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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Why You Won't Find Gold Coins (Ever) in Bulk Lots of Uncleaned Ancient Coins

Bulk uncleaned coins

Virtually all uncleaned Roman, Greek, Byzantine, Medieval and specialized uncleaned coins sold  bulk lots for the retail market (or even in private transactions between excavators wholesalers) are found in roughly the same fashion. The end buyer purchases between 10 and 1,000 coins at a time, with the mean purchase between 25 and 100. The retailer either sells the coins in fixed prices for unites ranging from 1 coin to 1,000 at a time, or auctions them, usually on the same one or two days each week. Many of the most popular European vendor auction about 500 - 2,000 coins a week, while American vendor tend to auction smaller numbers (a few dozen to a couple hundred) and rely much more heavily on fixed-price (or "best offer") retail sales. 
One or, more commonly, a few, excavators armed with metal detectors, picks, shovels and similar paraphernalia systematically trek across the local countryside near the towns where they reside. Some are professionals who work 9-5 at it, so to speak. Additionally, great armies of amateur "detectorists" comb the fields as hobbyists and weekend hunters. A very different set work in agriculture. Each spring there is a surge in the availability of wholesale Roman coins (likewise, other artifacts of all kinds from the Stone Age to WWII) as farmers clear fields and disturb soil. 

Many "detectorists" pick up their objects (coins included) a few at a time, here and there. What they are really hoping for is the score of a lifetime—a buried hoard of thousands of coins, be they bronze, silver, or gold, as pictured below. Any region or town will have at least one person known to buy these finds and potentially capable of accumulating tremendous numbers of valuables from 19th century military buttons to stone arrowheads. The more dedicated, professional hunters, alone or in teams, are able to strike out on their own and make a fair living it, depending on where they live, their equipment, and general skill.

Archaeologists spend years carefully surveying and sampling the soil and its contents, treating such sites as tremendous stores of knowledge to be dug out with great care and painstaking data collection. Workers excavating such a site for wholesale and eventual retail markets can clear a pit of such size within a few weeks and perhaps make a season's or even a years wages. Some nations have what are called "Treasure Laws" in which individuals may keep all or a portion of coins found, once professional archaeologists work the sites.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Ancient Coin Books - CampusTowns Are Goldmines of Classical Numismatic Literature!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Video: The Minimalist Approach to Restoring Uncleaned Ancient Bronze Coins

On July 25, 2013 we first posted a video explaining how we go about preparing coins for restoration.

Nearing the anniversary of one of our most popular and widely used blog entries, we've decided to begin revisiting and updating some issues. 

For instance, we would like to address is the proper care of "desert patina" coins. 
But please help us learn what interests you, and what you would find most helpful, by providing comments and messages.

Open in a New Window or click the image below to see our video, "Minimalist Approach to Restoring Uncleaned Ancient Coins" on our YouTube Channel

We also highly recommend browsing various videos on the instructional YouTube Channel run by our friend and colleague Nathan Hochrein, known to many simply as Coinscrubber, of Holding History Coins (on VCoins and eBay) and (co-managed by the late Belgian Rudi Smits, whose death last year was as sudden as it was tragic).

In general, we take what we consider to be a very "minimalist" approach to cleaning coins. By this we mean to include three central premises:

(1) To do a proper job, each coin requires its own "treatment plan," so to speak;

(2) It is best to clean coins with the gentlest techniques possible, including beginning with "dry cleaning" before ever exposing coins to water or oil (we know many advise dumping all your coins in water or oil, or at least rinsing them upon receiving them, but we have found that many otherwise decent coins have fragile enough surfaces or other qualities that make them vulnerable to damage once in contact with liquids); and,

(3) Not every uncleaned coin needs cleaning! Just because it's uncleaned or "as found" in Europe, North Africa, or the Middle East doesn't mean you need to altar it in anyway.

Unlike many coin cleaners, we are very tentative and careful, even avoiding the use of distilled water and olive oil unless "dry cleaning" methods fail.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Is eBay's "Replica Coins policy" for ancient coins overreaching?

