Saturday, June 23, 2007

More volumes of Num. Chron. online

I've updated my page devoted to online versions of the Numismatic Chronicle to include recent scanning efforts by the Internet Archive. The Archive has many volumes not available on Google Book Search, including volumes from the first two decades of the 20th century.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Charles Davis sale, July 14th

A catalog from Charles Davis appeared in my mailbox on Friday. 357 literature lots, and 356 are duplicates from the ANA library. The final lot is a charity auction for a Morocco binding of the auction catalog.

The catalog is also available online here. The online catalog seems identical to the printed one, except the page numbers are off-by-one.

Although the lots are duplicates, the ANA has a different meaning of duplicate than I do. For example, they are selling a first edition of BMC Cyprus (1904), with the amazing Autotype plates, but keeping the reprint. This kinda makes sense, as the original is falling apart. Yet if I owned both I'd consider the reprint to be the duplicate.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

)( continued

This week's e-Sylum covered my quest to discover the name and origin of the )( symbol. I'd hoped an e-Sylum reader would just know, but none have contacted me yet.

Catalogue of the Greek and Roman Coins in the Numismatic Collection of Yale College, published in 1880 by Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor of New Haven Connecticut, makes heavy use of the symbol. The Abbreviations section says that )( is an abbreviation for 'reverse.'

This is the only American usage that I know of. No explanation.

The Abbreviations section includes three other symbols, the ligatures for AV, AR, and AE. The AE ligature is well-supported on computers. It has its own code in Unicode.

There are no Unicode characters for the AV and AR ligatures. They are considered typographic concepts, not letter concepts. For numismatics, that might not be true. Authors might want to use the AV and AR symbols to indicate coin metals, but wouldn't want a font that joined 'AR' or 'AV' in the middle of capitalized word.

The Medieval Unicode Font Initiative folks are proposing an AV ligature character. No one is talking about an AR ligature character.

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.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Sunday, June 03, 2007 is a web site based on symbol dictionaries by Carl G. Luingman. Using it, I was able to quickly locate symbols similar to the mystery )( symbol (discussed previously here and here):

Unfortunately, neither symbol has a numismatic connection or name. So I'm stuck again.'s graphic index is an interesting presentation of a query-able symbol dictionary. Such a dictionary would be useful for identifying ancient symbols, such as on coins. I'm imagining augmenting the 'obverse symbol' and 'reverse symbol' field in coin databases by using Luingman's group numbers for mysterious symbols, such as triskeles, ankhs, etc.


Rudolf Münsterberg published the names of magistrates known to have struck Greek coins. His lists, originally published in 1911, 1912, 1914, and 1927 are still useful today.

I'm working to put his work online: Die Beamtennamen auf den griechischen Münzen (Official Names on Greek Coins).

Although the book is in German, no knowledge of that language is needed, because the book is just lists. For every Greek city whose coins bear the names or abbreviation of a magistrate, Münsterberg gives the magistrate's name and references a coin with this name. Münsterberg's indexes present all known names in alphabetical order.

The book was somewhat difficult to use. When used to identify an otherwise unknown coin, the user must look up the inscription in the index to get the page number for the cities with that name. Then, the name must be looked up for each city. Finally, the citations to actual matching coins must be looked up, often in a BMC volume, an Imhoof-Blumer book, or Mionnet.

Using Münsterberg to research the magistrates for a city wasn't much easier.

Of course, if the name doesn't turn up in the index it might appear in a later update, requiring the reader to check several places before giving up.

My site attempts to correct these problems. First, I have merged the updates with the original coins, something Münsterberg's printers couldn't afford to do. Second, as of today, I've converted the page number references to hyperlinks. When Münsterberg cites a BMC/Imhoof-Blumer/Mionnet, and Google has scanned the work, then my HTML conversion of Münsterberg can take you right there.

An actual database and query language could improve this, but would be time-consuming or expensive to implement. Using hyperlinks is good enough. Further efforts should be directed towards scanning the books lacking in Google rather than trying to improve the query interface.

It would also be useful to translate Münsterberg's remarks into English. If a reader wishes to take on that task I'll give you credits and a banner ad on the page.