Questions on Coins with "Historical Pedigrees"

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by ByzantiumBabe, Feb 27, 2021.

  1. ByzantiumBabe

    ByzantiumBabe Member

    Greetings fellow Collectors.

    I have questions on coins with “historical pedigrees” as noted by some dealers these days.

    I understand the importance of dealer provenance on certain coins, but how do we prove a “historical pedigree” without secondary source documentation? It's best if I use an example of a hypothetical “X” denarius coin purchased in this day and age. This is the hypothetical (abbreviated) coin description:

    Republican “X” denarius. provenance: ex. CNX 2021; ex. NFY 1970; ex. MMZ 1955; from “The So&So Collection” of ancient coins.

    I understand the trail of dealers selling the product provides a particular time and place, which can be verified.

    But my question is on the note claiming that it is from “The So&So Collection” that once owned this coin “X” in their private collection, presumably.

    (At this point I am reminded of the Seinfeld episode; “The Mom & Pop Store”. George bought a convertible claimed to be “once owned by Jon Voight”.)

    Unless one has a photo of “So&So” holding “X” denarius, or has a signed letter (document) of “So&So” mentioning “X” denarius, or a signed, dated receipt listing “So&So” as acquiring “X” denarius, there is no real definitive secondary proof “So&So” once owned “X” coin, other than the original dealer's word.

    Secondary proof is often provided when buying an old “pedigreed” car. For example, dealer “Y” selling a car states, “Henry Ford once owned” this model T car. She provides a Ford receipt with the same VIN, plus she has a 1920's photo of Ford in the exact same car in his private driveway, and showing the same right fender dents.

    I know provenance adds value, gives past time and place, is fun, marks up coin prices, adds interest and can be a challenge to verify. But without secondary proof, “historical pedigree” seems more like gossip and rumor. Without this proof, how can we be certain “X” denarius is in fact a “historical pedigree” coin, aside from the dealer's word?

    Does anyone have a “historical pedigree” coin with the original owner photographed holding the coin? Or a letter from the original owner discussing the coin? Or perhaps a signed receipt for the original coin to the pedigree owner?
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  3. Theodosius

    Theodosius Fine Style Seeker Supporter

    Sometimes such coins are sold in auctions dedicated to the particular collector. One can look up the coin's picture in the catalog or website for the auction.

    Sometimes the collector named has published the coin online here or in Forum or some other website.

    The coin might come with an old tag hand written by the said collector.

    If there is nothing but a person's say so then it doesn't add much value to the coin, in my opinion.

    Really only big time collections or old pedigrees (pre 1970 *edit*) add much value.

    I really don't pay extra for pedigrees on purpose but some do, especially those chasing valuable or important coins.

    Last edited: Feb 27, 2021
  4. shanxi

    shanxi Well-Known Member

    Unlike modern coins, antique coins differ from each other. Different decentering, dies, patina or wear make each coin unique, recognizable and identifiable e.g. on a photo in catalog or reference book.

    Some collectors also design their own tags with their names, e.g.:


    In this case the coin is also published in a SNG volume.

    Kings of Thrace, Rhoimetalkes I and Augustus
    Æ24. Circa 11 BC- AD 12.

    Obv.: ΚΑΙΣΑΡΟΣ ΣΕΒΑΣΤΟΥ, bare head of Augustus right.
    Rev.: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΡΟΙΜΕΤΑΛΚΟΥ, Jugate heads of Rhoimetalkes I, diademed, and Queen Pythodoris right

    Æ , 11.41g, 24mm, 6h.

    Ref.: SNG Stancomb 905 (this coin); RPC I, 1711; Yourokova 204

    Ex A. H. Baldwin & Sons Ltd., March 1976.
    Ex William Stancomb Collection; this coin published in Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum, Great Britain, Volume XI, The William Stancomb Collection of Coins of the Black Sea Region (Oxford, 2000)
    Last edited: Feb 27, 2021
    paschka, Volodya, Pellinore and 9 others like this.
  5. red_spork

    red_spork Triumvir monetalis Supporter

    It's more than gossip - most coins with specific named provenances come from sales of named collections or from sales that are anonymous but where later the identity of the collector comes out. An auction house could try and make that up but very few collectors collect in a vacuum - most of those named provenances are for people who were well known in the collecting community during their time and people would catch on if an auction house were simply inventing provenances.

