Featured Questions about Provenance

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by R*L, Sep 29, 2018.

  1. R*L

    R*L Well-Known Member

    A long and boring post without any exciting coin eye candy follows. I’m so sorry!

    Anyway, I have been reading a bit lately about the role of provenance in the fine art world (eg the record of who has owned the art and where it has been since it was created) and that started me thinking about it’s current and future role in the coin world.

    On these boards a coin’s connection to a well known collection, horde, or use as a plate coin is generally seen as a plus and in auctions is often advertised by a seller, presumably as it will lead to a higher price. And I’ve seen several people on this board and Forvm suggest keeping dealer and any old collection tags.

    But for the most part, when it comes to coins, or at least, most low value coins, it seems provenance is generally over looked. That makes sense of course, the time and paperwork involved in tracking the provenance of a low value coin with relatively low margins on sale is going to be uneconomical, and there are privacy issues etc. As such historically there’s probably been no real incentive to record and pass provenance on.

    But the problem this creates is that for most coins on sale today (from the most dubious eBay seller to the most reputable auction house) there’s no way to know if they were dug out of the ground and/or exported from the country where it they were found yesterday (legally or otherwise) or if they have been in collections for the past 100 plus years. In a world where there is increasing scrutiny on the antiquities trade and increasing bureaucratic creep, the relevance of provenance (or its lack) is probably going to increase. A good (and verifiable) provenance is (sometimes) also a plus in respect to concerns about authenticity.

    For the collectors out there, in what circumstances do you ask dealers for provenance? When would you expect to get it? When don’t you care?

    For the dealers, how often do you actually have the provenance for coins? If you did have it (or could obtain at least a partial provenance) when would you pass it on, how do you deal with privacy issues, and how would you respond to requests for provenance for low value coins?

    And for anyone, what do you consider to be satisfactory proof of provenance? How do you think provenance could economically be tracked in the current market? (Some kind of bitchain (presumably linked to a database of some kind - perhaps an opportunity for places like ACSearch or the current certification companies?), seems logical and has been suggested for other types of art). What would it do to the market if tracking provenance became more common? I.e. Would (the vast majority) of low value coins without provenance lose value, or even become unsalable? Or would that part of the market remain more or less the same while coins with “good” provenance increase in value? How would we deal with existing collections that don’t have a provenance before 1970 (or whatever other relevant date might apply)?

    Feel free to tackle one of the questions above, or weigh in with your thoughts on anything related (and pics of coins with good provenance are appreciated!)
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  3. Theodosius

    Theodosius Unrepentant Fine Style Freak! Supporter

    People search old (and new) auction and sale catalogs looking for their coins. There is a company offering computer image matching to assist with this. Can’t remember the name. There are photo catalogs going back to 1900ish.
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  4. Mike Margolis

