Sunday, 12 July 2009

Ancient Coin fondling again


A few months ago collectors of ancient coins were angry at me that I called them on my blog coin fondlers (referring of course to the phrase beloved of both sellers and buyers of portable antiquities „a piece of the past in your hand”). They did not notice that at that time had been going on over on the Moneta-L Coin collecting forum a discussion about the “slabbing” of ancient coins (enclosing them in protective plastic holders). This discussion has just broken out again. An ancient coin collector identifying him self only as “Joe” writes:
I avoid slabbed ancients as to me part of the allure is being able to touch history. However, I recently purchased a "NGC" slabbed Republic M. Volteius denarius […] I'd like to liberate it but may have to think about it if its really going to effect (sic) the value.
Steve from incitatuscoins says,
Personally I don't like the increase in 'slabbing' that is creeping into our hobby. All my coins need to be handled, looked at under magnification, tilted, edges examined, etc, all of which are not easy/possible to do in a slab. I'm also a bit paranoid and always verify authenticity in hand, regardless of slab/ pedigree/ source/ etc. […] Liberating ancients from slabs has become a bit of a 'passione' of mine. They all cry out to be freee!
Pierre concurs
How right you are Steve! A slabbed ancient coin is like bird in a cage !
Two points,, apart from the key concept here of handling (fondling) "history", first note the use of words like "liberate", "free", the idea that a coin is in some way imprisoned. The coin in some way itself needs to be handled. I wonder how far the "liberator" paradigm extends to liberating coins from "retentionist governments" (sic), "ivory tower fascist intellectuals" (sic), and "archaeological contexts".

Secondly however the idea of slabs is not only to protect the coin inside, but associate it with information important to a collector. The unique reference number on a label in a slab could easily give access to information on provenance and collecting pedigree. The reason why they cannot, it would seem, is because collectors of these items (unlike collectors of fine modern coins) want to hold them, touch them, feel them, fondle them.

A further post on the topic on the Moneta-L forum however gives food for thought:

For the ancient numismatist... Slabs are like condoms... They might provide an element of safety (bronze disease, for example) and false confidence with authenticity and grading (although there may be "holes" in both), but... They take away a lot of the sensation. So, many of us practice unsafe ancient coin collecting. Allan (unsafe and loving it) White

Unsafe coin collecting surely is numismophillic intercourse with coins when you don’t know where they have been and who they have previously been with. They may very well be tainted. “Just say no”.

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