Although the recent earthquakes in southern California definitely had all effect on collector turnout, dealers at the Long Beach Expo were quite tolerant of the situation- not that they had a choice! Wholesale activity accounted for the majority of transactions as dealers were obviously anxious to replace stock which is thinning due to a couple of low volume years. In the currently resurgent market. new material is relatively scarce. As we have remarked editorially on several occasions. The traditional coin show has undergone some radical changes in the past decade. Collector turnout has been unpredictable, and increasing costs put the dealer between the proverbial "rock and a hard place".
Many ancient coin dealers see shows mainly as a means to acquire stock for their mail-order business or specific coins for their clients' want lists. A dealer does not necessarily have to pay for a table in order to do this, but a certain number of coins will always "walk up to your table" if you are patient. Of course, with fewer collectors attending there will be fewer walk-ups and one's patience is increasingly tested. There comes a point when the dealer simply cannot justify the cost in light of the return.
The handwriting has been on the wall for some time, and the effects are now taking their toll. We received notice this month that the Greater New York show. which for many years was a premier show for ancients, is cancelling the traditional Spring convention due to lack of dealer participation. Dealer participation is of course a direct reflection of collector participation. and New York apparently cannot support four shows a year. This is really a sad commentary for the hobby in a region the size of the Greater New York area. We can only hope. for the good of the entire hobby, that this trend will turn around.
We were privy to a fascinating discussion at Long Beach about a collection of antiquities which has disappeared from Kabul. It seems that a number of artifacts, possibly including Bactrian coins, were stolen from the National Museum of Afghanistan. In fact, it seems that there have been attempts to market some of these items in the West (not to be confused with the current hoard of Bactrian tetradrachms which has appeared on the market).
In times of extreme political turmoil- if not anarchy- works of art are often " liberated" from the national treasuries ill in which they reside. Some of the more notable examples in modern times are the ravages of Napoleon and Hitler as their armies swept across Europe. Napoleon's agents even stole a large collection of ancient coins from a Jesuit school. It is claimed by some that the basement of the Kunst Historical Museum in Vienna is filled with art works from other countries which were "liberated" by the Nazis. The Russians, and yes, the Americans also made off with a few art treasures during World War II.
Since the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, and their chaotic retreat, the country has been totally devoid of stability or national leadership. There is, in fact, no legitimate government in place at the moment, and warring factions continue 10 devastate the country. In the midst of chaos, it is not difficult to believe that some of the great national treasures of this proud country have been plundered.
This raises a rather thorny question with both moral and practical implications. Is there any legitimacy to the concept "spoils of war"? Should all of the land, personal property. and national treasures eve r plundered by conquering armies. or looted ill their wake, be returned to their place of origin? If so. Should the financial loss for those objects- ultimately purchased in innocence by a collector be invested upon the last person in the chain to hold possession? The consequences are staggering.
There have been recent court decisions where stolen cultural property was returned to its country of origin, and there are still other cases pending. $0 far, these have been rather notorious cases with a relatively large dollar value attached. Still. The legal precedent is set, and the application of law may not necessarily depend upon an enormous reward to the claimant.
Practically speaking. the antiquities. especially any individual coins. which were once in Afghanistan will probably never be recovered for that country. It may be years before there's even a government in place that would care. Any coins lost would represent such a tiny percentage of Bactrian coins in the world market that they would be very hard to trace and virtually impossible to reclaim.
It is sad that power and greed often dominate sensitivity and cultural pride, but this seems to be a human trait that has not mellowed with time.
On a happier note. We will be mailing this month 's Celator a little earlier than last month. A combination of events slowed us down in January, not the least of which was the weather. Next month the Robins start their trek north and all of our spirits will be lifted around here. 'Till then we'll be watching the mailbox for your point of view