Saturday, 30 June 2018

Can a FLO tell the Difference? [UPDATED] Museum Coiney Joins Discussion

More silly 'on this day' artefact showcasing, this one from Garstang Museum up in the North of England
Byzantine Empress Theodora died #onthisday in AD548. Originally a dancer/courtesan she rose to become (arguably) the most influential woman in Byzantine history. #girlpower #thisgirlcan CC.918 Copper coin depicting bust of Theodora.
Except the coin shown (top) is what seems to be a badly chemically-patinated cast fake bearing little resemblance to real coins (bottom) of any empress Theodora - and they've got the wrong one anyway. This one (Flavia Maximiana Theodora) was the second wife of Constantius I and dates to the fourth century, not the sixth. You would think the FLO would know the difference, but he retweeted it too.

Garstang Museum coin at the top, a Wildwinds
one at the bottom, both from the 'antiquities' market
Heritage professionals misleading the public.

UPDATE 10.07.18
Oh dear, the Durham FLO has lost it:

I suppose if you've got nothing better to write about, this will have to substitute for it. What this is is using archaeological artefacts as illustrations of historiography and not as archaeological evidence (this is precisely what is behind that PAS 'artefact collecting is citizen archaeology because archaeology is digging up old things' model that I find so dodgy). If Mr Westwood would look at the PAS aims, and see whether the Scheme is for talking about archaeological context or illustrating history books, perhaps he'd not lose sight of the fact that the liaison he's paid to do is of a different character.

Now coming back to that unhappy bronze coin of Flavia Maxima Theodora.... Here's what he had to say in response to my question whether he as an FLO could tell the difference between a cast fake brought to him by a metal detectorist and an authentic coin. He snorts:
err...Yes.i'm not a 'misleading the public' as you libellously claim. Are happy with your disingenuous blog post & fanciful claims? I'd strongly urge you to retract/delete. So it's the wrong Theodora: Mea Culpa. I RT'd a nice image with a nice sentiment. But [emoticon] 
Well, I am not retracting anything, the FLO in his 'heritage engagement' with the public was misleading them by disseminating a post presenting a fourth century coin as one minted in the name of a sixth century empress (the one who died 'on that day'). That is not libel, it is however a fact that undermines the PAS's credibility. I personally think archaeology consists of a little bit more than disseminating  'nice pictures and nice sentiments'. I have no idea what Garstang Museum think, they have not responded to my request for information where that coin came from.

Just to show he can tell the cast fakes from struck originals apart, Mr Westwood then adds
You've compared a Constantinople mint coin to one clearly from Trier (TRS+dot)
well, I could have taken the picture from Wikipedia I suppose. That's TRS+dot. I do not see however the relevance to the question of his ability to detect if a 'finder' tries to pull a fast one.  In addition Mr Westwood writes:
'badly chemically patinated cast fake'......please [...] I'm no coin expert (& never claimed to be, clearly you're not either...) so maybe will confirm: badly struck or poss a contemporary copy?
Since coins make up a considerable portion of the 'metal detected' finds selected by artefact hunters for recording by the PAS (and in other databases), it seems to me that employing somebody as an FLO that is not knowledgeable about this kind of object is a mistake one that could compromise the database now finds records are being verified much less than they were in the Scheme's early years. Mr Westwood may assume that I am 'not a coin expert either' but I guess the fact is that of the two of us, when I saw the coin that he had perceived as a 'nice image', I realised at once that it was not what it was being marketed as. But the FLO retweeted the 'nice sentiments' (wishful thinking) without checking. Again, what is going into that PAS 'database' in Durham?

But as asked, along comes Matthew Ball from the Department of Coins and Medals of the Fitzwilliam Museum. He says the coin highlighted by the FLO is "real" but then adds some more comments about my 'agenda'.

Leaving aside the fact that the blog I run has indeed several agendas, which is why it is here, let's have a look at why I am less than convinced still - despite what the coiney (who of course will have no agenda) asserts - that it is 'real'.

Now here's a nice thing for all you coin collectors out there. A bit of education. Dealers and collectors, if you have a coin that looks like this with blurry details, the relief portions merging with the field, a poorly-formed and uneven inscription apparently understruck all round and 'worn', but the details elsewhere more intact, the design curling round the flan edge and with patches deliberately left of that very dodgy even, clean, waxy green deposit right on the oxidised surface.... and you thought it was a distressed fake, good news. Matthew Ball from the Fitz will apparently write you an opinion on the basis of the photo that its a pukka real coin and you can flog it as such on eBay.

But I feel a dearth of education from this Museum professional. I'd like him now to give us the reaction equations how he thinks that a corrosion product sequence like the one we see here formed if he is telling us that his 'real' object got like that from being in the ground. I've seen this 'patina' before, but not on ground-dug objects. Dr Ball might see it in collection trays - but are any of the objects that exhibit it actually 'grounded' with real paperwork?

Garstang Museum Tweet

And the picture below: looking like this is not due to this object being cast according to Mr Ball, its due to it being "real". Those wouldn't be air bubbles in the exergue would they? Mr Ball would have us believe, I guess, that this is localised corrosion pitting, but again, I am interested in learning from him how such a thing could happen to a coin in this general condition - and a very interesting condition if is is a properly grounded object recovered from an archaeological deposit. Is it? Mr Ball says it is.

Garstang Museum
FLO seems to have implicit confidence in authenticity of 'cheap Roman coins' brought in:
  13 godz.13 godzin temu
[...] why on earth would anyone go to the trouble of forging a Cu coin worth at best about 15 quid? Take it on the chin, listen to the expert, admit you're wrong.
I am waiting to be educated why I am wrong. Mr Ball has still not substantiated his verdict in light of my questions.

I think this adequately addresses the first point. I do think PAS FLOs are missing out on information if they refuse to read certain blogs.  My questions to Mr Ball, RIC number or no RIC number:
I am still waiting for a more substantive answer from Mr Ball. Tell me, the Garstang coin, cast or struck? Why 'real' and not modern meant to deceive? Here characterising the corrosion seems pretty vital. Heritage engagement please, answers for a 'layman'.
Still unanswered. Without that, I cannot judge if he is right or wrong when he issues from above the one-word verdict "real". To me the coin looks like a cast copy, and that corrosion looks like a modern chemical 'patina' made to look like this is a badly cleaned earth-dug find.

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