Never again buying raw ancients from online auctions.

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Cherd, May 18, 2019.

  1. Cherd

    Cherd Junior Member

    I started up a Roman Emperor collection a while back as my first delve into ancient coins. Many of you provided useful advice and tips on resources while I was trying to get my feet under me. While my results have been less than stellar, I do appreciate that effort.

    I started shopping for coins through what, to the best of my ability, I had determined to be reputable online auction houses (I won't name them, but I'm not talking about Ebay here), as this was my only real avenue for accessing these coins. I made a handful of purchases, some slabbed and some raw, and decided to send in my raw purchases to get a handle on how I was doing from a quality perspective. Let's just say that I was not too happy when they came back: 1 made the cut and 4 were in "Tooled" body bags.

    These are the condition related portions the tooled coin auction descriptions:
    Domitian- VF, dark green surfaces with touches of red, some smoothing.
    Claudius- VF/VF-EF, nrly centered with practically full lgnds, dark brown patina, only a hint of roughness
    Hadrian- VF, dark green and brown patina with touches of red, light smoothing, minor roughness.
    Trajan- lgnds somewhat wk & partly off at obv bottom; dark brownish-green patina with smoothing & traces of remaining porosity; nice portrait with excellent detail.

    The auctions provide backgrounds and resumes for the "Experts" that do these evaluations. I assumed that, in the interest of maintaining reputation, they would feel compelled to disclose tooling in the description. I learned the hard way that this doesn't seem to be the case, the tooled coins now represent over $1000 worth of garbage (Not literally, but this is how it feels at the moment). Let's just say that this experience has left a bad taste in my mouth for the ancient coin collecting hobby. And, if I ever buy more, they will definitely be slabbed.
    galba68 likes this.
  2. Avatar

    Guest User Guest

    to hide this ad.
  3. Pishpash

    Pishpash Mater dracones - spero Supporter

    Have you been in touch with the Auction houses to complain that "tooled" wasn't in the description? You may have a chance that you could get a refund.
  4. Sallent

    Sallent Supporter! Supporter

    The problem with bronzes is that tooled means so many things. Tooled could range from outright fraud by making a worn coin look XF, to slight smoothing of the fields that is so slight no one here would agree whether that's considered tooling or not. NGC's standards for what tooling is may vary from what others consider tooling. Some of your coins might have some slight smoothing of the fields to make uneven patina a little more even. None of the original material may have been altered at all, so some might consider it acceptable, while others will raise a stink about it.
  5. lrbguy

    lrbguy Well-Known Member

    In what sense "tooled?" For example, among collectors of ancients "tooling" has long been associated with the fraudulent alteration of a design to resemble something not original to the coin at minting. However, the removal of accretions above a patina is sometimes called "smoothing" and is not in the same class as "tooling."
  6. Cherd

    Cherd Junior Member

    They all guarantee authenticity, but nothing explicitly beyond that. I certainly feel deserving of a refund, as I was counting on their "expertise" and honesty when making my purchases. But, I'm sure it'd be a complete waste of time to even try. Greed is a powerful thing.
  7. Sallent

    Sallent Supporter! Supporter

    +100 What I just said. I think his coins might have some slight smoothing. Frankly, from what I can see from his image, they look great and are certainly not garbage.

    But he sounds like a US collector... and I never understood the desire for slabbed perfection. Out of all my Roman bronzes I probably have 2 or 3 that have had slight smoothing of the fields in some distant past. I don't lose any sleep over that. Not a big deal.

    PS: Two of the 4 coins are listed as having slight smoothing. They did disclose it. So don't blame the auction houses for that.
    Last edited: May 18, 2019
    Seattlite86, Kasia and furryfrog02 like this.
  8. Cherd

    Cherd Junior Member

    In my attempt to educate myself on these subjects, I was working on the assumption that "Smoothing" referred to field alteration while "Tooled" referred to device alteration. As you can see in the auction descriptions, I wasn't too concerned about smoothing. I feel that the increase in aesthetic appeal is worth the smoothing tag. But I'm angry about the possibility of having spent good money on a bust that was sculpted with a dremel in some guy's garage.
  9. lrbguy

    lrbguy Well-Known Member

    Collectors of modern coins don't tolerate any tampering with coin surfaces, and therein lies the rub, so to speak. Far and away the majority of all ancients have had some surface work after they came out of the ground.

    Perhaps you could show us an example closeup that has you concerned.
    Alegandron and Sallent like this.
  10. lrbguy

    lrbguy Well-Known Member

    Not quite. Smoothing is the removal of accretions, including substances which may have chemically bonded with coin material at the surface. Patina is the metallic salt that forms at the surface of the coin, and consists partly of coin material and partly of outside chemicals. But accretions are added deposits and adhere to the surface from outside the coin itself. Clearing those off is what smoothing is about, whether in the fields or in the devices.

    However, when a coin of Julia Domna is converted into a coin of another empress, the process by which that conversion is made is called "tooling." It gets down into the fabric of the coin itself and makes alterations. Something tells me, however, that NGC defines these terms according to modern standards and not according to the lexicon of antiquities conservation.

