World Coins

Monday Morning Brief for April 3, 2023: Arrest a wake-up call

This gold EID Mar aureus realized $4,188,393 at an Oct. 29, 2020, auction by Roma Numismatic Limited in London. The coin has since been returned to Greece and an official at Roma arrested and charged with multiple crimes.

Original images courtesy of Roma Numismatic Limited.

The news that a dealer in ancient coins was arrested and charged by New York officials with criminal acts involving an extremely rare gold ancient coin should be a wake-up call on several levels.

At the heart of the criminal case are allegations that a false provenance was developed for the third known gold example of an EID MAR aureus so that it would be viewed as legitimate in the marketplace. The importance of the coin cannot be overstated and the results show that — it realized $4,188,393 at an Oct. 29, 2020, auction by Roma Numismatic Limited in London, and on Nov. 29, 2020, it was shipped from London to New York, where the country of origin was listed as Italy on the customs paperwork.

The auction lot description for the coin claimed that it was from the collection “of Bernard de Chambrier (1878–1963) and Marie Alvine Irma von Bonstetten (1893–1968); Ex collection of the Baron Gustave Charles Ferdinand von Bonstetten, Chamberlain to Ferdinand I, Emperor of Austria.” However, when the coin first surfaced at a New York coin convention in 2015, it was allegedly presented as being from “an old Swiss collection,” which according to a special agent for Homeland Security, “is coded language within the antiquities trade, signaling to potential buyers that a coin lacks prior verifiable provenance.”

The creation of a provenance that authorities say is false and its alleged looting has had real-life consequences. Richard Beale, managing director of Roma, was arrested in New York City in January and has been charged with multiple crimes (see news coverage here) involving the coin and its sale.

The gold coin, along with 28 other antiquities, was repatriated to officials from Greece by U.S. authorities in March.

Beale’s arrest and the repatriation of the coin to Greece are proof that U.S. authorities will crack down on the sale of looted materials, including coins, and the creation of false provenances to try to hide the items’ true origins. Sellers of coins who in the past may have played fast and loose in describing a particular coin’s origin are now on notice that doing so carries risks that include potential arrest and the resultant harm done to the reputations of an individual and a business.
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