    Mike Margolis Well-Known Member

    Good questions and line of study. I do not understand why high end coins do not always have a provenance. It seems it would be so important to know the history of the coin. I only collected as a teenager and now again in the last couple years and I do consider my collection now complete. I do not have any very expensive coins and can't imagine spending a lot of money on a coin without knowing it's origins. I now have two that have a provenance of a distinguished collection.
    This Persian Siglos:
    PERSIA.Achaemenid kings.circa 485-420BC.AR.Siglos ( 5.51g, 15mm )
    king right holding bow in left hand
    Very fine.
    Ex David Sellwood collection. Baldwins Argentum London sale 4th June 2016 part lot 25. upload_2018-9-29_19-57-43.png
    And this Tetradrachm I just posted about in detail in 'Divine Twins" post: https://www.cointalk.com/threads/di...ns-and-the-comet-part-ii.324401/#post-3200713
    ACSEARCH note and plate: Description
    Kingdom of Pontos, Mithradates VI 120-63 BC, Tetradrachm, 15.66g: Obv: Diademed head of Mithradates VI right Rev: Stag grazing left, star and crescent symbol to left, "HKS" = year = 229= 69/68 BC. "BASILEWS MIThRADATOY EYPATOPOS" all within a wreath. De Callatay S 22 D75R2b. Overstruck on another coin (uncertain undertype), Collection of Alexandre Carathéodory Pasha (1833-1906) Here is the notes about this Greek statesman's 19th century collection:
    Kerry Wetterstrom of Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. passed along this note about an interesting old-time collection being offered in the firm's upcoming CNG 99 sale. Thanks! -Editor
    Alexandre Carathéodory Pasha Portrait One the highlights of CNG 99, an Internet and Mail Bid Sale closing on May 13, 2015, is a selection of coinage from the collection of Alexandre Carathéodory Pasha, a leading statesman in the Ottoman Empire, whose interest in collecting ancient coins was inspired by his meeting with the French diplomat and numismatist William-Henri Waddington at the Congress of Berlin in 1878. Twenty Greek coins of the Eastern Aegean and Western Asia Minor are being offered in CNG 99, and the majority of the collection is being offered in CNG Electronic Auction 351, which runs concurrently with CNG 99 and closes on 20 May 2015.
    Alexandre Carathéodory Pasha (or Karatheodory; in Greek: Αλέξανδρος Καραθεοδωρή; 1833–1906) was a prominent Greek scholar, diplomat, and statesman in the Ottoman Empire. Carathéodory was born in Constantinople to an eminent Constantinople Phanariot family. His father, Stefanos Carathéodory, was the personal physician to Sultans Mahmud II and Abdul-Aziz. His mother’s ancestors, the Mavrocordatos and Mourousis, had for centuries served as Princes of Moldavia and Wallachia.
    After obtaining a doctoral degree from the Paris Faculty of Law, Carathéodory pursued a career in the public service of the Ottoman Empire. In 1874, he was appointed ambassador to Rome. In 1878, as Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, he participated in the preliminary negotiations with Russia that led to the Treaty of San Stefano, ending the Russo-Turkish War (1877-1878). Later that same year, Sultan Abdul-Hamid II dispatched Carathéodory to Germany as head of the Ottoman delegation to the Congress of Berlin. His skillful negotiations with various European statesmen, including Bismarck, Disraeli, Salisbury, and Gorchakov, resulted in the revision of the San Stefano peace terms in favor of the Ottoman Empire (Treaty of Berlin, 1878). Disraeli characterized Carathéodory as “full of finesse and yet calm and plausible.” During the Berlin negotiations, he had the opportunity to discover in his French counterpart, William-Henri Waddington, a common interest in ancient Greek culture and civilization. Waddington told Carathéodory of his archaeological pursuits and the collection of ancient coins he had assembled in Asia Minor.
    Upon his return to Turkey, Carathéodory was appointed Governor-General of Crete with the task of calming the escalating tensions between the island’s Christian and Muslim inhabitants in a situation that was approaching civil war. Soon, however, he was called back to Constantinople, where he became Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Ottoman Empire (1878-1879). He was the only Greek to ever occupy such a prominent position. In 1884, the Sultan appointed him Prince of the autonomous Greek island of Samos (1885-1894). It is during those nine years, and inspired by Waddington’s enthusiasm for ancient coins, that he took up coin collecting and assembled the present collection.
    In addition to his political career and historical pursuits, Carathéodory translated from Arabic to French the Traité du Quadrilatère, attribué à Nassiruddin-El-Tussin, a seminal work on the mathematics of the 13th-century Persian astronomer. He also authored research papers and scholarly essays on Aristotle’s Meteorology, Homeric studies, as well as a series of mathematics theses that are still in use. Their shared interest in mathematics forged a bond with his nephew, Constantine Carathéodory, a professor of mathematics at the University of Munich, who contributed to the research of thermodynamics and the development of Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity (vide Encyclopaedia Britannica).
    In 1895, amid renewed religious and social tensions in Crete, Abdul Hamid II appointed Carathéodory as Governor of the island for a second time. Unsuccessful once again in restoring order, Carathéodory resigned the post in December of the same year and was appointed First Translator to H.I.M. the Sultan. In his book, Constantinople, City of the World’s Desire, Philip Mansel notes that Abdul Hamid called Carathéodory “a man with remarkable ability, not only the cleverest diplomat in Turkey, but one of the cleverest in Europe.” In 1901, Carathéodory attended the funeral of Queen Victoria as a member of the Ottoman delegation. This was his last official assignment.
    His funeral in 1906, in Constantinople, was officiated by the Patriarch and all the Holy Synod. It marked, according to Mansel, the end of the Phanariot tradition begun by his Mavrocordato ancestors. In 1923, after the Greek War for Independence from Turkey, his children and grandchildren left Turkey. Some of them settled in Greece, others in Egypt, Switzerland, and Belgium.
    The present coin collection was passed on to Catherine Pilavachi-Carathéodory, who was the daughter of Stefanos A. Carathéodory, the eldest son of Alexandre Carathéodory Pasha. Catherine and her family left Egypt for Lausanne, Switzerland in 1961. The collection was inherited by Catherine’s son and Alexander’s great-grandson, Paul Pilavachi, who is its current owner. upload_2018-9-29_20-5-45.png

