Sunday, June 10, 2007

Digital resources for collectors of Ptolemaic bronze coins

Daniel Wolf has launched a new web site,, on Ptolemaic bronze coins. The site is punningly called “The PtolemAE Project”. When used together with special software on the site, and Catherine Lorber's translation of Svoronos, a very useful resource for scholars of Greek Egyptian coinage is provided.

The site has four important components:
  • Wolf's own collection of Ptolemaic bronze, with execellent photos and notes. The coins can be viewed by monogram or size.
  • Catalogs of obverse and reverse types, with photos from CNG and the Wolf collection.
  • A hypertext paper on the Coinex hoard of Ptolemaic coins
  • PtolemAE software for identification by Svoronos type

The catalogs of types are well organized. The thumbnails seem small on my 1400x1050 monitor, and I'd recommend larger ones. The only real flaw is that not every type is represented by a CNG or Wolf photograph. The reader is told to look at Svoronos. This text should be replaced by an image from Svoronos.

It's nice to see the Wolf collection pages organized both by monogram and size. (There is also a 'view all' option). The photographs are good. Wolf has descriptive text after each coin, with reference to SNG Copenhagen, Svoronos, and a few other works.

A great improvement to the Wolf collection pages would be to make the references to Svoronos hypertext. It would be wonderful if “Svoronos 1002 (Plate 30 #12)” was done as two links -- one to Svoronos 1002 and the other to plate 30.

The Coinex hypertext looked interesting, both numismatically and as a web site. I am not qualified to review this section, but encourage everyone interested in numismatic web sites or Egyptian coins to check it out.

The PtolemAE software is interesting. It's Java and 1MB in size. The user interface is a form. (There is a picture of it at the bottom of The user chooses obverse type, reverse type, and symbols using Combo boxes. The software responds with Svoronos numbers and sizes for coins matching the user's chosen types and symbols.

The free version on the website shuts itself off after three minutes, but there seem to be no restrictions on using it multiple times, so this isn't a huge problem. There is also a pay version of the software, with additional combo boxes for right-side symbol and countermark, without the time limit. A 'modest' payment is requested for the pay version, but Wolf provides no hints as to the appropriate payment amount.

The software would be much improved if it included photographs of the Svoronos coins in the database, along with Lorber's text, or at least hypertext links to Ed Waddell's Svoronos web site.

The software would also be improved if it was in JavaScript and available on the web without download. However, this might be an expensive and time consuming undertaking, too large for a numismatist without the backing of an institution.

Because Wolf's site is so dependent on Svoronos, I must discuss Ed Waddell's presentation of Svoronos as well. First, I must thank Waddell and Lorber for making this available. Also, I must remind the reader that Waddell's digital version was done in 1999, making it one of the first (if not the very first) numismatic reference work online.

Waddell provides all of Svoronos' plates, but only in low-res. The size may have been appropriate for 640x480 screens in 1999, but is too small today. Although Lorber provides a useful concordance from plate number to Svoronos number, all of the concordances are together. It would be much more useful to put the concordance for each plate with the plate. The concordance itself should hyperlink to both the image plate and text plate.

The 'Text Plates' are a little bit bizarre, even for 1999. The reader would prefer text in his own fonts, text that can be copied to the clipboard. I imagine that Waddell and Lorber chose this format because of the difficulty displaying the various geometric monograms and Greek text in 1999. JPEG versions of the plates, in English, with correct symbols, is still an amazing accomplishment.

Although the linkage between Wolf's web site, his software, and Lorber/Waddell/Svoronos is clumsy, all the pieces are there. Wolf provides a much-needed introduction to Svoronos for the intermediate-level numismatist. His high-resolution color photos represent a significant numismatic publication, for which he deserves much credit.


PtolemAE said...

Hello Mr. Snible -

You may wish to revisit and take in the many updates, improvements - with many more coin photos and more links, new research information, and resources.

BTW, the online version of Svoronos is a set of JPEG images of scanned pages - no hypertext exists to which one could link individual catalog entries. There *is* a link to this reference material on the web site.

Some folks are diligently trying to obtain an improved set of high-resolution scans of the Svoronos plates but, alas, no one who owns this rare book has yet stepped up to the plate. The set of Ptolemaic bronze coin photos on (over 100 types) appears to be the most complete organized photographic presentation of Ptolemaic bronzes anywhere on the net.

Thanks again for the review -


Ed Snible said...

Ed Waddell did everyone a great service by putting Svoronos online with Lorber's translation. His efforts inspired me to work on Head's Historia Numorum. He did it eight years ago, when no one was doing stuff like this.

Although great for 2000 his version is showing signs of age. Perhaps you can volunteer to help him? Alternately you could make your own arrangement of plates and deep-link to his site for the actual content.

His coin plates are small by today's standards. His text plates are shrunk using HTML in a way that makes them too narrow. His concordance is very important, but lacks hyperlinks.

The way I would have organized Svoronos is to break the concordance up and place it on the same HTML page as the plate it refers to. Then I would have added a hyperlink for each coin number leading to a proportionally-shrunk Svoronos/Lorber page.

Download his plates, experiment with different arrangements. If you find something more pleasing, offer it for free to him to thank him for his efforts. If he doesn't want your re-arrangement then combine it with plates you shrunk yourself.