The Gold Stater – A Cautionary Tale

11 November 2014 — 13 Comments

staterThe mention on a detecting forum about the wisdom of purchasing coins on eBay reminded me of an earlier post that I reproduce here. Apologies if you’ve seen it before, but it will be ‘fresh’ for some of my readers. What is it you have to be cautious about? Read on …

 

It is usual that events carrying negative emotional weight are the ones most easily remembered. Do you recall exactly where and what you were doing when hearing of Princess Diana’s demise in that French underpass or the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre? I can recollect in minute detail what I was doing on the 22 November 1963 when John F Kennedy’s assassination was announced.

An Unexpected Find

I don’t profess to know how the human mind operates, but positive memories also work for me in a similar way. On the 15 September 2003 at about 11am in a rough-ploughed Buckinghamshire field, I surprised myself by finding a Celtic gold stater. Sometimes I cannot remember what I did yesterday, but can recall with remarkable clarity where I was and what I did all those years ago!

When I found the coin I didn’t perform a victory dance, simply because I am not a demonstrative person, unable to move in a co-ordinated manner anyway, and didn’t fully understand what I’d found. Oh, yes, it looked pretty enough and somewhat different from the usual bits and pieces, but still a bit of a puzzle.

Into the pocket of my jeans it went, joining car keys, paper hanky, stick of chewing gum plus assorted detritus and continued swinging, stumbling (occasionally swearing) over the rough earth. Today of course, that gold coin would have been carefully placed in a foam-lined and cotton-wool upholstered Old Holborn tin and safely zipped in a secure finds’ pouch. But not then!

The rest of the dig was uneventful as little else was found – except for the ear-splitting screech announcing the arrival of a George III cartwheel penny. One day I’ll find an example in half decent condition! Only a few more desultory sweeps followed before I gave up the search and made my weary way home.

Treasure?

Stater2 copy 2

Tasciovanus ‘Hidden Faces’ gold stater © JW

Later that day, I posted the coin on an online forum I’d recently joined. I suppose it is mainly because of the reaction of some of the members on there that I remember this particular coin so well. I hadn’t realised that a Celtic stater is quite a delectable find and one coveted by many detectorists. This one was in excellent condition and quite rare – as I subsequently found out.

The local Finds Liaison Officer was informed and advised me that it was ‘treasure’ and would have to be reported. My detector friends said this was misinformation. And so it proved to be. The FLO – recently appointed and not fully conversant with the law – apologised profusely, thus I was able to retain the coin. Simple research plus the help of Chris Rudd, Philip de Jersey of the Celtic Coin Index and my friend Mr Google told me that my find was a Celtic gold stater of Tasciovanus, c.20BC-AD10. References: Van Ardsell 1680, BM Catalogue 1591- 603, Spink Coins of England 214.

According to the latter, the style is based on the Whaddon Chase stater, but what I found interesting was that the coin is often referred to as the Hidden Faces stater. Evidently, in many examples of Celtic art, a face is hidden in what is otherwise an abstract pattern. I have circled one of the hidden faces in the crossed Apollo wreath, so you can clearly see that they are made up of a pair of pellet-in-ring motifs for the eyes, a pellet for the nose, and a small crescent for the mouth. Many numismatists believe that the design of the Hidden Faces staters which form the trademark of the 1st and 2nd coinage is one of the loveliest examples of Celtic decorative art within the British series.

Tasciovanus was the king of the Britons in the South East and leader of the Catulvellauni (Celts). Around 20BC he minted gold, silver and copper coins and was the first king to issue inscribed Celtic coins marked with the name of Verulamium (Roman city of St Albans). His tribe was originally centred there.

Can I show the Major? 

Armed with this information, an estimateof the coin’s value and a selection of other finds, I arranged to visit Ron the landowner, who I knew was very interested in history. He pored over the finds of several visits to his land and asked if he could borrow a small selection to show to his mates in the pub. I reminded him that the gold coin had been valued in the upper hundreds of pounds and that he should be especially careful not to lose it. He made that promise and I reluctantly parted with it.

I was on tenterhooks for the rest of that week. The next time we talked, Ron asked if I would mind giving him one of the finds. One of his mates in the pub – the Major – had taken a fancy to a military badge that my wife had found. Mrs John was delighted to donate her find. The stater was safely returned and Ron advised that we shouldn’t sell, but keep it safe because: we may need that money someday. Hang on to it, John. And that’s what I did. He also told me that the field was once owned by Mr Blobby’s creator, Noel Edmunds. I hadn’t realised that I had followed in such famous and exalted footsteps!

Tasciovanus and the Dancing Queen

REPLICA
One of the reproductions I had made , worth £2.50. A similar one was sold on eBay as genuine, and selling for hundreds of pounds.

Flushed with success, this naive detectorist promptly had the coin copied. A company offered to replicate the coin for absolutely no charge, except for postage, and send five examples to me with the proviso they could include it in their catalogue. I agreed. This enabled me to present an almost perfect copy coin to the landowner, tenant farmer and also Mrs John as compensation for the loss of her badge.

Apart from small the very mark clearly indicating that it was a replica – it was hard to tell the difference. They were delighted; I was happy and so the coin, apart from an occasional boasting outing and monthly check to see it was still there, remained encapsulated and in a drawer for nigh on six years. Until, out of the blue, I got a phone call …

It was rather noisy in the pub and the male caller, Mark, had to compete with the strident tones of a number of karaoke singers murdering Abba’s Dancing Queen. I understood that he had been talking to Ron, the landowner, and was interested in seeing the stater. I saw no harm in this and arranged a date later in the week when we could meet.

