Friday, October 30, 2009

Dimitar Draganov to be tried for treasure hunting

Professor Dimitar Draganov, perhaps the most famous Bulgarian numismatist (see his 37 papers) was arrested in 2008 for intending to profit from selling archaeological findings according to a story in The Sofia Echo by Petar Kostadinov.

Police found about 400 ancient coins, worth 370 000 leva, in Draganov’s home.

According to police, the coins were about to be sold abroad, with Draganov hired to record them as an expert. Draganov’s version of the story is different. He said that the coins were part of a collection owned by the Bobokovi Foundation and his job was indeed to register them as archaeological artefacts so that a catalogue could be compiled and a book written about them.
“The Bobokovi Foundation” are the brothers whose collection of coins from Deultum takes an entire SNG, Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum Bulgaria, Thrace and Moesia Inferior, Vol. 1, Deultum. Draganov seems to have done nothing wrong:
"The collection which police confiscated from my desk, I received from the Bobokovi brothers with a protocol so that I can do research on it. I did so, and it won me the sole prize awarded at the 14th International Numismatic Congress held in Glasgow this past September," [Draganov] said.
The Numismatic Congress web site says the prize was a Numismatic Congress medal for the best poster. The poster was “The Coinage of the Scythian kings in the West Pontic Area; Iconography”.

Go read the full story.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Antiquities Smuggling Video

A 1997 17 minute documentary on Turkish antiquities smuggling produced by Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Journeyman Pictures, which seems to own the rights and uploaded the clip to YouTube, has not provided the credits and I don't know who the reporter is.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Rhousopoulos catalog

I stumbled across Google's downloadable Rhousopoulos catalog today.

4627 Greek coins described and pictured on 58 plates, auctioned by Hirsch in 1905. Original copies cost $1200.

Google gives this work the title Auctions-catalog einer sammlung griechischer münzen aus dem nachlasse eines ....

A few other Hirsch sales:
If any numismatic sites are tracking and organizing the important auction catalogs being posted by Google please let me know. I can't keep up any longer.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Lexicon of Greek Coin Inscriptions, Volume II

Volume 2 of Wolfgang Leschhorn's Lexikon der Aufschriften auf griechischen Münzen (AKA Lexicon of Greek Coin Inscriptions) is now available.

I have not yet seen it. (I have volume 1. I almost never consult it as I almost never need to identify Greek coins by inscription.)

Volume 1 was large and thick (426 pages), volume 2 is said to be 1092 pages! The price is €159. Volume 2 looks to be interesting — the first major catalog of magistrates on coins since Münsterberg's Die Beamtennamen auf den griechischen Münzen of 1911-1927.

The web site mentions an online edition with a different ISBN and provides a password-protected link for access. The online edition password doesn't seem to be available for purchase yet. The prices of online books from this publisher, Austrian Acadamy of Sciences Press, that are available for purchase range from €0 to €49.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Extracting plates from Google books

Mediterranean Ceramics posts Brief Thoughts on EPUB Books at Google
Once you've downloaded that file, it's easy to unpack. I'm a Mac/Linux user. If you are too, and you like the command line, 'unzip Catalogue_of_Arretine_pottery.epub' will do the trick. Otherwise, change the extension to ".zip" and double-click on the file. I'm sure something similar will work in Windows.

Once unpacked, you have two directories, 'OEBPS' and 'META-INF'. The first is the one with all the goodies in it. Open 'OEBPS/images' and you'll see the plates from the book. Those files aren't hi-res, but better than nothing.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Bookride comments on Google

Bookride comments on Google books
Buying out of print books ('orphans' in googlespeak) from book dealers has a great deal to be said for it but money is sometimes tight and many books are too rare to be affordable or even to be available. As a dealer I see the scheme opening up the market rather than harming it. New collectors, readers and book enthusiasts will be created by this bold 'Forever' project - especially among the under thirty crowd, who are now seldom seen in bookshops or at bookfairs; those born after the year of the Jubilee and Punk (1977) i.e. the post-literate generation. Sergey was four at the time but by the time he was 26 he had accumulated well over 15,000 real books...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Database of 28,298 coins

The American School of Classical Studies at Athens has a database of 28,298 coins, many with low-resolution black and white photos.

