Saturday, November 13, 2010

Coins from Bulgaria

There are reports that Bulgarian police have stopped the auction of medieval coins reported to have come from Bulgaria ("Bulgarian Police Bust Illegal Medieval Coins Auction", Novinite [Sofia] November 11, 2010). The sale is reported to have been through the London registered Classical Numismatic Group (CNG). Apparently the sale included material from a collection stolen in 2007. It would seem to be a good example of pan-European co-operation.

But there must be another question. The London office of CNG was involved with the silver denarius of Brutus. At that time Eric McFadden of CNG was quoted in the London press:
"One looks at the deal on the table. We're business people. If there's any indication something's not legitimate, we don't deal in it."
If that is the case, how did CNG come into the possession of the Bulgarian material? Who sold it to them? What were their sources?

And it should be noted that McFadden wrote an extensive submission on the recent proposed MOU with Greece. This latest incident over the Bulgarian material puts McFadden's comments in new light.

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18 comments:

Cultural Property Observer said...

You might also mention UK authorities returned CNG’s purchase money for the Brutus denarius because they concluded CNG acted in good faith. Do you have evidence to the contrary here?

David Gill said...

Dear Peter
The main issue here is the Bulgarian coins. Was CNG acting in good faith this time? It would be helpful if CNG would disclose all the sources for its Bulgarian sourced coins.
Best wishes
David

Paul Barford said...

Wait a second, that is not exactly what happened is it?
The money never left the country as it was seized by HM Customs at Heathrow. So it is not true to imply that the UK tax payer footed the bill.

http://www.scvhistory.com/scvhistory/signal/coins/worden-coinage1106b.htm

Would you have bought a used car from this gentlemen for 18 000 euros only on the basis of him signing a scrap of paper that he had "title to sell" but apparently no other documentation?

Alfredo De La Fe said...

RE: Barford's post-

No, I would not buy a car without proper documentation because proper documentation is required and has been historically maintained. This is not the case for coins and there are MILLIONS of coins which have been on the market or in collections well before 1970.

Imagine if one morning you woke up to find that your entire collection of Long Play albums suddenly required documentation to be sold because someone happened to consign or sell some stolen LP's.

David Gill said...

Can we come back to the immediate story? Did CNG offer recently surfaced coins that had derived from Bulgaria?
What was the due diligence procedure adopted by CNG?
CNG should disclose its source(s) for the coins.

Cultural Property Observer said...

FYI: http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2010/11/numismatic-firm-cooperates-with.html

As reported there,

CNG's Electronic Auction No. 244, which closed on 10 November 2010, offered over 600 lots of coins, among which were 10 lots of medieval Bulgarian coins which had been consigned to CNG by a private collector. This auction was one of CNG's normal electronic auctions which CNG holds every two weeks with approximately 500-700 coins per auction.

On 5 November, CNG's London office received a faxed letter from the Bulgarian Embassy in London notifying CNG that "The Bulgarian authorities have reasons to believe" that one of the lots in the CNG auction was part of a collection reportedly stolen in Bulgaria in 2007, and requesting CNG to withdraw the Bulgarian coins from the auction in order to allow the Bulgarian authorities to further investigate the matter.

CNG replied the same day, informing the Bulgarian Embassy that CNG would withdraw all 10 lots of Bulgarian coins in the auction, would hold those coins in CNG's US office, and would turn the coins over to the rightful owner or the proper authorities if the coins are shown to have been stolen.

CNG takes very seriously any indication that coins in CNG's possession may be stolen and thanks the Bulgarian Embassy for bringing this information to CNG's attention. CNG now awaits further information from the Bulgarian authorities to establish the proper ownership of the coins.

Since 5 November, CNG has received no further communication from the Bulgarian authorities.

David Gill said...

Dear Peter
I am glad CNG "co-operates" with the authorities in Bulgaria. Will CNG now disclose the identity of the anonymous private collector?
Best wishes
David

Wayne G. Sayles said...

David;

Since the U.S. State Department won't release the names of their anonymous correspondents in the archaeological community to the public, I don't see why an auction house should be expected to release the name of an anonymous consignor to the public. In America, we have privacy laws that protect the identity and rights of citizens. We also have sunshine laws that call for transparent government. Apparently you would have it the other way around.

