Friday, 30 September 2011

The Fourth ACCG Benefit Auction

The ACCG are soldiering on. Their fourth "annual Benefit Auction" has just opened on the VAuctions website ( ). It will close on October 13. The sale includes more than 120 lots of ancient coinage, numismatic literature and related items which have been "collectors, dealers and friends of ACCG" and the proceeds will be used "to support guild initiatives on behalf of the hobby".
The primary activities of ACCG in recent years have been related to the opposition against overly broad State Department import restrictions on ancient coins. This includes Litigation, Education and Public Affairs programs as well as frequent interaction with domestic and foreign governmental officials and U.S. legislators.
yeah, right. Well, oddly enough for an organization which has mostly been banging on about "transparency' in US gubn'mint dealings there is a notable lack of such transparency in the dealings of this "501c(4) non-profit organization". last year they said who had donated the coins and other stuff, this year clicking on the "sponsors' link gives the public no information on that subject at all. Perhaps they are afraid of being caught profiting from coins donated buy somebody who later ended up being expelled from the ACCG when faced with a court hearing about what they had or had not been doing... So the only donor we actually know by name this year is Susan Welsh (lots 108-9 dreadful soldering, ma'am). Traditionally another kind of transparency is missing from these auctions, any mention of where the objects sold were in the time between they were dug out of the ground (where, when?) taken from the source country (how, when?) and ended up on V-coins. This is odd because for example looking at the bulk lots (92- 103) they have the appearance of not being dug-up groups shoved onto the market. They look like the sortings of old collections, the lower grade coins bought by a beginner collector for example sorted out from those a dealer might sell from the same collection individually. So why can't we learn whose collections have ended up in this fragmented state? Why is that a secret?

What however is very interesting is to plot out what we know about where those coins were last known to be, ie the place where they were minted, often for a local market. The map below shows this, yellow spots are Greek and related (a bit of a misunderstanding calling Sassanian coins "Eastern Greek' in my opinion) while the black ones are of Roman date.

The cluster over Rome of course is due to this being the principle mint identifiable before the middle of the third century, but nevertheless it seems clear that many of the coins in this auction could very well have been dug up in Italy (one of the countries with an MOU with the USA because of the known scale of the looting). The concentration in another US-MOU country, Greece is notable. But look at Turkey and Bulgaria (+Macedonia). All areas where looting is known to be going on - in some cases on an industrial scale. Just look at the proportion of the coins in the ACCG benefit sale are last attested in precisely these countries. The coins from Siscia could have come to the US as dugups from the Balkans, or perhaps from Britain (+Gaul/ Germany) along with the Lugdunum coins as they circulated in the western Empire too. Then there are the coins from the Near East (Syria, Iraq, Iran) but most notably, look at the concentration of coins of Alexandria. When we know at the beginning of the year there was severe looting and museum storeroom robbery in precisely the delta region of Egypt, we may justifiably ask the anonymous donors, when and how did they leave Egypt?

I note that on one of the forums, Aussie coin dealer Cameron Day is announcing:

10% off all the coins listed on our website at We are raising funds to buy a small hoard of Roman Egyptian potin tetradrachms. The quicker we can raise the needed funds the quicker we can pass these coins on to you.
From whom, and where was it dug up, and how has it come onto the market is not revealed, we can only assume they were not dug up in Australia. It's obviously felt to be nobody else's concern how they get there so a dealer can keep his clients happy.

Actually I think these foreign no-questions-asked sales of material of completely unknown collecting history a matter of grave public concern.

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