The George W. La Borde Collection of Roman Aurei

After meeting in London in 2005, by
chance and for a few minutes only, an epistolary relationship developed between
George La Borde and myself. It took several years before we met in person
again, but visiting him and his wife in Calgary has since become a regular
pleasure for my wife and myself. I have been very privileged, over the past
decade, to assist him in forming his coin collection.

George named his oil-exploration
company Athena Resources Ltd., with a Greek coin in mind. He understood that
ancient coins and engraved gems allowed him to possess antiquities in the
rarest and finest condition, illustrating the lives and the monuments of the
ancients. And they are neither fragile nor space consuming, which is certainly
a matter to consider when a collector acquires hundreds of artefacts.

My role of advisor was notably to help
George avoid mistakes when he started to collect, and to invest very
significant sums of money in a market of which he did not necessarily know all
the rules. A wise businessman, he knew that an advisor could help him reach the
pinnacle of collecting, and be as successful at this as he had been in his own
field. Nevertheless, of course, I had to understand and respect his taste and
interests, which is why – for example – some emperors are represented more
often than others, and why there is a good series of reverses with Hercules.

George benefited from my experience. It is the task of the advisor to have
seen and to see, and it was my duty to inquire and to answer George’s questions
– even the questions that he did not know he had. Collectors tend not to like
making mistakes, especially if it concerns buying coins at tens or hundreds of
thousands of dollars each. Having been involved in the coin market since 1992,
it could be said that my own earlier mistakes are put to profit by my clients
of today!

I often recommended against buying a
coin, when I knew that a nicer example could be found in the future, or if I
was aware of potential issues (condition or provenance). Also, I was
occasionally able to add useful comments on the rarity or importance of a coin,
and such was the case with an aureus of Faustina Minor, sold in the Gemini
auction of 2006, which will be sold in the second part of the collection:
though it had no provenance indicated on the catalogue, I was able to inform
George that it came from the collection of Don Manuel Vidal Quadras Y Ramón
(1818-1894), which the Paris dealer Etienne Bourgey sold at auction in December

I was also able to help George to
decide the amount at which to bid, based on inside knowledge of who the seller
is, and whether competitor-collectors intended to bid or not. I was hired to
protect not only George’s interests, by helping him build the best collection
possible considering both his means and the material available, but also for
future generations – by trying to build a group that will be as valuable as
possible when the time comes to resell it. Some coins, for one reason or
another, may be overpriced. Other coins, although nice, could be found in better
condition. Coins that do not attract the eye may be worth acquiring for their

Paying attention to the provenances,
doing historical and comparative research, being informed early of upcoming
auctions as well as collections available by private treaty, are all elements
of what I, as an advisor, offered to George, and they are time-consuming,
contact based, and require travelling, all of which freed up the time of an
active businessman such as George and allowed him to focus on his work.

collector, when purchasing a precious item, wants to be certain that he will be
able to resell it: though not necessarily an investment per se, the collectable
remains an asset. In the last few years, provenance has become ever more
important. Fortunately, I was able to foresee this event, and I advised George
to pay more attention to coins with a good pedigree.

This does not mean that a coin without
known provenance should be completely discounted, but its price should reflect
the lack of established history. In fact, too few focus enough on the fact that
« no provenance » means « no known provenance », and not necessarily that there
is anything problematic about the piece. Take the aureus of Pertinax with
Providence on the reverse: this coin is rare but far from unique, with some 125
recorded specimens; therefore, it is impossible to identify an example in an
old catalogue unless it was reproduced. In addition, a good provenance adds
value to an item: if it were not for its provenance, why would Jackie
Kennedy-Onassis’ simulated pearl necklace have sold for over 200’000 dollars?

George favoured the view that his
advisor should be independent. While acting for George, I was privileged to
have the freedom to look only for the best coins. Though coins were issued as
multiples, and are on the whole rather common, many of them are very rare and
“not everyone can own rarities”.

Having money is not sufficient: a
collector must also have patience and luck. George also had to be aware when an
opportunity arose, and make sure not to miss his chance – and this is where an
advisor offers valuable guidance. The 20th and 21st centuries have seen on
offer major collections, such as those of Leo Biaggi, Charles Gillet, Athos
Moretti and Claude Vaudecrane. I am proud to have helped to form George La
Borde’s collection of Roman aurei – which I hope you will appreciate too.

To visit the Ars Classica web site,

To download the complete auction
catalog, see:

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