Last month we brought you, through Kerry Wetterstrom's article on fakes from the Black Sea area, a sad tale of apparent deception. This month, we see on the front page of another publication a claim to the contrary. The coins are not fakes! At least so says an alternate group with an opposing point of view. While we are certainly not in a position to pass judgement on the authenticity of the coins themselves, we are in a position to comment on the way this issue is being handled.
The pronouncement of this Black Sea hoard as being spurious was undertaken by dealers who had no vested interest in the pieces themselves. Some had bought the pieces (others had not), but those who had bought them had sufficient recourse to be protected against financial loss. Their "breaking of the story" seems to have been motivated primarily by a sense of responsibility to their customers in particular and the entire hobby on the whole.
The claim that these pieces are fake was not based upon limited advice, indeed, some of the most knowledgeable and respected numismatists in the world were consulted. The overwhelming consensus was FAKE. Now, it is not impossible for experts to be wrong, nor is it impossible for the consensus to be wrong, but one point must be remembered. A basic premise of buying ancients is that if you don't feel good about the coin - DON'T BUY IT. Forgeries have been around for as long as there have been collectors around, and that we know goes back to at least the third century B.C. and probably earlier. We generally think of contemporary counterfeits as having been struck for commercial use, that is to pass off in trade as genuine. It would not be a great shock to learn someday that counterfeits were also made to pawn off on collectors some 2,000 years ago.
If some of the world's foremost numismatists "smell a rat", I for one would be hesitant to distrust their judgement. Now that doesn't mean they're right, it simply means that there is no overpowering reason to take the chance. I respect the value of scientific evaluation, and of modem technology, but I also respect the ingenuity of skilled artisans with motivation to deceive. If man can walk on the moon, man can certainly copy effectively something that was made by hand with relatively crude tools.
The thing that protects us as collectors is that there are so many thousands of types and variations of ancient coins, and so many are found legitimately that counterfeiting becomes impractical except in very specific instances.
The last thing we need, with a multitude of new collectors entering the hobby, is an incident like this to scare them away. Obviously, the initial purchasers are concerned. It has been estimated that the hoard might consist of some 4,500 pieces. At an average retail price of $300 each that amounts to $1,350,000 - not exactly small change. The potential loss to someone, somewhere, is indeed substantial. For that reason, it is a foregone conclusion that the condemnation will be challenged and rechallenged. That is only fair, but in the meantime, we don't need a rash of public controversy that creates unreasonable doubt in everyone's mind as to the market's ability to deal with this kind of threat. When all is said and done, and the ultimate consensus is reached, let's hear about it. In the meantime, let's keep the haggling out of the hobby.
On a more positive note, we have a very strong agenda of articles for the coming months. Simon Bendall has entertained and enlightened us again in this issue and Hank Lindgren is sharing with us a chapter from his book Creal Expectations, The Psychology of Money. We'll be running his views on the psychological origin of money in a series of three articles during the upcoming months. Due to a foul-up in our schedule, we are running this month, instead of last mooch as we had planned, a remarkable bit of research by Bob Kutcher which teaches us "more than we ever wanted to know" about the Ides of March. David Hendin's entertaining vignettes about Biblical coins will continue on through the rest of this year. We also have another fine article by Ron Kollgaard, about Greek coins, in the wings as well as one by Colin Pitchfork about Hadrian's coinage at Aelia Capitolina. Larry McKinney will present insights to Seleucid coinage and its symbols, and Eric Kondratieff will share with us his knowledge of the Roman Procurators in Judaea. Of course, Stephen Album's epic about the coins of Islam will be continued as well. Even yours truly will be slipping in an article or two about those fascinating Turkoman bronze coins. And best of all, there's more coming.
Thanks for all the kind words in our mailbag, and a special thank you to all those who sent in two-year renewals, your confidence makes the sunshine even in a Wisconsin winter. We'll be seeing some of you in Chicago, until then keep in touch with your point of view.