Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Rigged Cultural Heritage System

TUESDAY, JULY 26, 2016

by Peter Tompa

Hacked emails have confirmed the suspicions of Senator Bernie Sanders' followers that the powers that be in the Democratic National Committee-- who are supposed to be neutral-- in fact sought to rig the system against him and his campaign.

Collectors, both here and in Germany, already know that feeling.  In the US, the State Department-- which is supposed to be neutral when it comes to deciding whether foreign requests for MOUs meet the criteria in the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act-- has never rejected one. Even worse, when a last minute effort to engineer import restrictions on Cypriot coins was turned down by the State Department's own Cultural Property Advisory Committee, the State Department's Bureau of Educational Affairs imposed them anyway and then went so far as to mislead the public and Congress about CPAC's true recommendations.  That, of course, gave the State Department bureaucrats license to do the same with other coins from Bulgaria, China, Greece, and Italy, citing the Cyprus decision as "precedent."

The situation is even worse in Germany.  There almost 50,000 collectors and dealers made their valid concerns known about a draconian new law, but CDU Culture Minister Monika Grutters rammed it through anyway, cheered on only by a small group of mostly authoritarian cultural nationalist countries and the German Archaeological Institute, which is part of Germany's Foreign Ministry.  Again, the desires of connected insiders associated with the archaeological lobby and the bureaucracy seemed to take precedence over the concerns of ordinary people and small businesses. 


THE RIGGED SYSTEM has been a subject very much in the news lately, during the contentious US Presidential primary season and the tense RNC and DNC political conventions that followed.

Republican nominee Donald Trump began using that term during the primaries in April 2016, and in a June 22 speech in New York City, he set forth this political manifesto:

We’ll will never be able to fix a rigged system by counting on the same people who have rigged it in the first place. The insiders wrote the rules of the game to keep themselves in power and in the money. That’s why we’re asking Bernie Sanders’ voters to join our movement: so together we can fix the system for all Americans. So important. This includes fixing all of our many disastrous trade deals. … Because it’s not just the political system that’s rigged, it’s the whole economy. It’s rigged by big donors who want to keep wages down. It’s rigged by big businesses who want to leave our country, fire our workers, and sell their products back into the United States with absolutely no consequences for them. It’s rigged by bureaucrats who are trapping kids in failing schools. It’s rigged against you, the American people.

Mr. Trump has made it clear that he wants to be regarded as the candidate who speaks for vast numbers of Americans who have been forgotten, neglected and victimized by THE RIGGED SYSTEM:

“Every day I wake up determined to deliver a better life for the people all across this nation that have been ignored, neglected and abandoned. I have visited the laid-off factory workers,” he continued, “and the communities crushed by our horrible and unfair trade deals.”

“These are the forgotten men and women of our country. People who work hard but no longer have a


“I am your voice.”

There is another group of "forgotten Americans" who have been neglected, discriminated against and outrageously victimized by THE RIGGED SYSTEM: American collectors of antiquities and ancient coins. This is a long, sad story of how carefully crafted, well-intentioned legislation intended to even-handedly "protect cultural heritage" was unethically hijacked and ruthlessly twisted into a vehicle for embedding the archaeology lobby's anticollecting "crusade" in US Customs regulations by bureaucratic fiat. 

The villain in all this cultural evildoing is an unelected, "faceless" bureaucrat and sometime archaeologist: Maria P. Kouroupas, who has headed the State Department's Cultural Heritage Center and its predecessors for more than thirty years, and has formed that malevolent bureaucracy in her own ruthless and unscrupulous anticollecting image.

Admittedly, collecting antiquities and ancient coins is a small stage by comparison to national politics. The fate of nations isn't at stake in a large sense. But the fate of hundreds of thousands of good, upstanding citizens is very much at stake, at least to the extent of their pursuit of happiness

The ethical sins committed by Debbie Wasserman Schultz and her political gang, who cynically sought to "rig" the Democratic presidential primary and Convention against Bernie Sanders and his idealistic followers, is being justly reviled now that it has finally been exposed.  The seriousness of these ethical sins is amplified to a very great magnitude by what was at stake: nothing short of the Presidency of the United States of America.

It is reasonable to think that had the political playing field been genuinely level and fair, Mr. Sanders might well have emerged as the Democratic nominee.

