Monday, 15 April 2013

The So-Called "Horus" Collection of Islamic Coins of Barely-Known Collecting Histories

Baldwin’s Auctions are selling on May 9th the so-called "Horos/Horus Collection of coins from the IslamicWorld", "acquired by a collector with knowledge and a discerning eye".
The coins have been owned by the same European collector, now in his 80s, for the last 35 years. He built up the collection by attending auctions in the likes of Switzerland, France, the U.S. and Britain [...] He has children and grandchildren - none of whom are interested in the coins. He doesn't want them to be wasted so that's why he has put them up for sale. He has been keeping them in a bank in recent years for security purposes, because of how much they are worth.’(Mark Duell, "First coin to record Islamic phrase 'There is no God but Allah' expected to sell in set of 56 gold dinars for £500,000 at auction", Daily Mail, 15 April 2013):
So, he's not been studying them and doing die link investigations on them? No monographic tomes of weighty numismatic and history-creating import? This is, is it not, the "justification" always offered fpor the private accumulation of heaps of decontextualised archaeological objects like these. Baldwins say:
As a collection with particular focus on the issues from Egypt and The Near East formed over the past 35 years, this promises to be one of the most remarkable auctions of Islamic coins to be offered for public auction in recent years. [...] The pedigree of individual coins has been given wherever possible. Many of the most important pieces have been acquired from the leading auction houses specialising in Islamic coins: Spink- Zürich (1986-1991), Sotheby’s, Morton and Eden, A H Baldwin & Sons Ltd, including the Emirates Coin Auctions in Dubai, Münzen und Medaillen (Basel), and Giessener Munzhandlung (Munich). The principal dealer sources were Spink and Son Ltd, Stephen Album and Andre de Clermont. 
They claim that it is rare for a collection of this size and importance to be offered in a single sale, and that this "provides an opportunity for all collectors interested in this field". Those of course who are not at all bothered by the fact that most of the coins have nothing whatsoever that could be termed a collecting history (and those that merely have "bought at Spink's" bring to mind that it was this firm that exported the coins to the USA which became the subject Baltimore Illegal Coin Import Stunt and are currently in the news as having handled several chunks of Cambodian temple that are currently in the US courts). Among the coins with no stated origins is that which figures most prominently in the Mail article (lot 4085 77AH, struck by Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan).  [similar one sold recently by Palmyra Heritage]

So how many holes in the archaeological sites of the transition between the Post-Classical world and the rise of Islam in how many countries does this collection represent? Has it generated any knowledge commensurate with the degree of destruction of the archaeological record that the accumulation of such a group represents? Or are they just trophies, glittering geegaws? An illustration of a history created from other sources, as opposed to having been part of the creating of new historical knowledge through the archaeological study of the deposits from which they have been wrenched?

Vignette: coin


Cultural Property Observer said...

I suspect the collector will do quite well selling his collection. He began it well before these coins became popular, what with increasing demand from collectors amongst the Gulf Arabs. And what's really wrong with that? Nothing, quite frankly except perhaps in the extremes of archaeo-world where you live. Instead of turning over a new leaf as you had suggested on your blog, your nasty blogs about people whom you don't know have just increased. This really is unfortunate because you might do better taking a different tact.

Paul Barford said...

Tack? (As in sailing).

I see nothing inherently "nasty" about pointing out that one can collect responsibly (PAS-way, with attention paid to the information of findspots) or irresponsibly (without bothering about where things came from and how they came on the market). What is "nasty" about saying that one considers one to be more desirable than another?

What I do think is nasty and wholly insensitive is marketing the collection of Islamic coins under the name of a foreign pagan god.

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