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Adventures in Bidland


I’ve had great fun diving into ancient coins and have particularly enjoyed buying several large mixed lots.  Blindly buying an unimaged mixed lot as close as I can come to the thrill of digging up my own treasure.  I’ve also bought numerous individual coins along the way and put together a themed collection.  It’s all been so much fun!

It was time to step it up, to stop buying many little coins and instead go for one special specimen.  I wanted a beauty, something breathtaking, a showstopper.

Then I saw it.  A deeply struck, well-centered Agathokles tetradrachm.  It called to me.  Loudly. 

ArtCoinsRoma.  What on earth were they thinking, putting an crazy low estimated hammer of 1000 € on such a fabulous coin?  Recent comps showed much much higher prices.  Yes, there is an edge flaw on the flan but it’s not really seen head-on.  Yes, there are two dark spots on Arethusa’s cheek. But that strike!  The surfaces!  The centering!  The artistry!  The estimate was clearly wrong but my heart said “Buy it! Do whatever it takes!”.  I stopped buying coins in anticipation of a big bid (well, almost stopped… I did get a few in the last two months before the auction).  Checked my finances.  Did some calculations.

I sought expert advice from a forum member experienced in buying higher-end coins (AncientJoe/SmEagle1795).  I researched comparable sales.  I registered with ACR.  Checked out their live bidding setup (via Coretech, and I’ve successfully bid with Coretech in the past).  Debated whether to put in a prebid or whether to just bid live.  Decided on the latter.  Determined my maximum bid and promised myself I’d stick to it.

The auction was scheduled to begin at 4 a.m. my time.  No big deal, like other obsessed collectors I’ve often awakened in the middle of the night to bid in a faraway auction.   But should I bid from home, trusting my unreliable ISP and even less reliable power?  The electricity in my part of the world goes off frequently, although it hasn’t gone off in weeks lately-- as I told another forum member earlier in the day before the auction.  It’ll probably be OK.

Jinx.  The power went off at 7 pm the night before the auction.  Still out when I went to bed.  It was off for more than 4 hours.  I decided to get up at 3 a.m. and drive to my office, where we have a much better ISP and a backup generator.

The rest is best told in a timeline.  


February 3, 2014

3:15 am 

Why is my alarm going off?  Oh right, I’m going to spend money with reckless abandon.  Log into Coretech.  Forget that it won’t run on Chrome.  No problem, switch to Safari.  Java message, has to update.  Java and Adobe seem to be out of date mere days after updating, so annoying-- I should have done that yesterday.  Click to download the update.

3:25 am
Shower, dress.  Check the computer. J ava update still loading.  Damn snail-paced overpriced ‘high speed’ internet connection!  Check the current bid; the prebidding period had ended.  19 bids, probably due to the coin being showcased on ACR and Sixbid.  Bidding stands at triple the estimate-- completely expected-- still reasonable for the coin and below my planned max.  I’m a go for live bidding!

3:45 am
Drive to the office.  Listen to some calming classical music.  No other cars in sight, make good time.  Feeling confident, in control.  The power failure was not a bad omen.  Thinking positive.

4:05 am
Auction should be starting; ‘my’ coin shouldn’t be on the block for another hour or two.  Time to make some coffee and get set up.  Or maybe I should get logged in to Coretech first.  Yeah, I’d better do that first.

4:08 am
Install the Java update on my Mac laptop.  Open Coretech, log in.  Error.  BLOCKED.  What?  NOOOOOO!  Why?  I'm terrible and troubleshooting tech problems.  Maybe our work servers block that type of site.  But I’d logged into Coretech for other auction houses before, from work… I try to investigate the blockage.  Change various security settings.  Doesn’t work.  Try logging in via a work computer, a PC.  Same thing!  NOOOOOO!  What now?!

4:20 am
Maybe I can bid live by phone.  I call ACR from my cell and after being transferred to someone fluent in English, the connection went bad.  The call was still connected but no audio.  NOOOOO!  I call back two more times… I didn’t hear a ring but it connected, no audio!  (A week later I found that my phone's speaker had chosen that critical moment to die.  Had I realized the problem at the time, I could have just plugged in a headset.  One of many major errors in judgement that morning.)

4:30 am
Must be something about my office’s internet provider that is blocking it.  If I hurry, there’s still time to drive back home and bid from there.  Back in the car, drive in a mad rush, dodging the occasional frog or cat.


