Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Gill Post on Coin Seizure Does Not Add Up

David Gill has posted a story about the seizure of a "silver Octodrachm" from a Swiss Auction. See

Auctions do put coins and other artifacts out in the public domain. This allows anyone with claims to such items to make them. Quoting Greek sources, Gill states that Greece has made such a claim to a valuable coin. Still, the pictures in the articles raise questions. I can't read Greek, but I have been informed that the coin pictured in the main article appears to be an Athenian Decadrachm, and the coin pictured in the story in the comments appears to be a Macedonian Drachm.

Gill evidently enjoys posting about seizures of cultural property, including coins, but sometimes it is better not to "jump the gun" on such issues. Time will tell whether a claim has been made, and, if so, if it will be found to be valid. In the meantime, the pictures that illustrate the articles Gill relies upon raise questions about the accuracy of his post.

Addendum: Here is an imperfect "Google" translation of the article:

The road to ancient Greece gets oktadrachmo by Interpol after it is sold at auction for the sum of 77,000 euros. In two successive publications before and after the auction for its sale, the "M" revealed the attempt of the ancient coin money.

Kostas Kantouri

Procedures-Express begins in Culture Ministry in order to restore the ancient Greece currency, which was sold last week at auction in Zurich, Switzerland for the sum of 77,000 euros. Following the movements of the Interpol office in Athens, the currency "committed" by Swiss police, before he delivered to the buyer.

The path of the ancient ochtadrachmou, described by scientists very rare, found the "M" and "MTK" to publish before the end of the auction house in Switzerland. The price raised the auctioneers had raised the interest of the Greek law enforcement authorities, and after research showed that this ancient coin was released for sale on the black market antiquities in Greece. Indeed, according to information to prove so there are photos of the same coin taken before about two years from this region of northern Greece.

The auction in Zurich organized by the English house, completed last Tuesday and the currency was sold for the sum of 116,500 Swiss francs (about 77,000 euros). Before its completion, the Ministry of Culture and Interpol briefing notes sent to Interpol in Switzerland, but without success, since the process of the sale was completed properly. Buyer was a person who attended the auction process, the site where it conducted in Zurich.

However, an alert from Interpol Switzerland, who arrived in Greek service offices in Athens in the afternoon last Friday, brought back the smiles to the Greek authorities of the Ministry of Culture, now expect the return of the currency. "Please be advised, in response to your relevant documents, that the currency tendered kept under the responsibility of our service and we expect your actions and evidence", the document shall state the Swiss office of Interpol.

Even after this development came to a general mobilization services of Interpol and the Ministry of Culture in Athens, called the police, which involved the collection of data and photo-specific proof that the product of antiquities, all related evidence in the case. By sending back data from the Greek side will be presented and the request for the return of ancient coin in our country.

"It's very positive developments", commented the "M" Professor of Historical Archeology of AUTH Michael Tiberius. The ochtadrachmo comes from the region of ancient Visaltia and cut on a Mossi kingdom, which is well known and appreciated that he was ruler of the kingdom of Visaltia the era of 480 BC "Such major currencies is very rare, usually used for export activities, and to pay for mercenaries," said Mr Tiberius.

Systematically "to hammer" products antiquities

Most ancient coins and other findings come in hammer international auction houses are products of antiquities, according to the prosecuting authorities. Only some large auction houses, and museums, have stopped hosting findings, which demonstrated not come from legitimate excavations.

"About 70% of institutions that come to auction products are illegal excavations," he said Mr Tiberius. "The rest may come from formal private collections that are registered", he said. In Switzerland, ancient finds particularly easy to come round and it is no coincidence that the organization of the event for the ancient ochtadrachmo had English auction house, whose managers chose to Zurich. "The system in Switzerland I think is very relaxed, and at least two years ago, possibly still today, did not require certificates of origin for findings auctioned, only those certificates," said Mr Tiberius.

It will be interesting to see if the Greek case holds up, i.e., are the pictures taken "two years ago" in Northern Greece of the same coin? Even then, it should be noted that there are collectors and collections in Greece. Is this a case of Greece asking for application of their export controls on coins from "registered collections" or is this a case of Greece having evidence the coins were illicitly excavated in Greece?

It should also be noted that Greece and Switzerland have yet to complete work on a MOU to govern the return of cultural property. One suspects this might provide a legal argument to the consigner, auction house and/or buyer.

Only one thing is for sure. The pictures in the newspapers Gill cites cannot be of the same coin.


Cultural Property Observer said...

Professor Gill has commented on this post here, but has not done the reader a courtesy of providing a link:

Overall, as I posted as a commenton his blog (which he has not yet published), I am not sure what the FOIA case has to do with this, and I assume the auction house in question will respond to any legal process.

Also, I find it a bit much that Gill has taken it on himself to contact the auction house himself. Is he acting as an official agent of the Greek government? If so, fine, if not, it sounds like nothing but harassment to me.

Cultural Property Observer said...

After some delay, Prof. Gill has posted my comment on his blog.