The deal is the thing; buying & selling in the Middle East

Most Americans who have traveled with me find the bargaining that goes on in a shop  in the Middle East difficult at first. Items are not marked with a price. The seller, whether in a high class shop or a vendor on the street, tries to make as much as possible. He tries to convince his prospective buyer that this is the first sale of the day, will bring him luck, or is a good deal.

The Jerusalem Post Online Edition ran an article yesterday about an auction in Tel Aviv of the coin collection of Wolfgang Masser. The article says he “has spent decades assembling one of the best private collections of ancient coins in Israel.” He said that he did not “wish to burden his children or grandchildren with the sale.” I imagine they are happy, too!

Masser explains how he became involved in collecting biblical era coins.

“I must admit that I became enthusiastic quite quickly,” he said. “Can one really find and acquire coins that lay in the hands of men and women who lived in this country 2,000 years ago and bore names from ancient writings such as Shimon Bar-Kochba, Pontius Pilate and Herod? “My Zionist idealism was mixed with curiosity and romanticism. The time was indeed opportune – the situation had ‘normalized’ after the events of the Six Day War. People from the “field” – Jews, Arabs and, of course, officials interested in archeology began to search for coins, and relatively many specimens came into the open.”

Since Masser had a car and Yashin [the neighbor who got him interested in coins] didn’t, the two began to drive regularly to Bethlehem and Jerusalem on Saturdays in search of rarities.

“The main and richest source was a young Greek-Catholic Arab dealer from Bethlehem called Kando,” Masser recalled. “This slightly built young man had been introduced to the ‘profession’ by his father, Khalil Eskander, an antiquities dealer nicknamed Kando.

“The father became known in connection with the discovery and sale of the famous scrolls of Qumran near the Dead Sea to Hebrew University Prof. Eliezer Sukenik (father of Yigael Yadin). He made some money with the scrolls, which he used to set up an antiquities shop for his son in Bethlehem and to buy himself a hotel in Jerusalem, where he set up a similar shop – but where we only rarely found anything of interest,” continued Masser.

“The antiquities shop of Kando Jr. was a modest place in the main street of Bethlehem, not far from Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity. As you came inside, there were display cases on the right and left with ancient ceramic, glass and a few ancient metal artifacts. No coins in view. In the background stood an enormous desk and behind it, Kando Jr.”

Negotiations over a sale involved an elaborate and time-consuming ritual, recalled Masser. “If he had a visitor, then he would bid him a hasty farewell and turn to us. First coffee, family and politics. Then he would slowly bring out for us his latest acquisitions in a ceremony – the longer it lasted, the more beautiful and valuable were the coins he presented.

“This was intended, and put us in a heated state of anticipation. The coins were examined with a magnifying glass and their history and year of issue were discussed.

“Finally the price was mentioned. This part of the conversation was usually handled by Haim, who had much more experience than me. In most cases, there was a discount.

“Kando was, despite his youth, clever enough to know how to handle regular customers who were market-savvy. On especially successful occasions he made us a present of an ancient oil lamp from the same period, or invited us to lunch. He was a very good salesman. There was full trust on both sides.

“When he showed us especially valuable pieces which I desired but did not have enough money on me for – I never bought on credit – he would let me take the coin with me, saying, ‘So we shall meet in 14 days, with the money or with the coin.’ Everything took place without written agreements.”

Read the full article here. Kando’s store in Bethlehem is still open, and similar dealing still goes on. The store is run by Shibly (in the green shirt), grandson of Kando, and other family members. Kando, from his portrait over the cases, still looks down on the deal.

Kando's Antiquities Shop in Bethlehem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Kando's Antiquities Shop in Bethlehem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The sort of dealing mention in the article is reminiscent of what we read regarding Abraham’s purchase of a burial place for Sarah from Ephron the Hittite (Genesis 23).

HT: Joseph Lauer

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