    There have been cases, such as the "John Quincy Adams" collection where there were later family members who continued adding to the collection and you can't really be certain whether many of the coins were actually JQA's or are later but most of those coins do not realize the sort of provenance premium that they would if they were surely attributed to JQA.
  6. dltsrq

    dltsrq Grumpy Old Man

    Pedigree (provenance) is becoming more and more important as "cultural property" regulations are tightened. Eventually, a pre-1970 paper trail will be required for the sale or transfer of antique coins, similar to the situation today with ivory objects. 1970 is the date of the UNESCO "Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property", to which nearly every nation is now a party. For the time being, the Memoranda of Understanding are the most visible (and controversial) manifestations of the Convention. Perhaps the tide will turn when they come for the paintings hanging in the homes of politicians. Perhaps not. Caveat emptor.
    Last edited: Feb 27, 2021
  7. Carausius

    Carausius Brother, can you spare a sestertius?

    Here's a good example of @red_spork 's description. Recently, I purchased this Roman Republican coin:
    Rome. The Republic.
    Victory and Spearhead
    Series, 189-180 BCE.
    AE As (31.14g; 33mm; 5h).
    Rome Mint.

    Obverse: Laureate head of Janus; I (mark-of-value) above.

    Reverse: Prow facing right; Victory crowning spearhead above; I (mark-of-value) to right; ROMA below.

    References: Crawford 145/1; Sydenham 293; BMCRR 497.

    I soon found the coin in a 1924 Rodolfo Ratto auction catalogue of an anonymous collection of Roman Republican coins, described at the time as "Riche collection" (literally, "a rich collection").



    Although unnamed, it was generally known that this sale was part of the collection of Barone Dr. Pompeo Bonazzi di Sannicandro, which was sold anonymously in two parts by Rodolfo Ratto in the mid-1920s. Bonazzi began collecting about 1910 and quickly assembled a broad collection of Roman Republican coins in a very short time. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he favored bronze coins that were un-tooled, and this coin boasts excellent, natural surfaces.

    So, now I can describe the provenance as follows:

    Provenance: Ex Barone Dr. Pompeo Bonazzi di Sannicandro (1876-1956) Collection [R. Ratto (23 January 1924), Lot 264].

    To learn more about the names associated with these old, anonymous sales, I strongly recommend a book by the late John Spring, Ancient Coin Auction Catalogues 1880-1980.
    Last edited: Feb 27, 2021
  8. PeteB

    PeteB Well-Known Member

    Well done, Carausius!
    Carausius likes this.
  9. Cicero12

    Cicero12 Supporter! Supporter

    @Carausius excellent find! I also strongly endorse Spring’s book as well. It is an invaluable resource. Not only does it list virtually all important auctions of ancients iovet a 100 year period, it provides the names of many notable individuals whose collections were sold anonymously.
  10. Andrew McCabe

    Andrew McCabe Well-Known Member

    Everyone needs Spring. Which starts Monday.
  11. Ricardo123

    Ricardo123 Active Member

    Half of my coins have pedigree (ex Mr.X collection). Most of them nobody knows who exactly was the former owner!
    ByzantiumBabe likes this.
  12. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    The Bummer is: that is UK Spring. In North America, it is 21-March.
  13. gsimonel

    gsimonel Supporter! Supporter

    Wait a minute! How do they get to have spring a month before we do? That's not fair!
  14. shanxi

    shanxi Well-Known Member

    There is the astronomical season and the meterological season.

    The first starts on 21 March (astronomical vernal equinox), the second on 01 March (this is based on the monthly average temperatures ). Both last three months.

    In many northern countries both dates are used.
    Alegandron likes this.
  15. ByzantiumBabe

    ByzantiumBabe Member

    Thank you for this excellent example above, Carausius.

    Before I comment, I must say the coin is beautiful and the original struck bronze design exceptional and wonderfully clear. I can only imagine what it feels like to hold and can only imagine its untouched patina.

    When I began more serious collecting, a dealer/collector told me this basic axiom, "to understand these (ancient coins) you must first pay special attention to the object itself, then understand its relation to other coins. All else is external and essentially secondary to collecting."

    As it seems to me, provenance is important, but I believe is a secondary level endeavor, especially if a past ownership claim lacks evidence.

