Sourcing Provenance

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Restitutor, Oct 24, 2020.

  1. Restitutor

    Restitutor Well-Known Member

    Morning fellow CT'ers,

    I've got a few coins in my collection that came with no provenance, and I'm interested in learning where they came from. Can anyone recommend advise for how to track down previous owners? The coins have come from reputable dealers (HJB/CNG) - is it proper form to contact the sellers to see what information they have?

    Thanks in advance -
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  3. benhur767

    benhur767 Sapere aude

    It's okay to ask dealers but you'll probably won't get you very far. Responses such as, "the identity of the client is confidential," or "the coin comes from an old European collection," and answers along those lines, are typical. Generic stuff. HJB and CNG would have included the provenance with the coin if they were at liberty to share it.
  4. Restitutor

    Restitutor Well-Known Member

    Interesting! I always figured it was more, provenance was only included for “important” people rather than thinking about it from a privacy perspective. So that’s good to know!

    I suppose I should clarify and say what I’m most interested in from a provenance perspective is where the coin came from, not so much who it came from. Is it typical to know “where” the coin was found? Just seems surprising so many coins don’t have an origin story before appearing on the market.
    Carl Wilmont, +VGO.DVCKS and DonnaML like this.
  5. physics-fan3.14

    physics-fan3.14 You got any more of them.... prooflikes? Supporter

    Are you talking about if it's a hoard find or something like that? Usually, hoard finds are listed, if known, because that is considered a selling point.

    But, there are literally millions of coins on the market, and the vast majority of them don't have any sort of information like this.
    Carl Wilmont, +VGO.DVCKS and DonnaML like this.
  6. Sulla80

    Sulla80 one coin at a time Supporter

    I often ask for provenance and rarely get anything other than words like "from a Swiss family collection" which doesn't do much for me.

    I've had the most success with ACSearch finding previous auction listing for coins that I own - here you can go back a few years, but usually the provenance is limited to another auction house. Researching a coin I've also had some luck finding coins that are highlighted in articles or old catalogs. Here's a nice example: AE Coin from Ekkarra, Achaea Phthiotis

    There's not much magic - as much as image search may eventually prove more useful for provenance hunting, I personally have had limited success with Ex-Numis and ACSearch image search. I think there are a few hurdles still to overcome in content (building better databases) and search technology (better algorithms for recognizing die matches and exact matches).

    My favorite example of "re-discovered provenance" is this one. The CNG source was listed with the coin, but surprisingly no mention of the Shore provenance:
    Phrateces Shore 312.jpg
    Phraatakes 2BC-4AD AR Tetradrachm 11.38g
    Obv: Bare-headed bust left without royal wart, with medium pointed beard, wearing diadem, earring visible
    Rev: King seated right on throne, Tyche standing before him, giving him diadem and holding cornucopia, standard legend, below Tyche's arm IT, above Tyche's arm, IT, ΓOPM(?)
    Ref: Shore 312 (this coin) CNG Auction Catalog
    Note: my notes on this coin are here: "Parthian King Phraates IV and Son"
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2020
  7. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    I've found a couple of provenances (none very old) for Roman Republican coins in the new Schaefer Roman Republican Die Project database accessible through CRRO. It's more useful, though, for finding die matches.
  8. Helvetica

    Helvetica Member

    Apart from the reason given by benhur767, there is also the point that most of the big coin dealers simply do not have the time to reply to the many emails they receive about provenance, or even to requests to use images in theses, articles, presentations etc. Most of the big sellers let me grant third-party permission in their name, of their coins on wildwinds.
    One great success I DID have in tracing the provenance and location of a coin for my GRPC Lydia books. The coin was described very vaguely and in about 8 words in Price's work on coins with architecture, - from Price I traced it to Mionnet, then back to Vaillant, then back to a sale by an Austrian shop in the early 1800s, then back to a collection in the late 1700s, and I finally tracked down the coin itself to the Prague National collection !
  9. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    My best provenance trace came as an accident when a friend sent me a scan of a page from Dattari/Savio for another coin and I discovered one of mine purchased years ago without provenance was illustrated there. In making the comparison, we might note that the D/S plates are pencil rubbings.
  10. physics-fan3.14

    physics-fan3.14 You got any more of them.... prooflikes? Supporter

    With a pencil rubbing, how can you be sure its the same coin and not just a die match?
    +VGO.DVCKS likes this.
  11. ominus1

    ominus1 Well-Known Member

    ....well....I can see its the same coin on Dougs from the flan & hammer strike :)
    Ryro, +VGO.DVCKS and Sulla80 like this.
  12. Sulla80

    Sulla80 one coin at a time Supporter

    strike & flan are the give-away
    +VGO.DVCKS and ominus1 like this.
  13. pprp

    pprp Well-Known Member

    A monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type the complete works of William Shakespeare. Of course nothing is definite except for death, but given the centering and cracks its the same coin.
    +VGO.DVCKS likes this.
  14. DiomedesofArgos

    DiomedesofArgos New Member

    I'm very sympathetic to this post. I think it would not only be cool to know where your coin was what village in what country, but also the collected knowledge of thousands of related coins would be tremendously important for researchers. Alas, I am under the impression that most coins are found by regular people who aren't incentivized to report where they found something, so this info is usually lost to history...
    +VGO.DVCKS likes this.
  15. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    this is why the Portable Antiquities Scheme in England is so important. I wish other countries would follow Britain’s example (at least in this area...)
  16. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    @FitzNigel, you Nailed it --for ancients as well as medievals, the Portable Antiquities Scheme, and the less official, but complementary UK Detector Finds Database (UKDFD) can be lots of help. Here are some links.
    (...And you Can search either of these without an account ...last I checked.)
    ...More anecdotally, but along similar lines, I've gotten detector finds, by way of UK ebay, which were listed on one or the other site, but which the seller didn't bother to cite, even in ensuing email correspondence. ...Yep, even in the case of detector finds, establishing anything in the way of provenance, if it isn't one of those rare occasions when it's handed to you, is a Job.
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2020
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  17. Helvetica

    Helvetica Member

    Ah, but metal detectorist are very wary of letting people know where they find their coins, they want to keep the information = location to themselves for obvious reasons, which is why PAS has stopped giving the latitude and longitude of new finds on their website. Otherwise some poor farmer will wake up one day and see his field full of swing-and-diggers..
  18. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    @Helvetica, Thank you for the reality check. On more than one count: reputable dealers are likely to be reticent about this level of detail for commensurably responsible reasons. ...Which, by however wryly indirect means, restores my faith in the integrity of how most of this is being done.
    ...Incidentally, it was someone on this forum who posted a link to the new version of the Portable Antiquities Scheme from the Netherlands.
    ...Whoever you are, can you help us out here?
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2020
    DiomedesofArgos likes this.
  19. DiomedesofArgos

    DiomedesofArgos New Member

    That's fair. It would be nice though if the info could at least exclusively be available to academics. Or maybe some kind of timeline for release like a declassification schedule :D Maybe in 50 years your grandchildren can learn where your coins came from...
    +VGO.DVCKS likes this.
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