Thursday, October 15, 2009

Octodrachm seized in Switzerland: update

I recently commented on a news story (in a Greek language newspaper published in Thessaloniki) about the reported seizure of a Thraco-Macedonian coin in Switzerland. (My post was unillustrated.)

The paper does not state the auction house but it does provide key information: "Η δημοπρασία στη Ζυρίχη, που οργανώθηκε από αγγλικό οίκο, ολοκληρώθηκε την περασμένη Τρίτη και το νόμισμα πουλήθηκε αντί του ποσού των 116.500 ελβετικών φράγκων (περίπου 77.000 ευρώ)". There is an auction house with an address in London SW1 and with a further branch in Zurich (and Milan). And on Wednesday (not Tuesday) last week (October 7) lot 110 (auction 52) consisted of "Greek coins, Kings of the Bisaltae, Mosses, Octodrachm". Lot 110 sold for 100,000 Swiss francs (excluding buyer's fee). The buyer's "premium" was 16,500 Swiss francs giving a total price of 116,500 Swiss francs. Moreover the newspaper report described the octodrachm: "προέρχεται από την περιοχή της αρχαίας Βισαλτίας και κόπηκε επί βασιλείας ενός Μοσσή".

The description of the coin in the Zurich sale describes it as "Apparently unique and unpublished". It is therefore not unreasonable to assume that this coin and the one described by the Thessaloniki newspaper are one and the same.

The auction house in question is a member of the International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN). The IAPN website states:
The IAPN is a non-profit organisation of the leading international numismatic firms founded 1951. The objectives of the Association are the development of a healthy and prosperous numismatic trade conducted according to the highest standards of business ethics and commercial practice.
A member of IAPN would no doubt wish to co-operate with the Interpol investigation into the coin.

I have contacted the London and Zurich offices of the coin dealership but have not received a reply.

But the story does not end there. A Washington lobbyist and legal officer to a cultural property research institute has questioned the story; indeed he is even an "avid collector" of Greek coins (though from Greek colonies in Southern Italy and Sicily). (The basis of his rejection seems to be the use of a stock photograph of an ancient coin to the illustrate the article in the Thessaloniki newspaper.) Moreover the same lobbyist works for a law firm that appears to be retained by the IAPN.

And the IAPN is one of three bodies that are involved with a FOIA request served on the US State Department (see details).

So why should a Washington lobbyist object to people drawing attention to a story? Should coin collectors be aware that Interpol could move against specific coins? Or does the Zurich seizure highlight an uncomfortable truth about recently surfaced coins?

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1 comment:

Cultural Property Observer said...

David,

I'm not sure what the FOIA case has to do this and I can only assume that the auction house in question will comply with any legal process they may receive. In the interim, please at least link to my own post in the matter if you are going to reference it in your own. See http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2009/10/gill-post-on-coin-seizure-does-not-add.html

Sincerely,

Peter Tompa

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