Thursday, 2 July 2015

Collectors (and dealers) are the new museums ― part 3

Robert's shop
photo: Robert Kokotailo
There are seventeen museums and public art galleries listed for the Calgary area, but if you are interested in the ancient, classical, world, there is nothing for you here. Well, almost nothing. Instead of searching in the museums, you could visit my Friend Robert Kokotailo at  Calgary Coin Gallery. He will be able to show you lots and answer all of your questions, too. Unlike a visit to a museum, if you see something you like, you can legally take it home with you. Many people have made their first contact with the ancient world at Robert's shop. I have helped him out on occasion, during busy times, and the times I value most are those when I encourage someone to collect these things. Other people have taken ancient coins and objects to Robert to identify and authenticate and he never charges for a verbal opinion and a valuation (insurance valuations are more work and charges will apply).  He is also the best person I know for detecting fakes. If you are uncertain about a coin you own, Robert can either put your mind at rest, or confirm your worst suspicions.

I have worked at two museums in Calgary: the major one being Glenbow Museum, where I started doing inventory work and ended up as a cataloger in their military department. The other museum was military, too, but it occupied a large room (actually an adjoining Quonset hut) at Crown Surplus. I did little in the museum and mostly served customers in the shop. The star of the exhibit was a complete and working Centurion Tank, although later the British Army delivered Gord another tank in need of some restoration: a Churchill. Crown Surplus is now celebrating its 60th anniversary, so if you get a chance, drop by. Gord is the nicest person.

Both Robert and Gord adapted to the WWW very well, Robert switched from his old mail lists to two different web sites, and Gord started with the 'net early enough to score the enviable domain name "". He has turned down a high offer for that name.

Nowadays, people can deal in ancient coins, antiquities and military antiques with only a virtual store. The market used to consist of the very big dealers who were internationally known; smaller dealers with a shop who were mostly known only locally, but who could reach more customers with a mail-out list. Photographs of stock for both types of dealers were usually a little sparse because photography and printing was expensive. With the web and digital cameras, dealers can illustrate almost everything, and no one really needs a shop. Often, though, a shop can serve also as a museum, or even have one on its premises. It then becomes a valuable part of the local culture which is not supported by your taxes. Who can argue with that?

What would be funny if it was not so tragic is when customs officials (and this has happened in the U.S.) require a dealer's or auction catalog photograph of an object as proof against it being smuggled into the country. The vast majority of coins and antiquities sold before the WWW were never photographed by the sellers. Honest representatives of the anti collecting lobby have not done their homework about the history of the market, and the dishonest do not care to mention that. You should be able to identify which is which from their writing style. Only an honest person can write honestly. It should be fairly obvious to most readers.

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