Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Hoard Returned Volume 52 Number 3, May/June 1999
by Mark Rose

Some 1,661 coins illegally excavated in Turkey 15 years ago were returned after a decade-long legal battle. At a March 4 ceremony at the Turkish Embassy in Washington, William I. Koch, the Boston businessman who has held the coins since 1984-85, announced that he was returning them. Koch was given a medal by Kenan Yurttagül, acting director general of the General Directorate of Monuments and Museums, who expressed Turkey's gratitude to Koch for safeguarding the coins since the lawsuit began in 1989.

The hoard--nearly 2,000 Greek and Lycian silver coins--was found in April 1984 by three treasure hunters near Elmali, north of Antalya. Among the coins were 14 Athenian decadrachms, possibly commemoratives struck after an Athenian victory over the Persians ca. 468/467 B.C. Before it was found, only 13 decadrachms were known.

According to a 1988 Connoisseur article, the treasure hunters sold 1,889 coins to a middleman, who sold them to a Munich dealer for $1.325 million. Koch and his partners bought 1,750 of the coins for $3.2 million and began selling them in 1987. Turkey's efforts to recover the coins began to pay off in March 1988, when the Numismatic Fine Arts gallery, owned by Bruce McNall, was to auction ten of them. Turkey's lawyers halted the sale, and McNall returned the coins.

Turkey learned that Koch and his associates had purchased most of the coins and demanded their return. After Koch refused, Turkey began a lawsuit in federal court in 1989. On the eve of the trial, scheduled to begin on March 8, Koch agreed to surrender the coins.

Turkey's attorney, Lawrence M. Kaye, said, "The another outstanding example of Turkey's continuing success in its war against the international traffic in looted antiquities that victimizes so many nations." Even with this recovery, however, more than 200 coins from the hoard are still unaccounted for.

© 1999 by the Archaeological Institute of America