One of the letters we received this month raised our aware· ness of the wild misconceptions that collectors may labor under, especially if they arc rather isolated from the mainstream of market activity. You may wish to skip over to the letters section and read the comments of Michael Marotta ("Advice challenged") before continuing this- but don't forget to come back!
Mr. Marotta is the founder of "Ancient Numismatic Collectors", which he envisions as a national organization of ancient coin enthusiasts. There has been a need for such an organization, and we have generally supported Mr. Marotta's efforts. Our one concern has been that any organization of national scope requires a special sort of leadership. Unfortunately, it seems that Mr. Marotta views himself as the Ralph Nader of the ancient coin fraternity. While there is undoubtedly some value derived from any critical voice, it is incumbent upon the critic to retain a sense of perspective and a reasonable degree of accuracy.
In Mr. Marotta's letter of criticism ah out David Vagi 's latest column ("Through the Looking Glass", April 1995). he reveals a jaundiced view of the auction business and a rather naive view of collecting in general. It could be detrimental to the hobby if new collectors were weaned on the advice of an "axe-grinding" national leader. To say that Mr. Marotta is misguided and mistaken about some of his views would be generous. It most certainly IS NOT better to have a complete set of Licinius I in VG than one Marcus Aurelius in FDC- if you are a connoisseur of ancient numismatic art. It is apparent that Mr. Marotta does not pretend to be a connoisseur, but that does not excuse his off-handed rejection of Vagi's advice. Moreso, it does not exculpate his vilifying castigation of auctioneers in general, and Mr. Vagi in particular. Incidentally, David Vagi is not an auctioneer- but never mind.
Are auction participants merely "marks" who wallow in ignorance as their pockets arc picked by unscrupulous Fagins? Did NFA and Superior fail because auctioneering is a "tough business"? Has anyone seen a large lot of ElD MAR denarii lately? Where did Me Marotta get these whacked out ideas? Everyone has a right to their opinions, but national leaders should be aware that their opinions arc influential' As such, they must be justifiable and reasonable. In view of the irrational expression voiced by Mr. Marotta, we doubt that he will ever be accepted within this community of collectors as any sort of national leader.
In David Vagi's column he advises collectors on a budget to buy a single coin of relatively high quality as opposed to many coins of inferior quality. It is our opinion that this is sound ad · vice for most collectors. Lest we be criticized as an apologist for the dealers who support us with their advertising, let me expound. Both David and I arc collectors. He collects barbarous AE copies of Roman coins, and I happen to be collecting Roman Provincial bronzes from a single city in Anatolia. Neither of these collecting areas arc noted for blazing FDC specimens. We have both been known to buy some of the most wretched examples of "collectable" coinage that one can imagine.
We are also dealers, and we know full well that our less than perfect specimens may be virtually unsaleable. That doesn't stop us from collecting, but it does place us in the position of knowing that there is little chance of a financial return. Of course, there is the rare piece within our respective areas that does come along in choice condition, and we are grateful for that.
If we were concerned about the eventual disposition of our collections, David and I would probably have chosen areas more suited to mainstream marketing opportunities. In other words, we would have purchased only coins of better grade and greater popularity. To suggest that a collection of low-grade bronzes is valuable because it is "complete" is (Q. David Bowers' advice notwithstanding) illogical. Anyone who would choose to own a complete collection of low-grade coins is a compulsive collector (like David and I) who derives joy from acquisition and accumulation. Why would we, or anyone else, want to buy a complete collection of low-grade coins of Licinius I? Admittedly, if one owns a complete collection of anything, there will be rarities included which will probably be of value. But then, one can also collect rarities in and of themselves and skip the "completeness" prerequisite.
Mr. Marotta may echo the op inion of certain collectors who arc budget minded and "bargain" oriented. No offense intended, the vast majority of us arc bargain oriented and most of us have a budget. Mr. Vagi, in this specific case, voiced the opinion of a veteran market observer. Although one does not have to agree with his opinions, to ignore them would be fool hardy. It is not in the best interests of a professional numismatist (one who makes a living in the business) to promote financial failure among his clientele. There are, after all, only a limited number of ancient coin collectors in the world- hardly enough to chance alienating them.
CICF was very upbeat, and we enjoyed the decent weather for a change. Our next show will be right down the road as the "Central States" convenes in Milwaukee, and a week later we'll be in Manhattan for the Spring NYINC. As always, we'll enjoy visiting and hearing your point of view!