Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Lake Books sale 93

The upcoming Lake Books sale #93 includes a decent library of standard references on Greek and Roman coins. Consignment E has 128 lots on ancients, including Hardbound Lindgren I, The Asyut Hoard estimated at $35, SNG Levante, SNG Copenhagen, and a Rosen Collection estimated at $35. Consignment L is a complete set of the Forni reprint of BMC Greek (29 volumes as one lot).

Closes May 29, 2008.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


In July 2007 The Celator banned references to Wikipedia in articles. The magazine printed several letters to the editor commending him for the ban. I disagreed but did not write a letter.

Wikipedia is still free to discuss The Celator and now does thanks to an article I just created.

The Celator banned Wikipedia references because of errors in historical content. I've found Wikipedia to be a good start at information that I later check elsewhere. Rather than discussing Wikipedia's historical coverage I'd like to point out its numismatic coverage.

Wikipedia has always had articles on numismatic topics. It now has a Numismatics WikiProject and a Numismatics Portal. The portal is a 'face' that presents Wikipedia content organized for numismatic purposes. The project is an effort to coordinate folks improving numismatic articles and the portal. The 'current collaboration' is to improve the Ancient Greek Coinage article.

Wikipedia has almost no coverage of numismatic literature. There is a Numismatics Journals category with just seven entries. A few books, like The Red Book have Wikipedia entries but there is no 'Numismatic Book' category to gather them together.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

New Asylum

A new issue (vol. 26 #1) of The Asylum arrived this week. Cover story is “The Martin Luther Beistle Book on Half Dollars” by Bill Bugert. There is only one other article: “A Proposed Concise Library of Sales Needed for All United States Coins since 1793” by P. Scott Rubin. There are two book reviews, one for the novel The Coin Collectors and one for The Hibernia Coinage of William Wood (1722-1724).

It's a short issues. John W. Adams urges readers to submit more articles.

I've been thinking of writing an article on odd numismatic symbols and monograms based on blog entries here. I am trying to decide if I should write it now or wait until I have researched )( further. (Now that the ANS library is closed for the move it will be unlikely that I'll be able to research it soon.) Another possibility a completely different article related to digitization.

Bleg - printing PDFs

I wish to buy printed and bound copies of a few 18th century works available on Google books.

Google lets me download PDFs. I could take the downloaded PDFs to a copy place for printing and putting into a folder. I'd like something a little nicer than a binder. Are there any online services that allow me to upload a PDF and send me a book-sized object.

Perhaps I wouldn't even need to upload the PDF... I'd like a web form allowing me to submit the Google URL, book dimensions, and credit card number. The service would print and bind a hardcover and mail it to me.

[See wiktionary.org for the definition of bleg]

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Sued for $10000 because of neutral eBay feedback on some Morgan dollars

King5.com story: “Get Jesse: Sued for 'OK' eBay feedback” by Jesse Jones.
Shellhorn bought some Morgan silver dollars from a man in North Carolina. The price was fair, but Shellhorn says the coins were packed poorly.

"The coins were hanging out of the envelope, loose, with no packing whatsoever around them," he said.

The seller wanted feedback. Shellhorn couldn't honestly say the deal was good or bad so he took the middle ground.

"This is neutral feedback, not even negative feedback, but neutral. He sued me for $10,000," he said.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Colosseum Coin Exchange auction #2

The catalog for Colosseum Coin Exchange auction #2 is up. 110 lots of ancient coins. 14 numismatic books and a few antiquities. Closes May 6th.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Rauch auction 82 this week

H. D. Rauch auction 82 happens this week. 723 lots of ancients.

There are also 46 lots of numismatic literature. It is easy to miss them in the online catalog, which puts them with the RÖMISCH DEUTSCHES REICH. I'm not bidding, but if I was, it would be for Barbar Penzei, Count Dessewffy's work on “barbaric” imitations of Greek coins.

I'd love to put a scan of the Barbar Penzei plates online, so if the winner is a reader of this blog....

The Rauch says there are 54 plates, as does Clain-Stefanelli and the ANS library catalog. The Malter library auction catalog says 32 plates. A copy at Douglas Saville Numismatic Books says 44 plates. (I only stumbled onto Saville's site searching for this book. I have not dealt with him.)