    It just adds so much to a coin and the entire collection to know it was a part of such distinguished statesman's collection of ancient coins.
    I do also have a coin that belonged to David Hendin and one of Alex G. Malloy's but I do not know if it was actually just their business "merchandise" or a part of their collection. That is another important distinction to consider.
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2018
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  5. Orielensis

    Orielensis Well-Known Member

    I can't tell you how dealers handle this issue, since I have never sold any of my coins and don't intend to do so in the future. Also, I am definitely not a high-end collector, and thus don't play in the field were good provenance records appear to be almost mandatory.

    Yet, I am conscious of only purchasing from dealers I would consider trustworthy, and strictly avoid coins one might suspect of either being fake or illegaly dug up and exported in the recent past – a practice I definitely don't want to support with my money. I only rarely buy coins that cost more than a decent dinner, but if I do, I want them to come from a respectable dealer and ideally have a well-documented collection history.

    Once I get a coin, I record from whom I bought it as well as all previous owners I know of on an identification tag, and I have a folder for the receipts. Also, I keep all dealer tickets and, if present, old collection tags, and store them together with the coin. Since my coins are kept in saflips, that's quite easy to do.

    Sometimes, fascinating provenance stories become visible this way. This, for example, is a per se unspectacular denarius from the collection of Prof. Hildebrecht Hommel (1899–1996), a scholar of classical philology who taught at Tübingen. Hommel did not only keep a second collection or dealer tag (top left, by him or by a previous owner?) with the coin, he also 'recyled' his professional correspondence, apparently from the 30s and 40s, into coin tags (bottom left). After he passed on, his enormous coin collection was sold as larger lots by Busso Peus, and I afterwards purchased this coin from a small hobby dealer who had acquired one of these lots (as recorded on my own tags on the right):

    Bildschirmfoto 2018-09-29 um 19.25.56.png
    Vespasian, Roman Empire, denarius, 75 AD, mint: Rome. Obv: [IMP] CAESAR VESPASIANVS AVG, laureate bust right. Rev: PON MAX TR P COS VI, Pax seated left holding branch. 18 mm, 3.08g. Ref: RIC II, 772; RSC 366. Ex Hildebrecht Hommel collection, ex Busso Peus Nachfolger, auction 422 (04/26/2018), lot 453. (I blackened the name of the last previous owner since I don't know whether he wants his full name on the internet.)

    To give yet another example, here is a hemidrachm I recently bought from @Ken Dorney, inspired by @zumbly's write-up here. It came with BCD's tag and photos, and I am very glad to own a coin that once belonged to such an outstanding numismatist:

    Bildschirmfoto 2018-09-29 um 19.27.13.png
    Thessaly, Trikka, hemidrachm, 2nd half of 5th c. BC. Obv: Youthful hero, Thessalos, holding a band with both hands below the horns of the forepart of a bull right (taurokathapsia). Rev: T PI KAI N, forepart of horse prancing right. 16 mm, 2.86 g. Ref: BCD Thessaly 775.7 (same dies); see SNG Copenhagen 262–265; see BMC 1–9; see CNG, e-auction 129, lot 94 (same dies). Ex BCD collection, ex Kenneth W. Dorney.
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2018
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  6. BenSi

    BenSi Supporter! Supporter

    In the art world provenance is uncommon for any edition work even though some of these masterworks can sell for millions of dollars. It’s only on the original works that a provenance can be included but not always complete. The reason for this is basic trust, most dealers do not want to divulge their sources on where a work was acquired , giving away their source. Sometimes collectors don't want people to know they had to sell so they ask to remain anonymous.

    One way that older graphic works can be tracked is by a collector’s mark on the back. There is a reference for different collectors mark’s on the back of masterworks. This is usually a small stamped symbol on the back of the work. This of course only tells us one owner in the works life.

