Friday 19 December 2014

How did these coins enter the UK Market?

Spink's, linked to past sales of Koh Ker statues and supplier to the ACCG, is primarily known as a coin shop. Their recent Auction: 14007 ("Ancient, British and Foreign Coins and Commemorative Medals") held a few days ago, contemporary with conflict and looting going on in not-so-distant Syria, caught my eye. I was discussing the case of a coin yesterday (Auction 14007, Lot: 484) where the sellers were telling us (more or less) where it was found, the exact date, and what had happened to it since it was dug up to legitimise it as a genuine British find. What a contrast with three other lots I passed in the catalogue while looking for it.

As we have all seen, dealers are bending over backwards to say "there is no recently looted stuff from Syria and Iraq coming on the market". I ask how they can tell that when they obviously have no information to pass on to prospective buyers that the items they sell are not objects recently surfaced and smuggled from the region being silently passed off as though "from an old collection".

Take these three lots, all coins minted in and circulating within precisely the region currently being affected by conflict looting and theft. Two of them small high value pieces, easily smuggled, the other the sort of low value bulk find that comes from mass digging of ancient sites for collectables (the Syrian equivalent of 'Roman grots') Where, in the sales description is any indication that the consigners can provide assurance that these items are not the proceeds of such activities? If the seller has such documentation, why is it not being presented (or mentioned) here in the sales offer? Is it because the seller is convinced that the thought that care should be exercised here to avoid buying dodgy goods has crossed the mind of a single one of the buyers in their auction?

Lot: 46 (x) Umayyad, temp. 'Abd al-Malik (685-705), AV Dinar, 4.27g, mintless type (Damascus), AH78 (Bernardi 41; A.125), good very fine
Lot: 46 
 Lot: 47 (x) Umayyad, temp. 'Abd al-Malik, AV Dinar, 4.24g, mintless type (Damascus), AH79 (Bernardi 42; A.125), very fine
Lot: 47
Lot: 48 (x) Umayyad and Abbasid, AE Fals (c.60), an interesting group, many with mint names: Dimashq, Halab, Homs, Jordan, Ramlah, Tabaria, fine to very fine, some scarce (lot)
Lot: 48 
Responsible collectors will obviously want to verify that any items they are considering buying are not coming from contemporary or past conflict zones and are not the products of looting, coercion or theft. The information offered by Spink in these three cases is not sufficient to do that, even though elsewhere in the same catalogue there are coins offered with even the actual date of finding given. When are UK dealers going to demonstrate a commitment to supporting responsible collection by dealing only in material whose licit origins can be guaranteed and verified?

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