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Happy Days Again for Ancient Roman Hoard
smiley faceBy Richard Giedroyc, World Coin News
December 10, 2008
smiley face

Well, the headline may be somewhat deceiving. Happy days are here again for the two individuals with metal detectors who discovered this fourth century AD Roman coin hoard in 2006. The legend on some of the coins translates roughly from Latin to read "Happy days are here again," likely an optimistic statement at a time the Romans were being besieged by barbarian hordes.

The coin hoard, according to MK News on Oct. 29, was recently declared treasure trove under the Treasure Act 1996.

The discovery of more than 1,400 ancient Roman bronze coins primarily dating from AD 348 during the reign of Constans was declared to be treasure by Buckinghamshire (England) Coroner Rodney Corner. The announcement comes at a good time since it can now be reported as an example of why consumer friendly antiquity discovery laws can work in favor of archaeologists, governments and the individuals who find these hoards.

Coin collectors in the United States and elsewhere have recently had reason to be concerned because of a 1970 UNESCO resolution through which antiquities and other artifacts including coins could be transferred between nations through government-imposed regulations and restrictions if the coins or other objects are declared to be cultural patrimony of the nation demanding the transfer. Although many collectors think such repatriation would only involve ancient coins, there are strong indications the demands could involve much more modern coinage as well.

Ownership of such items by both museums and individuals could be taken away in the name of these objects being considered cultural patrimony of their place of origin or place where they were found. Some of the other items on the resolution list include old books, property relating to the lives of national leaders, pictures, paintings, postage stamps, artwork, and other items of more than 100 years of age.

It is this UNESCO agreement and the rigid laws of such countries as Turkey, Greece and Italy that have driven many finds of antiquities onto the black market. The ridiculous part is that in Turkey, as an example, individuals have been found to have stolen repatriated items from where the items were stored and resold them onto the black market. Other repatriated items languish in storage where even researchers cannot gain access to them.

The Saba news reporting service announced Nov. 2 that an individual had been arrested following the seizure of a parcel of gold and silver Islamic coins at Sana'a Airport (El Rahaba Airport) in Yemen. The individual had an additional 310 "antique" bronze coins in his possession when he was arrested. The announcement was made by General Manager of Protecting Antiquities and Cultural Possessions in the General Authority for Antiquities and Museums Hisham al-Thawr. No details were given regarding if the coins were seized because of the whereabouts of where they were found or because it may be illegal to export them.

In Great Britain treasure trove laws allow many finders to either receive the find or the value of the find following an inquest by a local coroner to determine if the find was lost and can be repatriated to a rightful owner or if it was hidden on purpose with no clear ownership. In the latter situation the finder will receive either the find or its value.

Should the United States decide to comply with the UNESCO agreement there is nothing to stop even the United States or the individual states from claiming finds as local cultural patrimony, once again allowing such items including coins to be seized from collectors and museums.

The coins recently declared treasure trove in England were discovered by Dave Phillips and Barrie Plasom using metal detectors. The two men have previously found other significant hoards. They were scanning a field only 250 yards inside the border of Buckinghamshire north of Newport Pagnell with permission of the owner of the field. The only reason the yardage is mentioned here is that the two men initially declared their find to the Bedford Museum, not realizing the find was in the bordering jurisdiction.

According to a late October report by MK News, the coins are all composed of copper and "may be worth hundreds of thousands in sterling." No further description of the coins was immediately available, but from the rough translation of the reverse inscription it would appear the coins are likely bronze composition post-reform centenionalis denomination issues. The Buckinghamshire County Museum in Aylesbury wants to purchase the coins and the remains of the pot in which they were discovered once a fair market value is established. This is in compliance with the British Treasure Act 1996, a far cry from the laws in such countries as Turkey where the coins would be seized by the government without any compensation offered to the finders, likely encouraging the coins to be hidden and then clandestinely sold onto the black market.

In the United States the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild has been leading efforts to discourage the US government from complying with the UNESCO agreement. Anyone interested in more information should contact the ACCG at

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On December 11, 2008 Koichi Ito said
Some of these Anicent Roman Coins are in About Uncirculated to Mint State Condition I would like to buy some of them. The best I hope for is Extremley Fine Condition. When do they sell coins like these?
On December 11, 2008 Wayne G. Sayles said
Thank you to Rich Giedroyc for highlighting the continuing plight of ancient coin collectors.  I should point out however, for the sake of clarity, that the ACCG does not "discourage the US government from complying with the UNESCO agreement."  In 1983, after much debate in Congress, the United States enabled certain provisions of the 1970 UNESCO resolution adopted at the "Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property."  This enabling legislation is the "Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act", normally referred to as CPIA.  The UNESCO resolution itself has no authority in law and neither the United States, nor any other signatory, "comply" with it.

The ACCG does support the letter and intent of CPIA.  When enforced as written, it is a fair and reasonable law that serves the interests of the American people and global society.  Present and potentially future legal actions initiated by ACCG address the numismatic community's concern over U.S. State Department procedures that are governed by that law.  The essence of ACCG concern is that the State Department has acted in a way that is inconsistent with the letter and intent of CPIA and within a shroud of secrecy that veils public access to information and oversight of government activities.

The issue of repatriation is not addressed by the 1970 UNESCO resolution, it is addressed by "The Resolution on the Return and Restitution of Cultural Property to the Countries of Origin", adopted in 2001 with the support of the U.S. government.  Again, this resolution has no force in law. The actual repatriations that have made headlines in recent years have been a result of legal action, or the threat of such, in normal venues of jurisdiction mainly regarding stolen property.

Wayne G. Sayles
Executive Director, ACCG
On December 12, 2008 Zachary Beasley said
As an ancient coin dealer and a specialist in Late Roman Bronzes, I find the description of the hoard of "1,400 ancient Roman bronze coins primarily dating from AD 348 during the reign of Constans" and the comment "According to a late October report by MK News, the coins are all composed of copper and "may be worth hundreds of thousands in sterling."" to be completely out of parity. Especially so if the title of this column correctly identifies the coins as being the common Fel Temp Reparatio types. Even in mint state, there is no possible reasonable way the coins would be worth anywhere near "hundreds of thousands in sterling". Late Roman bronzes were minted by the millions and EF examples with intact silvering can be acquired for under $100 each.

I'm happy to read about hoards being properly reported and documented, as it potentially broadens our understanding of many topics, from mint issue chronology to dispersement and usage of coins throughout the empire. When hoards are found and sold illegally without the contents being documented, a potentially valuable piece of historical information is permanently lost. However, when hoards are found, reported, documented and subsequently sold to a museum for proper display and study or to collectors, everyone wins.

Zachary J Beasley
Professional Numismatist and Researcher, Beast Coins
Co-author of the award-winning column "The Internet Connection" in the Celator Magazine

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