Thursday, April 27, 2006

A long essay on the economics of fiction paperbacks written by a Tor staffer is getting wide linkage. I first encountered the story on BoingBoing and now it has shown up on TeleRead.

I wonder what comparable figures are for numismatic publications?

For the hypothetical fiction paperback, the print run is 35,000 copies at 55 cents a copy for printing and binding.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Crescent symbol on Aes Grave of Tuder

On the Aes Grave semis of Tudur is a crescent symbol, described by CNG as a "retrograde C".

In Historia Numorum 1911, this is illustrated as a "hat" rather than a C or retrograde C, and seems to be considered a mark of value.

I wrote to David Perry, who is proposing computer symbols for Latin coinage, about this symbol — but he had never seen a crescent in the hat position. Does this particular orientation have a meaning in numismatics? Or was it a 19th century misreading of a crescent?

Some examples:

Perhaps an Aes Grave specialist is reading this post?

Monday, April 24, 2006

David J. Perry will be proposing a character set for Roman weights and monetary signs to Unicode in May.

More details, including the official proposal, are available on his site.

The glyphs on the right of this post are from his proposal. These glyphs represend the Roman signs for Sextans, Uncia, Semuncia, Sextula, Dimidia Sextula, Siliqua, Denarius, Quinarius, Sestertius, Dupondius, and As.

Some of these Unicode characters would be used on a proper encoding of the Historia Numorum, for example page 22. However, that page needs an additional 'hat' character. I don't think that character is defined anywhere in Unicode. I know its not in the Old Italic range. Maybe the 'hat' is an alternate glyph for some other character. I don't know Roman monetary symbols well enough....

(via Moneta-L)

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Lecture by Dr. Michel Amandry

Last Wednesday I attended lecture by Dr. Michel Amandry, Directory of the Department of Coins and Medals at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.

The lecture was on Roman Provincial coins. It followed the ANS's presentation of the 2004 Huntington medal for numismatic scholarship to Dr. Amandry. (Dr. Amandry is co-author of RPC and several volumes of SNG Paris.)

The lecture featured slides and discussions of interesting Provincial coins in the Paris cabinet, including a specimen of one of my favorites: Perseus wearing the "Medusa-hat" similar to this example.

Dr. Amandry's pronunciation was difficult for me. This is not his fault; it's mine. I am self-taught, from books, and don't know the correct pronunciations of Greek and Latin and French names. Both Amandry and the presenter (Ute Wartenburg) were talking about Ernest Babelon. It turns out "Babelon" has two syllables. I thought it had three, based on (the tower of) "Babel" and "Babelicious", the only words I know in English that begin "BABE..." (other than, obviously, the word "Babe").

I got my picture taken with Dr. Amandry but did not meet him. I couldn't think of anything to say to him other than that I like his book SNG Paris: Pamphylie, Pisidie, Lycaonie, Galatie. Actually I have some difficult questions about that book I want to ask him, but they are the kind of questions that are best asked when the author has ready access to reference materials, not at a dinner in-honor-of.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Are photos of ancient coins copyrightable?

Museums make money licensing copies of art in their collections to poster vendors and textbook publishers.

Non-art publishers are usually guarenteed a monopoly by copyright. (Nearly all books the public wants are still protected by copyright, and music is protected by copyright and state laws). This isn't true for art publishing -- many of the best works have long passed into "the public domain", meaning the monopoly has expired and the public is free to copy the art.

When a work is in the public domain the publisher can buy the negative or digital scan from anyone. Museums traditionally protects their licensing revenue stream two ways. First, they ban photography or tripods in the museum. Second, they claim copyright on the photograph used to facilitate the reproduction. These copyrights last a long time -- the life of the photographer plus 70 years in some countries! By keeping the public from high-quality photographs the museum corners the supply.

It takes a lot of creativity to paint a portrait or take an artistic original photograph. Taking an accurate photograph of a painting hanging on the wall isn't difficult. It seemed unfair for museums to get free 100+ year copyright enforcement on mere photos of paintings, so there was a lawsuit. In the famous "Bridgeman" lawsuit a judge ruled that there is no new copyright on photographs of paintings and "2D" artworks.