The ethical sins committed by Maria P. Kouroupas and her bureaucratic gang, who cynically and very successfully sought to "rig" the US Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act against US collectors of antiquities and ancient coins, despite intense and well managed efforts by the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild,  still remain to be exposed.  That has to date been successfully "stonewalled" by tenacious State Department legal resistance, based upon specious assertions of secrecy supposedly required by "national security interests."

In reality, the reason for all this compulsive secrecy, which contravenes the Freedom of Information Act and every ethical principle of transparency in government operations, is that the machinations and behind-the-scenes rigging of the system by Kouroupas and her bureaucratic gang absolutely cannot stand the light of day. If what really happened is ever made public, their downfall would be as certain and drastic as that of Debbie Wasserman Schultz and her political gang.

The seriousness of the ethical sins of Maria P. Kouroupas and her malevolent bureaucratic gang is compounded and amplified to a very great magnitude by what was at stake: nothing short of the good faith and honesty of the US State Department. Every US citizen should have the right to feel that the State Department fairly, even-handedly and honestly represents his or her interests in its necessary dealings with foreign governments and their interests. Kouroupas and her gang have made a disreputable mockery of this essential principle of our government, for no better reason than to advance the private agenda of the archaeology lobby, to which they are ideologically committed .

The exposure of THE RIGGED SYSTEM and the dishonorable dealings of the reeking rat's nest of ideological corruption in the State Department's Cultural Heritage Center would have political importance in the state of Wisconsin, where on May 21, 2006 the Wisconsin Republican Party, in assembly at its annual state convention, passed this landmark resolution supported by Congressmen Paul Ryan, Tom Petri and Mark Green by a voice vote of some 75% of delegates present:


WHEREAS, we believe that the U.S. Constitution, not the United Nations should be, where appropriate, the guide for the regulation of business and trade; 

WHEREAS, we also believe that a government that wishes to regulate the collecting hobbies of private citizens on behalf of foreign powers, especially if it involves the seizure or reclamation of property purchased in good faith has overstepped both the spirit and letter of the 4th, 5th and 11th Amendments of the Constitution; 

RECOGNIZING that the numismatic trade provides many fine families with their means of income, and also creates numerous jobs in support industries, key to states such as Wisconsin where companies publish books, manufacture coin and stamp holders, binders, software and other supplies that support the collectibles hobby; 

WHEREAS, we believe that import restrictions and cultural property laws may have the unintended consequences of driving hundreds of family businesses into ruin and also criminalize the hobbies and educational activities of numerous law abiding citizens; 

WHEREAS, we support reasonable efforts to protect archaeological sites and public and private collections, we oppose the claims of those who say: (a) Anything “old” should be considered state property; (b) Anything without a detailed ownership history should be deemed stolen; and (c) Only foreign states and their favored academics should have the right to preserve, protect and study the past. 

THEREFORE we reject recent efforts to restrict the collecting of art, books, coins, pottery, stamps, weapons and other common antique collectibles over 100 years old; 

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Republican Party of Wisconsin, in convention assembled, asks lawmakers to oppose any import restrictions or other constraints on the collecting of art, books, coins, militaria, pottery, stamps, weapons and other common antique collectibles as a waste of valuable government resources. 

BE IT ALSO RESOLVED that the Republican Party of Wisconsin, in convention assembled, asks lawmakers to pass a bill exempting art, books, coins, militaria, pottery, stamps, weapons and other common antique collectibles for consideration from future import restriction and cultural property laws and treaties.


Paul Ryan receives Friend of the ACCG Award in 2006


Wisconsin is an important state in contention for the 2016 Presidential election, which is presently viewed as leaning Democratic, but could possibly be won by the Republicans with a strong, well targeted campaign effort.

The struggling small businesses of Wisconsin include Krause Publications, publisher of Numismatic News, World Coin News, and Coins Magazine, plus many important guides and catalogs for collectors.


Candidate Donald Trump has a great many vital things to deal with in his attempt to win this election, and the interests of US antiquities collectors and ancient coin collectors, in a quantitative sense, aren't yet clearly apparent on the political "radar screen." If the decisions of his campaign are based strictly upon quantifiable "vote math," it will be hard to justify taking a stand on ideological corruption in the State Department's Cultural Heritage Center.

