Authorities arrest dealer, repatriate record-setting coin
- Published: Mar 31, 2023, 8 AM
Especially in the world of ancient objects, provenance — or a record of an object’s ownership history — matters. In the case of a gold EID MAR aureus of Brutus celebrating the murder of Julius Caesar on the Ides of March, March 15, 44 B.C., the fabrication of a provenance meant that a record-setting coin — which had sold for nearly $4.2 million at an Oct. 29, 2020, auction by Roma Numismatic Limited in London — was returned to Greece.
The 2020 offering represented only the third example known of the iconic issue, joining one on long-term loan to the British Museum and the other in the Deutsche Bundesbank collection. The price established a record for any ancient coin at auction.
Immediately after its sale, a representative of Numismatic Guaranty Co. and NGC Ancients, which certified the coin, said, “The extraordinary price realized attests not only to the importance and value of the EID MAR aureus, but also the strength and vibrancy of the collectibles markets.”
NGC Ancients confirmed the coin’s authenticity and assigned the grade Mint State with an NGC Star to recognize its exceptional eye appeal, 5/5 strike, 3/5 surface, along with the “Fine Style” designation due to its high level of artistry.
Richard Beale, managing director of Roma, credited NGC’s impartial verification of the coin’s authenticity and condition as significant factors that led to the record result as, “Bidders were confident that they were competing for a true masterpiece.”
NGC Ancients does not verify provenance as part of its services, noting in its terms and conditions, “Unlike modern coins, which often benefit from well-documented, scientific parameters for the verification of authenticity, there rarely is conclusive data for ancient coins, and generally there is no surviving documentation to verify production characteristics.”
A fresh find?
Rather than resting in an old collection for the past century, the gold aureus was allegedly a fresh find; discovered more than a decade ago in an area of current-day Greece where Brutus was encamped with his army. As Coin World’s Jeff Starck reported on the record-setting sale in 2020, “The coin was struck by a military mint traveling with Brutus in the East, late summer-autumn of 42 B.C.”
The New York Times reported on March 22 that the coin was surrendered earlier this year by an unidentified American billionaire who investigators said had bought it in good faith in 2020. Beale was arrested in New York City in January.
The record-setting gold coin joined 28 other antiquities that were deemed looted as announced on March 21 by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg Jr. All were seized pursuant to multiple criminal investigations into high-profile traffickers and smugglers. The antiquities were returned during a repatriation ceremony at the Greek Consulate attended by Greek minister of culture Lina Mendoni, Consul General Konstantinos Konstantinou, and Ivan J. Arvelo, special agent in charge at Homeland Security Investigations, New York.
Arvelo said, “Antiquities trafficking is a multi-billion-dollar business with looters and smugglers turning a profit at the expense of cultural heritage, and Greece — long acknowledged as the cradle of Western Civilization — is especially susceptible to this type of criminal enterprise,” before concluding, “These treasured artifacts date from as far back as 5000 B.C.E. and were a valued part of life in the ancient world. We are honored to join our partners today in the repatriation of this priceless cultural heritage to the people of Greece.”
The March 21 announcement stated that the gold coin surfaced on the international art market in 2016, in Munich, Germany, with no provenance, before selling to a U.S. buyer. It was seized in February 2023 during a joint investigation with multiple foreign law enforcement agencies.
Silver examples of the EID MAR type are available occasionally, and any survivor is revered because of its direct connection to Julius Caesar’s murder, which shaped the history of the Western world, as the warning “beware the Ides of March” was made famous by William Shakespeare. Brutus saw the murder of the Roman emperor as a patriotic act of defense of Rome, and his celebratory coin included daggers on either side of a pileus — a freeman’s cap of liberty — above the inscription EID MAR. On the other side Brutus depicted himself.
As NGC noted in its October 8, 2020, press release when it initially certified the coin, “That Brutus portrayed himself is no less shocking than his brazen celebration of Caesar’s murder, for just two years earlier, when Caesar broke tradition by placing his own image on coins, Brutus was among his most vocal critics — decrying the self-promotion as the act of a tyrant. But once the tables had turned, Brutus somehow felt justified in placing his own image on coins.”
Starck explained, “Silver examples (called a denarius) are rare; they can easily command half a million dollars U.S., and the silver version was selected as the No. 1 coin in the survey of the book 100 Greatest Ancient Coins, by Harlan Berk, published by Whitman.” Aaron Berk, representing Harlan J. Berk Ltd., was the underbidder for the coin when it was auctioned. Asked whether the firm would identify the consignor and winning bidder, Alice King, client manager at Roma, told Coin World, “Unfortunately, we have not been authorised to disclose that information.”
Creating a provenance
The complaint, filed on Jan. 10 in New York City’s Criminal Court, charged Beale with six crimes including Grand Larceny in the First Degree, Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the First Degree, and Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree. The complaint alleges that in 2014, Italian coin dealer Italo Vecchi consigned the gold coin to Roma, providing no provenance. Beale then offered the coin at the 2015 New York International Numismatics Convention to an informant, showing them a photograph of the coin on his cell phone.
The complaint, signed by Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Brenton Easter, states, “At that time, the defendant described the Eid Mar Coin as coming from ‘an old Swiss collection,’ which I know is coded language within the antiquities trade, signaling to potential buyers that a coin lacks prior verifiable provenance.”
On Aug. 24, 2020, it was shipped to be authenticated by NGC Ancients with the country of origin on U.S. customs paperwork listed as Turkey. By September 2020 the coveted aureus was listed for sale in an upcoming Roma Numismatics Auction with a fabricated provenance and it would ultimately be offered as lot 463 of an Oct. 29 and 30, 2020, Roma Numismatics auction, and said to be “from the collection of the Baron Dominique de Chambrier, original attestation of provenance.
The coin realized $4,188,393, 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.
Easter stated in the complaint that Beale said that he was responsible for acquiring provenance documentation for coins auctioned by Roma Numismatics, declarations of antiquity and declarations of country of origin. The complaint asserts that Beale and his co-conspirator, Vecchi, deceived potential buyers by creating a false provenance for the gold coin and another coin, so that they would be viewed as legitimate in the marketplace.
When offered, it had what seemed to be an impressive provenance stating, “Ex 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,” with biographical notes relating the individuals to archaeology in the late 19th century.
A note on Roma’s website accompanying the lot reads, “Our commitment to ethical and responsible provenance: the consignor affirms that this auction lot is their lawful property to sell, and where cultural property restrictions may exist, that it meets the requirements to be legally imported into the United States and Germany unless specifically stated otherwise.”Connect with Coin World:
Sign up for our free eNewsletter
Access our Dealer Directory
Like us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter
MORE RELATED ARTICLES
US Coins Jun 8, 2023, 5 PM
Letter clarifies who created 1906 Benjamin Franklin medal
US Coins Jun 8, 2023, 5 PM
Husak family returns missing Clapp cent to the ANS
World Coins Jun 8, 2023, 1 PM
Latvia issues circulating commemorative €2 for Ukraine
US Coins Jun 8, 2023, 1 PM
Market Analysis: Two major silver dollar types in 1795