Tuesday 16 April 2013

What do we Know About the "Seven Hills Hoard"?

Over the past few months many Roman silver coins have been surfacing (from underground?) on the international market which are sold as having come from something called the "Seven Hills Hoard" said to have been "just recently uncovered" in the region of Rome, Italy. Beyond that, very little information is offered about the exact findspot within the ten square kilometres which those seven hills encompass. "The Seven Hills of Rome are located east of the river Tiber and make up the heart of Rome, resting within the walls of the ancient city. Bringing focus to that area recently was the news of a now-famous hoard of more than 7,000 Roman silver coins that were discovered in the region" - as if the American collector needs the discovery of a ("piece of history in your hand") hoard to focus their attention on the city of Rome.

Neither is it clear what the seller has in mind by the term "now-famous". it seems to me from a cursory search that there is little information about this find in the official literature (I stand to be corrected on this). It is quite instructive to see who has these coins. One dealer offering them is New York Mint. Bill Gale - Burnsville, MN 55337 / Minneapolis, MN ("A Resource you can trust"). He is selling a "5pc Roman Denarius Family Set Ngc-vf 7 Hills Hoard". You get five "pedigreed"  denarii of the  Severan emperors represented in the hoard: Septimus Severus, Caracalla, Geta, Elagabalus, and Severus Alexande, "certified" by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. (NGC) :
You can now thrill to the rise and fall of an entire dynasty—hand—struck in Roman silver over 1,700 years ago and preserved in museum—quality condition for seventeen centuries. Each ruler's coin comes in matching NGC—certified holders bearing the important Seven Hills Hoard pedigree for posterity. Our ancient coin experts agree: this family's dramatic history should become part of your family's silver legacy!
One wonders what sort of a "pedigree" these objects come with.  New York Mint was advertising the hoard's coins (allegedly found on the road to Rome) for sale in the June 2012 issue of 'Science News', proclaiming that the hoard was "newly discovered, catalogued and brought to auction" (is this the same as "each coin has been individually registered, catalogued, certified and graded"?).

Another US "mint" - GovMint.Com “Your One Best Source for Coins Worldwide”("A Resource you can trust") from Burnsville, MN 55337 has the same offer. But that is not surprising as they are subsidiaries of the same firm - Asset Marketing Services, Inc. [officers here].

Another seller offering these coins is Leon Hendrickson, SilverTowne coins, Winchester, Indiana 47394. The latter firm is selling a variety of the denarii of this hoard in NGC slabs for prices between $160and $200. EBay seller american_rarities (sic) recently listed a Caracalla (198-217) AR Denarius NGC Seven Hills Hoard for $68 ("Coin was recovered from a 1,750 year old desert site know as the "Seven Hills Hoard". Very well preserved and appealing silver piece. Coin certified Fine by NGC". There are not many deserts in the vicinity of Rome).

What is interesting about this is that there are no references to a 'Tesoro dei sette colli' in the literature that I could track down, which rather raises the question what the US sellers want to indicate by the terms  " newly discovered, catalogued and brought to auction". Who discovered it and catalogued it, and how and why - given the specific wording of Italian antiquities laws - was it put on auction (and where) by the [presumably Italian] finders? All four dealers based in the US stress the hoard was "recently" found, which would mean that article 3 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention applies, yet NONE of them gives any indication on their website that the provisions adopted under this Convention by Italy for example were complied with. We are told we can "trust" the supplier - but not why or how, and what they have done to earn that blind "trust" in the case under discussion. 

Perhaps the dealers in question might like to explain how the coins in question left Italy and entered the USA? I am mightily curious.

Vignette: Seven Hills of... 


Cultural Property Observer said...

Reading the advertisements I'm not sure why you think this really comes from Italy. Don't all roads lead to Rome? I suspect this is just a marketing term for the group, which may or may not have been found together. These are rather common coins that could be found literally anywhere in the Empire and beyond. You really must be running out of material for your blog if you jump to a lot of conclusions to come up with a story. And I had thought you indicated you were turning over a new leaf....

Paul Barford said...

So, you are suggesting that I treat the whole thing as a pack of lies? How many other "marketing terms" in coin dealing do you consider likely to be lies? Are these not reputable dealers, and how do you define that?

I came across this group of sales when looking up something else and then blogged my thoughts on it as it raises interesting questions - like the one you mention about the reliability of information coming from commercial sources.

Paul Barford said...

Note the lack of an answer to that from the lobbyist employed by international coin dealers to represent them.

Unknown said...

I'm curious about this because I'm looking for roman coins at eBay, specially ones certified by NGC. But... my question is, can I trust it? I found your blog post by Googling this Seven Hills Hoard term.



Hope it reaches you four years later. Thanks!

Paul Barford said...

Ha ha... this blog is the last place you should be coming to ask for advice on buying undocumented artefacts! DON'T DO IT!

In this case, as you see, four years later no information whatsoever has come to light about any 'hoard' like this entering the market legally. I would suggest that that is a VERY strong indicator that those coins entered the market ILLEGALLY (I stand to be corrected on this if somebody shows us the publication containing that catalogue that they said had been done and setting out how the material entered the market legally). I'd certainly advise not touching this with a bargepole until such information appears. Better buy material that has been recorded by the PAS and entered the market legally - and KEEP THE RECORDS WITH THE COIN.