Mr. Trump has, however, made it clear that he is very much a man of principle and ideals. Perhaps his principles and ideals may be offended by the reeking rat's nest of bureaucratic corruption in the State Department's Cultural Heritage Center. 

There may not be enough of immediate political importance here to turn this into a campaign issue. But despite that, perhaps there is room for hope: the hope that a Trump administration will wield a vigorous "new broom," dedicated to thoroughly sweeping out all the rancid little corners in our government such as this, where rampant system rigging and unethical private bureaucratic agendas presently deprive worthy American citizens of fair, honest and honorable treatment by their government.


Friday, July 08, 2016

German Parliament passes controversial law to protect cultural heritage

Collectors, dealers and high-profile artists campaigned hard against tightening import and export rules


by CATHERINE HICKLEY  |  8 July 2016

The German upper house of parliament today (8 July) passed a law aimed at tackling illegal trafficking in looted antiquities and protecting German national heritage, introducing what dealers call the most stringent import and export restrictions on cultural objects in the world. 

The Cultural Property Protection Law faced opposition from art dealers and collectors as it wound its way through the legislature. By 4 July, more than 48,000 citizens had signed an internet petition calling “for the preservation of private collecting.” Dealers said private collectors were already moving valuable works abroad before the law’s passage to avoid the new regulations. 

A group of 11 former directors of major German museums—including Herwig Guratzsch, ex-director of the Museum of Fine Arts in Leipzig and Christian von Holst, former director of the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, warned in an open letter to the Bundesrat, the upper house of parliament, that “the exodus is already underway, the damage is already enormous and cannot be reversed.”

For culture minister Monika Grütters, the law is Germany’s commitment “to live up to its responsibilities for mankind’s cultural heritage – nationally and internationally”. It is, she says, “an imperative” given the destruction of heritage in conflict zones like Iraq and Syria and evidence that terrorists are using revenue from the illegal trade in archaeological objects to fund violence. 

She argued that “Germany spends billions in tax money to promote culture. It is therefore a matter of course that we should protect and keep our own cultural heritage—including the few cultural objects that are deemed to have national value.”

Under the Cultural Property Protection Law, any cultural goods above a certain value and age —which vary according to the type of object —can only be exported with permission from authorities in the 16 German states. Any archaeological items offered for sale need to be accompanied by an export licence from the country of origin, though collectors secured a last-minute exemption from this rule for coins. The law also eases the repatriation of looted articles to the country of origin.

The Action Alliance for Cultural Property Protection (AACPP), a newly formed organisation which lobbied the German parliament to reject the bill, has called for the immediate creation of an internet portal envisaged in the law to clarify what documentation is needed to import art objects from specific countries. “Without a database it is impossible to ensure legal security when importing cultural goods,” the group says in a statement.


German culture minister Monika Grütters has, through the introduction and enactment of this legislation, succeeded in doing immense damage to the real cultural heritage of Germany.

There is much more to "cultural heritage" than the "preservation" and retention of objects. There is also their appreciation by the general public and their being accessible to that public,  and in the case of common objects of relatively small individual importance, their being available to individuals interested in collecting them.

"A group of 11 former directors of major German museums—including Herwig Guratzsch, ex-director of the Museum of Fine Arts in Leipzig and Christian von Holst, former director of the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, warned in an open letter to the Bundesrat, the upper house of parliament, that “the exodus is already underway, the damage is already enormous and cannot be reversed."

German museums have lost a great deal by this legislation, and so have the German people, who will not have the opportunity to see and appreciate great numbers of culturally important art objects and antiquities which have left Germany in anticipation of this legislation, and even greater numbers of such objects which will not enter Germany in the future because of this legislation.

It appears that there is one small area in which common sense to some extent prevailed amid this general cultural disaster. The German numismatic trade (and German coin collectors) were exempted from the requirement that any archaeological items offered for sale need to be accompanied by an export licence from the country of origin. It remains to be seen whether in the long run, it will still be possible to collect and trade in ancient coins in Germany.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

What the Collecting Community is really Up Against

I made this post to my blog relating to the new German cultural property legislation:

In a post to his blog, Paul Barford then had some nasty, snarky things to say which were subsequently addressed in an update to my original post. Barford then revealed his true ultra-Socialist, or perhaps actually Communist, colors in this post which everyone who is inclined to pay attention to him should first read and understand:

"A respectable dealer will deal only in objects where he or she can demonstrate licit origins. "They can't touch you for it-legitimacy" is no legitimacy at all. So I invite readers to examine Dealer Dave's atavistic "award winning website" to see what they think that award was for if not for the presentation of collecting histories."

