Monday 2 June 2014

Alexandrian Tetras and US Coiney Dishonesty

PAS NARC-675913
There is a group of Philistine coineys in the US who are opposing treating Egyptian artefacts in a civilized manner (requiring evidence of licit export for ones freshly entering the US). They are making much of the fact that:
"While a “closed monetary system” argument may be of greater validity when we speak of Roman Egypt, new research based on finds recorded under the Portable Antiquities Scheme also demonstrates that Roman Egyptian Tetradrachms --which had the value of one Roman silver Denarius-- travelled as far away as Britain". 
There is of course no link or reference given to this alleged "new research". What the paid lobbyist of the dugup coin dealers is doing is  of course presenting something which is only partly true. Most of the just over four dozen coins to which these people refer were struck in the third quarter of the third century and were types in circulation after the Diocletianic reforms. The breakdown of the PAS database figures looks like this:
Antoninus Pius (1 - IARCW)
Commodus (1 
Gordian III (1
- LEIC-50AA45 - provenance totally unknown
Gallienus (1
Claudius II (2
CORN-3A5788, garden find, + Ludgvan CORN-B5B026 )
Vabalathus (2 - IARCW two from same findspot [!] -
'Whitland Abbey')
Aurelian (2 - IARCW + 
BH-4B0A84  [little wear or corrosion])
Probus (9 - including SF-D219E1: 

The appearance of this coin (very little patina) [and]  the fact it was found in a garden suggests that it might not be an ancient loss. Also WMID-20F988 "this coin was mostly likely found in Egypt recently (possibly during World War One or World War Two) and was then brought back to this country" and LVPL-5C9983 a garden find and two IARCW notes)
Carinus (2 IOW-4C0444 and   LVPL-7EDC65 )
Maximian I (4, two IARCW notes,
BH-358945 "Coin has little wear or corrosion")
Diocletian (14 - including
"This coin was found over 60 years ago, perhaps in the 1930s, by the grandfather of the person listed as finder. It was found in a river, but the condition of the metal suggests it had not been in the ground or water for very long, and it would be an unusual find in the UK. It is therefore much more likely to be an antiquarian loss, curated in a collection before becoming lost, rather than being deposited through archaeological means"LVPL-221354 "Found in Laindon, Basildon, Essex while building a summer house on their farm land before the war"- little patina, an old collection object [the photo looks very much like a cast fake]; Apparently found with: LVPL-21DE60 "Found in Laindon, Bassledon (sic), Essex while building a summer house on their farm land before the war. From old lady now living in Meols, but found in Essex" [excruciatingly bad photograph seems however to show artificailly patinated tourist fake]. Both records in 2009 by Ms Vanessa Oakden, finds returned to finder - record not yet verified. There is also  NCL-AE9AE1: "found on the coast at South Shields in the 1890s, where Eastern coins are known from a hoard, possible shipwreck, and as individual finds" [no other of these "eastern coins" is in the database, South Shields has been in the past a favourite made-up provenance in the region]. BH-358515 "Coin is in good condition with little wear or corrosion" )

After AD 295 Alexandria produced coinage to the same pattern as the rest of the Roman mints. "4th century issues distinguished by the AL or ALE mintmark are rare as UK finds" (24 listed here and here).

As can be seen, if one examines this group of objects with care, it emerges that it is extremely problematic. The coineys slyly skip over the fact that in the records of many of them either explicitly mention the possibility that these coins are 'planted' ("old collection losses") or their state differs markedly from what one would expect from a metal object freshly excavated from a southeastern English field. It seems to me that there is a possibility that a fair number of these coins are modern imports scattered from the ephemeral collections of once-enthusiastic schoolboys, the frequency with which they turn up in gardens and in a condition much different from normal finds seems very much to support this conclusion - and illustrates another danger of private collecting). 

George Boon in 1973, so just before the impact of metał detectors, published a neat little booklet in the National Museum of Wales, 'A Hundred and One Coins' (Cardiff 1973 ISBN 0 7200 0052 1) which describes the coins that were commonly being brought in to the museum by members of the public for identification. The fourth type is an Alexandrian tetra:
This is a typical tetradrachm (four drachma piece) of the later 3rd century A.D. Such coins are extremely common. They were brought to Britain recently by soldiers and are often dug up in gardens. They did not circulate at all in Roman Britain [...]
If one strips out the information about both types of occurrence in the PAS database, the latter with its 324,652 Roman coins presents the opposite picture to that claimed in the superficial arguments of careless and perhaps deliberately deceptive US coin collectors together with dealers and their lobbyists. Alexandrian tretradrachms and drachms were only a very incidental part of the coinage circulation in this region of the Roman Empire. The PAS record FAKL-EB9B86 calls these coins "a highly unusual find for Britain", a comment wilfully ignored by those who wish to employ the PAS database for political ends. When will we see some proper arguments and an end to all the deceptions of the collecting lobby?

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