Rauch Hoard. Reprinted from the August 2004 issue of The Celator, Vol. 18, No.8, where it appeared as my regular column The Other Side.
So I bet you all thought it was safe to emerge from hiding, that I was finally done talking about Republican imitations after my feature article several issues back? Hah! I'll never be finished (he chortles madly.) Recently, I was fortunate enough to obtain at least a good chunk of a hoard of imitations, and I'm going to tell you all about it…
I'd been impatiently waiting for the online version of the spring auction of the Austrian firm H. D. Rauch. Rauch has become one of my favorite venues, because it's still possible to actually buy something from them. The prices obtained in Rauch sales for choice Republican denarii are healthy enough, especially when calculated in weak dollars, but unlike the Zurich auctions, the competition hasn't yet become so fierce that it's hardly worth the bother of bidding. I often find something I like and can afford. In past sales however, they've offered little in the way of RR imitations. Mostly, I anticipated finding a few worthwhile official coins in Rauch 73.
I've gotten in the habit though of first checking the Celtic section in any new sale. I was pleased to see a long list of coins described as "Eravisker", because it seemed like a nice opportunity to add to my modest Eraviscan collection without breaking the bank. I was happily surprised when I clicked on the first lot, and saw that it wasn't Eraviscan at all, but an imitation of a serratus of C. Naevius Balbus, in all likelihood Dacian. (I don't want to seem to be taking potshots at Rauch's description. In general, they are careful, accurate cataloguers, as well as being as gracious and helpful as any firm in the world. The sad fact is that almost no one [other than Leu] gets this right, and describing all Republican imitations as Eraviscan is the misnomer de jour.) I was very surprised when I opened the next lot, and saw it was the same type, from the same dies as the first. That was unusual and important. I returned to the first lot, to make sure the photos hadn't been inadvertently repeated. Nope; same dies, different coin. I was amazed when the next two lots offered additional examples, again from the same dies. I have in my collection two plated denarii, imitations of Q. Antonius Balbus, from the same dies as each other, but I'd never seen anything like this.
The fifth lot was a choice serrate imitation of the aforementioned Q. Antonius Balbus, again, probably Dacian, certainly not Eraviscan. What could possibly be next? Drum roll: Three more examples of that coin, again all the same dies. Amazing! The next two lots were imitations, not serrate, of C. Coelius Caldus; ho hum, the same dies as each other. The last coin was a single example of an imitation of Cr-287/1, Roma/Roma seated with wolf and twins. By now I was jaded; just one? Where were the rest of them?
That was the end of the "Eravisker" run. I let out my breath and turned to the Republican section. I was utterly astonished to find an encore of sorts: two imitations of the serratus of Tiberius Claudius Nero, described as "barbarisiert". I have no idea what Germanic logic led to their placement here, apart from their fellows, but no matter. They were the icing on the cake. There is absolutely no question that all these coins are part of a single find. (To set a good example, these all are Geto-Dacian Monetary Copies, Class A, Group 1b, per my classification system in Vol. 18, No. 4 of The Celator.) This is almost without parallel. There is a small hoard found in Serbia which consists solely of die-linked imitations, as well as the Poroschia Hoard from Romania, which contains a number of die-matched imitations, mingled with a quantity of apparently official coins. To my knowledge, nothing like the Rauch hoard has ever appeared at public auction. I quickly arrived at a couple of decisions. I would try to learn all I could about the origin of the hoard (or partial hoard), and I would attempt to win the entire group, to keep it together.
Predictably, and sadly, my effort to learn something about the source of these coins was mostly futile, despite the cooperation of the staff at Rauch. They informed me that the group had been consigned by a Bulgarian dealer, now resident in Vienna. Where were they found? Was this the entire hoard? Were these coins found alone, or alongside official Republican coins? The dealer knew nuttin' about nuttin'. A stork had dropped them on his doorstep in the dead of night.
This really is worse than a shame. Simply knowing the region the coins were found in would help to answer some questions, such as how a group like this, which certainly saw at least moderate circulation, managed to stay together. If any of the petit fascists of the cultural patrimony movement are reading this, they're no doubt gleefully rubbing their hands together and sneering "We told you so. This is what happens with unprovenanced artifacts." And of course, they're absolutely right. The loss of knowledge is immense, at least within the context of my little sphere of interest. But just maybe, if it were possible to legally export and sell a find like this, some information about its origin might be forthcoming.
I was more successful in my quest to keep the group in one place. I was unable to find anyone I knew who planned to attend the sale (Lanz was the next day), but I didn't want to bid through the book. I had no fears about bidding shenanigans, but I needed the flexibility of adjusting my bids in response to the rhythms of the sale. I didn't want to blow this. An American dealer made the shrewd suggestion that I bid on the phone, something I'd never done before. Rauch was happy to arrange this. So I rousted myself and made a pot of coffee at 2:30 AM, waiting for the phone to ring around 3:15. (I doubt the AIA honchos sacrifice their sleep this way!) It rang, I bid, and that, as they say, is that. I'll shut up and let the coins speak for themselves.