Péter Emőd’s Interview with László Nudelman
Competence, know-how, innovation, attention to the smallest details –
one of the most respected authority of the Hungarian numismatics helps
to dispel the mysterious mist still surrounding the coin collection and trade.
László Nudelman (60) is a dominant person in the Hungarian coin trade. As a collector he has made his mark in several areas: in 1989 the Hungarian National Bank purchased his numismatic collection concentrating on the coins of the Árpád dynasty; he has sold his collection compiled from the relics of the 1848-49 Hungarian Revolution and War of Independence at a separate auction. The focus of his collection which was initially on the masters of fine arts of the first half of the 20ieth century has shifted later to the second half of the century; nowadays he owns a collection of unmatched level of the Hungarian painting after 1945, the backbone of that consists of the major works of Jenő Barcsay, Endre Bálint, Dezső Korniss and Lajos Vajda, but he keeps masterpieces from contemporary artists like László Lakner, Ilona Keserű or István Nádler as well that have great importance in their oeuvre.
His admission to the international organization of the professional numismatists – that has altogether 113 members all over the world – is a recognition of his numismatic activity among others, while as an art collector he has got into the Hungarian Power 50 compiled by the periodical titled as Art Expert, so he is among the 50 most influential persons of the Hungarian artistic scene.
Mr. Nudelman, with your collection you have entered your name into the Hungarian art history as well, however the topic of our actual discussion is numismatics. When and how were you ’infected with’ the coin collecting fever?
„When I was a kid like many others I had also started with stamps, but when I was eleven the coin became the great love and has become my profession over the time as well. I have started the collection with the Árpád Dynasty coins, and continued with the groats. Meanwhile of course I have tried to gain more and more professional knowledge in which beside the special literature the pieces of advices of the elderly collectors have helped the most. Finishing the university first I worked as a sales representative but even then I didn’t deal with cans or machines, but silver, coins and jewels. In the meantime I’ve completed an appraiser education course as well,” Nudelman said.
Which was that period in your life when you engaged yourself with the numismatics forever?
„Perhaps, those four years were the most important in my life, which I spent in Germany after the university and some years working in the foreign trade. There I dealt with art works and coins as well, I regularly went to auctions, and there I got to know my job properly. I still remember a few small stories of that time which gave me great lessons. For example, once I wanted to sell a Meissen porcelain figure depicting a shepherd boy which was the work of one of the most well-known porcelain-designer of the middle of the 18th century, Johann Joachim Kändler. I considered it very unfair that they offered only one third of the expected price for that. Only later I realized that they were right. My copy had not come from the original series of 1741, but was made twenty years later in a manufacture. Compared to the original the difference was small, but obvious. Then I realized the importance of nuances in this business, that the originality and conditions of an object how basically affects its value,” Nudelman said.
How and when did you start your career as a coin dealer in Hungary?
“At the change of the system I came home, and I established a company dealing with numismatics and works of art. The coin trade has become my main profession soon, and the formation and development of my art collection has become my passionate hobby. I assessed that from the Hungarian golden coins of modern history only a very few pieces had remained at home, however they were available on a relatively good price at that time in abroad. I organized my first auction in 1995 from the material I bought up abroad and almost systematized as a collection. By that time beside one or two exceptions there hadn’t been any serious independent numismatic auctions in Hungary, these items had appeared rather in mixed profile auction offers, for example at BÁV (Commission Trading House and Pawn Credit Corp.) I printed 4000 catalogues and sent them in Hungary and abroad to every possible collector. I organized the auction itself on the basis of my foreign experiences using the most up to date technology of that time and I started with lower prices. 200 people attended the auction including 25 to 30 foreign collectors but the winning bidders were mostly Hungarians. The total HUF 90 million hammer price was a quite serious result at that time, and those who bought had a fair deal: these items are now on average 10 to 12 times more worth than 19 years ago. This auction had brought me a very serious international success as well as after that I became a member – the first and still almost the only one in our region – of the International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN). After the overture in 1995 in the next two years I organized auctions in Vienna jointly with the Rauch sales-house there, however here at home I waited until I could compile a high-quality material. To do this, the conditions were created after Hungary joined the European Union. Since 2008 I have had an average annual auction in Kempinski Hotel Budapest, they usually sell at around one million Euros. In our record year so far, which happened to be in the 2009 crisis one, we achieved more than the double of it,” Nudelman said.
