Saturday, 12 March 2016

Baldwin's Don't Handle... Questions very well.

In the "collecting" section of the  "Life and arts" column of the Financial Times, Georgina Adam ('Antiquities: The spoils of war', March 11, 2016) on behalf of her readers asks some English-speaking dealers for their thoughts on: "What’s really happening to the treasures being looted from the Middle East? Are they funding Isis?" One of those asked is "a spokesman for" the London numismatics dealer Baldwin’s who stated:
there is not a large market for coins from Syria and Iraq, with Greek, Roman and Byzantine items being the major field. “In any case,” he said, “we do not handle anything from these regions. And there are plenty of coins available already on the legal market. There really isn’t a black market in these items.
Weasel words. Syria and Iraq are both modern countries, and I do not expect there is a huge demand for their currency among 'world coin' collectors. But Greek (inc. Seleucid), Roman and Byzantine coins from the area are sought-after just as much as those from any other part of the Empire, all of them sold in "ooops-I-seem-to-have-lost-the-paperwork-you-don't-mind-do-you" mode masquerading as part of that magically expansive "old collection" stock (that "legal market" nudge-nudge. wink-wink). Since Roman coins circulated widely, who is to say where actually a freshly surfaced (|from underground?") paperless artefact was actually dug up and howm where and when it entered the market? How can one deny that the artefacts come from XYZ when in fact prevented from knowing where something did come from by its separation from the paperwork documenting those circumstances?  It's like paperless birds' eggs.

We are asked to believe that "there really isn't a black market in items from this region" - um take a moment to click on eBay's medieval coins section and type the word Islamic into the search box. Then find one with a collecting history (then add a few to your watch list and see what percentage are actually sold over the next week or so to collectors who don't give a damn).  well, what else is a spokesman for a coin dealer to say? How many Baldwins' items are up for sale today with a verifiable collecting history given up-front? Well, let us take a look at what they sell:
Ooops, "we do not handle anything from these regions" probably means that the Islamic and middle east coins were magically conjured up in Bavaria by the Coin Elves, bless them. I suppose the same goes for the four coins from the Kingdom of Syria (name ring a bell?) , none of which are "five dollar coins" and none of which have any kind of collecting history stated up-front. What about the coins of Crusader kingdoms of Antioch and Tripoli, where were they dug up? How and when did they enter the market? Again no collecting history is offered up-front for most of them. The one exception is a pathetic "Ex Paul Edis collection, Baldwin’s auction 80, 8 May 2013, lot 2668" - so a collecting history going back all of three years. How and when did this item enter the market when the first known appearance was after the beginning of the civil war in Syria?

I really do not understand how a spokesman can deny flatly that the firm he represents handles coins from this region, when a mouse click away we (Georgina Adam also) can find out that they do. Perhaps dealers are used to collectors accepting anything they say at face value no-questions-asked. But collectors are only a minority interest group. There is a huge non-collecting public out here who are perfectly capable of checking out for themselves the facts behind glib soothing statements. 

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