After Bridgeman the law books didn't change but the law did. Now anyone can "probably" get away with selling reproductions of public domain paintings. No permission is needed.

The art on ancient coins (except fakes, which will be address in a subsequent post) are in the public domain. As public domain works, Americans have always been free to publish them from their own scans or negatives.

As a web-publisher of ancient coin photographs, I have wondered if I am free to publish coins from others' photographs.

Certainly, if the others' photograph is in the public domain I can freely use it without license. Bridgeman allows me to ask a new question, can I use recent photographs for my own purposes, without paying a licensing fee?

(There is of course also a question of ethics. Is it ethical for me to build upon another scholar's work? This will be addressed in a future post, but the answer is usually "yes").

The Bridgeman decision only applies to photographs of 2D art. Most coins have some depth (the exception being printed "coins" like wooden nickels). Greek coins are almost sculptural. Does Bridgeman apply to them?

A good lawyer could argue either way. As a non-lawyer my gut instinct is that a judge would ask the jury to rule that photographs showing "originality" (special lighting and camera angles) earn the photographer a copyright. Non-original photographs (flatbed scans, or that mirror-box) probably don't.

Unfortunately copyright law isn't like the speed limit where you are safe at 55mph and risky at 56mph. It's all up to how a jury of your peers feels about acts of creativity vs. mechanical reproduction.

Coin photographers who wish to control (and sell) the right to copy their photographs have another tool: Arrangement and numbering. It may be non-infringing to copy ten coin pictures, but an infringement to copy a single picture of ten coins if the coins are arranged in some way (like biggest to smallest) or numbered.

So while I could probably defend myself from a lawsuit for reprinting the photographs of ten coins there is little chance I could issue bootleg copies of SNG BMC Black Sea and get away with it.

For the old books my Digital Historia Numorum project is interested in the photo plates themselves have entered the public domain. Bridgeman provides a valuable protection to this web site by making it non-infringing to scan the reprint rather than the original volume.

I can now confess that the plates of BMC Caria I've displayed for the past four years come from the Forni reprint, not the BMC/Autotype original.

It may be legally important to compare the original and reprint. For example, the Ares reprint of Christodoulos the Counterfeiter replaced the black background of the original with a white background. More recently, the terrible Kessinger reprint of Guide to the Principal Gold and Silver Coins of the Ancients copied the Argonaut reprint rather than the original, which included a few additional notes. The white mask and the additional text are arguably copyrightable.

Currency Collages by C. K. Wilde

Artist C. K. Wilde makes beautiful, eerie artworks using paper money.

See also The World on the Art MoCo web magazine.

(via BoingBoing).

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

M&M auction 19 catalog online

Münzen und Medaillen GmbH auction 19 is online at The auction takes place in Stuttgart, Germany, on May 16th, 2006.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Numismatic titles reprinted by University of Michigan

(This was my e-Sylum submission this week. I am posting it here to make this blog look more active).

Numismatic titles reprinted by University of Michigan

"The University of Michigan Library has gotten into the reprint business. Their first numismatic titles were issued late last year.

Amazon lists the publisher as "Scholarly Publishing Office, University of Michigan Library". That office has aweb site,, but it doesn't mention reprints.

Quality control can't be very high, as at least one title is Misspelled. Also, the UofM has neglected to supply author's names to Amazon, except as part of titles.

Some of these books are also available for free through -- but not all -- suggesting that the UofM is picking titles rather than reprinting everything Google scans. The first title choices are rather odd, though. Not what I would have chosen.

