Friday 23 December 2016

"Found it in a Book Provenance"

Instagram account Artancient:
A beautiful ancient Greek coin with a remarkable newly discovered provenance. Once owned by the famous archaeologist, Sir Arthur Evans (1851 - 1941), subsequently in the collection of and published in 1913 by Robert Jameson. An ancient Greek silver stater, minted by the city of Metapontum, circa 330 BC. Showing a fine portrait of the goddess of the harvest, Demeter. The deity is shown with wild hair, her thick locks cascading down her neck and bound with two stalks of barley, she wears an elegant pendant earring.
The issue is however that the passage from the Jameson collection to the present owner cannot be reconstructed by 'found-it-in-a-book provenance'. All that can do is document that the coin was above ground, and out of the source country at a given date (here the publication of the catalogue). More to the point =- given the usual 'its from an old (undocumented) collection' argument trotted out by no-questions-asked dealers... where are the rest of the coins shown in that catalogue? How many survived the past century, and how many were lost? The number of coins in circulation on the market today is vastly greater than the number that would have made up the pool available half a century ago, even not taking into account the numbers lost through war, neglect or disaster.

The second question is of course, how many 'found it in a book provenances' (reconstructed collecting histories) were actually recovered by the buyer identifying it before the purchase?  Did not most of the identifications take place once a buyer had a coin in hand and was looking for its history retrospectively? In which case, one can hardly talk of due diligence.

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