The database is a bit tricky to search. To search use the small white box in the upper right corner reading category:coin. Add search terms but keep the coin category or the search will include non-coin finds like pottery fragments.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Egypt running out of mummies?

Egypt's mummy population is dwindling, reports satirical newspaper The Onion:
Afterlife Preservation Society president James Amarcas said he can recall a time when Egyptians did not have to go to a museum, but could look out their window and see an entire herd of shroud-wrapped forms staggering on missions of revenge.

"My grandchildren have still never seen a mummy," said Amarcas, who vividly recalls his first mummy sighting in 1947, when he was just 3 years old. "These terrible monsters are little more than a legend to them. It's sad to think they might never see the bloodthirsty march of an undead Egyptian prince on a cool, calm night."

Prospects for Egypt's mummies are grim. A population that reached more than 12,000 in 1970 has today dropped to less than 300.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Hess-Divo to auction Frank Sternberg's library

Hess-Divo is auctioning the numismatic library of dealer Frank Sternberg.

Apparently 1193 lots, all on ancients. 358 lots just on Greeks!

Online bidding ends October 28. The estimates are very low. I do not think you will be able to pick up a complete set of BMC Greek for 1000 Swiss francs, nor a folio-sized first edition of Percy Gardner's The Types of Greek Coins: An Archaeological Essay (1883) for 50 francs.

Notes on Alan Walker's review of Benner's Achaian League Coinage of the 3rd Through 1st Centuries B.C.E.

Alan Walker reviewed Steve M. Benner's Achaian League Coinage of the 3rd Through 1st Centuries B.C.E. for the September 2009 issue of The Celator. It's a long review and an even longer version of the review is available from Walker and (soon) on The Celator's Website.

The book being reviewed is #7 in the series Classical Numismatic Studies published by Classical Numismatic Group. It costs $65. I haven't seen the book but believe the review itself is worth commenting on.

Alan Walker's review is important. He spends 12 single-spaced pages correcting Benner's mistakes and typos. Anyone interested in Achaian League coinage needs the review to annotate their copy of this book, their copies of General M. G. Clerk's Catalogue of the Coins of the Achaean League (1895, recently reprinted from scans), and Margaret Thompson's The Agrinion Hoard (1968) with corrections. Numismatic scholars with little interest in League coinage should still read Walker's review. His complaints about the structure of this book explain how scholars use numismatic references and what a book should have. The ideal structure of scholarly numismatic books is not discussed anywhere else that I know of.

Although Walker has a few positive things to say (e.g. “... the photographs are as good as they can be ...”) much of the review is negative
... I found it tremendously disappointing. It contains so many mistakes, both of fact and of organization, that the only way to correct it would be to re-write it.
Someone at CNG green-lighted this book before it was ready. The volumes in the Classical Numismatic Studies series by Brian Kritt and David MacDonald are quite good. Classical Numismatic Studies does not have a named ‘series editor’. With authors like Kritt and MacDonald a heavy-handed editor isn't needed.

Walker's most biting comments are directed at the poor organization of the catalog rather than simple inscription misreadings.
  • “[Benner] confuses issues with varieties
  • “instead of making an alphabetical list of names ... [Benner] has made a list that is in alphabetical order by mint ... making it a real chore to find anything.”
  • “the Greek lunate sigma, ϲ, is sometimes listed under sigma, but sometimes at the beginning of the alphabet, as if it were a Latin C ...”
  • Use of a monogram table instead of putting monograms inline
  • the monogram table is not indexed back to the catalog
  • Benner credits dealers for photographs but doesn't provide the auction name and lot number
  • The concordance appendix is reversed from the usual practice
Many of the mistakes that Benner made are mistakes that I could easily make. I'm mostly self-taught. The structural principals Walker describes are not codified anywhere that I've found.

