Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Just How Dodgy the Coin trade is: Arnold Peter Weiss Pleads Guilty

Those coins always looked to me suspect, too fussy and the Akragas looked like it was a copy of another in a published collection, but who am I to question what the US authorities are up to, eh? (back in January, I was asked to keep my suspicions to myself, so did, but glad to see I am not going crazy). Anyway it turns out that those "priceless ancient coins" "weren't worth a wooden nickel".
Arnold-Pete Weiss, 51, had originally been busted for turning up at a Waldorf-Astoria auction in criminal possession of a [...] stolen [...] Tetradrachm. There's no paperwork. I know this is a fresh coin," Weiss confided to an undercover who was posing as a prospective coin buyer. "This was dug up a few years ago," he said, admitting that he knew the coin was illegal -- in this case, the property of the Italian government, where he thought it had been unearthed. Investigators soon found that two additional ostensibly priceless coins had been in Weiss's possession -- again believed by Weiss to be looted from Italian soil.
"The experts of the world believed these coins to be real at the time of Weiss' arrest", assistant district attorney Matthew Bogdanos said Tuesday morning at a hearing in Manhattan Criminal Court". Well, that is not exactly true, there were in fact several people in the ancient coin world who immediately after the arrest were also expressing scepticism about the appearance of the coin in the photos, though they were hushed out of regard for the reputation of the firm selling them. But obviously it was enough to make the authorities take a look at the authenticity of the coins before finally bringing the case to court and the defence bringuing numismatic expert opinion into the courtroom:
"It was not until the use of a scanning electron microscope that it was determined that each of the three coins were in fact forgeries. Exquisite, extraordinary, nonetheless but forgeries," said the prosecutor. 
Weiss pleaded guilty on July 3rd to "trying to sell three ancient silver coins that he thought were stolen and worth millions but which turned out to be remarkably clever forgeries". He will serve 70 hours of community service, pay a fine of 3000 dollars and must author an article warning of the risks of dealing in coins of unknown or looted provenance for publication in a coiney publication.
As for three coins -- once considered worth a total of nearly three million dollars -- they will become property of the DA's office and are to be destroyed, the judge said. 
Wait, wait wait. That's it? Somebody is churning out "exquisite, extraordinary [...] remarkably clever forgeries" and there will be no investigation, who, when where, where Mr Weiss got them from? Where other example from the same workshop ended up? In public collections in the US for example (ANS Weiss collection, anyone?). No these coins should NOT be destroyed, they should be held as evidence for future cases involving the products of the same workshop, or at least donated to a US national collection. I've half a mind to start a campaign to "SAVE THE WEISS FORGERIES!". Who wants to join?

Coins are only works of art when they are worth a lot of money?  Cannot good forgeries of ancient coins be works of art too?

 Source: Lauro Italiano, 'World-renowned surgeon pleads guilty to attempting to sell fake coins', New York Post July 3rd 2010.

See also: Jennifer Pelz, 'RI MD admits guilt in NY rare-coin case with twist', Huffington Post July 3, 2012

 UPDATE: Chasing Aphrodite: 'The Case of the Dodgy Drachmas: Arnold Peter Weiss, Prominent Rhode Island Surgeon, Pleads Guilty; “Looted” Coins Prove Forgeries'. July 3rd 2010

Rick St Hilaire: 'Weiss Pleads Guilty to Attempted Possession Charges in New York - State Criminal Law Applied Successfully in Cultural Property Case' Cultural Heritage Lawyer 3rd July 2012

 ["The convictions for attempted criminal possession will have to be studied in the coming weeks. That is because the convictions represent a breakthrough for the successful application of state criminal laws, as opposed to federal criminal laws alone, to combat international cultural property trafficking. Fakes and forgeries of antiquities, ancient coins, and other cultural property are found in the illicit market along with authentic trafficked artifacts, so today's courtroom result is no less significant."]

Then there is this article, the wording of which pulls few punches:
 Janon Fisher, 'Prominent hand surgeon pleads guilty to selling phony ancient coins to undercover agent',  New York Daily News 3rd July 2012
[I think Mr Fisher is confusing two cases here, the coins were not "sold" to an agent. The same journalist states - without citing his sources - that "Herbert Kreindler, a Long Island coin dealer who Weiss says sold him the bad pennies, was not charged in the crime"].

Vignette: Would you buy a used coin from this man?

1 comment:

Dorothy King said...

I'll join the campaign!

Considering how many amazing "wow" coins have passed through CNG, this is rather worrying news. There have been extraordinary fakes of more modern coins made in China, but most don't get past the experienced dealers - but the idea of very good ancient fakes which will fool some dealers is worrying.

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