The events of the recent war in the Persian (or Arabian, depending on your preference) Gulf highlighted not only the value of real-time information, but also the declining value of disinformation in the modern age. The world is too small and people, on the whole, are too intelligent to buy into rhetoric without evaluating it within their own experiences.
As we listened to Saddam Hussein's pronouncements of victory in Kuwait, even as his army was being decimated in the field. we wondered how any rational person could accept such blatant disinformation. Well, the answer is simple, they don't.
Numismatists in Chicago for this year's Chicago International Coin Fair were exposed to their own local case of disinformation, perhaps not as incredulous as that coming out of Baghdad, but still very real. On page one of the Business section of Saturday's Chicago Tribune we read the headline "Professor proves old coins are the real diobols". We should excuse the staff writer, Jon Van, since one would not expect him to be fully aware of Ihe Black Sea Hoard controversy. The article, although written in the tones of an independent report, was essentially a news release. in that the statements and opinions rendered undoubtedly came from a single source.
For starters, the article reported that the now infamous Black Sea Hoard diobols were pronounced counterfeit it by the British Museum's curator of Greek coins. Dr. Martin Price, because "He just didn't like their looks". It goes on to say that "after applying what may be the most intensive scientific scrutiny ever focused on ancient coins, a Michigan State University researcher [Dr. Stanley Flegler] has persuaded the numismatic fraternity that these coins were, indeed, made more than 2,000 years ago."
To suggest that the basis of Dr. Price's condemnation was as superficial as "the look" of the coins sounds not only foolish but insulting. The implication that Dr. Flegler has exposed the British Museum's error assumes first of all that there was an error, and secondly that the resuIts of Flegler' s tests are unchallengeable - neither of which do I feel are the case. The statement that the numismatic fraternity is "persuaded" that these coins are of ancient origin is, at the very least, a distortion of the facts. Having personally discussed this issue with a great many ancient coin collectors and dealers, I have found the consensus opinion definitely to be that these coins. in spite of all the evidence presented, are fake. Few have been "persuaded" otherwise.
Naturally, some of our fraternities are unwilling to discard the evidence offered by Dr. Flegler because it is wrapped in the banner of scientific research. This being the age of technology, we have great faith in our machines. Having spent most of my adult life in the electronics field, I too am a believer in technology. I have learned from experience, however, that what you see is not always what you get.
The Tribune article explains Dr. Flegler's contention that the diobols are genuine. if debased, coins from ancient times". The article further states that last fall the International Bureau for the Suppression of Counterfeit Coins "issued a bulletin supporting Flegler." This is again a distortion of the facts. The bulletin (Vol.15, No.l, I990) says nothing of the sort. Reconciling the arguments of Flegler and those who condemn the coins, the lBSCC pronounced the coins to be "ancient counterfeits."
With Hussein's recent victory claims still ringing in my ears, I read Dr. Regier's latest pronouncement "It was a victory for science and modem technology over the traditional numismatic reliance on appearances." As the inimitable Dr. Saslow would say. "We shall see what we shall see."
Not to further the cause of disinformation, but just as an aside, rumors were rife on the bourse floor that a British dealer has been offered a die from the Black Sea Hoard. Wouldn't that be an interesting acquisition?
The facts are what they are, and every collector or numismatist is free to interpret them as they care to, but we should really stay with the facts, without distortion, and identify opinion and rumor for what it is.
We bid farewell this month to two numismatists who have served the hobby long and well. The passing of Edward Gans in Berkeley and Dr. Aaron Hendin in St. Louis will leave a void in the hearts of those who knew them well. Their contributions to ancient numismatics, like many dedicated numismatists before them, will serve as a living monument and their spirit will burn on through those inspired along the way.
Edward Gans was a noted connoisseur of ancient Greek coinage and founder of the original Numismatic Fine Arts. Dr. Hendin specialized in Judaean coins (see the reprint of one of his informative articles in this issue). Each, in his own way, chose a path to follow, and they shared their hobby with relish, giving as much as they received.
Thanks again for the letters, our Hendin/Vardaman crossfire drew a spirited response to say the least. It's good to see such enthusiasm among our readers - both pro and con. If the mood strikes you, take a moment this month to let us hear your point of view!