Until I read Walker's article I didn't understand the meaning of ‘issue’. It's not defined Melville-Jones' A Dictionary of Ancient Greek Coins. Walker explains
Normally an issue is considered to be a single discrete series struck under a single magistrate, who may have a number of junior colleagues who also sign the dies using full or abbreviated names, monograms, symbols or a combination (Athenian New Style tetradrachms are like this, as are any number of other coin series). Coins of a single issue can vary in the way the magistrate’s name is placed, often just due to the whim of the die cutter; thus, a single issue can contain many varieties due to changes in the junior magistrates or from the way the die engraver arranged the legend. In some cases, all the varieties of an issue are simply die variants. SMB, however, confuses issues with varieties: he apparently considers every change in legend, no matter how slight, to indicate a new issue.
Putting magistrate lists in alphabetical order by mint rather than by magistrate name implies that Benner has not spent a lot of time looking up magistrates in catalogs. The purpose of the list of names is to help people look them up, not to know which magistrates worked in which cities.

Regarding alphabetizing, I can't add much to Wikipedia's article on Collation. Sorting foreign languages can be hard for English speakers. It's also hard for computers (and impossible for computers without correct multi-alphabet typesetting.)

If space and paper quality permit it's always better to include symbols and photos inline. No one wants to flip around trying to find things.

The lack of an index back to the catalog implies that Benner has not spent a lot of time looking up symbols in catalogs. Benner probably knows Achaian League coinage well enough that he no longer needs his own tables. Lack of two-way indexes is a common problem in numismatic books. I often see coin on plates I cannot find it in the text. Usually this is because the text and plates are in a slightly different order, or the plated coin is only discussed in a footnote! I once spent over an hour trying to find a coin in a short article written in modern Greek that used Greek numerals. Remember that if your numismatic book becomes important most of your readers are not yet born. Don't expect them to read the way you do.

When citing coins it's always best to include as much information as possible so future authors can track your sources back. In his review, Walker shows that Benner uses the same coin to illustrate his Dyme #11 and Dyme #13. This wasn't a simple typo — one photo came from Clerk's 1895 plates and the other was cited by Benner cited as “Dr. Busso Peus Nachf”. Walker tracked that coin to a specific sale (Peus 378, 28 April 2004, lot 142). I was surprised to see a Clerk coin at auction because Walker tells us elsewhere that “in 1920, after his death, [Clerk's] collection went to the British Museum” Perhaps this coin was sold by the BM, such as in the famous “Duplicates” sale, Ars Classica V, June 1923? It's awkward that Benner didn't notice the coin was the same but I've had a hard time telling myself especially if photos of casts are used. The general principal is to leave enough clues behind so future scholars can track back your work to published sources.

The backwards concordance indicates that Benner hasn't spent time going through coins cataloged under an old system and using a concordance to find the new numbers. I am not a cataloger like Walker and I've never done it either although I knew what a concordance was for. Note that the Wikipedia definition of concordance doesn't describe the numismatic kind. Is there a book for numismatic scholars that defines ‘concordance’? I know of none.

I hope Walker's review becomes widely known among numismatic authors. Perhaps my review-review will inspire someone, even Walker himself, to write essays describing the organization of numismatic reference works and to document how they are employed in the course of numismatic research.

[Update 10-11-09] Alan Walker reminds me that his review of Benner does not contain corrections to Clerk nor Thompson.


If this medal was a Roman Coin, how would you catalog this obverse?

Add your suggestion to the comments.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

SWAT team raids orchid grower

Last year I wrote an editorial for The Celator about how ancient coins could be controlled but self-registered to avoid the difficulties of an official government registry. I mentioned the problems of the 1973 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) treaty at controlling ivory.

A recent story on problems with CITES for flowers surprised me. An elephant has feelings, but a flower seems like just a flower. Yet the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service takes orchids very seriously:
When 60-year-old Kathy Norris asked court officials why U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's very own SWAT team had raided and ransacked her home, they helpfully explained, “You don't need to know. You can't know.”