This is an overt demand for proof of licit origin, with a declaration that any artifact for which documented proof of licit origin is not available is to be presumed to be illicit.

Let's be clear about this: If Mr. Barford's ideas are accepted, even more stringent burdens of proof would fall upon collectors than this new German law dares to impose upon German collectors.

By this overt and utterly unreasonable demand, Mr. Barford has clearly exposed himself as being the deadly enemy of every antiquities collector and ancient coin collector worldwide, and every "shopkeeper" such as myself in the trade that serves them.

There has never been any understanding at all of the realities of collecting, or of the trade, in Mr. Barford's thinking, which I have confronted and (after an initial inclination toward friendly sympathy with his viewpoint) realized that I absolutely must oppose, for the past decade. It is "archaeology vs. collecting" with no room at all for the survival of collecting.

Why, I ask, should any rational person accept this onslaught of snarky and utterly offensive archaeology-centric criticism from someone who does not have genuinely respectable credentials as an archaeologist?

Mr. Barford has not so far as I can discern, ever done anything in the way of fieldwork that would qualify him as a real archaeologist. He does not have a doctorate in that discipline. His pretenses to the title of "archaeologist" rest solely upon writing about the subject. In that capacity I will admit that he has produced some work of genuine  interest. It is however an exceedingly slender and insubstantial foundation upon which to erect the edifice of "hate speech" against collecting that his blog has evolved into.

Mr. Barford, presently an English teacher in Warsaw, really writes his blog as an obsession. In this observer's opinion, he did at one time intensely desire to become a respected archaeologist. For reasons which have never been disclosed, that did not work out. He then decided to emigrate to Poland and serve its Communist government in appointments harmonious with views ultimately presented in The Early Slavs, his "magnum opus" -- and an overview of genuine merit appreciable to patient souls such as myself who are willing to wade through his dense literary style. He also prepared a good writeup of some important local archaeology in East AngliaHe is a writer of some merit.

He has however immoderately and offensively attacked others who are writers of equal or far superior merit, with credentials more impressive than his own, asserting an overtly inflexible "archaeologie ueber alles" perspective in a confrontational and adversarial manner that has never indicated any willingness to allow common sense and practicality to affect his thinking.

It's all rather odd, really, and very hard indeed to explain, unless one ventures to speculate upon the possibility that Mr Barford is psychologically actuated by a compulsion to do something to establish himself as someone important to archaeology. "Captain Archaeology" perhaps? An academic "caped crusader" selflessly rushing to the defense of "holy archaeology" which failed to recognize his stainless purity and devotion? Taking that theme further, and admittedly perhaps beyond the bounds of propriety, a similarity to the tragic case of Rudolf Hess perhaps suggests itself. Or there could be a much less odious explanation to consider, if it were possible to examine Mr. Barford's real and verifiable background, which he has taken extraordinary pains to conceal, in a manner which very obviously suggests that he has something to conceal. 

All this is speculation, admittedly. Barford has never "come clean" by disclosing the actual details of his past and what really happened regarding his very unusual hegira to Communist Poland. That, in my view, makes it both reasonable and respectable to speculate about what really motivates this almost indecipherable man who apparently wishes to become an "Archaeological Eichmann" who ferociously exterminates collectors.

One thing is certain: the British archaeological establishment, whose cause he asserts as sacred to his being, in reality regards him as an offensive and distracting nuisance. That became very clear in meetings between representatives of the pro-collecting advocacy and representatives of the British archaeological establishment. 

In this speculation, it seems to me that the term "archaeomaniac" could very reasonably and rationally be applied to Mr. Barford, until he provides the collecting community, and the world, with verifiable, factual evidence of something better.

Here's something that may strike you as odd: I hope he can.