    In the coin world that would be very problematic, I have two coins in my collection that the collector marked with Indian ink, to be honest it is an eyesore and these pieces are not in my main collection.
    I recently purchased two gold coins because of the provenance of a dealers tag from the last century, this to me added value to the coins even though one was in rough shape I got it anyway because of its historical value of ownership and I wanted the coin.
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2018
  7. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    One of the coins with the oldest provenance in my collection is this one of Julia Domna:

    Domna Fecunditas Dupondius.jpg

    It appears in Ars Classica VIII, 1924, Bement Collection, lot 1184. Here's the listing from that auction:

    Domna Fecunditas dupondius Bement sale plate.JPG
    Domna Fecunditas dupondius Bement sale listing.jpg

    I also like to find die-matches to my coins. This one is a die-match to BMCRE-494, pl. 21.4:

    Domna Fecunditas Dupondius BMC.jpg
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  8. Buffo Marinus

    Buffo Marinus Member


    If you happen to come across a URL for that company that can provide computer matching for a coin image with past auctions, I'd be grateful. I've been burning the old eyeballs out trying to find a past reference for this coin (below) before my recent purchase from LAC. Provenance is the part of this hobby that definitely "floats my boat."

    Rob FNQ,Au

    Attached Files:

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  9. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter


    However, as others have said in this thread and in other such threads, older pedigrees are likely only to be found for higher end coins.

    These days digital photography is expected for almost every coin sold. That wasn't the case in the pre-digital coin world. The farther back in time you go, the higher value the coin will have to be to find a visual match because only high value coins could support the cost of such cataloging.
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  10. Mike Margolis

    Mike Margolis Well-Known Member

    Another part of this is that I rarely see a coin listed with a provenance of a specific hoard. It could be because I just have a passion for ancients and not really much of a background in numismatics so I have missed these listings and postings. I would like to see some coins with a hoard origin and a photo that substantiates that. I am sure folks here at CT have posted these and I have missed them?
  11. Smojo

    Smojo dreamliner

    ex-numis.com offers something like this it is a membership or fee type service
    But I see TIF has already said that
  12. If you aren't aware, "BCD" drops by often and sometimes contributes. His CoinTalk handle: @ab initio. He contributed to a related thread in which I asked the question about the Polaroid cut-outs included with the coins, here. If you have any questions about your coins, I'm sure he'd be willing to answer them.
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  13. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

    Wouldn't it be great if we could trace all of our coins to the ground? That is so uncommon. For whatever reasons, "find data" isn't available for the vast majority of ancient coins in both old and new collections.

    While I have many coins with interesting and old pedigrees, I have only two coins which can be traced to the ground and both came from the same hoard.

    The gnarly Tiberius "tribute penny" denarius shown below appealed to me for two reasons. One, its find information is verifiable and two, I wanted a Tiberius denarius but resent the crazy high prices for such a common type of coin and with such a boring design. The to-the-ground pedigree makes the price much more palatable. The find information is recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme, record ID is NMS-480CEE.

    Tiberius, CE 16-37
    AR denarius, 20 mm, 3.46 gm
    Obv: laureate head of Tiberius right
    Rev: Livia, as Pax, seated right, holding scepter and olive branch
    Ref: RCV 1763 (I have not yet tried to confirm catalog numbers)
    Found Quidenham hoard, Norfolk, 2014; purchased from Chris Rudd 26 July 2018

    As it appears on the PAS website:

    By the time I was aware of the sale of this small hoard most of the coins had sold. Here's an interesting Roman Republican denarius which no one else wanted. The reverse shows a one-armed soldier. I wondered if it might be the famous general Marcus Sergius but there is really nothing to link him to this coin.

    Moneyer issues of Imperatorial Rome
    A. Licinius Nerva

    47 BCE
    AR denarius, 19mm, 3.25 gm
    Obv: Head of Fides right
    Rev: One-armed horseman galloping right, dragging Celtic warrior by the hair
    Ref: Crawford 454/2
    Found Quidenham hoard, Norfolk, 2014; purchased from Chris Rudd 26 July 2018

    As it appears on the PAS website:
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2018
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  14. Mike Margolis

    Mike Margolis Well-Known Member

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  15. Orfew

    Orfew Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus Supporter

    I have one coin I can trace to the ground and it happens to come from the same source as @TIF s coins. I felt the same way as TIF, I was not attracted to Tribute Pennies at all. However, it is a denarius of Tiberius, it comes from a recognized hoard, has strong provenance, and is traced back to a historical event-the revolt of Boudica and the Iceni. With all of those factors in play, this coin was a must buy for me.

    Seller's photo
    Tiberius Quidenham.jpg
    My Photo
    tiberius tribute penny copy.jpg

    The photo from the PAS


    Tiberius ‘Tribute Penny’.AD16-37. Silver denarius.
    17mm. 3.48g.
    RCV 1763 RIC 26
    bold head, clear Livia.
    Found Quidenham hoard, Norfolk, 2014. Recorded as Coin #22,

    NMS-480CEEunder the portable antiquities scheme.
    Purchased from Chris Rudd Numismatics July 23, 2018.

