Sunday 22 July 2012

Harlan Berk Sues Coin Dealer II

More on the court case alleging Harlan Berk was sold a fake coin by a Californian dealer... Although it is very difficult keeping track of all the 'fake coin' stories even at the high end of the market, I am wondering if the case in question might concern the dekadrachm sold by Harlan J. Berk of Chicago, IL and Freeman and Sear of Los Angeles at the "Gemini III" auction for $325,000 (the buyer's and consigners' premiums add another 100 000 to that) which according to certain gossip on the coiney forums (see for example: 'Re: Athens Dekadrachm discussion fka For your reading enjoyment on April Fool's Day'), might have had a rather chequered history. Note, if it is indeed this coin, the "provenance" which was offered: 
ATTICA. Athens. Ca. 475-465 BC. Silver decadrachm (42.30 gm). Head of Athena right, wearing pendant earring and crested Attic helmet ornamented with three olive leaves above visor and spiral palmette on bowl / A—È—E, owl with spread wings standing facing, olive sprig to upper left, outline of square die visible. Cf. Seltman 446 (obverse) and 452 (reverse). Starr 52-62. Beautifully centered and struck in high relief. With far fewer planchet defects on reverse than are normally encountered on this extremely important issue. One of the most important coins in the entire Greek series. About extremely fine/extremely fine. From a California collection.

Prior to 1984, the allure of the Athenian decadrachm lay in the very small number of extant specimens and in the impression that the exceptional denomination must represent a special issue. The specimens that have appeared since that date have increased the total number of obverse dies and have revealed some slight stylistic development. These factors
So we have a whole load of new coins "surfacing" after 1984 (the discovery and smuggling of the Elmali Hoard, here too,  found 60km west of Antalya in Turkey)* and the best provenance offered to indicate to the potential buyer that this coin has been legitimately obtained (ie is not an illegally exported coin from the period after 1984) is a vague and potentially euphemistic "from a California collection"? I'd say in a case like this, it is very much caveat emptor. Of course every single freshly dug-up coin since 1984 from Greece, Turkey or any other likely source country unless it was reported to and released by the appropriate authorities (and exported by the appropriate procedure) is on the market illegally. So why is a reputable dealer offering anything less than an adequate collecting history for such a high value item? Why are the papers establishing collecting history apparently missing?

Or are they? I suppose the best way Mr Rubinger can hang on to his money is by showing the court that the object has a verifiable collecting history taking it back to an unimpeachable archaeological context, and the best way Berk can get his is demonstrating to the court that the person who sold it to him cannot demonstrate that the object has been in existence for any time before the date it was sold to him. Context matters.

Mr Berk and associates are known to have sold a couple more such coins in recent years, and there may have been sales that took place in less public venues than online auctions, so it is not yet clear whether of not the "Gemini III" coin is the one concerned. Watch this space.

* There was also the "Carchemish" (aka "North of Aleppo") Hoard found in 1995  on the Turkish /Syrian border, 70 km SW of Urfa and scattered by the numismatic trade (Arthur Brand's potentially explosive book on it - Het verboden Judas-evangelie en de schat van Carchemish - remaining in Dutch). Of course other unreported finds made in the Mediterranean world will have also "surfaced" (from underground) on the US market apart from these two known finds.


Cultural Property Observer said...

While your busy speculating about these coins, you might also want to speculate about the 2 specimens recently accessioned to the Alpha Bank and Greek national coin collections. More Greek hypocrisy, no?

Paul Barford said...

Peter, I was thinking of you when I wrote that.

Now, perhaps you would like to share with my readers your sources for that piece of information. Who has written the book you are basing this on? On whose website was it extracted?

Cultural Property Observer said...

You can see the Greek national coin collectiion coin on their website. I was sent a newspaper article on this awhile ago. It celebrated the arrival of the coins. Good for them, but then don't show up at CPAC and argue against unprovenanced coins as the Greeks and Alpha Bank did. No I have not read the book you cite. I have read the excellent ANS monograph on these coins.

Paul Barford said...

Wait, wait, wait so they are "unprovenanced or actually illegally exported? Does Fischer- Bossert assert this in his 2008 monograph?

More to the point, the dealers who reportedly handled these two coins:
Busso Peus Nachfolger
Freeman and Sear,
Goldberg and
Numismatica Ars Classica
all belong to the numismatic associations which you represent, don't they? So are you accusing them of some kind of wrong-doing? Or do you think their handling the coins was all within the law? If it was, then what is the problem with Greece acquiring them, instead of a US collector?

Where do you get your Greek coins from? Do you buy from dealers like these, do you recommend buying from dealers like this, members of the IAPN etc?

Cultural Property Observer said...

You are putting words in my mouth. I'm happy the Greeks have these coins to display. I'm not accusing anyone of wrongdoing, just the Greeks of hypocricy. It sounds like you are the one accusing. Please take your complaints to Athens.

Paul Barford said...

Then you might like to explain the comment: "you might also want to speculate about the 2 specimens recently accessioned to the Alpha Bank and Greek national coin collections. More Greek hypocrisy, no?"

Why would it be "hypocrisy" if everything was above-board? It only would become so it it were not. Your comment makes no sense, unless you were implying there is some problem with the coins handled by the four firms mentioned (all IAPN members I believe). Surely that fact should imply there is NO problem with those coins and no conceivable problem with people buying them? Is that not so?

Anyway this seems to me to be a typical coiney lobbyist deflection technique. We are talking about FAKE COINS on the US market, allegedly being sold by one long-established and reputable dealer to another who apparently was initially taken in (also having the benefit of Fischer-Bossert's book and its discussion of the problem of fakes). So how many other fakes are floating around the no-questions-asked market? I think THAT is the question we, and collectors, should be discussing. If Harlan Berk can be fooled by a good fake, just who is immune?

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