Italy’s guarded numismatic treasure

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by Björn Schöpe

December 4, 2014 – Granted, Italy has much more serious troubles than some thousands of coins. Anyway, an enquiry recently made in Parliament on that matter is very well justified and overdue.

Scandal #1: In 1992 the Italian Mint (Zecca dello Stato) became the Zecca dello Stato section of the IPZS; IPZS (Istituto Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato) was Italy’s newly formed Mint and Banknote Printing Agency, a stock corporation completely owned by the state. At this time eleven barrels full of coins were found which had been stored in the Zecca basement for decades. Just to not rush things the Ministry of Finance decided to create a panel of experts with the task of browsing, cataloguing and evaluating the numismatic material. Seventeen years later that panel presented their final report in 2009! Result: The treasure consists of numerous gold coins and medals but also of dollars, marks, pound sterling, and many rare issues from the pre-war epoch of Victor Emmanuel III. In addition, the panel detected over 10,000 collector coins comprising pieces from before WWII. This fact surprised many Italian experts as it was a common conviction, after the war, that during the war all collector coins had been sold mostly to foreign dealers.

Scandal #2: In autumn 2013 numismatist Domenico Luppino revealed this remarkable story. Actually he had come across it through information freely available online, ‘hidden’ in a footnote in a numismatic article. Italy’s collectors cried out loudly. Will the market value of rare coins drop with new specimens being available soon? What will happen with the 10,000 collector coins mentioned? How could it be that it took the expert panel half a generation to review the coins?
Five years after the panel’s final report and one year after Domenico Luppino’s article we don’t know yet. The Ministry of Finance has made no statement at all.
In October Francesco Laforgia MP has made a written enquiry in Parliament. He asked ‘if it is true that the panel has worked for seventeen years instead of four months to compile a catalogue; what costs incurred paying the panel members … if the Ministry has intention of selling the coins or making them available for the market bit by bit.’

For the time being we must be patient. Against this background it will be difficult to convince Italy’s sceptics that the state guards and preserves numismatic cultural property better than private persons. At least if by saying ‘protect’ we don’t mean locking them up in a basement. There can be no doubt about the fact that the public institutions are very good in doing so, anyhow.

Roberto Ganganelli spotlighted the enquiry in the Italian online magazine Il Giornale della Numismatica (in Italian).

You can still read Domenico Luppino’s article (in Italian) as PDF.

And this is the official enquiry made by Francesco Laforgia MP on the website of the Parliament.