We normally abstain from comment when sensationalist articles about the ancient coin business and its personalities appear in the media. Expose is a journalistic convention that we choose not to dignify. There are, however, occasions when silence is not necessarily golden. The April 1994 issue of Vanity Fair features an article by Bryan Burrough, titled "Raider of the Lost Art", which chronicles the rise and fall (?) of entrepreneur Bruce McNall. The article attempts to create a characterization of McNall which capriciously includes the ancient coin market itself. Although we are certainly not in a position to know
What concerned us more than this sensationalist hype over a very public personality (It comes with the job, doesn't it?) was the flippant character assassination of our beloved hobby. The author makes brazen statements that may excite the sensibilities of a tabloid-mentality readership, but they grossly distort reality. The ancient co in market, as we know it, is a basically conservative and respectable establishment with solid traditions that reach back 500 years. To introduce the "players" in this market as hustling " pink-faced men" from the "clubby world of Roman and Greek coins" is a disgusting affront which wipes aside in one line of type centuries of diligent work and dedicated effort toward humanistic understanding.
Mr. Burrough repeatedly refers to the "murky world of antiquities trafficking", all due to smuggling and underworld connections, as if there were no other sources of antiquities. Does he have even the foggiest notion how many ancient coins are sold each year? Has he ever read the notes in Numismatic Chronicles of the 19th century which detail the public sale of collections containing thousands upon thousands of ancient coins? Where did all these coins go? Is he aware that there are individual collectors (some reading these lines) who personally own a great many more ancient coins than the 45,000 offered in the Athena Fund sale? It may be true that the Fund acquisitions were mainly "fresh" coins, but that does not make the whole ancient coin market a repository for illicit excavation coins. In his zeal to create a sensational expose, Mr. Borough has conveniently disregarded the principles of context and balance. He has painted a picture which consists only of foreground and no background. Bruce McNall is a very influential figure in the ancient coin business, but he is not the business any more than he is the National Hockey League or Hollywood.
At a time when serious law-abiding dealers and collectors are forced to defend themselves and their hobby against all sorts of intrusions, this sensational ism is a particularly unwelcome episode. Vanity Fair earns a "thumbs down" for its tacky insensitivity.
On March 17th the Celator enrolled its 2,OOOth paid subscriber. This achievement fulfills a goal that we have pursued for some time. We are not aware of any Other publication specializing in ancient coins which has ever attained a readership of this level. We are indebted, of course, to our loyal followers who keep renewing each year. We are also aware that we could not have reached this plateau without the constant support of the many dealers who recommend our publication to their customers. This is an altruistic action which clearly illustrates the fraternal ism that we so often mention in this column. We deeply appreciate the support that we have received from every quarter, and will strive to continue improving the publication which you have caused to become the popular voice of the hobby.
Last month I waxed eloquently (alright, maybe eloquently is a reach) about a bronze coin from Patras bearing the head of an elderly and weary Herakles. Well, here's Paul Harvey with "the rest of the story". It turned out, much to my disappointment. That the coin I ordered was already sold. Fortunately, my eloquence fell on an attentive ear. I received a call some days later from David Vagi, who I discovered was the buyer. He was so moved by the admiration I had expressed that he felt guilty about depriving a fellow collector of such intense joy. Therefore, he offered to sell me the coin at the standard 100% dealer markup-JUST KIDDING and I accepted gratefully. I'm told that Frank Kovacs was also a late bidder on the coin. This really makes me feel good because I know Frank wouldn't have ordered it unless it was a really great coin at a great price. So, now I suppose I' m even more indebted to David. Anyway, I'm a happy camper with my old portrait of Herakles.
We've received several letters and comments, mostly positive, in regard to our comments last month about printing. The support is really appreciated. This month, we are attending the Chicago International right in the midst of production, so mailing might be a day or two later than normal-sorry.
If you have something to share. we'd love to hear your point of view!