Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Stolen coins listed online?

In 2007 a Bulgarian collector who had amassed one of the largest collections of Medieval coins from the region was robbed. Two thousand coins of his collection were taken, together with 500 bronze crosses. The theft seems to have received rather less attention in the press than one might have expected (the collector's name has not been made public either). A few days ago what Bulgarian authorities believe to be one of the coins missing from the collection turned up on sale by the firm Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.:
The Bulgarian Ministry of Interior announced that the police have prevented the sale of Bulgarian coins dating back to the Middle Ages. The coins were on sale on the web site of the C[N]G Classical Numismatic Group, Inc, registered in London. According to experts, one of the coins is a silver coin from the times of Despot Dobrotica, which is very rare. The coin was stolen in 2007, together with a collection of 500 crosses and 2000 coins.
(Radio Bulgaria News: 'Bulgarian police prevents sale of ancient coins abroad', November 11, 2010).

What seems to have happened is that somebody spotted that one (some?) of the coins were suspiciously similar to one (some?) stolen from the home of the Bulgarian collector in 2007 because he had published it in a catalogue eight years previously. It was apparently the Bulgarian embassy (in London?) who then contacted CNG who withdrew ten lots of coins (see Peter Tompa's "press release" on CNG's behalf on his Cultural property Observer blog and David Gill's coverage of it).

Who was Despot Dobrotitsa (photo)? Wikipedia tells us that he was a Bulgarian noble de facto ruler of an independent region (Principality of Karvuna and the Kaliakra fortress) from 1354 to the 1380s. The region Dobruja is named after him.

Anyhow, the coin that was withdrawn was it is alleged the same as the one which was published in a catalogue of which one author was the collector whose home was burgled. The book is named in the English language accounts as “Bulgarian Antique Coins from the 9th to the 15th Century Period” , published in 1999. This seems to be the catalogue (so not "ancient" as the newspapers have it but Medieval) Ангел Радушев, Господин Жеков Radushev Angel, Gospodin Zhekov 1999 : "Каталог на Българските средновековни монети. IX-XV век" ISBN: 9548761459, 251 pp This book, it says, "was written on the basis of numismatic material from the biggest and most detailed ("complex") private collections of Medieval Bulgarian coins". Available here to CNG staff and anyone else as a pdf apparently. Jim Farr has a copy at home even if CNG does not, you can get one here.

But discovering this coin was possibly stolen should have been easier than spotting that a coin just like it had been previously published in a collection that was then stolen. In 2007, the year of the robbery, Bulgaria entered the EU and the PNG opened its stolen coin database. The question is whether the missing coin was mentioned there and whether CNG even opened this database before offering these coins for sale.

Stolen coins listed online

(Fallbrook, California) - To assist dealers and law enforcement agencies, an online database of stolen and missing coins has been established by the Professional Numismatists Guild at www.stolencoin.org.

"Access to the stolen coin tracking web site will be available to registered PNG member-dealers and to police and other law enforcement agencies. They will be able to conveniently report and search for specific information about crimes and losses related to numismatic material," said Robert Brueggeman, PNG Executive Director and President of the security company, Positive Protection, Inc. of Fallbrook, California.

I think also it is quite clear that if firms like CNG are offering several hundred coins for sale every two weeks or so, there is in fact no opportunity to check properly that none of them are stolen or of otherwise illicit origin. All they can do is shove the lot online and hope nobody challenges them, and when they do, make a show of "co-operating". Sayles says
As spokesperson for ACCG, I publicly commend CNG for taking exactly the proper action in this matter, which they did of their own volition. If others are reticent to offer their own commendation, one can only wonder what, if anything, they might ever consider as a satisfactory response.
Absolutely refuse to buy coins that can be challenged like this?

Photo: Dobrotitsa monument.

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