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Volume 54, Number 5, May 2017
It’s an ill wind AT THE celebrated Numismata show in Münich in early March there came a turning point in the world of numismatics when, unbeknownst to many at the fair, 30 German law enforcement officers, including three members of the Munich art and antiques squad, raided the event and enforced, for the first time as far as we are aware, the new German law regarding the sale of antiquities and items of cultural value. According to the report in Antiques Trade Gazette (ATG) some five dealers, an Afghanistan-born Danish dealer, a Bulgarian national and three Serbs were arrested and had various items of their stock seized under the Kulturschutzgesetz” which states that items of cultural significance can only be sold if strict conditions are met. These conditions include, amongst other things, the item in question having an export licence from its country of origin (a pain but not impossible) and, somewhat more problematic, full provenance stretching back over a 20-year period. This is, of course, quite ludicrous for the average coin—certainly some of the more notable pieces may have such a recorded history, indeed we often see such provenance catalogued (ex Norweb collection and so forth), but for the more run-of-the-mill pieces such records just aren’t kept. Do you know every owner of every coin in your collection spanning the last two decades? Of course not, and to expect you to makes no sense. If the Germans had declared that “from now on” provenance must be noted and records kept, then that would be fine, but to expect collectors to be able to go back 20 years before they sell to a dealer is crazy. Look out for lots of “in the same collection for 20 years” description tickets appearing . . .! At the moment we understand that this new law is only applicable in Germany and we had fully expected it to be enforced only lightly, but we should have known better, this is Germany after all and they do like their rules and regulations! So it seems that it is to be part of coin collecting in that country from now on and something all collectors and dealers must be aware of. The key question of course is whether this new law is adopted across the whole of Europe, after all where Germany leads the rest of the EU has tended to follow and it will be interesting to see what happens next. Assuming other European countries do follow suit, and let’s face it it isn’t that unlikely, this puts us here in the UK in something of a strong position. Already auctioneers are moving some of their sales out of Germany into neighbouring countries, but that won’t help if those countries adopt the same rules too. Britain though is a little different. I am sure it can’t have escaped your notice that we won’t be part of the EU for much longer and whilst there is something of a legal grey area in regard to which laws we will or won’t have to adopt in the next two years during our “divorce” proceedings, we will, eventually, be able to repeal at will and thus anything we don’t like (such as a ludicrous law on provenance) can be thrown out. Does this then mean that Britain could soon become the numismatic capital of Europe? The safe haven where dealers can buy and sell without fearing draconian reprisals? We don’t know of course, we aren’t even sure if the German law will remain in its current form let alone be adopted by others, but if it is, then whether you were a remainer or a Brexiteer I think you’d agree that, for us collectors and indeed the trade in general, Brexit could have at least one up-side for the hobby in the UK—even if it wasn’t something mentioned in the referendum arguments last year!
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