hobby.


John Adams was not only one of America’s Founding Fathers and our second president, he was also an avid collector of ancient coins, and he passed on his love of ancient history and ancient coins to his son, John Quincy Adams. The coins they collected led to nation-building conversations between father and son about ancient governments, philosophers and leaders. Like the Adamses, millions of Americans collect coins. Some are serious collectors who spend a great deal of time researching and collecting a variety of coins, others are more casual collectors. Coin collecting is a great way to learn about different cultures and time periods.  

Many Americans who collect coins have at least one or two ancient Roman coins in their collections. Unfortunately, our ability to purchase ancient Roman coins from around the world is at risk due to ever increasing numbers of import restrictions that are being implemented through memorandums of understanding between the Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs and foreign governments. While Congress designed import restrictions to be narrowly tailored to protect items demonstrated to have been illegally removed from a given country after the effective date of the regulations, State Department bureaucrats have instead employed their authority far more broadly as embargoes to detain, seize and repatriate all sorts of cultural goods imported here from legitimate markets in places like Europe.  

The number and extent of such import restrictions have grown dramatically in recent years. Now, even collecting common Roman coins is at risk.

Just as John Adams passed on his interest in ancient coins to his son, many people are first introduced to the hobby by a parent or grandparent. Coin collecting can be a great activity to connect generations and strengthen family bonds. 

Collectors purchase ancient Roman coins through a variety of means including online auctions, trade shows and local coin dealers. Given that ancient coin collecting in America traces its roots back to one of our first presidents and his son, who also became president and previously served as Secretary of State, it is ironic that modern day bureaucrats in the State Department are taking actions to limit the ability of Americans to purchase ancient Roman coins from around the world. 

There are tens of millions if not hundreds of millions of ancient Roman coins in private collections and museums around the world today. And there are untold more buried across Europe and parts of Africa and Asia. For any one country to claim these ancient coins as their property is a stretch of historical facts, but that is what some foreign governments are trying to do today. For example, an upcoming renewal of a current memorandum of understanding with Bulgaria will likely see an effort to expand the scope of current import restrictions to include ancient Roman Imperial coins. 

Most ancient coins were minted and circulated over a thousand years before modern political boundaries existed. At its peak, the Roman Empire stretched from present-day Britain to Syria, from the north to the modern-day Netherlands to the south of northern Africa. Roman Imperial coins circulated internationally from Britain to Sri Lanka, making it impossible to assume that any such coins originate from Bulgarian find spots absent documentary proof. Furthermore, Bulgaria has a robust domestic ancient coin market, 

It is ironic that the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, whose mission is “to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries by means of educational and cultural exchange …” would consider impeding the ability of Americans to engage in a hobby that enhances cultural understanding. It is especially frustrating for our government to restrict the freedom of its citizens to participate in the robust global coin market when countries like Bulgaria have such domestic ancient coin markets. 

Ancient coin collecting spurred conversations between John Adams and John Quincy Adams about ancient philosophers, military leaders and historians. Those conversations helped develop great minds who shaped our nation. We have a responsibility to future generations to ensure that the countless ancient coin collectors in the U.S. can have similar conversations with their children and grandchildren, free from unnecessary government intervention or restrictive regulation. 

Andy Pierucci, a leader in Utah’s business community who is active in a number of community organizations, serves on the board of directors for the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild, a national nonprofit organization committed to promoting the free and independent collecting of coins from antiquity.