Mark was very interested in Celtic coins found in the immediate area. He asked many questions about the finding of the stater and sounded me out to see whether I would be prepared to sell. I explained that I only had a 50% share in the coin and would have to confer with Ron. Thus Mark the coin collector and I made a date for later in the week.

In the meantime it was decided that, rather than the coin just sitting in a drawer, we would contemplate selling – providing the price was satisfactory. No time to lose.

Basic Lessons in Numismatics

When Mark returned he seemed very circumspect, but apologetic. He said that although I looked like an honest sort of guy, he wanted to make a few checks before making a decision to purchase. I didn’t know whether to feel chuffed or offended! He extracted the coin from its encapsulated incarceration and examined it very carefully with a strong magnifier. He then placed it on the electronic balance he had brought and told me that it should weigh 5.5 or 5.6 grams, according to Van Ardsell. And it did – spot on at 5.5!

Fig 4

© JW

I was intrigued because I couldn’t understand why the stater, which seemed lacking in some detail to me, should obey and weigh in at exactly what Ardsell said. Mark explained that, although he didn’t know how they did it, the Catulvellauni artisans were very clever in the process of making the coin and the weight of the pellet of gold they used was always the same.

The coin I had always thought had been damaged was, in fact, complete. When this particular coin was struck, part of the horse’s forelegs, legend and bucranium didn’t show. To further illustrate his point, Mark tested my maths by producing a Tasciovanus quarter stater and asking what I thought it should weigh. Easy. I’m a quick learner. The balance said 1.4 grams – I was right!

Lots of questions from Mark followed including where the stater was found, where it was recorded and had it been copied? After an exhaustive examination of both me and the coin, he expressed a desire to purchase. I had never felt so elated since passing my driving test over 40 years ago!

I also signed a piece of paper saying that I was the finder and the coin was genuine. Provenance, intoned Mark, is important. When I leave the picture, I want my children to know all about this coin.

The reason for Mark’s thorough checking was that MY stater (evidently a copy!) had been sold on eBay in December 2006 and subsequently recorded as a fake coin on Dr Ilya Prokopov’s forum he runs for the classical numismatics community. Later, and at my leisure, I logged on to the site and saw the full report. This was news to me; I was astounded. I wonder how much it sold for and wonder about the gullible purchaser and whether he realised that he’d been duped. I also saw my own coin on the Forgerynetwork.com and recorded as having been sold on eBay.

Scam

Stater

Click to enlarge

I can only surmise that a replica was purchased (£2.75 plus postage), the copy mark erased and the coin sold as legitimate. So, what have I learned from this experience? First, don’t have replicas made of important coins you might find and then placed in a catalogue so others can purchase. This way they won’t fall into the hands of the unscrupulous. In addition, the process of making a mould may take ‘something away’ from the coin, cause minor damage and thus reduce its value. Best give the landowner a picture and full details of where it is recorded. If you do need to make a copy, have it made as a ‘one-off’. It will work out more expensive, but will give you peace of mind.

Conclusion

The landowner was ecstatic with the few hundred quid that came his way and has urged me to go look for more coins. But I feel depressed, and don’t really know why. This is the first detecting find that I have ever sold and perhaps need time to mourn over my loss.

I feel like crying, screaming into a pillow and playing Abba music at its most loudest. I’ll do whatever it takes to get the sadness, rage, anger, and disappointment out of my system. Actually, what I did do was go and spend my half of the booty on a better, more sophisticated detector. Now I can’t wait to re-visit the ‘stater field’ in the hope of finding more. We all live in hope!

______________________________________________

Based on an original article first published in The Searcher magazine

Revolving stater courtesy Dave in Oz

______________________________________________

John

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13 responses to The Gold Stater – A Cautionary Tale

  1. Fascinating read.Thanks John.

  2. A very good tale that lessons can be learned from. Great find.

  3. Has the coin value gone up much since you found it John. I would rather have the coin than the money and i wonder do you feel the same way now?

  4. Food for thought John.

  5. that was a very good article John. I found a Tasciovanus silver unit a week ago – not gold but priceless to me.

  6. A very interesting post and certainly makes us all aware of some of the unscrupulous fraudsters out there, the answer is to never let any important and valuable artefact or coin out of your sight, lesson learnt.

  7. Yes an interesting tale and with respect to the fakes around not unusual. I had a similar experience with a Stater found in the 1980’s which although i was able to buy out the owners share, they wanted a keepsake in the form of a copy. This i duly did and the result has been a number of copies doing the rounds of eBay over the years. When i see them i contact the seller and inform them that i have the original, recorded with the CCI etc etc. Usually they take them down or sell as a copy, but some dont.

  8. It reminds me of an excited guy who I spoke to on a flight back from Egypt, who was very keen to show me two old coins that he had purchased whilst there. One quick look and a flip over of the coins showed two different busts on each coin, that were approximately 1000 years apart in date. That’s what I call being naive!!!!

  9. I’m glad you at least ended up with the value of the coin. Halfway through the story I had a nasty feeling you were going to be palmed off with one of the reproductions.

    I’ve never tried selling anything – not that I have anything half so fine to sell – and after reading this I’ll try not to. Many other detectorists have said the same.

  10. Interesting read John, I too thought it was going belly up half way through ! It’s just a shame that people are getting ripped off by unscrupulous s#!t bags

  11. Would love to find coins like that here, LOL

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