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Friday, December 20, 2013

Is eBay's "Replica Coins policy" for ancient coins overreaching?

Recently we listed an NGC-Certified and slabbed Julius Caesar Fourée Denarius for sale on eBay (i.e., an ancient coin that is silver plated and struck with a base metal core).

Within a day or so, eBay sent us a message stating that, although the coin was certified as a "silver plated denarius" and "ancient forgery," it violated the "replica coins policy" because the coin: 
"appears the same or similar to one that was issued by a government mint. This is considered a 'replica' which we no longer allow on our site, regardless of age..."

The final statement is particularly important: "regardless of age."

Some of these coins may have been struck intentionally when a local or Imperatorial (military) treasury ran low on silver, but more likely were struck unofficially by ancient forgers and by mint workers or others in possession of stolen dies. In any case, fourées are collectible coins in their own right; in fact many collector's specialize in collecting them.

We appealed our case and were told the item would have to certified by a major grading agency (NGC is at the top of their list). We made repeated call, sent faxes, rallied support from fellow coin vendors, and successfully convinced eBay to allow us to re-list it. This worked, it would seem, only because we were so unusually persistent, and because we rallied support from a number of other vendors who faxed in (yes, "faxed"; they don't make it easy) letters explaining the flaw in the policy as currently written.

It is disturbing, however, that any fourée or "barbarous imitation" (or, for that matter, potentially certain "limes" denarii, various other billon/bronze coins struck with dies similar to those used for silver issues at different mints, and even certain error coins) could be viewed as a replicas.
eBay may not be the ideal venue for purchasing ancient coins, particularly if you are a novice, but most reputable dealers and auction houses have eBay sites. The greatest advantage of eBay is probably it's "openness"; anyone with an account can search for specialized items from a vast number of vendors.

It is unclear right now to what extent eBay is likely to try to further restrict the sale of ancient coins struck "unofficially." Since most of the staff who deal with these issues know little about ancient coins, policing the category for "replicas" is now largely left to automated searches of listings for keywords that trigger removal (or at least closer inspection) of an item. These are presently not publicly known (else people trying to sell modern replicas could avoid detection), but there is a risk that keywords such as ancient "forgery," "fake," "imitation," or "unofficial" could trigger the Replica Response. Going strictly by the book, as much as 25% of our inventory could potentially fall into this category.

For collectors or vendors of fourées or imitative types, this could present a problem. The only solution, as we see it (besides figuring out which keywords to avoid), is to try to educate and convince eBay's staff that ancient forgeries, fakes, and imitations are legitimate, collectible, ancient coins, and should, by no means, be restricted unless they are somehow misrepresented.

We are quite interested in knowing if other vendors have encountered similar problems and whether this is a one-time event, or a frequent occurrence.

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