George [Norris], along with his business associate Peruvian grower Manuel Arias-Silver, is charged with conspiracy to smuggle endangered phragmipediums (orchids) into the U.S. Since Manuel is one of only three growers to have been given permission by the Peruvian government to artificially propagate the newly discovered phragmipedium Kovachii, it appears that the U.S. government has singled out the pair for special attention over suspicions that this is the species they were smuggling. There appears to be little evidence of this, though it is likely the pair were taking some shortcuts on paperwork because of the challenges of importing other, legally propagated species, into the U.S.
(via bOING bOING)

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Overstruck Greek Coins

David MacDonald, Overstruck Greek Coins (2009). 14+272 pages. List price $40.

This is a wonderful book! It's a good-quality hardcover. There is no dust jacket but the cover is glossy and full color. (What's the word for that?) Every page is glossy and in color. Each coin is shown enlarged in its section and illustrated again actual size on 22 plates at the end. 160 coins are discussed. The undertype is presenting by line drawings.

This review is a work-in-progress as I haven't finished the book.

Although this book is readable it's not intended for beginners. MacDonald doesn't waste a lot of space defining terms that you already know. It's also not a catalog. In the preface it's made clear that the book isn't even trying to list all commonly encountered overstrikes. It's unlikely but possible that catalogers will start including "MacDonald -" when selling overstricks.

This isn't a breathtaking coffee table book listing the highlights of Greek coin art. The coins are nicer than average grade, and often uglier than average. As MacDonald points out
Overstruck coins are usually ugly. They are not popular with most collectors and, consequently, are avoided by many dealers.
What makes this book wonderful is that the overstruck coins are used to jump into open questions on dating of ancient coins. MacDonald describes simply the currently accepted dating and why it might or must be wrong. He gives enough hints that I could follow the arguments without having to go look up stuff in other books. That's the real strength of this book. In a lot of journal-level numismatic writing the authors are writing towards other PhD classics professors which makes them hard to follow. This book is much smoother.

Because only 160 coins are discussed in nearly 300 pages there is enough room to give background on the coins. We get a lot more than whose on the front and a date range like "480-460". Each coin gets a quality discussion which tells us not just the the issue dates, but often tell us which expert proposed the dates and the historical events that begin or close the date range.

The presentation, with a line drawing of the visible part of the undertype and a photograph of the coin is new to me. It's a good way to present an overstruck coin. MacDonald only reveals the visible lines so there isn't much undertype to see if it is mostly obscured by the overstrike. I would have liked to have seen more undertype, maybe illustrated with dotted lines in grey to indicate that they were reconstructed. Not including those lines is probably more scientific though, because who wants to see reconstructed features that might just be imagination? It's incorrect to make up things in coin catalogs! Thus I think MacDonald chose the right format even if I want something else.

Note that the cover picture on this post, from Whitman's web site, isn't the cover of the actual book, although they are similar. The fake cover says 'Edited by' David MacDonald. The real cover shows those five coins and two more.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Images de la Gorgone

I'm trying to write a book on ancient coins depicting Medusa. To do a good job I need to read the other books on the subject and they can be hard to get.

I was especially interested in Images de la Gorgone (1985) by Irène Aghion and Evelyne Veljovic. It documents a 1985 exhibition by the Cabinet des Médailles of the Bibliothèque Nationale. That's the French national coin collection. The book isn't held in any of the usual places in New York. The ANS doesn't have a copy, nor the New York Public Library, nor NYU, nor Columbia. The nearest library copy I could locate is at Harvard, three hours away by car. I've never seen copies for sale and I've checked numismatic, book and eBay dealers.

The University of Michigan has a copy. They have a great service, MITS, that will photocopy articles and send them for a fee. They refused to copy Images! They are bound by US law ... they will only copy 100-year-old documents or documents registered with the Copyright Clearance Center. (If I was in the library myself they wouldn't bar me from using the machines.)

