Collecting the past [Stamp & Coin Mart, December 2008, Page 108, 109]
Brett Hammond of TimeLine Originals provides a beginner's guide to collecting ancient coins and antiquities, and reveals how decent items can be obtained at affordable prices
Most S&CM readers will know that, as economic times harden, the rich begin to convert their stocks, shares and wads of currency into gold, silver, diamonds, works of art and other possessions that seems to increase in value, or at worst to hold their prices, even as conventional investments sink. Ancient coins and antiquities also attract wealthy investors, as our TV screens often remind us when a rare Greek vase, or Chinese Buddha, or gold coins from a famous sunken galleon come under the hammer and make news headlines.
But hereís a much less well-known fact about ancient coins and antiquities: very few carry five-figure price tags. In fact, itís perfectly feasible to start your own collection with no more than a thin wad of tenners in your pocket. As a dealer Iíve sold literally thousands of very moderately priced pieces. They have often gone to people buying their very first Roman coin, or Anglo-Saxon Buckle, or Medieval crossbow bolt, or any one of hundreds of other categories. What these customers had in common was a number of questions almost all of them wanted to ask before they dipped their toes into what were, for them, unknown waters.
One very easy way to provide you with a smooth route into those same waters would be for me to list my customersí questions and to give you the answers on this page. Here are the most frequently asked of the bunch:
Q: Can you reassure me that your company does not sell fakes or reproductions? A: All reputable coin and antiquities dealers strive to keep their stocks free of reproductions and fakes. My company stands at the forefront in these efforts. We go to great lengths to check the authenticity of each artefact before we list it in one of our catalogues. Furthermore, we give each customer an unconditional Certificate of Authenticity with every purchase. Please rest assured that our reputation stands firmly behind each certificate. That is probably the reason why so many of our customers are repeat customers.
Q: Given their great age, why are some pieces so inexpensive? A: We have sold coins and antiquities for more than a decade. During that time we have tried to bring this fascinating hobby to a wide range of potential buyers by ensuring that our stocks include, alongside more expensive investment pieces, numerous everyday items that were used in huge numbers by the less wealthy members of ancient civilizations. Such pieces are not required by overstocked museums; nevertheless they allow collectors of moderate means to hold and to own genuine ancient artefacts for a very modest outlay. The commonest of them can still be bought for a few pounds.
Q: From where do you obtain your coins and artefacts? A: In the 18th and 19th centuries collections of coins and artefacts were formed by members of almost every middle and upper class family during their travels around Britain and foreign countries. Many of those collections were later broken up and widely dispersed to provide the stock in trade of 20th century dealers. Pieces from those accumulations continue to circulate as older collectors die in the 21st century and their effects are sold by relatives. Add to that source the remnants of many declared hoards of commoner coins and artefacts unwanted by museums. Undoubtedly modern metal detectors have also hugely increased the numbers of hoards that come to light nowadays. Once they have passed through reporting and Treasure processes, superfluous coins and artefacts from those discoveries add to the supplies from which my company can legally buy.
Q: Shouldn't all ancient objects be housed in public museums? A: Most certainly not. If some future Big Brother state were to outlaw all private collecting, the amount of money required to house all the coins and artefacts in public museums would cause a public outcry against the increased taxes the state would need to levy. By leaving large numbers of commoner pieces in private ownership the state can count on its citizens to visit museums to admire the rarer and more valuable objects in the display cabinets. The visitors spend money - on entry fees, on museum publications, on special exhibitions, on refreshments, and more. Additionally, the humbler pieces in private collections have a most important advantage over pieces in museum cabinets: they can be handled by their owners.
Q: Will supplies ever run out? A: Probably not in our lifetimes; but the popularity of owning ancient objects seems unlikely ever to diminish. You can start a modest collection sure in the knowledge that it can be added to in future, and that if you buy wisely you are unlikely to be out of pocket should you ever decide to sell. At the more expensive end of the market the influence of alternative investment buyers has heralded a period in which desirable items can sometimes be in short supply.
Q: I'm an absolute beginner. What can you tell me about how to care for an ancient object when I take it home? A: Most major dealers have books in their publications department from which you can learn much about conservation. Itís an aspect of collecting we actively encourage. Indeed, you will soon discover that owning your very first ancient coin or artefact will at once boost your interest in this aspect of the hobby. We will certainly give you sound advice on how best to look after any coin or artefact you buy from us.
Q: What would you say are the educational advantages of owning ancient objects? A: Undoubtedly the main advantage lies in allowing an ancient coin or artefact to rest in your hand as you examine it closely. It is sure to encourage you to want to find out more about how it was made; about the people who used it and lost it; about what happened to the culture to which the object belonged. This will inevitably lead you to buy books, to visit libraries and museums; to take a greater interest in history and archaeology ... and to become an even more enthusiastic and knowledgeable collector.
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