Although Rauch is starting Barbar Penzei at 100 euros the Malter estimate was $875 and it realized $700.

What interests me in the Count's book is that it features Celtic imitations of Greek types. I don't know of more recent books on that topic. If my readers know of any, please let me know in the comments section.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Book scanning and _Ten Thousand Cents_

Mark Tomasko writes, in the April 13 2008 e-Sylum, that he “hopes the '$150,000 digitizing machine' never shows up at the ANA library.” He feels that many institutions would destroy their originals if presented with a copy.

Mr. Tomasko is correct to feel that way. Every bibliophile who wants a good horror show should read Nicholson Baker's Double Fold. It turns out that for the past thirty years libraries have been microfilming and throwing away the originals. (Occasionaliy they sell them instead). The microfilms are often bad -- misaligned, underexposed, overexposed. They are black and white for color originals.

Digitizations such as Googles are a lot better in quality. The stuff you see on Google's web site is greatly reduced from the scans Google makes. (They are still filled with mis-scans, fold-out-plates that aren't folded out, etc.) Don't blame 'digitization' for something that has been going on for decades.

I really doubt the ANA would throw away originals after scanning. It's the public-funded, underfunded, public libraries that want to clear out space for the things they think today's taxpayers want.

Numismatics, especially ancient numismatics, whose key works are scarce or rare and out-of-print, has a problem unless the material becomes available. Works on ancient coins also tend to be in a foreign language.

Visit Google Book Search and look at a book. The public domain books now have a feature 'View Plain Text' that provides access to the OCRed text. Currently it isn't very good, but suppose it got better. It's very hand to copy text and paste it into Google Language Tools and translate it into any language.

It's kind of painful to do this. Currently the translations aren't very good. Google could easily make this much easier, by linking the two existing services together. They already do this for Google Talk chatting service.

What about quality? It's poor now, especially for numismatic texts. The reason it's poor is that Google uses a statistical translator algorithm trained from a small set of bilingual newspaper articles. It's going to get better. To understand how this works, check out an hour-long video presentation Theorizing from Data by Peter Norvig.

I predict that Google will develop software to let the public help with fixing OCR and translation glitches, if they haven't already. It's possible that folks will do this for free, but Norvig suggests they could be paid. There is already software that lets people, especially cheap offshore labor, work on large collaborative projects. This brings us to Ten Thousands Cents.

Ten Thousand Cents is a ‘conceptual art’ counterfeiting experiment. Artists Aaron Koblin and Takashi Kawashima used Amazon.com's “Mechanical Turk” web site to hire people to draw 10,000 pictures from what appeared to be abstract photographs.

The drawings, when assembled, reveal a US $100 bill. The artists are selling prints of the art piece for $100. The ‘prints’ are one-sided counterfeit hand-drawn $100 bills. The web site has more details and a two-minute video.

So imagine a future where teenagers and retirees are earning minimum wage helping Google's translation algorithms, where any book written before 1921 is available in any language. Imagine Google's high-resolution scanners getting to books before libraries de-accession the works anyway because a poor-quality microfilm that no human has ever looked at exists in a basement in Michigan.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Who wrote SNG Fitzwilliam?

(answer below... this isn't a real quiz)

I've been trying to write something about the gorgon/EEE fractions of Tegea. SNG Fitzwilliam, which I don't have, dates them to 370 - 300 BC. That date range is odd... it isn't the date range used by the Gardener (BMC), Head (Historia Numorum), Babelon (Traité), and nothing that I know of happened in Tegea in 370 BC.

I wanted to write “so-and-so assigns these to 370-300 BC” and cite SNG Fitzwilliam. I realized I didn't know who edited the six volumes (called parts) that make up SNG Fitzwilliam.

To get the author's name I went to the official SNG site, sylloge-nummorum-graecorum.org, which gave me the dates of publication but not the author.

I went to the American Numismatic Society library search, but couldn't find the entry! At all! I'm pretty sure I've read SNG Fitzwilliam at the library, but the online catalog is missing the entry or using an 'alternate spelling'.