I have no idea who this seller is, the details of his account do not really inspire any confidence. He does not look like he knows about the items he sells (note he has a single slab with a different emperor from (he says) the same hoard - probably bought for speculation).

If you read a bit about them, you'll soon find out that - like dealers - not all slabbing companies are equal. I see no guarantee that the coin inside is actually from the findspot it says on the label, how did the slabbers verify that? (That's a question for NCG). There are good reasons for not relying on a slabber's say-so: http://www.ebay.com/gds/Why-Not-To-Buy-Slabbed-Coins-/10000000004841740/g.html

Look at that coin, despite the fact that the photo is taken through highly scratched-up plastic (how and where has that coin been stored/curated?) its pretty obvious that if you take into account hoard coins of that period in general, that is NOT a 'vf' specimen. Also, it may be the photo, but the seller's picture of the coin is more detailed than the slabber's, and the surface of the whole flan looks 'soapy' in that picture. Has the coin seen by the slabber been switched for another? I do not know, I do not trust any ancient coin dealer further than I could throw him. I'd avoid doing any deal with any internet seller of anything who cannot supply a very good picture and description of what actually you are getting. I see soapy surfaces here, the seller posting it up on the Internet can too - yet disregards his potential clients so much he does not make any comment on that explaining how the coin actually looks in hand. That suggests to me that he is either cheating or simply has no idea what a real ancient coin should look - so how can you trust his description at all?

But that aside, I would reject this coin as it has no verifiable documentation of licit origins.

Unknown said...

You say that because you are not a collector, I have already investigated myself and I have not reached the conclusion either, I liked the article and I say the same

Paul Barford said...

",i>You say that because you are not a collector,/i>", meaning if I were a collector you think I'd simply give into my lusts and buy it regardless?

I think there are many men out there that appreciate feminine beauty as much as myself, but unlike the current President of the United States, for all of our adult lives we all of us manage to resist the lustful 'temptation' to grab any of them by the crotch. https://youtu.be/PwWux5BAczk. I guess that there are presidents and presidents and collectors and collectors. I prefer the collectors who don't force their hands up girls' skirts and resist the temptation to buy antiquities like this.

Arash1942 said...


Do you suggest these coins? I just bought them and they are slabbed by the NGC . Can you tell me please based on image if they look authentic?

Caracalla: https://ssli.ebayimg.com/00/s/MTA2NlgxNjAw/z/3OgAAOSwCmZZPaN1/$_32.JPG?set_id=880000500F




Seleukos I :


Antiochos I:


Mithradates II:


I appreciate your opinion on these coins. I really like to have authentic coins from these rulers.


Paul Barford said...

Mr Arash, can you see what this blog is about? I bet you voted Trump too, didn't you?

The comments on the Seven Hills coin are the same as I gave the previous guy, soapy surfaces, blurry outline and odd features of the lighting (burr at 11 o'clock?), how can a coin with such poor renditon of the inscription be a VF? Since you arrived here, I presume the seller provided the documentation mentioned in the post above. Are you buying the coin or a piece of plastic? To know what it is, you need to get this out of the slab and weigh it and get the surfaces examined by someone who knows what buried metal looks like.

I would say there is a high probability that one of the other coins you have bought is a cast fake.

Arash said...

Hi Paul

Do you know how a buried metal look like? If you mean by patina I should say patina can be faked very easily and I know myself how to do that. if you mean by examining in lab there is no way for metal age. Only way I can think of is do XRF which I have done for almost al coins in my collections and they had right trace element which shows authenticity and this is based on many Phd articles I have regarding fakes and authentic roman coin in XRF. I dont think there is any issue for common people to collect ancient coins its better in my hand than be buried under ground or sitting in some museum cabinet :)

Paul Barford said...

Yes, I do know what metal looks like after its been in all sorts of soil conditions. Archaeologists do have that opportunity. Thanks for the lecture on lab analyses, actually pretty superfluous in this case. What would be 'better' would be for you to know what you are talking about before trying to lecture me on it, OK?

pap(à)zzo_2.0 said...

In my opinion, it's a fake hoard.
No hoard found in Italy (registered and catalogued) could be sell.
I'm an italian collector of ancient coins and I know very well our laws.
If a true hoard, it's illegal.
But I think that it's only a fake, a flase pedigree... a way for selling this coins with an high price!

Unknown said...

Paul, You obviously have no clue what you talking about. I think you are one of those who lobby against collectors of ancient coins! If you know your stuff tell me what XRF is??? How do you use it for authenticity?

Paul Barford said...

There are comments up above where people have names. Names. Mr/ms "Unknown" thinks names are unimportant to anyone for working out who said what, so is oblivious to the fact that it was Arash Pour who brought up X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy. Actually "Unknown", I do know very well what I am talking about, having used XRF a number of times in my work in the past in the Ancient Monuments Laboratory in Fortress House, and yes, adverse XRF results are one way of falsifying authenticity. Please use your name in any subsequent comments, or I will block you.

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