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Slavey makes a coin salad



by Kristina Patrashkova, published in the "24 chasa" newspaper on March 26, 2005

"I have been named the demon of numismatics. I have heard that Ivan Slavkov has supposedly sold for a lot of money my reproduction of a rare ancient coin. Some people even claim that I have tricked the British Museum into accepting reproductions made by myself and presented as authentic. Photographers like to take pictures of my back, probably to show how scary I am" says Slavey Petrov, 54, and smiles shyly. Among numismatists and collectors both in Bulgaria and abroad he is known as one of the most skillful maker of reproductions of ancient coins. Rumors say that a numismatic expert in Zurich was so impressed by one of his reproductions that he paid 30,000 Swiss Francs for the coin even though he was aware the it was a copy. Slavey smiles when he hears this story. Despite being the subject of many legends he behaves in an ordinary, even somewhat shy way. He speaks concisely and does not wear any of the rings that he has engraved.

The luxurious book "Classical Deception", dedicated to the founder of the Department of Arts of the University of Wisconsin, was released in the USA two years ago. Three pages of the book tell about the Bulgarian from Haskovo. The article's authors quote a short conversation with Slavey. To the question, "Who is the greatest forger of ancient coins?" he answers, "The one who is not known as a forger and whose coins are presumed authentic."
The Bulgarian's work is of such high quality that the markets in Turkey, Greece and Syria are flooded with castings modelled on his reproductions, he admits. Meanwhile in the internet there are many discussions in which his fans argue whether the shown specimen is a work of Slavey or a copy of his work. ANA chairman Frank Kovacs has visited his workshop in Haskovo twice and has even offered him to teach a series of lectures on ancient coins in the USA.
"It's said that I'm the best in the last and present centuries. But when I compare my work with the work of the ancient artisans, I feel that I would need two more lifetimes to even get close to their level of skill" admits Slavey, who actually tells the tale of his life for the first time to "24 chasa".
The perfect engraver discovered his talent when he was only 15. His father, a ceramics artisan, has a collection of ancient coins. "I remember that back then coins were commonly stored in jars. When I was a small kid I enjoyed working on something, for example I used minuature files to make small crosses. Once I came accross a Bulgarian medieval coin and was very impressed. I used what I could find as tools and materials and made my first reprodction. Back then I had never seen the instruments commonly used for the job" remembers Slavey.
His ability to draw led him to the idea to enroll at the Academy of Arts. However, he had also played the cello for a long time and had second thoughts about becoming a musician. "At the end, I studied engineering science in Varna. I was still attracted to coins and whenever I had some free time I always worked on something in my apartment."

Slavey did graduate and started working for an institute of chemical machinery. He even patented some of his inventions, including a special type of microscope for which he did a thesis work.
"Little by little I came to the awareness that I won't be working in the area of engineering. I grew more and more passionate about coins and I also felt I was becoming more skillful. Still, I needed 15 years to achieve my present level of skill."
He often works with only a photo as a source. To prepare the steel dies, in which he often inlcudes his own components, he works for approximately two days. Everything is done by hand and according to the technology used back in ancient times. Extraordinary precision and incredible manual skill are a must. Casting takes only about a few minutes and the specimens come out smooth and extremely precise. If the reproduction is of a rare and expensive coin, the artisan also stamps his name, "Slavey."

To the question why he is the best he answers shortly and mysteriously that he simply chooses the best and most beautiful originals. And, tries to make them even more perfect.
"It is true that many museums around the world show my works. Once in an auction house in Germany I came across one of my coins and its owner admitted that he paid 3,000 marks to own it. I was pleased someone had valued me so high. We even became friends and later I made a medal showing his bust."
Slavey is absolute that the most beautiful coins are Greek. The Roman ones required an exact match of the emperor's depiction and this allowed for less imagination to be used. "Despite that the coins that sell for the highest price are American gold coins minted last century in very small numbers. Their price sometimes exceeds $3 million. The ceiling for Greek coins is $1 million. Interest in numismatics currently is at an all-time high, probably due to internet sales. People can use e-commerce to purchase many expensive and rare coins, and bidding for some of them starts at ten dollars" explains the artisan.
Except coins he is fond of all kinds of antique objects. Years ago he gave away to the Haskovo Museum a silver Byzantian treasure that he himself found. It includes earrings, a swarm of other objects and an interesting silver cup from the wedding of emperor Justinian and his wife.
"I think, however, that the most valuable item in my collection is my wife, Tatyana," jokes Slavey. She is a ceramics artisan and Slavey has attested his love by engraving her face on a cameo. Actually, his greatest passion for the last few years is the engraving of gems. "In this case I work with diamond tools and concentration is most important. Any scratch is fatal for the gem. I work with a microscope and usually look through it for hours. When I'm done, I feel like I'm not myself. The feeling is strange and the pains in the back and legs are incredible" tells Slavey.

The famous engraver claims that his copies are not unreasonably expensive. The easiest way to own a piece of his work is to pay a visit to his restaurant situated at the center of Haskovo. It is decorated with antique utensils, pictures, an antiquated marble bust of Medusa and even the toilet faucets are old-looking and made of stone. The restaurant specialty is the "Treasure-hunter's salad". Nothing extraordinary at first sight - tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. But hidden inside is a small object wrapped in shiny foil. In each of these salads Slavey places a small Roman coin made by him from silver of high purity. The theme he chose for the purpose are the busts of 40 Roman emperors. "There are customers that order this salad on a daily basis and already have a coin collection," jokes Slavey, whom experts call an epoch in the recreation of ancient numismatics. And, as often happens, he's more popular abroad than in his own country.

Photo 1: The coin salad.
Photo 2: Slavey Petrov, facing.
Photo 3: Slavey and his wife in their restaurant decorated in antique style.
Photo 4: A few of Slavey's coins and an engraved cameo.
Photo 5: A ring engraved by the artisan.
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