Reid Goldsborough has a nice SNG page, but he doesn't list authors.

I am usually good with computers but this one stumped me! I switched to traditional sources, beginning with Clain-Stefanelli's massive 1848 page tome Numismatic Bibliography. Page 148 is devoted to British SNGs but authors are not listed for parts 1-5 of Fitzwilliam. (Authors are given for parts 6-8). No authors are they listed in Daehn Ancient Greek Numismatics: A Guide to Reading and Research. Kroh lists some SNG authors, but not for Fitzwilliam.

Back online, I checked some other large online catalogs (Harvard, NYU, NYPL) but couldn't even find entries for SNG Fitzwilliam. It isn't clear if these libraries lack it. It may merely be hard to find. The British Academy really threw a wrench at librarians by giving the whole series one title. The title includes the word 'Nummorum' which is often misspelled. The volumes have their own names (Fitzwilliam, British Museum, Lockett etc.) and each volume consists of multiple books which would be called volumes but are called 'parts'.

Eventually I thought of checking the numismatic library at the Fitzwilliam itself.

I found entries there for part 1 (or 1-5?), 6, 7, and 8. The author given for parts 1-5 is F. Heichelheim.

It's surprising that so many printed sources neglect to mention SNG author/editors. Is it part of the culture to pretend the volumes write themselves, or are done by loose supervision of anonymous graduate students? Even with the name Heichelheim I found little online.

(The ANS library catalog offered the article “Fritz Moritz Heichelheim and the Fitzwilliam Coin Cabinet” in Hekte volume 2 (1996). I'd never heard of Hekte. The title is hard to search for on Google because it is a common numismatic term (describing an electrum 1/6 stater). The Fitzwilliam library numismatic periodicals web page tells me it's a Canadian journal, and since they haven't received a copy in ten years it's probably defunct. Google Books says it was published by Aureus Investments Gallery. That name no longer appears in the Toronto phone book.)

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Thoughts on digitization

This week's e-Sylum discusses digitization of numismatic literature. Wayne Homren asks if digitization will be a 'Godsend or Gomorrah'. Wayne is concerned that digitization may harm the value of private libraries. That's true if the perceived value of works is the value of the information contained within. Some coin collectors feel that way. (I feel that way.) Non-numismatic book collectors seem to feel otherwise. I see mad prices for first editions of Harry Potter ($10,000+!!!) and Hemingway even though modern editions have better type, better paper, etc.

I digitized Barclay Head's Historia Numorum. I suspect my action decreased the value of the reprints and increased the value of the best (1911) printing. That effect may be small. A bigger economic effect should be the result of the increased profile of the thousands of works cited therein. Historia Numorum often directs the reader to key papers in rare 19th century works. Those citations infect specialist collectors with a desire to read (and own) key works in their speciality.

If your collection is merely reprints of pre-1922 works I expect it's value to drop to $0.

Digitization may increase your enjoyment of the books you already own. I own a few rare 19th century editions of BMC Greek. When I open them, they make cracking sounds. Paper fragments fall off. I enjoy the fine plates, far superior to the reprint, but for reference I prefer to use Google Books to access them. Being able to 'Google' your own library is an underrated experience!

I was able to add a little value to Historia Numorum by adding hyperlinks. When Google gets more works scanned I will be able to hyperlink everything cited, in bulk. This will make the electronic version much more useful than the best paper edition. I have no idea if this will help or hurt the economic value of the first printing.

More important is the effects of digitization on the authoring of new works. Numismatics, especially ancient numismatics, is built upon the study of individual coins. The chronology comes from overstrikes and die links. To improve on the works of predecessors we must understand earlier works.

That isn't the case with, say, 'physics.' Physics is built up from a small number of key equations based on experiments that could be repeated today. Those experiments, along with the names of their discoverers, is all that is needed to write about physics. Coins are different. I can't just take a shovel and dig the restrikes and die links needed to rebuild the chronologies. It is considered bad form to propose new theories and new attributions for coins without reading earlier works. Easy digital access to the works that numismatics is built upon will allow more amateurs to theorize and write new works.