Volume 52, Number 9, September 2015
Time to act THIS little hobby of ours generally runs itself and does so pretty smoothly. Every now and then there is the odd hiccup: a forgery scare, a spike in certain prices, a fall in others, but the market, the dealers and collectors react accordingly and soon things are back to normal again. However, occasionally more serious problems beset numismatics and at times like that we all need to come together to tackle them. The issue to which I refer now is the attempt by German Minister of Culture Monika Gutters to change the German Cultural and Heritage Property law to ensure that anyone who wishes to sell anything of “cultural value” worth over 2,500 euros must prove its provenance over the past 20 years. For those wishing to sell items of archaeological interest the value must be from just 100 euros. Now, we have seen attempts by other countries in the past to introduce such laws to prevent their heritage being sold off to all and sundry. Some have been effective, some not so much, but many of those countries had somewhat chaotic bureaucratic systems and the wholesale banning of the movement of items has never really materialised. The Germans, as we all know, are renowned for being the exact opposite of chaotic and thus if this amendment to the law comes into force we can expect it to be enforced. Such is the worry that the law will be adhered to that there are rumours of donors removing works of art from museums in order to sell them whilst they still can, knowing that were they to wait, their prized possessions could well become next to worthless. But, of course, we aren’t talking about paintings worth millions here, but rather coins in collections. So what does this proposal actually mean for numismatics? Well, firstly few of us know the provenance of every coin in our collection stretching back 20 years, and even if we did we couldn’t prove it, so imagine coming to sell something only to be told it has “archaeological value” and that in order to sell you had to prove provenance—an impossible request and one that would leave you unable to sell at all, at least legally. Secondly dealers themselves would be unable to buy, knowing they could not sell on as they wouldn’t have the required records stretching back two decades—imagine what that would do to the market. Now many of you may ask how that will affect you if you don’t collect German coins. Well, in this day and age, with the global economy as it is, if one market is forcibly suppressed, others are bound to follow, potentially creating a problem for the coin trade far beyond the borders of Germany or even Europe. And if the law is successful in Germany what are the odds of the rest of the Bureaucrats in Europe wanting to follow suit? We all know how that works . . . In short this could be a real problem for anyone collecting or dealing in coins that are in any way out of the ordinary, and whilst again you may not think that is a problem for you as you only collect new issues, be assured that any problems in the rare and valuable coin market will affect the rest of the hobby in time. I don’t want to be a harbinger of doom here and I am certainly not writing this piece just to scare people or worry the hobby—because this isn’t by any means a foregone conclusion and “comment and contribution” regarding this amendment have been invited, so we do still have a chance to stop this silliness before it is too late. But we have to act now. Like many of the European dealers and auctioneers, the mighty numismatic house of Baldwin’s feel so strongly about this issue that they have set up an on-line petition and I urge each and every one of you to add your name to it as soon as possible. Just visit www.baldwin.co.uk/petition. We cannot afford to be complacent about this. This is not some temporary blip that the market will brush aside, this has the potential to be a real problem. So please, act now and do what you can. This is one woman’s crusade and whilst she may well not have had coins and other collectables in mind when she was drawing up the amendment, that won’t make any difference if it gets passed. Let’s make sure it doesn’t.
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