It seems like every month brings a new letter of concern and an issue that has to be dealt with- and this month is no exception. We received a letter from a collector regarding an offering of coins and antiquities which seem to be modern fakes. The essence of the letter was that "These things are obviously fake, and the dealer advertises in your magazine." The implication was that I should be doing something about it.
This raises a number of tacky issues. First of all, who appointed me keeper of the keys? Secondly, who is qualified to certify the authenticity of, or condemn, coins and antiquities in the market? Thirdly, what is an appropriate action when one suspects that a coin or antiquity may be fake?
Policing the hobby has been a controversial and contentious issue for as long as I have been associated with it. and probably for much longer. There are professional organizations, such as the American Numismatic Association (ANA), Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG). and the International Association of Profession al Numismatists (IAPN) that police their own membership. The theory behind these organizations is that you can minimize your risk by dealing with member firms. Failure to main tai n the standards of the organization may result in a firm being censored or expelled. In the event of a dispute, these organizations provide arbitration or mediation.
Not all dealers, however, belong to the se professional organizations. Many smaller dealers find that the cost of members hip is simply prohibitive. There are generally rules governing the sale of coins or antiquities at shows. Often, show promoters will rely on the dealers themselves to weed out fakes from the bourse floor. If a coin belonging to dealer "A" is suspected by dealer "B" as being fake, it is generally pulled from the bourse until a proper determination of authenticity can be made. This is in fact done, and dealers are generally cooperative.
Items offered for sale in a published ad are subject to the rules of advertising imposed by the publisher. In our case, and generally throughout the numismatic press. it is required that all items offered for sale in the publication are authentic and as described. Realizing that there can be valid differences of opinion. confusion. and error. we instituted a policy several years ago which provides that we will suspend the advertising rights of any firm against which we have on file three unresolved complaints. We have, in fact, exercised this suspension on at least three occasions over the years. Considering that we serve over 100 advertisers, that really is not a significant percentage. The resolution might simply be a return, or it might be an opinion from a certification service.
The next level of policing is where the problem lies. Suppose a dealer runs a generic ad in The Celator, obtains your name in response, and then sends you a fixed pricelist. If you buy an item and it turns out to be a fake, you are bound by the published rules of the dealer in question. If the dealer's rules state that no returns are all owed, you are flat out of luck. If, however, the dealer guarantees authenticity, we will honor your complaint and keep it on file. We also send a copy to the dealer and request a notice of resolution. Generally, this works pretty well.
Now, what if you spot an item on the dealer's list that you feel is a fake? Obviously, you aren't going to buy it, but you may feel compelled to protect some less knowledgeable collector from buying it. As a customer, you have every right to express your concerns to the dealer. Hopefully, that will be sufficient to correct the problem or quell the suspicion. What you should not expect is for The Celator to police the lists of dealers. If you suspect that a coin offered in an ad published in The Celator is not authentic, we will immediately investigate the complaint. We cannot, however, serve as a policing agency for the entire hobby. We have neither Ihe time nor expertise, and certainly have no such mandate.
Our advice, as always, is to buy from dealers where you have recourse if the purchased item proves to be fake. Virtually every dealer has inadvertently sold a fake at one time or another: it's not necessarily a reflection on one's character or competence. What the dealer does about it, however, may speak volumes about both.
We would be remiss not to mention here that this yea r's ANA convention in Detroit was the best organized show that we have attended in years. The highly publicized dangers were vastly overrated, and the facilities were excellent. The Detroit police department went all out to assure that visitors were completely secure and comfortable. I have never seen a city that opened its doors to numismatists like Detroit did, and it is a pitiful shame Ihal the oracles of doom and gloom influenced some of their following to boycott the show. Steve and Stephanie joined me there and we had a delightful time. Congratulations to Craig Whitford and the host club. as well as Ihe ANA staff, for making Ihe most of an unnecessarily bad situation.
Next stop is Boston for the first BINC and the ANS symposium. It's going to be a great affair! The Celator will have a table, so stop by and share your point of view