    Unfortunately, the struck Janus As example exemplifies my questions on "historical pedigree" claims. This example above demonstrates that the original ownership history has not been verified, perhaps it will never be proven. In this case, neither by the dealer (primary source) nor by evidence from the original owner (secondary source). I believe this example is a "rumored" to be owned by a "baron" previously. I won't repeat my original post questions, but propose this revision (in the interest of truth and accuracy) to the provenance and "historical pedigree" you've note above:

    Provenance: Rodollo Ratto Sale, 23 January 1924, lot 264.
    Historical Ownership: Alleged to be from the Baron Dr. Pompeo Bonazzi di Sannicandro collection (Spring, 1880-1980, page?)

    I prefer “Historical Ownership” for two reasons.

    First, I don't really like the word "pedigree" because it often gets confused with provenance and, to me, refers to the genetic linking of generations of hybrid dogs, cats, horses, etc, to call them "purebred" and upper class, plus a little elitist too.

    Second, I feel it is important for the public to understand that most extant ancient coins had a private “Historical Ownership” previously, whether known or unknown. Even the coins in most museums and coin societies.

    Nevertheless, I think most collecting criteria are valid and motivations for choosing coins very personal. For me, I think for now I'll follow a mentor's axiom and always stay focused on the coin itself, facts and evidence.

    Again, thank you for the exceptional Roman struck bronze post! Perhaps someone will find verifiable “historical pedigree” evidence for the As before spring time?
    AuldFartte likes this.
  16. Carausius

    Carausius Brother, can you spare a sestertius?

    I think you are underestimating the knowledge of the collector community. Today, many collectors know the identities of "BCD" and "RBW" even though their names were not published in their collection sale catalogues. The same was true 100 years ago. Collectors knew each other, attended coin society meetings and talked. Dr. Bonazzi was a respected, published, numismatist. He was well known at the time. Spring, in his book, described Dr. Bonazzi as the collector of "Riche collection" and most book auctions of the past 10+ years (perhaps relying on Spring) have done the same.
    Last edited: Feb 28, 2021
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  17. Andrew McCabe

    Andrew McCabe Well-Known Member

    A great deal of unnecessary doubting of well established information sources such as the Bourgey November 1913 sale being of the collection of the Spanish Cuban Venezuelan, Vidal Quadras y Ramon who died in 1884. Yet it doesn't say so in the catalogue. But every knows.

    I can only suggest that if standard sources of information about collectors don't suffice, then don't pay a premium for their coins. Others will pay provenance premiums so the result is one will end up collecting recently dug and possibly illegally imported coins.

    It's really better if you can to go with current established methods of provenances, rather than ask for impossible information such as Vidal Quadras y Ramon holding a coin I might now own, in some 1850s Cuban photo*. The alternative to not beleiving such passed down information is buying material with absolutely no information at all. Or not collecting at all.

    *actually am not sure we have any photos of the guy so how could we verify it? But we know his coins were sold by Bourgey Nov.1913 partly because the firm has a long documented history and the current Madame Bourgey, working from her Paris office of the same firm, has said so in books
  18. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    "BCD" was, I believe, expressly identified as Basil [Vassili] C. Demetriadi in the 2012 Triton XV catalog of "The BCD Collection of the Coinage of Thessaly." Perhaps he wasn't identified in earlier auction catalogs from his collection?

    Correction: This is not true; I saw the identification elsewhere. See below.
    Last edited: Feb 28, 2021
  19. Carausius

    Carausius Brother, can you spare a sestertius?

    Not in my hard copy of the Triton XV catalogue, where I only find the collector identified as "BCD" or as "the collector". Perhaps it's well hidden and I've missed it. I'd be curious to know on what page of the catalogue you find this expressed identification.
  20. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    I could easily be wrong; I was simply stating my recollection. I'll see if I can find where I learned of BCD's identity. It may have been elsewhere on CNG's site.
    ByzantiumBabe likes this.
  21. Andrew McCabe

    Andrew McCabe Well-Known Member

    No, and it's not appropriate for you to name collectors who have not advertised their names themselves.

    Possibly you were told the information in confidence (which evidently means not to be shared on a discussion group) or from someone else who mistakenly shared it in which case, best not to spread further.
    paschka, Carthago and Carausius like this.
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