Tuesday, September 16, 2008


I had hoped to review NUMIDAT-WEB, a web site for searching 90,000 ancient coins (including 60,000 from the city of Rome) but I couldn't figure out how to make it work.

The search page looks reasonable. It's in German. Most of the fields are combo boxes so it should be easy to construct a valid query but I couldn't create a query that yielded any results. (If any readers can make it work please post a query in the blog comments.)

A note on NUMIDAT explains that a custom-made FileMaker database implements NUMIDAT, but mentions that until 2002 the Akademie der Wissenschaften und Literatur in Mainz used NUMIZ, the software developed by the Coin Cabinet of the National Museum of Slovenia. NUMIZ is implemented in "Clipper 5", a dialect of the dBase programming language. NUMIZ sounds like an interesting program! The museum's web site says that NUMIZ can produce 'print-ready SNG volumes' and was used to create Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum Slovenia. The museum has 61,000 coins entered into the database.

The Mainz INTERFACE - project history page says that NUMIZ is also used in Austria, Croatia, and Germany. INTERFACE plans to create a front-end that allows common searching of multiple online coin catalogs without the need for a common database. A trial version of INTERFACE is either written or being written, and provides access to nine European numismatic databases.

Although I'd love to use such a database I'd prefer museums to merely export comma-delimited text files and place those files directly on the web site. Why not let numismatists import the entire database into a spreadsheet or database and query it ourselves?

I'm sure NUMIDAT-WEB and NUMIZ are great software applications and I'd love a commercial version that lets me print my own collection out, SNG-style. However, the coin data itself is part of the common heritage of mankind. Why not share it in a way that allows developers to remix it and mash it up in Web 2.0 fashion? I'm sure INTERFACE will help scholars by reducing nine searches to one. It won't provide the infrastructure to let scholars leap from a coin of Ephesos to the Wikipedia entry, or the NumisWiki entry, and it may not even let Wikipedia and NumisWiki deeply link into museum databases.

In the 19th century there was a vision of a universal catalog of ancient coins. That catalog will exist but it won't be on the Internet. The Internet itself will BE the catalog. It's the job of hobbyists and scholars to make the catalog useful.

1 comment:

Voz Earl said...

Ed--I mentioned the fact that NUMIDAT-WEB doesn't work shortly after Nathan Elkins posted the link to it. No matter how broad or narrow you make the query you always receive exactly ZERO matches.

Voz Earl