Recently we listed an NGC-Certified and slabbed Julius Caesar Fourée Denarius for sale on eBay (i.e., an ancient coin that is silver plated and struck with a base metal core).

Within a day or so, eBay sent us a message stating that, although the coin was certified as a "silver plated denarius" and "ancient forgery," it violated the "replica coins policy" because the coin: 
"appears the same or similar to one that was issued by a government mint. This is considered a 'replica' which we no longer allow on our site, regardless of age..."

The final statement is particularly important: "regardless of age."

Some of these coins may have been struck intentionally when a local or Imperatorial (military) treasury ran low on silver, but more likely were struck unofficially by ancient forgers and by mint workers or others in possession of stolen dies. In any case, fourées are collectible coins in their own right; in fact many collector's specialize in collecting them.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Why We Support the UK Treasure Act (1996) -- & Wish Other Countries Would Follow Suit

One News Story among Many Similar from the UK, Reported in November by COINWORLD: "Gold coin hoard find in UK among largest" by Jeff Starck, last November 12:

What is regarded as one of the largest Roman gold coin hoards ever found in the United Kingdom was discovered in early October. The hoard of 159 late Roman gold solidus coins, found by an anonymous metal detectorist on private land in the north of the district of St. Albans in Hertfordshire, was announced Oct. 16 by local officials... Finds such as the coin hoard are governed by the Treasure Act 1996. The next stage is for the British Museum’s panel of independent experts to examine the coins and make their report to the coroner (a local official who decides such cases), who will determine whether they are to be considered as ‘treasure’ under the act.

If the hoard is declared treasure, the local museum will have a chance to raise the money to pay for the hoard that will be distributed to the anonymous finder (the finder usually shares the fee with the landowner, if they are not the same). The value of the coins has not yet been determined.

What this means is that the British Museum is going to have a chance to document and perhaps purchase the coins, but that the owner will not automatically lose them. This is exactly why we support laws like the UK's Treasure Act. It removes strong incentives in other countries to conceal finds of ancient coins and antiquities (because "finders keepers" applies unless the government raises funds to purchase them), while at the same time allowing the find to be professional documented before it sold piecemeal on the private market.

As we posted on our facebook page, any number of news stories streaming in weekly from the British Isles illustrate its value in solving the dilemmas of ownership, provenance, and cultural heritage of antiquities. Similar laws should be adopted much more widely. More recently, from "The Press" (York, UK), "York Experts Want to Keep Treasure Hoard in Country" (March 27, 2013), but the owner isn't compelled to give up the Viking antiquities discovered. Yet again: A pragmatic solution ("compromise" may be a better word for it) to the problem of private v. governmental proprietorship of antiquities discovered and/or in the possession of private citizens.

It seems unclear so far whether the items will be purchased by a museum or any scholarly, or governmental organization. Regardless, because the private discoverer retains rights to the find, the artifacts are not simply removed from their cultural, historical context for ownership in the private market -- thus eliminating the opportunity for developing the archaeological knowledge base. Instead, they are first professionally excavated and documented. Even if the items remain in private control, they are now professionally recorded in the context of their discovery (often the Treasure Act gives enough opportunity for local or national museums and universities to purchase or convince the owners to put the items on "loan" before they are sold off a few pieces at a time).

This, like many others in the UK, illustrates the value of laws such as the UK Treasure Act. We've personally seen private collections of thousands of Greek- and Etruscan- to Roman- to Viking-era antiquities that include thousands of larger in-tact pieces, including swords, military helmets, various pottery and ceramics, as well as statuary items. Countless private museums exist in basements, mostly consisting of items that were, officially speaking, obtained illicitly. As we've written, we stopped collecting antiquities (besides coins) some time ago because we recognize the damage that the unregulated market can do to archaeology.

