The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 20, Number 21, May 21, 2017, Article 18


An article published May 16, 2017 in LA Weekly examines the downfall of ancient coin dealer Rob Freeman. It's a long and fascinating article, with interviews and quotes from multiple hobby leaders, including Victor England, Ira Goldberg, Steve Markoff, Bruce McNall and David Sear. -Editor

Bronze head of Aelius Verus The Ancient Coin Club of Los Angeles meets on the second Sunday of every month in the so-called “community room” of the Sherman Oaks Galleria. It’s an antiseptic, heavily air-conditioned conference room with an entrance near the Cheesecake Factory. A typical meeting consists of each attendee — mostly older men — telling the others about their recent purchases. They pass to one another the newly bought coins, for example, a denarius, a silver Roman coin about the size of a dime with the thickness of a poker chip.

At a recent meeting, members passed around an ancient, Roman Empire bronze sestertius, about the size of a silver dollar, with a portrait of the emperor Marcus Aurelius.

“That’s a beautiful patina,” one member said, referring to the coin’s surface area, which he held about 2 inches from his eye.

The second half of the meeting is devoted to a “seminar” on Sulla, a Roman general who invaded his home country and had the Senate declare him dictator in 82 B.C. (or possibly 81 B.C., history of that era is a bit fuzzy), briefly interrupting the Roman Republic. The members of the club slog through Sulla’s biography, from his early childhood and his wars with Gaius Marius to his bloody reign, when he sought to undo the populist land reforms of his predecessors. Especially noteworthy to this group is that Sulla is believed to be the first living Roman to put his face on a coin, a silver tetradrachm struck around 85 B.C. Another coin depicts a dream Sulla once had, in which he envisioned a goddess placing a thunderbold into his hands to strike down his enemies.

“That coin is extremely rare,” says David Michaels, the director of classical coins at Heritage Auction Galleries, who attends the Ancient Coin Club’s meetings whenever he’s in town. “There are fewer than five in the world. If one came on the market today, it would probably sell for a quarter million dollars.”

Nearly everyone at the coin club’s meeting has heard of Rob Freeman, a noted coin scholar, or numismatist, and the owner of Freeman and Sear, formerly one of the top five ancient-coin dealers in the country. About half the people in the room knew Freeman personally. Michaels was the sales director of Freeman and Sear for nine years. Another man in the room was, for a time, Freeman’s lawyer, and many of the others were loyal customers.

“He was the finest dealer I’ve ever worked with,” says Barry Rightman, who’s been collecting coins for half a century and has known quite a few dealers. “I have a number of coins in my collection that I bought from him, or he got for me in European auctions. I had exceptional trust in him.”

Most of Freeman’s peers and customers felt this way, which is why they were so surprised when rumors about him began to circulate, citing missing coins, bounced checks, cheated customers, some sort of Ponzi scheme. Then there’s the mystery of what happened to the head of the Roman Lucius Aelius Verus, a larger-than-life bronze head depicting the adopted son of Emperor Hadrian and the father of Co-Emperor Lucius Verus.

“There are so many rumors going around, it’s hard to separate fact from fiction,” says Victor England Jr., co-owner of Classical Numismatic Group, one of the nation’s top coin dealerships.

At least 20 lawsuits have been filed against Freeman in the last four years, alleging such acts as breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, misrepresentation, negligence and fraud. One such complaint, filed in January 2016 by Marie Rosales and Jack Luu, alleges the two plaintiffs were victims of a “Ponzi scheme,” and were “swindled out of more than $1 million by con men passing themselves off as legitimate dealers of ancient coins and antiques.”

“I’ve known Rob for probably 25 years,” says Ira Goldberg, who with his cousin Larry owns an auction house. “I would say he just went bad. He was a fine numismatist, always honorable and hardworking. That all changed about three years ago.”

Reached by phone, Freeman was reluctant to talk. His lawyer had advised him not to. He said he couldn’t discuss anything mentioned in any of the many lawsuits filed against him. But he was eager to salvage what he could of his tattered reputation.

“I’ve been in this business for 35 years,” Freeman said. “I’ve been very upstanding in this business. I’m a great numismatist. I didn’t suddenly become a treacherous villain.”

Be sure to read the complete article online. Fascinating tale, well written. I agree with David Schwager, who suggested the article for The E-Sylum. -Editor

David Schwager writes:

I have to compliment the reporter on making almost no numismatic mistakes.

To read the complete article, see:
The Downfall of an Ancient Coin Dealer Who Defrauded Customers of Millions and Lost a Bronze Head (

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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