Numismatic and History Discussions > History and Archeology

Where do coins come from?

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Mya B:
Maybe this is a delicate qestion? But I have alwas been curious about how all ancient coins are reaching the market. Are they found by locals selling them to buyers or are there people specialicing in locating findspots with metall detector or are there other methods? Also, when buying a coin you normaly donĀ“t know anything about where the find was made. However I have heard that many coins and other artefacts comes from Balcan thes days. Is that correct?

Regads

Molinari:
Depends on the coins.  Coins have been around for 2700 years and minted by virtually every authority with the means to do so. People have been collecting for a long time, too.  I think the coin market saw a lot of material from uncontrolled excavations throughout the 1800s, and many just after WWII when metal detectors emerged.  Hoards are still found but the laws for private ownership change depending on the nation.

Carausius:

--- Quote from: Molinari on December 15, 2021, 02:36:27 pm ---I think the coin market saw a lot of material from uncontrolled excavations throughout the 1800s, and many just after WWII when metal detectors emerged.  Hoards are still found but the laws for private ownership change depending on the nation.

--- End quote ---

As Nick notes, ancient coins have been collected for many hundreds of years and many coins in the market today are old collection coins that have been traded and sold by collectors and dealers for many, many years.   Most of the coins in my collection [see my gallery linked below] have old provenances, some proveable to the early 1800s. Don't assume that coins in the marketplace were looted last month.  That would be a false assumption. Provenance has become an important part of the hobby, and you should continue to see more frequent notations of such information both in collectors' and dealers' trays. 

Meepzorp:
Hi Mya,

Nick and Cara are correct.

Some ancient coins are from old collections, and some were found relatively recently. Some are found in hoards, and some are found individually. Some are found by people using metal detectors, and some are found by accident. Sometimes, it is some sort of construction project (building a foundation for a house, digging for a sewer line, etc.), a farmer plowing a field, or someone digging to plant a garden.

Many ancient coins don't contain information about where they were found. This is usually done deliberately because because people don't want any problems. It doesn't necessarily mean that the coin was looted. It is just that some source countries have ridiculous laws regarding buying, selling, and exporting ancient coins. And these laws are getting more and more ridiculous and restrictive every year. In many cases, in order to avoid problems and/or mountains of paperwork, it is best to not disclose where (and/or when) an ancient coin was found.

Regarding ancient coins and antiquities coming from the Balkans, there was a significant increase in the years immediately following the collapse of the Soviet Union (circa 1990-2010). The market was flooded with them during that time period. It has actually slowed down now.

Meepzorp

Heliodromus:

--- Quote ---Many ancient coins don't contain information about where they were found. This is usually done deliberately because because people don't want any problems. It doesn't necessarily mean that the coin was looted. It is just that some source countries have ridiculous laws regarding buying, selling, and exporting ancient coins. And these laws are getting more and more ridiculous and restrictive every year. In many cases, in order to avoid problems and/or mountains of paperwork, it is best to not disclose where (and/or when) an ancient coin was found.
--- End quote ---

I'm not sure what type of coins you're talking about, but if it's intended as a general statement it seems way off base. With the current state of the field, there's simply no way to track country of origin or find provenance, and therefore unless you were the finder of a coin you most likely have no idea where it came from. Outside of the UK's PAS, what other countries have even bothered to set up finds registries ?

Even in the enlightened UK, what is the incentive for someone to register an individual find (which they are not obliged to do) unless it's something they feel is rare/important enough that they are doing so out of sense of duty? Having a PAS ID and online photo of a $10 bronze realistically isn't going to add any value to it.

So, yes, low end coins are generally bought and sold without any record of provenance, but not because anyone is hiding anything, but rather because there simply is no infrastructure set up to track it, and no incentive to do so.

Now of course, let's not pretend it isn't happening .. there are coins being found in countries where laws forbid them being exported (or even sold at all), which nonetheless find their way onto the international market. One could blame draconian laws which make no sense in terms of protecting cultural heritage, but also the middlemen and corrupt government officials which allow this to happen.

As a buyer, what are you meant to do? Assume that every Constantinian bronze with a Siscia mintmark, regardless of where it was sold, may have come from the Balkans and therefore avoid it? Demand that the seller provide county-of-origin paperwork when no such system exists ? Of course when knowingly buying from countries with restrictive export laws you do need paperwork, and dealers are providing it.

As far as the Balkans go, I'd agree with you. It seems reasonable to assume that the flood of uncleaned coins appearing in the early 2000's was related to the breakup of Yugoslavia, regardless of what country they were being sold from. Much as I disagree with the laws in many countries, it's their right to choose them as they see fit, but also to enforce them. If they can get the US to agree to import restrictions as well as their own export restrictions, then so be it, and it's then up to US authorities to enforce those laws.

As a collector there's not much you can do. Buy from countries where coins are legally sold from, or expect export papers from countries where laws are more restrictive.

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