Thursday, 30 April 2009

Vorsicht "erdfrisch"!

I have discussed earlier in my blog several times (for example here) the parallels between different types of shopkeepers, those selling food and those selling portable antiquities dug up "like potatoes" and suggesting that if one can document the origins of the items they trade in, the other can too.

One of the arts of selling vegetables of course is making them look as if just an hour or so they were still in the sun and wind in the fields. New potatoes for example look nicest in the marketplace if they look "erdfrish" as our German neighbours would say, fresh from the earth. Antiquities on the other hand are appreciated by their collectors if they have a patina that shows they have been in the soil an appreciable time, but also in the fabled "old collection " a fair amount of time too (at least since before 1970). So "erdfrisch" antiquities are really a bit of a no-no for the responsible collector unless, of course, they have clear documentation of their legitimate and legal and properly recorded removal from their original context and source country.

Last week in the German edition of the ‘popular science’ magazine “Focus” appeared an article by Noelani Waldenmaier called “EBAY: Vorsicht, "erdfrisch"!” ["EBay: beware, fresh from the soil"] (Focus 17/2009, 50) which gives a more balanced view of the reasons behind the recent German police investigations of collectors buying items on eBay from certain sellers which have aroused such anxiety in the US ancient coin-collecting world (for example, here and here). The collecting community gets its news mainly from the uninformed (or deliberately manipulative) rants in the hobby press such as Celator or Coin World and their forums and discussion groups. It is therefore nice to be able to point out that the mainstream "popular science" media which form and inform public opinion are taking a more balanced view than what can be contrasted with them as 'the lunatic fringe'.

Certainly the message is ‘caveat emptor’. It really is difficult to believe that all those “erdfrisch” coins by the kilogramme represent the splitting up of old collections (though one coin dealer tried to assure me that that was the case with the bulk lots he was selling..., though nasty old sceptic that I am I found this a rather weak and unverified protestation).

The focus article can apparently be downloaded here by those who missed it.

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