Richard Beale, the owner and managing director of Roma Numismatics, a London-based auction house that dealt in ancient coins, was arrested in New York in January on multiple charges relating to the sale of a multimillion-dollar coin, according to arrest warrants and a report by U.S. Homeland Security Investigations obtained by ARTnews.
The ancient coin in question is one of the most valuable in existence. After Julius Caesar was murdered, Brutus minted coins to commemorate the historical event. Only three of these such “Eid Mar” (Ides of March) coins are known to still exist. In 2020, Beale and Roma Numismatics set a world record for an ancient coin sold at auction when they sold the coin for nearly $4.2 millon. It appears now that the coin was sold using false provenance.
In a report by HSI Special Agent Brenton Easter, known for his work investigating smuggled artifacts, Beale admitted to the scheme in what appears to be a plea deal. As the investigation is ongoing, Easter and the HSI were not able to provide further comments.
The scheme appeared to be years in the making. Previously a member of the British Army, the 40-something-year-old Beale made a sudden entrance into the small world of coins dealers in London in 2009.
“He was like a bolt of lightning,” Christopher Martin, the Chairman of the British Numismatic Trade Association, told ARTnews. “He appeared and made his mark in the market that he wasn’t brought up in. Within a year, he was selling coins worth millions of pounds. That doesn’t happen, but that’s what happened with him. Where did he come from? Nobody really knew.”
At that time, Beale seemingly overnight built up a modern coin auction house with glossy catalogues and modern photography. Unlike his colleagues, he hadn’t come up in the business by way of family, nor had he gotten into the business as a young man, slowly but surely building a reputation as an expert, explained Martin. Other dealers watched in awe as he began trading coins in the millions, seemingly with no experience in the area. Somehow, he had access to highly valuable coins.
In 2014, Beale got his hands on what was to become the most valuable ancient coin ever sold on the market at the time. It was supposedly given to him by Italo Vecchi, an Italian coin dealer who was brought up in the United Kingdom. Over the decades, Vecchi became a known quantity in the coin world, first as an independent dealer and then working with several large coin trading firms. In the early 1990s, he worked for CNG, an American numismatic company, but then, in 1992, Vecchi was caught with a hoard of undeclared Greek coins as he tried to enter the United States, leading to some brief trouble for himself and CNG. Along the way, he even worked with the British Museum. The museum has ten coins that appear to have been sourced from Vecchi, according to the museum’s online records.
A spokesperson from the British Museum explained in an email that the Museum has no concerns about the provenance of the coins that they acquired from Vecchi (some by sale and some by donation), all of which were sourced in the 70s and 80s.
In his seventies, Vecchi began working as a consultant specialist at Roma Numismatics. Not only did he supposedly bring Beale the Eid Mar Coin, in 2013, Vecchi also allegedly gave Beale what is known as the Sicily Naxos Coin, minted around 430 BC in the Greek colony of Naxos according to the report by Easter. It depicts Dionysus on one side and Silenus, his drinking partner on the other. In the same 2020 auction where the Eid Mar coin was sold, the Sicily Naxos Coin fetched $291,682, according to Easter’s report.
But, before Beale attempted to sell the coins through his own auction house, he had originally tried to sell it directly to an unnamed party during the 2015 edition of the Annual New York International Numismatics Convention, which took place at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York, according to Easter’s report. This person, known only as Informant #1, told Easter that Beale said the coin came from “an old Swiss collection,” which Easter claims is known code in the antiquities trade for an item of dubious provenance. Unable to convince any buyers at the convention, Beale and Vecchi spent the next years preparing to falsify documents for the coins so that they could be sold at the auction house, Easter wrote.
Restrictions on selling artifacts and coins have been in effect since the aughts, as countries like Italy and Greece have imposed importation restrictions on ancient coins and in some cases demand that coins that are found to have originated in those countries be repatriated. Navigating these rules can be difficult for the average coin dealer, especially as the culture around repatriation has shifted.
“In the case of the Eid Mar Coin, the denarii (silver coin) is occasionally found in this country. The coin did circulate internationally,” Nigel Mills, of the UK-based coin auction house Noonans, told ARTnews. “They went all over Europe, they went all over North Africa. Even down to India. They’re found in so many countries that it’s very hard to assess where they may have originally come from.”
It remains unclear how Vecchi sourced these coins and what issues they were attempting to obfuscate.
In the end, the pair allegedly paid for documents that claimed the coins were sourced from the collection of the Baron Dominique de Chambrier, according to Easter’s report. Another informant working with Easter said they had been approached by Vecchi and Beale with a deal. They would give the informant $107,000 if they would sign falsified provenance papers. The informant said they refused. Before the sale of the coins in the fall, Beale allegedly had the coins shipped to New York so that they could be authenticated by the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation, whereupon they passed inspection: the coins were the real deal.
“In 2020, NGC received an “EID MAR” aureus for evaluation from a London-based auction firm and after extensive study determined it was authentic,” an NGC spokesperson wrote to ARTnews. “A coin’s authenticity and grade are matters separate and distinct from provenance. It is not common practice for NGC to opine on the provenance of a coin, and it did not do so here.”
Both the Sicily Naxos Coin and the Eid Mar Coin were seized by authorities. According to warrants procured by ARTnews, the Sicily Naxos Coin was seized on the premises of John F. Kennedy Airport in late January of this year, and the Eid Mar Coin was seized somewhere in New York County in early February of this year, though the exact location was redacted. According to a spokesperson at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office both coins will be repatriated to their home countries.
Beale has been charged with Grand Larceny in the First Degree and Second Degree, Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the First Degree and Second Degree, Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree, and Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree. The investigation into Vecchi is ongoing and he has not yet been charged. It appears that Beale’s scheme was discovered following his attempted sale in 2022 of five coins which were known to be looted from Gaza.
Update 3/14/2023 11:00 AM: This article has been updated with a comment from the British Museum.