Still, we do buy and sell non-provenanced coins, which would have been of cultural and historical if documented upon discovery. Of course, many items have been in the private market since long before anyone started considering issues of cultural heritage and national rights to ownership. These items are more of less "lost in space," as no one has any idea where they originally came from. But we also purchase large quantities of coins that have been unearthed or put on the market much more recently, only rarely with provenance or governmental approval by antiquity export authorities.

We would strongly prefer to be able to purchase items that were provenanced and legally sanctioned in fashion that could be documented (if only to maintain our professional ethics), even if it resulted in a predictable increase in the price on the private market. Do the Baltic states not have such laws (one prime source)? If implemented it would be a great improvement, we feel.

Perhaps there are unanticipated consequences we do not recognize. But, on the face of it, the UK's Treasure Act seems the best model available for solving these challenges -- at least for new finds.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

"From the Local and Aesthetic to the Brutal and Bureaucratic: Dramatic and Theatrical Representations of Roman and Greek Statehood on Coins."

as promised long, long ago in a land far, far away...

Curtis Jackson-Jacobs, June 22, 2011. (Please acknowledge web-reprints and contact for print. "Some rigts reserved" [contact].)

"From the Local and Aesthetic to the Brutal and Bureaucratic: Dramatic and Theatrical Representations of Roman and Greek Statehood on Coins."

Coins are clearly not merely instrumental, fungible monetary lumps of metal. They may have begun that way (in Lydia, perhaps around 700 BC), but quickly acquired symbolic significance. First there was the head of a growling lion on electrum (a naturally-occurring alloy of gold and silver) coinage from the 7th century BC—full of motion and emotion. Within the century the lion head had found a ram into whose shoulders and throat to tear—a ram seemingly quite capable of putting up a good fight.

That they were struck with imagery at all is of interest in its own right. They were tokens – even totems – not only in a literal but also a figurative sense. Moreover, the imagery itself was an important phenomenon to the people of the time, so it should also be so to us. It took many hours to craft a single die, which had a lifetime of maybe 100 strikes before it dulled or cracked.

Indeed, the symbolic imagery often has an overtly dramatic character. Even as static metal tokens, many numismatic items are, indeed, narrative depictions of battle scenes or historic events. One might say they are slices of theater. Thin slices, to be sure, like Ernest Hemingway’s six-word story[1] — but theater nonetheless. Those warriors confronted one another, for some reason; one horse had fallen somehow; now one of them has victory within his reach. (Because he is Roman!)

The Greek coins were individualistic and artistically- and even sensually-inclined. Each city-state had its local favorite icon (sometimes an animal, sometimes a deity, sometimes both, sometimes multiple). The coins emphasized artistry over standardization, in contrast to the culture 500 years-to-come (to an extent the Macedonian Kings, from Phillip II to Kassander, deviated ever so slightly from that trend, but not nearly so far as the Romans). Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a classicist and do not claim the Greeks lived peaceful lives. Indeed, current anthropological evidence shows that even recently the territorial shepherds use their staffs against other humans more than against their sheep. At that time it is safe to assume the bloodshed was greater in daily encounters.


Thursday, June 9, 2011

Phoenician/Egyptian 1/4 sheqel weight, about 1000BC or older

(See the whole gallery at the link above.)
This a decorated, disc-shaped Phoenician weight (3.8 grams, 14mm; a 1/4 sheqel or 1/20,000 of a Talent), not a coin exactly, but more of a "numismatic object" or a form of "exonumia." '

I'm not sure where you draw the line "coin" vs. "not coin." After all, the early electrum (EL) coinage of Greece (e.g. Lydia; Miletos; see the post(s) below also), were simply bean shaped blobs of metal, less "coin-like" than this object. We got it for, I think $0.38 in 3-kilo box of ancient coin a couple years ago (best purchase ever! almost every coin sold for several dollars, and there were about 1,000). I suppose it's worth somewhere between $38 and $3,800. I'm not an expert in this rare so I can't say for sure.

I'll certainly welcome comments and suggestions!
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