    Here is the hoard information from the PAS

    Record ID: NMS-480CEE
    Object type: COIN HOARD
    Broad period: ROMAN
    County: Norfolk
    Workflow stage: Awaiting validation upload_2018-9-30_13-48-49.gif
    A scattered hoard composed of 22 Roman silver denarii and 25 Icenian silver units. Three of these have been recorded earlier before the hoard was recognised as such. Their records have been amalgamated with this one and are indicated in bold. Roman silver denarii 1) C. Servilius, Rome, Crawford 239/1, weight 3.48g, 136BC 2) M. Fannius, Rome, Crawford 275/1, weight 3.40g, 123BC 3) Q. Minucius Rufus, Rome, Crawford 277/1, weight 3.61g, 122BC 4) Cn. Papirius Carbo, Rome, Crawford 279/1, weight 3.50g, 121BC 5) Appius Claudius Pulcher and T. Maloleius, Rome, Crawford 299/…
    Created on: Monday 1st September 2014
    Last updated: Wednesday 6th July 2016

    I have also included more hoard information from Chris Rudd as a pdf.

    Attached Files:

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  16. arnoldoe

    arnoldoe Well-Known Member

    The provenance given for this coin was "Aquired from Hess AG in Lucerne prior to 1975" so i looked at.. https://digi.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/diglit/_md_search?ui_lang=eng
    And i searched for the coin here and found it was from the Haeberlin Collection sold in 1933..
    M. Herennius 108-107 BC
    From the collection of W. F. Stoecklin, Amriswil, Switzerland and from the Ernst Justus Haeberlin Collection, Cahn & Hess, Frankfurt, 17 July 1933, Lot 966
  17. Pellinore

    Pellinore Supporter! Supporter

    Provenance of coins rarely exceeds a century, but coins must have been collected for 25 centuries, I'm sure! I started with my father-in-law's coins, and he had meticulously compiled a system with cards in a ring binder, jotting down were his coins were bought or found. A few Roman coins came right out of the ground where he was living (well, in the next village). Others were bought in 1969 or 1970. That's pretty ancient for coin provenance.

    With books it is different. I have a book about Roman emperors illustrated in coins, written by George Chanler the Elder. It was published in a Dutch translation in 1617, and this book has a bookplate of a former owner of about 1700. Here's the bookplate, full of dragons, leopards and snakes devouring little leopards (?!). Now that's an early provenance. (Alas, I don't know the name of the bookplate owner).

    Chanler bookplate co.jpg
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  18. Pellinore

    Pellinore Supporter! Supporter

    By the way, this page of the book shows Julius Caesar with a typical coin, apparently a gold one. Text in 17th century Dutch.

    Chanler Julius Caesar.jpg
  19. BenSi

    BenSi Supporter! Supporter

    Here is one of the coins I spoke about, it was done in Indian ink and I have never tried to remove it but I think I would hurt the coin if I did.

    Sadly it is almost comical.

    OBV Christ Bearded and nimbate wearing tunic and kolobion, seated on a throne without back; holds gospel in l. hand.

    REV: Bust of emperor wearing stemma, divitision, and chlamys; holds in r. hand scepter cruciger and in l. hand Globus crucifer.

    Size 14/12mm

    Weight 3.6 gm
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  20. SeptimusT

    SeptimusT Well-Known Member

    I love the idea of provenances, even if I don’t have very many coins with them. Even though the coins themselves already offer a fantastic connection to the past, the idea of knowing who handled them over the last hundred years or so adds to this even more and makes the coin in question that much more attractive to me.

    @Orielensis, I also have a Hommel provenanced coin, a denarius of P. Licinius Nerva. It’s a different type of card than yours came in, and only included the one. Maybe it is a later addition to his collection?
    I also have some coins with old envelopes but no known provenance. One is this Augustus provincial from Corinth; the coin itself isn't very attractive, but I got it just because of the envelope. It is marked '1936' on the left, perhaps the year it was purchased by a previous owner.
    I also have a Mithradates VI issue with an envelope from the same hand. I really wish I could put a name to it.
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  21. CoinBlazer

    CoinBlazer Numismatic Enthusiast

    So true- Provenances are so much easier to track now!!!!
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