One of the subjects that I frequently encounter in conversations with collectors around the country is that of ethics within our hobby. Occasionally this comes in the form of a complaint, but usually it is broached in the form of a question or comment. I received a call this week from a subscriber who expressed his concern over an observation at a recent show.
I! seems that this collector happened to witness " wholesale trade between two dealers. The collector later overheard the buyer discussing (with another member of his own firm) steps that could be taken to alter the coin and make it more saleable and theoretically more valuable. This seemed, to the collector, to be an unethical practice. It bothered the collector to the point that he had real concerns about the extent to which such alterations might be taking place, and whether coins in his own collection might have been altered.
There are really two issues to consider here, and they both relate to integrity. On the one hand we are dealing with the integrity of the coin itself, and on the other we are dealing with the integrity of the seller. There are surely many opinions about these issues, but the purpose of this column is to offer you mine.
Let's start with the question of a coin 's integrity. There are some who believe that any alteration to the condition of a coin, other than that produced by nature itself, is undesirable. These advocates would rather see a group of coins fused together and encrusted, from their centuries of interment, than separated and cleaned. Conversely, there are those who would burnish and polish everything in sight. From my personal point of view, neither are reasonable approaches. The joy of admiring, or owning, an ancient coin is mainly a product of the beauty or historical romance of the artifact. If the piece is so enc rusted that the image is not discernable, it is certainly not enjoyable as a work of art, and probably not as a piece of history. Some coins really do need to be cleaned.
If the cleaning of a coin enhances its desirability, what about correcting other little detractions? How about plugging holes, or smoothing the fields? Is it a good thing to fill those pits with epoxy or give the coin a nice new patina? Well, these are tough questions. The answer, I think, is SOMETIMES!
Major museums have never seen an ethical problem with doing this - they call it restoration. When a Greek amphora is found in 65 pieces and one of the handles is missing, no museum in the world would hesitate to fabricate a replacement. Some museums are careful to let you see the restored areas by using subtly different colors and fabrics, but others simply replace the missing parts and blend everything together. The integrity of an altered coin is certainly affected by its changes, but the net effect is not always negative. When an altered coin is sold, without a full disclosure of the changes, there is a breach of integrity, on the part of the seller. It is this situation which causes the greatest concern, because the buyer fee ls cheated and victimized by misrepresentation. The coin might be better than it was originally, but the buyer saw it as "virgin" and fee ls a real sense of betrayal when the alterations become apparent. Here, we enter the sphere of ethics. Is it unethical to professionally restore coins? NO. Is it unethical to sell restored coins? NO. Is it unethical to sell restored coins without full disclosure? YES!
If you have any suspicion that a coin might be "enhanced", and if that bothers you, ask the seller specifically about your concern. To dealers, in general, I would ask for a more forthright approach toward voluntarily identifying and disclosing known alterations. The hobby really deserves it.
This month we inaugurate the integration of ROMAN COINS AND CULTURE into The Celator. Former RCC subscribers will be provided with three issues of The Celator as compensation for the final RCC issue which has been cancelled. Those Celator subscribers who also subscribed to RCC will receive an extension to their current subscription by three issues. Look for the new renewal date on your mailing label. Our cover story this month is the third pan of Magna Mater, by James Meyer. We earlier reprinted parts I and 2 for the benefit of Celator readers and will now bring parts 3 and 4 to our combined readership.
We are also including a special pull-out centerfold this issue, with a listing of all feature articles published in The Celator since its inception. It's a pretty impressive list (no modesty here) and we are tremendously grateful to all who have contributed. We still have copies of certain back issues, but quantities are limited. Another place to look for many of these articles is in The Best of The Celator - published in 1988,89 & 90.
This is Spring convention time, and we will be off to San Francisco for the NAB, New York for the AINA, and SI. Louis for the Central States Convention. Hope to see some of you along the way! In the meantime, take a moment to write and share with us your point of view.