Friday, June 24, 2016

New German Cultural Heritage Protection Legislation

Germany Passes Massively Controversial Cultural Heritage Legislation

State Minister Monika Gruetters (CDU) arrives for the weekly German federal Cabinet meeting on June 1, 2016 in Berlin, Germany. High on the meeting's agenda was discussion of the German military's presence abroad. Courtesy of Adam Berry/Getty Images.
State Minister Monika Gruetters (CDU)

"Despite protest from all quarters of Germany's art scene, the country's parliament, the Bundestag, approved the passage of the controversial cultural heritage protection legislation today, reports Deutsche Presse-Agentur.

The ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party and its coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), voted for culture minister Monika Grütters's proposed amendment without challenge from the opposition, which abstained.
The law seeks to prevent the export of nationally significant cultural goods. However, the legislation was fiercely opposed by Germany's art dealers, artists, private collectors, art fairs, auction houses, museums, and just about everyone else working in the country's cultural sector."
This legislation was the subject of a petition organized by Ursula Kampmann, who courageously pressed the objections of collectors and the trade in an openPetition that ultimately amassed some 46,000 signatures worldwide.
"The stipulations of the amendment of the law on the Protection of Cultural Heritage threaten the collecting of cultural objects by private individuals. This law will effect everybody specialized in traditional collecting fields, such as books, stamps, furniture, ceramics, coins, classic cars and paintings. Retroactively, this new law will impose due diligence guidelines that are impossible to follow even for the most meticulous collector. When it comes to a dispute, the law will require, by reversing the burden of proof, the owner of a “cultural good” with a value of at least 2,500 euros to provide proof as to the item’s provenance for the previous 20 years; this affects “archaeological cultural goods” with a value as low as 100 euros. 
This is an unrealistic demand which misrepresents most of the objects that are currently traded on the domestic and the international art market in full accordance with the law as being illegal, and will result in a considerable decline in value of the objects in question." 
The petition, and with it the concerns and welfare of the large German collecting community and the important German art and antiquities trades, was ignored by the German government and the Bundestag. The legislation was not even discussed in the Bundestag, but was adopted without opposition.
It seems to this observer to be very probable that the German art, antiquities and numismatic trades will in large part shift to London, and that many long established German firms of high reputation will face a choice between relocation and going out of business.
It also seems probable that some other European nations will adopt similar cultural heritage legislation.
In this observer's opinion, such legislation clearly reflects a Socialist perspective that "cultural property" is to a significant extent the property of the State in which it is located, and that private individuals who collect or trade in such objects do not have full rights of ownership.
The manner in which this legislation was proposed and adopted is of course a matter for Germans to deal with. Others, however, who reside outside Germany are observing such arbitrary proceedings with concern, and forming their own opinions regarding whether this sort of government is what they would wish to be subjected to.

UPDATE 6/28/16


In a recent blog post, Warsaw English teacher (and sometime writer on archaeological subjects) Paul Barford opined:

Is German Antiquities Legislation "Socialist" (sic), "National Socialist" (sic) or Neither?

A California shopkeeper ('New German Cultural Heritage Protection Legislation' Friday, June 24, 2016) does not like the new German antiquities law:
such legislation clearly reflects a Socialist perspective that "cultural property" is to a significant extent the property of the State in which it is located
while a commentator on the same page contrarily suggests
There seems to be the whiff of: Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Fuhrer in the air. Perhaps it's me being over sensitive? Now it's easy to see why the UK ditched the unelected Eurocrats - who dream-up the EU's laws - for a return to democracy. .
Whether the legislation concerned claims state ownership of all cultural property has yet to be demonstrated by the shopkeeper. As for seeing Germany as a country of a single ethnicity under a dictatorship, one wonders what xenophobic newspapers this 'sensitive' Brexiter reads. Another claquer of Brexit in the collecting community (though ironically, himself - to judge by the name - from an eastern European immigrant family) agrees that the new law:
brings back bad memories of Germany's totalitarian past.
Though is coy about saying whether he means that of 1933-45 or 1949-1990.Instead of all this empty sniping, it would be good io see teh antiquities dealing and collecting lobbies discussing the actual text, rather than making puerile "looks like" comparisons.

The "commentator on the same page" added a comment that I essentially disagreed with (see comments section). The "claquer of Brexit in the collecting community" is Dr. Peter Tompa in this post to his blog.

