Monday 10 May 2021

Balkan Antiquities Manna on US Market: Thirteen years on


I wish I'd updated this earlier, but time passes, and we do not always keep up with it. So I dropped the ball a little here, I see. On Monday 20th Jan 2014 I did a post on this blog 'Balkan Antiquities Manna on US Market: Five years on'. This referred to four previous articles ("Three pounds of Somebody Else’s History in Pieces" 28.09.08,  "Balkan Artefacts like Manna?" 20.01.09; "Bulgarian Antiquities" - The Oddest Thing", 01.04.09; followed by  Antiquity Seller Claims "Bulgarian Bonanza is over" 10.07.09). I want to look at the same issue - bulk lots of Bulgarian artefacts on eBay - from today's perspective.  

First on my original list was Empire Ancients (Danny Harris, Cordova, Tennessee, ebay: empiredanny). He's gone from the 7443 feedback he had seven years ago to 11563 (590 a year). It says: "Positive Feedback (last 12 months): 100% Member since: Nov-25-00 in United States Top-rated seller: One of eBay's most reputable sellers. Consistently delivers outstanding customer service". Seven years on, however, his sales offer has changed quite a lot. First of all, from the 3,147  listed items on sale he had seven years ago ("mostly coins and artefacts - mostly the sort of thing you'd find on archaeological sites in the Balkans", I wrote), he now has 47 (see below). 

Next, on the my list was Ancient Treasures (Plamen Arsoff, Granada Hills CA 91394, eBay ancient_treasures). He had  
55997 feedback seven years ago. Now he seems to have stopped trading. Interestingly when I discussed him last time, he was selling much fewer items than had been the case earlier

Then there was Cameleon Coins (Alex Stanichev, Winettka, also in Los Angeles CA, United States, eBay  cameleoncoins) last time I discussed him, he had 14171 feedback, and again he had fewer items than before and of much more varied nature. I wrote in 2009: "the offering gives the impression of the dregs end of a larger assemblage, mixed in with modern tat". Now he too seems to have gone out of business.  

I also discussed Ancient Caesar (Ilian Lalev, Newton, MA 02458, eBay ancientcaesar) In 2009 his feedback was 18939. He had 567 artefacts on offer, but again a bit of a mixed bag. I also noted: "maybe its the photography, but at first sight not all of his artefacts look all that convincing to me". He also seems not to be trading. Possibly because a lot of people suspected by about 2011 that many of his artefacts were 'not as described'.   

Then we come to Mr Gantcho Zagorski (Diana Coins - Hackensack , NJ ebay dianacoins/ paganecoins0oh6, feedback 2112 + 7617 in 2009). You can look him up in the internet to see what kind of adventures he has been having. In 2009 he'd already stopped trading under his former names.

This is quite an interesting pattern. Four of these guys have eastern European names, all four of them between 1998/9 and 2009 sold extremely large numbers of artefacts of fairly homogeneous composition that look for all the world like artefacts metal detected from sites in the Danube/Balkan region. Some time after 2009 the trade comes to an end. 

That recalls something that I took at the time to be hyperbole. The Californian dealer exclaimed "The Bulgarian Bonanza, as I used to call it, is apparently over". Could it be that the excesses of the US antiquities trade within a decade had virtually emptied the productive sites that fed it? 

Coming back to the inventory of Empire Danny, of his 47 items, 32 are labelled as being "Viking" and from "Lake Ladoga". They are given this collecting history, or a variant of it:

This item is a Lake Ladoga Viking [....], as seen in the photos.
This item is GUARANTEED to be AUTHENTIC Ancient artifact dating from the 8th to the 11th centuries AD.
This item was found while metal detecting in the Lake Ladoga region of Russia. This item was purchased from a collector that lives in Germany. He purchased it from a seller in Russia over 20 years ago. Per Ebay policy, this item was LEGALLY imported into the US. The ruler is in millimeters (mm).

First of all, the German buyer about 2001 can't have bought the item legally from Russia without an export licence. Secondly most of these items are not Viking, but East Baltic (not my area, but I'm going to guess from metal detecting in Latvia - not Soviet Union by 2001, but still needs export licence). That most of these items are female personal ornament suggests to me that this material comes from grave robbing. 


Then there are several "Sarmatian" items with collecting histories going like this:
Rare 3rd to 5th Century Sarmatian [...], as seen in the photos.
This item is of legal provenance per ebay policy. I purchased this item in 2016 in a large lot of metal detector finds from a collector in Germany. This item was brought into this country legally per the laws in place in the US at the time it was imported and laws that are still in place today. This item is guaranteed to be an authentic ancient item that was found with a metal detector in Russia.
If he means Russia and not Ukraine, one wonders whether this was the same German collector, and what their connections were. Then there is a: "Medieval period bronze finger ring as seen in the photos. This item is of legal provenance per ebay policy. I purchased this item in 2015 in a lot of metal detector finds from a collector in Croatia. This item was brought into this country legally per the laws in place in the US at the time it was imported. I have included a scanned image of the shipping document that was approved by Croatia for export to the USA. This ring is guaranteed to be an authentic artifact that was found with a metal detector in Croatia". And metal detecting and pocketing the artefacts is legal in Croatia? The document is dated to just after the end of the 1991-95 Croatian War of Independence.

It would seem that the Bulgarian looted artefacts bonanza is truly over. No longer can you find bags of uncleaned ancient coins sold by the kilogramme, they are now all counted out. Four of the dealers that were handling bulk lots of artefacts have gone out of business, only Empire Danny is still in operation, but his stock comes from somewhere else. And back in bulgaria, the sites that all that stuff came from lie empty and bare.

and where now ARE all those artefacts? In what state are they in? How many of the loose bits have been binned already? And how many have any documentation tying their presence in a box in a collector's Californian home to this episode of destructive and criminal looting of distant European sites?

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