Collector Finds Ancient Coins; Experts Say Find Not Unprecedented

Article excerpt

Byline: Alliniece T. Andino, Times-Union staff writer

His wife told him to get a new, low-key hobby.

So Robert McDonald started combing a riverbank in Holland with his metal detector. One day last summer, the Jacksonville native made an uncommon find of about 60 Roman coins, some dating back to about 300 B.C.

Newspapers in McDonald's new home of Emmeloord, Holland, reported the find as unusual for modern history because so many ancient coins were unearthed at once.

At least one coin expert challenges whether the discovery was that unusual on an international scale.

McDonald visited his mother in Callahan recently and told of the day he found the spoils. The display screen on his high-tech metal detector indicated something of bronze, copper, silver and gold was beneath the soil.

He dug and saw a bright red clay pot.

"I pulled away the mud all the way around it," McDonald said.

The 43-year-old laced his fingers and described how he tried to pick up the pot.

"The pot started turning into dust right in front of my eyes," he said.

Then McDonald found the coins. He said he found more than 300. Some were Dutch, some Celtic and 68 were Roman.

Harlan J. Berk has dealt in ancient coins for 39 years. The Chicago coin expert, who is president of the Professional Numismatists Guild, said the find could be rare for Holland, but at times 40,000 ancient coins have been discovered at once. People in ancient times buried money for safekeeping, he said.

"You're living in a world with 30 or 40 million people," Berk explained. "You don't have banks. You don't have credit cards."

McDonald was told the area may have been a religious site where adventurers would bury their money before boarding a ship.

"They would give it to God on the riverbank before heading out to sea," he said.

Dutch newspaper reporter Gerard Berendsen interviewed McDonald about the uncovered treasure. He said the find was not unique except for the volume. Most often people dig up one coin here and another one there.

"It is almost certain that a former owner of the coins got afraid his coins would be stolen [and] decided to hide his valuable metal. And took this secret with him in his grave," Berendsen wrote.

Some of the oldest coins are worth about $1,500 each and some collectors would pay more, Berendsen said.

Ancient coins in general are not rare, Berk said.

However, McDonald indicated two coins were unique. Berk disagreed, saying the two coins McDonald described do not exist as such.

One coin, McDonald said, illustrated the profile of Roman emperor Julius Caesar on one side and a standing image of the Egyptian queen Cleopatra on the other. …