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Author Topic: Where do coins come from?  (Read 414 times)

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Offline Mya B

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Where do coins come from?
« on: December 15, 2021, 10:50:03 am »
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 don´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

Offline Molinari

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Re: Where do coins come from?
« Reply #1 on: December 15, 2021, 02:36:27 pm »
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.

Offline Carausius

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Re: Where do coins come from?
« Reply #2 on: December 15, 2021, 07:04:03 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.

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. 

Offline Meepzorp

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Re: Where do coins come from?
« Reply #3 on: December 16, 2021, 12:43:58 am »
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

Offline Heliodromus

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Re: Where do coins come from?
« Reply #4 on: December 16, 2021, 09:25:41 am »
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.

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.

Offline Molinari

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Re: Where do coins come from?
« Reply #5 on: December 16, 2021, 02:37:26 pm »
One addendum: I have dozens of coins that were legally exported from Italy and not one has a documented find spot.

Offline SC

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Re: Where do coins come from?
« Reply #6 on: December 16, 2021, 06:59:31 pm »
The following is based on my 20 years + of collecting ancient coins and speaking with coin dealers (both those with and without bricks and mortar stores), auction house employees, vendors at coin fairs and flea markets, swap meet and collectors' club members, metal detectorists and of course fellow collectors.  I have engaged, in person, with various of these people in at least 15 countries.  However, I may have missed many things and this is only anecdotal.

A complicating factor to our understanding of this phenomenon is that there are many layers between finder and the end customer.  (I am only speaking here of "recently" found coins - not those from old collections.) 

Most modern finds are made by metal detectorists.  These detectorists will then sell these coins to someone else.  Some may sell to a coin shop/coin dealer but by far most appear to sell to middle men.  This middle man may be the one who exports the coins or there may be several middle men involved first.  Coins usually eventually reach a brick and mortar dealer or an auction house.  They are then sold to the customer.

Each layer, just like with the ancient spice trade or silk road, adds to the costs and, intentionally or otherwise, obscures the origin.

In my experience relationships, and luck, can help you gain access further up the chain or learn more.

Some examples. 

I met with one of the bricks and mortar coin dealers that I knew when I lived in Vienna roughly once a week for five years.  We chatted about everything.  I sometimes helped him with IDs and references.  Over that time period I learned a bit about his business.  He bought from old collections and from new collections, from local detectorists and ones who came in from a few hundred kilometers away - both from Austria and nearby countries.  He worked with some middlemen who brought coins from detectorists or groups of detectorists from further away.  Sometimes people came from abroad to Vienna with coins and made the round of the stores trying to sell.  I was there through several of his buyer transactions but was politely kicked out for some - usually because of coin values not source. 

I belonged to a few local collectors group that met and swapped, traded, bought and sold coins.  Through these I met, and bought from, around a half-dozen detectorists - in other words direct from the finder.  Some told me generally where their coins came from - e.g. "farms around town X" - a few told me exactly where they came from (they knew I had no metal detector and was no threat to their find spots, plus many had exclusive relationships with the farm owners).  One printed off a photo from google earth and circled the exact field.  Sadly I have only about a dozen or two coins with this degree of knowledge.

Some online dealers used to group their uncleaned coins by country of origin.  I knew some of these dealers and trusted that they actually sourced their coins from that country.  But that was no absolute guarantee that the coins originated from there.  They could have been brought into that country from elsewhere.  However, looking over large sample revealed in many cases an excellent match to documented finds.

On the other hand, some stories can be complete fabrications.  I have seen many flea-bay dealers selling coins they claim are from Britain or the Netherlands that anyone with any experience can tell come from the Balkans or the Middle East - not many provincial SC issues from Antioch or Latin Kingdom Byzantine trachys are found in England!

Anyway, enough late-in-the-day rambling.  I hope my experiences help somewhat.

SC



SC
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Offline Meepzorp

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Re: Where do coins come from?
« Reply #7 on: December 17, 2021, 06:12:40 am »
Hi Helio,

I was specifically thinking about Magna Graecia (Greek Italy) coins being exported from Italy. Apparently, you aren't aware of what has been happening in the past 1-2 years. I literally have had about a dozen email exchanges with a few dealers in Italy. These dealers are exasperated because of all the ridiculous paperwork that is now needed to export these types of coins from Italy. The Italian government is asking for things that are impossible to provide, like find spots and where the coin has been for the past 100 years or more (prior to World War I). One Italian dealer has stopped shipping outside of the EU. Another Italian dealer had to refund my money for a coin I won in an auction because the Italian government wouldn't give him export permission. He has now stopped selling ancient coins in his auctions. He is only selling Medieval coins now, which are self-certified.

Meepzorp

Offline Meepzorp

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Re: Where do coins come from?
« Reply #8 on: December 17, 2021, 06:14:26 am »
One addendum: I have dozens of coins that were legally exported from Italy and not one has a documented find spot.

Hi Nick and folks,

So do I. :)

But the Italian government is looking to change that now.

Meepzorp

Offline cicerokid

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Re: Where do coins come from?
« Reply #9 on: December 17, 2021, 08:02:05 am »

For a "reconstructed" hoard and it's consequences read The Gaziantep hoard by Andrew Meadows and Houghton on academia.edu. The co-operation with dealers once upon a time was noticeable and valuable.

John
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Offline Virgil H

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Re: Where do coins come from?
« Reply #10 on: December 17, 2021, 10:30:00 pm »
I have a comment about provenance that I have no proof of but is one I think about a lot. I am actually an anthropologist, so I have varying views. I am also a collector. So...

Today and in the recent past, laws in specific countries mostly ensure that coins are not documented and are taken out of a country in some kind of black market. The UK, I suppose, is the exception. Even the United States has idiotic laws regarding native American artifacts to the point that finders are never going to report them. It is a shame. Turkey comes immediately to mind with coins. I also am well aware that coins are often very minor finds in many cases, yet I wish all were recorded. Cumulatively, this would add to our body of knowledge. Not being reported, such data is lost forever. I do not blame finders or collectors for this state of affairs. I blame the countries with stupid laws. I personally think that all coin finds should be documented and then released to the market. It doesn't work that way, unfortunately.

But, the provenance thing is often used as a reason why a particular coin is totally legitimate. The 19th and early 20th century were truly the times of looting. Early archaeologists were essentially treasure hunters. Schiemann destroyed Troy with his excavations to find Homer's Troy. This is the textbook example of how to NOT do excavations that is still taught as a horrible thing in anthropology schools (in the US, anthropology includes archaeology, the disciplines are different in Europe, so I use the term anthropology as I am coming from a US perspective, that said. current European archaeologists are as horrified by Schiemann as we in the US are).

I recall visiting Pergamum in Turkey years ago. Incredible place, lots to see. Including the base of the altar to Zeus. Later I found out the actual altar was in the museum in Berlin. I never made it to Berlin, so I never saw it. All I could ever think of was how much better that would have looked if the altar had still been in Turkey. Except it had been looted by respectable men and shipped to Berlin. Every museum in the western world has artifacts like this that were essentially looted from multiple countries.

My point is that virtually every coin today with a 19th or early 20th century provenance was most likely looted from a site in a place like Turkey. I get it and I would buy them, as I do other coins. But I in no way would ever claim that the coin was legitimately obtained. This includes such claims as, well England owned that country at that time. That is a very specious argument. I would say that coins on the market today are as legit as they ever were and some are and some are not at all.

It is one of the conundrums of being a collector, one never knows. I can live with that, but I do not have my head in the sand, either.

Regards,
Virgil

 

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