4:50 am
Home again.  Open up Coretech, log in… BLOCKED! NOOOOO!  Frantically google for a fix.  Find the settings part of Java and add Coretech’s address as an allowed site.  Try to log back in.  BLOCKED!  Add more addresses to the security exception list.  STILL BLOCKED!  I'm out of ideas for fixing it.

4:56 am
Try calling ACR again. Still a bad connection. I don’t have a landline.  It's too late, the coin has probably left the block.  It is time to throw in the towel.  I am defeated.  Coulda shoulda woulda… perhaps I should have prebid or found a proxy bidder.  I should've tried to call ACR from a landline at the office [headbang].  Live and learn.

5:00 am
Might as well do a Hail Mary and email ACR with my absentee bid.  Just in case.  Probably too late to execute, but it won’t hurt to try.  No response of course.

5:52 am
I see that my forum friend, Zumbly, is online and is asking about the ACR auction.  I send a PM asking him to check the hammer price if he is able to log in to Coretech.  I’m ready to be put out of my misery.  I hope it sold for a million dollars so I won't have to kick myself forever.

6:10 am
Zumbly gamely logs in and checks; the auction is only up to lot 40!  So much for putting me out of my misery-- now I’m once again frantic to place a bid.  There must be something I can do to get a bid in!

6:18 am
Skype!  I can call by Skype!  First I had to buy some Skype credit.  Oh no, after the transaction they say my bank has to verify the charge and they will email the confirmation.

6:20 am
Realize my Skype-linked email is old and no longer functional, scrambled to get the new one in.

6:25 am
Skype landline calls enabled!  I call ACR and am transferred to an English-speaker.  He gives me another number and name to call.  Now I’m getting somewhere, but is it too late?


6:31 am
No answer.  Doesn’t even ring, just immediately says “busy”.  Redial redial redial redial.  Same thing.  Wait, I can just do a Skype text and briefly explain the problem.  No response.

6:54 am
I try texting the number from my cell phone.  While I have no cell signal, I do have functioning WIFI.   I briefly state who I am, that I am having trouble with Coretech and want to place a bid on lot 166.  I’ve now send an email, a Skype text, and a cell text.  I can't think of anything else to try.

6:55 am
Text response!  “We have received this message. Thanks.”  Yay!  I suspect my bid will be too low but at least I’ve tried.  Wait a sec, what does that mean, “we have received this message”? They didn't say "We are placing your bid". Just "we received this message".  Fingers crossed though.

6:59 am
Zumby agrees to watch my lot as it hits the block, unless a toddler attack thwarts his plan.

7:27 am
PM from Zumbly-- it’s MINE!  I think. Maybe.  It hammered for one increment less than my max, so if they executed my bid I am now the proud and poor owner of a beautiful Agathokles tetradrachm!  Cautiously optimistic though... I won’t believe it until I confirm with ACR or get an invoice.  If it sold for below my max and I didn’t win… well, I guess I can spend that money on a good therapist instead.

12:44 pm
Confirmed!  I'm the successful bidder.  Now to figure out how to send that much money across the pond...



A big thanks goes to Zumbly.  If he hadn’t checked and found that the coin had not yet hit the block, I wouldn’t have redoubled my efforts and succeeded in submitting the bid!  Another thanks goes to AncientJoe/SmEagle1795 for his encouragement, guidance, and for beautifying my photos with his elegant and distinctive reflection template.

SICILY, Syracuse. Agathokles (317-289 BCE)
310-305 BCE 

AR tetradrachm, 17.40 g, 24 mm 
Obv: head of the nymph Arethusa left, wearing grain wreath, earring and necklace; around, three dolphins; under, monogram (NK?)
Rev: ΣYPAKOΣIΩN, fast chariot charioteer leads to left, holding reins and kentron; above, triskeles; in exergue, monogram. 
Ref: Ierardi 9; SNG Copenhagen 573 goes., SNG ANS 637

I love this coin! The reverse scene is particularly well done. The horses on this die are rendered more realistically and artistically than most. 

Note on obv/rev designation: in some catalogs I see Arethusa listed as the reverse rather than the obverse. I think that is wrong, given the slight concavity of the chariot side. That concavity is typical of the hammer side of the coin, which is usually clearly the reverse. Opinions, anyone?

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