    When a coin is worn down so that original engraving lines are lost, any attempt to restore those lines with new cutting and not merely the removal of accreted substances, ventures into the category of tooling. It all has to do with the limits of the original surface.
    Last edited: May 18, 2019
  11. Pishpash

    Pishpash Mater dracones - spero Supporter

    I can only speak from a.personsl perspective. I would never buy a slabbed coin.

    There have been many threads on this forum where someone had posted a photo, not a link, of a coin they are interested in buying.

    More experienced members than me have given their opinions including tooling. To be a beginner in ancients is a minefield of problems. Hang in there and learn from your
    Pellinore and Alegandron like this.
  12. John Anthony

    John Anthony Ultracrepidarian Supporter

    I'm sorry for your disappointment! Certain large bronzes are notorious for attracting toolers: 1st and 2nd century sestertii and larger Ptolemaic bronzes for example. It takes some practice to recognize tooling, especially when it's done expertly.

    May we see larger images of the tooled coins, out of their plastic holders?
  13. David Atherton

    David Atherton Flavian Fanatic

    I would never knowingly purchase a tooled or smoothed coin, and I believe most ancient coin collectors (if not all) agree. Cleaning encrustations or deposits is one thing, altering the metal in any way is taboo. That's why your coins came back in tooled 'body bags'. Smoothing and tooling sometimes is hard to detect from photos alone, that's why I applaud sellers who disclose it.
    Last edited: May 18, 2019
  14. Collecting Nut

    Collecting Nut Borderline Hoarder

    If you don't try it's an automatic no!
    -jeffB, TIF and Nicholas Molinari like this.
  15. Cherd

    Cherd Junior Member

    I can do you one better, here are the actual photos that were used in the auction listings:


    The coin doesn't look like that in hand, but now that I'm looking at these original pictures again, that Trajan does stand out as looking a little funny. Especially sad about the Hadrian though, it was my favorite :(
    Bing likes this.
  16. IdesOfMarch01

    IdesOfMarch01 Well-Known Member

    These pictures lack sufficient detail to speculate further on their condition, and there's nothing libelous or illegal about posting links to the original auctions to provide better pictures. You might want to do this.

    You should be aware that it's essentially impossible to determine the difference between a high-quality, highly detailed bronze that's been expertly cleaned vs. a tooled coin just by viewing a picture of that coin, no matter how detailed the picture. Don't be mislead by any such "expert" opinions regardless of by whom/where you read them. The best way to evaluate the condition of a bronze is to have a real expert examine it in hand, prior to purchase.

    This is a succinct and excellent definition of smoothing. I personally have no problem with such smoothing, except for coins in which it's extreme.

    Another way to look at smoothing is the following: at some point the ancient coin ceased circulating. When it did, it had some circulation wear, scratches, etc., and this is the true condition of the coin. Lying undiscovered for centuries or millennia resulted in deposits, detritus, etc. coming into contact and adhering to the coin's surface. Removal of this additional material, which is what I consider smoothing, does not alter the coin's condition when it fell out of circulation. This is why, in general, smoothing is generally regarded as benign, and not as tooling.

    You might want to read this previous thread on this site:
  17. H8_modern

    H8_modern Attracted to small round-ish art

    My thoughts exactly but I would prefer a more detailed reason than just citing the broad category of “tooling”.
  18. IdesOfMarch01

    IdesOfMarch01 Well-Known Member

    I agree completely. Paying a service fee for a detailed evaluation and opinion, and getting a one-word description of "Tooled" in return for that fee is poor service and poor value from the grading service.
  19. Cherd

    Cherd Junior Member

    I agree with everything you said. I'm not an expert, and even if I were, there's only so much that can be gleaned from auction photos. But here is the thing that I don't get about the slabbed coin taboo around here. Your last bit of advice:

    "...real expert examine it in hand prior to purchase...."

    Is EXACTLY what 3rd party grading services do! Hence, buy the coins slabbed, remove the possibility of disappointment. Simple.
    Last edited: May 18, 2019
    KSorbo likes this.
  20. Cherd

    Cherd Junior Member

    As I said, I was willing to tolerate "smoothing", at least within my assumed definition of the word. But even the NGC valuation distinguishes between "smoothing" and "tooling". Look at the one coin in my picture that came back slabbed (Caligula), it says "Smoothing". As the others are in body bags, the "Tooling" label must mean something different. And I'm assuming that whatever it is, the auctioneers voluntarily did not disclose it.

    I agree. If they are sending 4 of them back in plastic flips as opposed to encapsulated then it seems as though the cost savings should be reflected in my bill.....Nope. And ya, "Tooled" doesn't really tell me anything useful. Was the bust scraped a little too much? Or was it completely re-sculpted? Dunno, but seems important enough to mention o_O
  21. IdesOfMarch01

    IdesOfMarch01 Well-Known Member

    Expertise varies greatly, even at third party grading companies. And Heritage has in the past sold slabbed bronzes that have been tooled, without specifying such tooling in their description. I don't necessarily believe that slabbing is the answer to this problem.

    At the very least I would request that NGC provide a more detailed explanation of which areas on the coin they believe have been tooled, and why they believe those areas are tooled.
    Nicholas Molinari likes this.
Draft saved Draft deleted

Share This Page