Next I tried the British Library. Same story. They cannot copy the book for me.

Eventually I found the book's entry at the Bibliothèque Nationale itself. Unlike the UofM and the British Library, getting photocopies from the BnF is a pain. I had to open an account, by mail — not email — request the book by mail, and pay with a euro-denominated money order by mail. It took about six months and cost about $80.

I assume the BnF realized that since they are the publishers they didn't have to be bound by copyright law.

This was a lot of work to obtain a photocopy of a recent rare book with a list price of 40 francs (about $7). The text is quite readable. The plates of my photocopy are muddy and difficult to see. I have no clue how good the original plates are.

This book is an example of an “orphan work.” Although I believe the authors are still alive and working for the BnF I couldn't figure out how to email them and didn't have the resources to track them down for permission.

Google's deal to get orphan works from libraries to readers failed. Folks on both sides of the discussion are talking about what should be done but what I'm reading is generalities. When you think about how society should handle orphan works, it's worthwhile to think of some specific examples like Images de la Gorgone. Suppose Google collected money on behalf of Aghion, Veljovic, and the BnF. How much could they expect to receive? I'd guess in all the world there is about $200 worth of interest in this book. I was about $80 interested in it, I'd guess 3 or 4 other people are that interested, maybe a a couple of dozen would be interested at $10 a copy.

No scheme in the world is going to get more money into the hands of the copyright holders.

In tomorrow's New York Times Book Review Lewis Hyde suggests that letting Google take a cut of the money would be like letting an executor drain an estate. He thinks the court should appoint a guardians to look for rights holders.

There is no money in 99% of orphan works. Most orphans are only worth a few dozen copies. That's the problem Google is trying to solve for five million orphans. Google wants to give researchers legal access to read truely rare books. The books that librarians and dealers consider ‘rare’ are books that are valuable. Those are the books on closed shelves in major libraries. Truely rare books are a bit more rare than that.

Recently a friend gave me John Yonge Akerman's Fourrès and forgeries: general observations on the coins and coinage of the Romans (1970). WorldCat reports exactly one copy of this book known. It's in Eastern Kentucky University Library. That's a rare book! It's not particularly interesting; it's just plate 14 and pages v-xix from Akerman's A descriptive catalogue of rare and unedited Roman coins (1834) plus a new photo plate by the publishers.

Do you want to see that book? You will have to go to Kentucky.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Errol Morris on art forger Han van Meegeren

I recently stumbled across Error Morris' seven-part essay on the artist and forger Han van Meegeren. He forged Vermeers in Nazi-occupied Netherlands.

Morris believes the false Vermeers were accepted not because of their resemblance to real Vermeers, but because they looked like a cross between Vermeers and the Nazi art of the day. Nothing about coins, but a bizarre story about how connoisseurs fool themselves.
The Uncanny Valley is a concept developed by the Japanese robot scientist Masahiro Mori. It concerns the design of humanoid robots. Mori’s theory is relatively simple. We tend to reject robots that look too much like people. Slight discrepancies and incongruities between what we look like and what they look like disturb us. The closer a robot resembles a human, the more critical we become, the more sensitive to slight discrepancies, variations, imperfections. ... You would think a close copy would be the goal of a forger, but it might not be a smart way to go. If you were a brilliant technician it might be an acceptable strategy, but my forger, Van Meegeren, is not as good as that. So if he’s going to try to pass himself off as Vermeer, he isn’t going to do it by painting “The Girl With Two Pearl Earrings.”

... nobody ever did any scientific test on Van Meegeren, even the stuff that was available in his day, until after he confessed. And to this day, people hardly ever test pictures, even multi-million dollar ones. And I was so surprised by that that I kept asking, over and over again: why? Why would that be? Before you buy a house, you have someone go through it for termites and the rest. How could it be that when you’re going to lay out $10 million for a painting, you don’t test it beforehand? And the answer is that you don’t test it because, at the point of being about to buy it, you’re in love!
(via Cheap Talk)