There are certain ageless topics within the numismatic fraternity that from time to time flare up as hotbeds of controversy. One of these, with a history that dates back at least to the Renaissance, is the production of coin replicas.
Michele Onana. a Coin World staff writer, recently reported on a growing uneasiness, primarily among collectors of U.S. coins, about the modem production of silver rounds by private mints. The size and design of these pieces is supposed to be strictly controlled by parts of section 18 of the U.S. code. In addition to protections under Section 18. which primarily work against the copying of legal tender, other laws are designed to protect the consumer, HR 9448, known as the Hobby Protection Act, prohibits the manufacture, importation or sale of any facsimile of a coin unless such is clearly marked "copy" on its obverse or reverse. A facsimile, by definition, is an exact reproduction.
Collectors of ancient coins have long been exposed to facsimiles of coins from antiquity. Some have come from the molds of Middle East merchants catering to a curious tourist trade; others have come from such respected institutions as the British Museum.
Even today, with the Hobby Protection Act in force, one can find knowledgeable and reputable dealers offering "copies" for sale that are not in any way marked as such. They may be found in fixed price lists under the heading "fantasy" pieces and in auction catalogs as "Museum Copies", "Beckers" or "Paduans." They may also be found openly displayed and offered for Sale on the bourse floor at many shows. The Hobby Protection Act does not say that it is only illegal to import "modern" facsimiles, it forbids the manufacture, importation or sale of unmarked facsimiles without distinction as to age or origin.
There is, living in the outskirts of New York City. a man with the technical ability and the dies to create copies of some of the greatest pieces of numismatic art the world has ever seen. His name is Peter Rosa.
Before the advent of HR 9448, Peter Rosa conducted a business selling copies of museum pieces, operating under the name Becker Reproductions. Over a period of many years, he accumulated an impressive collection of master casts which were transformed into dies and then into die struck copies. HR 9448, and the subsequent refusal of major numismatic publications to accept further ads for the sale of reproductions essentially curtailed the activities of Peter Rosa and Becker Reproductions.
Some months ago. Mr. Rosa approached me about the propriety of selling uniface (one-sided) plaster and die struck silver laminate recreations of ancient coins. The tradition of collecting, trading and displaying plaster casts of ancient coins, gems and sculpture goes back to the early days of the Humanist movement in the 14th century. Nearly every collector of coins traded impressions and casts with fellow antiquarians. It is a tradition worthy of continuing and, as such, we whole-heartedly supported the production of these scholarly recreations.
Very recently. Mr. Rosa mailed to certain dealer's association officials and media representatives a letter challenging the legality of HR 9448 and proposing to produce copies with· out the built-in safeguards of the Hobby Protection Act. While we actively endorse the production of uniface recreations· so that all can share in the beauty of certain pieces so rare as to be inaccessible to the average collector - we do not support the manufacture, importation or sale of facsimiles. That is, we do not support the sale of unmarked, exact copies of ancient coins, or any other coins for that matter.
We have discussed this point with Mr. Rosa at length, on numerous occasions. We understand his point of view - and he ours. The Celator will not accept any advertisement which offers unmarked facsimiles for sale.
Unifaces are not facsimiles, and the Celator will continue to promote and offer for sale plaster casts and uniface die struck laminates under the name "Scholar Copies." There are some who oppose even the sale of plaster casts. We believe they are reactionary and wrong. We personally feel that Mr. Rosa's copies are no more offensive than those ' copies mentioned earlier in the dealers' lists and auctions. Is the sale of a 19th century copy any more justifiable than the sale of a 20th century copy? There is a law governing the sale of these items and we feel that it should be applied equally to all or else it should be abolished.
The Celator will abide by the provisions of HR 9448 and Mr. Rosa will undoubtedly Challenge those pro· visions. Although we do not entirely agree with his position, we sincerely hope that his argument is not lost on closed minds. How do you feel about this vital issue? Let us hear your point of view.