Each collector even the most passionate ones would like to prove his hobby of stable value investments. How grateful terrain is the coin collection in this aspect?
“The collector coin price always shows an increase on the long run, but this increase is not linear and there may be temporary setbacks as well. There are always fashionable areas where a quite serious short-time profit can be realized – for example between 2002 and 2008 the value of the Transylvanian money increased six-eightfold – but in the longer term, after 8 to 12 years each collector coin can be usually sold profitably. The serious failures that can be often experienced on the paintings market are much less frequent here, as there are less subjective elements in the estimation of the value; you can almost always find such sales in the international databases – which otherwise include the prices achieved at us too – which can serve as references for the realistic evaluation. Another great advantage of coins is that they are considered to be an investment of relatively high liquidity: if I have a coin worth of HUF 1000, I can sell it for HUF 800 in one minute, for HUF 900 in one day for sure. The same cannot be said about a painting for example. Further on it also makes the coin collection attractive that a large value can be stored in a small space, and if the security conditions so require, even outside of our home, in a safe too. Risk of damage is minor than in the case of paintings or graphics, although it is true if the damage is done, for example if the coin falls down and its edge gets chipped, or slightly scratched, then these damages can be juggled away only with great difficulty, however there could be a great difference in price between two copies of the same coin concerning its condition, as way say depending on their keeping.”
Each collector’s nightmare is to buy a fake one for a lot of money. The press regularly reports on false paintings, however we don’t hear very much about matters of coin counterfeiting. Does this mean that such cases are rare?
“Hopefully yes, it does, but it’s better to be careful when you purchase a coin too. The development of technology, including computer technology assists the counterfeiters as well and the production of counterfeits is getting cheaper and better quality. Nowadays it is possible to sell a counterfeit copy of a relatively cheap, worth of HUF 100-200 thousand coin with profit.”
It is obvious that even a skilled collector can easily recognize the inferior imitations, but what about the professional copies? Whose decision is accepted by the collector in debatable cases?
“Indeed there are so good counterfeits which can be safely exposed only if we can take not only the controversial copy in our hands but at the same time the original one too beyond any doubts. It is not always easy. For example once I got in my hands two copies of a Franz Joseph’s gold coin minted in Venice and comparing the two ones it seemed soon that only one of them could be the original. As the other one was a so called free copy, although from the beginning of the 19th century the coins were minted in a ring by which they were duly wheels. However I had a suspicion about the copy minted in a ring too. The amount staked wasn’t small as this copy got into the possession of a Hungarian collector from a very respectable German auction house for almost Euro 37 thousand together with commission. My suspicion was confirmed by the excellent engravers of the Hungarian Mint Corporation, but for the unambiguous decision we needed to compare the coin to the original copy. However none of the institutions had had such an original copy in Hungary that is why we had had to apply for a permission of the Viennese Kunsthistorisches Museum to examine the copy kept there, and only after that we could clearly declare to be false the piece purchased by the collector. Our position was accepted by the auction house too – what could be perceived as a professional success as well as the Künker firm of Osnabrück which plays a leading role on the coin market was involved – and the collector got back the purchase price. Of course it happens sometimes that the experts do not easily arrive to a common denominator; in such cases people turn to the Anti-Counterfeiting Committee of the above mentioned international Association, the IBSSC consisting of at least 5-5 renowned experts of ancient and modern coins, I have been also a member of that committee for ten years. First the Committee asks one of its members a thorough examination of the disputed coin, and his report will be put on the agenda of the plenary session of the Board. The decision made there must be considered as final in our profession.