Hmm. Where to start in commenting on all this? Let's begin with the question of my being a "shopkeeper" ( www.classicalcoins.com ) . To appreciate that bit of snark, one must realize that being "in trade" has historically been regarded amongst "upper class" Britons as a low-class pursuit. Well, I am not an "upper class" Briton (is Mr. Barford?) and such effete, antiquated snobbery means nothing at all in the USA. Being a well-known dealer in ancient coins with an award-winning website seems to me to be at least as "socially respectable" as being an English teacher in Warsaw, after a brief (and undistinguished) career in UK archaeology three decades ago.

"Brexit claquer" Tompa's lucid remarks utterly transcend Barford's feeble effort to to deflect attention. Both Tompa and I have previously discussed the "actual text" of this legislation in detail. The detailed openPetition analysis thereof was quite clear in its devastating indictment of the unfairness of this legislation to German collectors and dealers.

My observation that "such legislation clearly reflects a Socialist perspective that "cultural property" is to a significant extent the property of the State in which it is located, and that private individuals who collect or trade in such objects do not have full rights of ownership" stands. I don't have to "demonstrate" it - Monika Gruetters has already done that.


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Pecunia non olet

"Money doesn't stink" is Vespasian's famous dictum - almost his motto.

Vespasianus01 pushkin edit.png
His famous aphorism “Pecunia non olet” (Money does not smell) refers to the terse response he gave to his son Titus, who was complaining about the unpleasant nature of the Urine Tax (vectigal urinae) his father had imposed on the product of the city’s urinals. (The first public toilets ever, by the way, were introduced by Vespasian in 74 A.D).

Here's what he may have had in his hand when he said that:
Vespasian Aureus Fortuna (75-79 AD)

Up until then, Romans had simply urinated into pots that were emptied into cesspools.  With the introduction of public urinals, the liquid waste could be collected and sold as a source of ammonia, which was used for tanning leather and by launderers to clean the patricians’ white woolen togas.
Today the Latin phrase is used to mean that the value of money is not tainted by its origins and even though public urinals have become a rarity, to this day they are still known in Italy as Vespasiani (Vespasians).
The following are photos of an old-fashioned Vespasiano, or public urinal, still in use in the tiny town Morcone, province of Benevento. Their French equivalents are Vespasiennes.

What a legacy ... remembrance after two thousand years, for taxing urine. It was actually a highly practical thing to do in those times, and after the profligate reign of Nero and the "Year of Four Emperors" ran the imperial treasury (fiscus) down to nothing, practicality was in order.

A pisser of an idea, that! And a concept that's been remembered in certain irreverent circles:


There's even a card game about it:

Reconstruction drawing of the communal latrines at Housesteads Roman fort (Vercovicium) on Hadrian's Wall. This site is now in the care of English Heritage (2010).

Using a Roman public restroom (forica) involved sitting cheek to cheek with your neighbor, discussing the political events of the week, planning dinner parties, scheming for invitations to said dinner parties.  You sat on the long marble bench with key-hole shaped cutouts, a small trough in the floor in front of you running with clean water, the trench directly under you flushing, often with grey water from a nearby bath complex, the waste of the latrine out to the main sewer.  Depending on the quality of the facility, a slave may be on hand ready to offer you a sea sponge, freshly cleaned in vinegar, attached to the end of a stick.  
Sponge On A Stick
No wasteful use of trees to make toilet paper here, the sea sponge gets cleaned off after use to be offered to the next “customer.”  

Public latrines in Italy date back to the 2nd century BC. Whether intentionally or not, they became places to socialize. Long bench-like seats with keyhole-shaped openings cut in rows offered little privacy. Some latrines were free, for others small charges were made. They had to be maintained, and slaves had to be fed. If some public benefactor had not immortalized himself by endowing a latrine - far cheaper than a therma, or public bath-house - you might be asked to pay the usual small fee for a public convenience: a quadrans, or farthing.

Quadrans of Claudius

A quadrans was 1/64 of a denarius, or 1/16 HS (sestertius). You might think of a sestertius, the unit of Roman accounts in Vespasian's time, as being roughly a dollar in purchasing power, so a quadrans would have been a bit more than a US nickel.

Which brings us back to the days when public pay toilets were common, in the twentieth century, and were coin operated:
Image result for coin toilet five cents

Nothing new under the sun ... very few of these are left now.