Wayne

David Gill said...

Wayne
A minor but important issue. Was this stopped sale of coins from Bulgaria taking place in London? Is that why Eric McFadden was involved? If that is the case, I find your citation of the US State Department as an irrelevance.
Possible purchasers of such coins will want to know the source so that they can avoid other 'toxic' material.
Best wishes
David

Wayne G. Sayles said...

David;

Since you are not a numismatist, you probably would not know that all CNG electronic sales take place within the U.S. If you want to know why the Bulgarian authorities contacted Mr. McFadden in London, rather than the office in Pennsylvania handling the sale, you should ask them. Perhaps it is because they also were uninformed about the venue and the merchandise that they questioned. I think when it comes to missing an important point, you have outdone me. The reports indicate that the Bulgarians asked that one or more lots be withdrawn in order to further investigate. I have not seen any result of that investigation and yet you have virtually condemned the coins by using pejorative terms like "other toxic material". I thought that the British system of law, upon which much of American law is based, included the presumption of innocence? It might be worth remembering that CNG was under no legal obligation to withdraw any of the lots. They cooperated fully, immediately, professionally and beyond the scope of the request. Whether the coins are stolen property or not is yet to be determined. An immediate presumption that they are—shoot first question later—reflects an unusual view for someone dedicated to the principles of academia. CNG has taken the high ground on this issue and no amount of twisting and spinning the facts can change that.

David Gill said...

Wayne
Thank you. Did the Bulgarian coins pass through the London office of CNG? What was McFadden's role?
It will be interesting for the full collecting history of these coins to emerge in due course.
Best wishes
David

Wayne G. Sayles said...

It is always interesting for the full collecting history of every coin to be known when that information is available. Unfortunately, it is not the norm with objects an ubiquitous as a coin. If each coin surviving from antiquity were tracked like the paintings of a great master, we would need an army of data managers just to record finds and transfers. Come to think of it, that would be good job security for some academic discipline facing hard times, wouldn't it? Sorry to be so slow in recognizing the obvious.

Regards,

Wayne

David Gill said...

Dear Wayne
I wonder if these Bulgarian coins have a documented collecting history that can be traced back prior to 2007. Is that too much to ask?
Best wishes
David

David Gill said...

Dear Wayne
I wonder if these Bulgarian coins have a documented collecting history that can be traced back prior to 2007. Is that too much to ask?
Best wishes
David

David Gill said...

Dear Wayne
I wonder if these Bulgarian coins have a documented collecting history that can be traced back prior to 2007. Is that too much to ask?
Best wishes
David

Wayne G. Sayles said...

Well, yes, yes and yes, it is too much to ask since there has never in the history of coin collecting in America been a requirement nor an incentive to record individual provenance of a utilitarian object. The only reason it is called for now is because nationalist countries with patrimony laws cannot, or do not care enough to, enforce their own laws. Anyone but an ideologue can readily see that. Produce an incentive and things could change. Try to mandate the concept by force and the reaction will be predictable.

Wayne

Paul Barford said...

There seems to be a lot about the "history of collecting" in this debate rather than "collecting histories". But we are not living in the times of Petrarch or the nineteenth century. Historically there was not a procedure for making record of licit origins of diamonds; with the blood diamond trade both customers and responsible dealers see the need for it now. Historically even not long ago you could buy exotic arachnids, reptiles and snakes without bothering about certificates and registration, I too had a tortoise as a kid. Today this is as unthinkable as huge chunks of coral reef knocked off and sold as decoration in shell shops at the British seaside. Times change, perceptions change and we must change with the times.

If archaeology "lost its innocence" in the 1960s, how much longer are collectors going to take?

It is not immaterial where the initial transaction involving the coins took place, if the sale was negotiated with the London office it would come under the 2003 Dealing in Cultural Property (Offences) Act and its definition of 'tainted', not the looser American legislation.

As for CNG, did they really have any alternative in the circumstances but withdraw the auction?

David Gill said...

For a response from the coin-collecting community:
"Self-appointed Cultural Property Custodians distort truth", Coins Weekly November 18, 2010.
Also in German: "Selbsternannte Kulturschützer entstellen die Wahrheit".

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