I recently used the UofM's MITS service (Michigan Information Transfer Source) to obtain a printout of a rare 1885 book. MITS prices are about the same as other libraries' copy services, 25 cents a page, the benefit of MITS is that you get the option of downloading a PDF instead of waiting in the mail for Xeroxes. MITS won't copy whole copyrighted books, though. I recommend this service."
The coinages of the world; ancient and modern. By Geo. D. Mathews. Illustrated with several hundred engravings of the principal coins (312 pages, $24, reprint from 1876)
A description of ancient and modern coins, in the cabinet collection at the Mint of the United States. Prepared and arranged under the direction of James Ross Snowden (420 pages, $27, year ???)
Catalogue of a selection from Colonel Leake's Greek coins, exhibited in the Fitzwilliam museum, by Churchill Babington (54 pages, $15, from 1867)
Catalogue of the cabinet of coins belonging to Yale college, deposited in the College library (48 pages, $12, from 1863)
Coins, medals, and seals, ancient and modern. Illustrated and described. With a sketch of the history of coins and coinage, instructions for young collectors, ... and American coins, medals and tokens, &c. (302 pages, $24, from 1861)
New varieties of gold and silver coins, counterfeit coins, ad bullion; with mint values (SIC!) (132 pages, $17, from 1850)"

Saturday, April 15, 2006

SNG Newcastle

New Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum Volume: The Collection of the Society of Antiquaries Newcastle Upon Tyne. The authors are Andrew Meadows and Roderick Williams.

110 pages, 48 b/w plates, "over 1000 coins".

The contents are searchable at along with many of the other British SNGs. This is the first SNG with results appearing in color on the web site.

Some of the coins appear quite worn. I will be curious to see the level of photography in the paper version of the catalog.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Ancient coins stolen at gunpoint

This is Local London is reporting that £500,000 of coins were stolen at shotgun-point from a London businessman.

The coins include ancient Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and medieval and modern English coins.

The robbery happened December 2, 2005. There is a £25,000 reward to help catch the burglar. A number to call to report information is given in the article.

The suspect is white, 5'10", and wore a ski mask. No details on individual coins were given.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

BMC Corinth at Google Print

BMC Corinth by Barclay Head has been scanned and indexed by Google Print.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Libraries and photocopies

MITS, the Michigan Information Transfer Source, is a great resource I recently discovered. For a small fee they can make PDFs for you from books in the University of Michigan Library.

The first book was no trouble. I'm having trouble with my second book. MITS told me

We cannot copy this entire book, as that would be a violation of copyright. We could loan you the book for a few weeks, and then you would ship it back to us. The costs for this are $20 plus shipping.

The book is an exhibit catalog from the Bibliothèque Nationale department of coins and medals. It was sold or perhaps given away for free at an exhibit 20 years ago.

I realize that the UofM library would lose a copyright suit from the BnF, so it makes sense that they won't copy the catalog for me. I don't understand the point of the law, though. Why is it illegal to copy an out-of-print or never-for-sale book?

My sometimes-friend Reid Goldsborough tells me that infringing is "theft" and wrong because it "depriv[es] the party who created the property from revenue earned through his or her labor." I think it is a pretty big leap to assume that if a book is in copyright there is a living creator and a revenue stream. I urge readers to assume that if a work isn't for sale on the entire Internet then no one is being deprived of revenue by photocopying it.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Wayne Sayles discusses this letter to the editor of the New York Times over at his Ancient Coin Collecting blog.

The article that prompted the letter is still visible on the Times web site. This article informs us that professor Randall White has resigned from New York University's Center for Ancient Studies. Professor White is outraged that his university accepted money from Ms. Shelby White (no relation), an antiquities collector.

Mr. White's actions don't go far enough. He should have resigned his professorship. That would have shown the University that he is willing to play hardball! NYU will learn not to mess with Professor White!

Professor Jack Davis, at the University of Cincinnati, says "I can't imagine that we would, under any circumstances, accept money from Shelby White for any purpose." I wonder if Professor Davis would say that if he was personally offered $200 mill with no strings attached for his own pet projects? It is easy to refuse money that no one is ever going to offer you.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Sweden returns ancient coins to Greece

Athens News Agency is reporting that Sweden has returned 48 ancient coins, excavated in 1922, to Greece.

This is not a case of looted coins and Greek demands for repatriation. The coins were just taken out for conservation, and the conservation took a long time. "The Greek ambassador noted that Sweden had never disputed the ownership of the coins, protecting and preserving them in two university laboratories in Lunb and Uppsala."

"During the '70s they were the focus of an archaeological study carried out by Sweden's Royal Numismatic Museum that was published in 1980."

Can anyone tell me what the study was?