The unveiling of professional counterfeit requires serious preparedness. For example we need to know about the given coin where it was minted, because the different mints used various techniques in the same period of time as well. It helps to recognize certain counterfeiting processes as they inevitably result copies of one or two millimetres larger diameter than the original one. The surface of the coins is very significant too, as the matte one could be as revealing as the completely uniform mint condition,” Nudelman said.
If the determination of the authenticity is such a complex process, isn’t it too big a risk to buy coins over the Internet?
“The level of risk doesn’t depend basically on the sales channel that is whether the coin is bought at an auction, in a numismatic shop or online, but that from whom we buy. The real guarantee is the vendor’s name. The precautions are the same as those in other sectors of trade. Therefore it is advisable to buy from well-known, transparent houses with controllable activity having great experiences on the market, and it is essential to insist on that the purchase of coin is accompanied by an invoice. If these conditions are met the online purchase doesn’t mean a bigger risk. Of course it is also true that we like to take the very high-priced items in our hands before the final decision is made, so they continue to be sold rather at live auctions. However there is s steady increase in the limit as far as the buyers are willing to go in cases of purchase via Internet; our ‘home’ online record at the moment is HUF 2.4 million. That means that now we can put such items in the materials of our auctions taking place on Vatera – and we put them in as well – which would cope with our great live auctions too.”
With the entry of Vatera last year the unified sales structure of the Nudelman Numismatica has been formed that is still valid today and consists of live auctions, the coin shop and online auctions. What kind of novelties can we expect in the next period?
“The sale actually takes place through these three channels, adding that some of our business offerings are available for purchase through our website, at a fixed price. Our shop was opened in 2002 in the Vörösmarty Street and in the last 12 years which has passed since then it has become a well-known and popular in the wide circle of coin collectors and lovers, and this very popularity is the reason why we have to make another step; we have outgrown our shop. I am very pleased to report that within some weeks we will open a new shop with an area of 126 square meters No. 16 in Sándor Petőfi Street, behind Hotel Taverna; the conversion work has been in full swing. Hopefully we will be able to provide an even higher standard and bigger range of services to our ever expanding circle of costumers.”
The visitor of the Numismatica coin shop can meet such fantasy pounds – and of course can buy them – born of your initiative. Please describe them.
“The idea was given by the so-called Artex-pounds. In the 1960ies the Hungarian Mint made some gold and silver pounds from certain Horthy pengő coins for some foreign order in limited number, which did not get on the home market at that time. However in recent decades they have turned up at some home auctions where in addition to their approximately HUF 300 thousand worth of gold content they have reached very good prices – HUF 1.2 to 2 millions. These are so-called fantasy pounds, in the Horthy era only silver proof pound coins were made of them. This gave me the idea to supplement this series with such 10, 20, 40 and 100 pengő coins which originally existed only in the form of proof pounds. We are talking about fantasy pounds again now, which were made in 50, sometimes 100 copies under our contract made with the Mint, with the permission of the Hungarian National Bank. Most of the pounds has been sold out a few copies are still available in our shop. Recently we have signed a new contract including 6 gold and 12 silver products, 50 to 200 copies have been made of them, and the coin dices have been moved into the collection of the Hungarian National Museum so no more copies can be made about these coins later either. The so-called ‘piedfort’ unusually thick coins of the 1994 silver 200 forints, uncirculated by now, have been made as well with the year of 2014 in 100-100 gloss silver or brilliant uncirculated copies, in 24-24 copper and gold copies. Similarly ‘piedfort’ mounts have been made from the 200 forint coins of 1992 representing the Chain Bridge; most of them have already been sold out, which indicates that there is a high demand for aesthetic products which promise increase in value later on as well,” Nudelman said.