Thursday, December 27, 2007

Egypt retroactively copyrights antiquities

The BBC is reporting that Egypt is expected to pass a law granting copyright status to full-scale replicas of any object in any museum in Egypt. The copyright holder will apparently be Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities.

Although Zahi Hawass told the BBC that the new law will apply to all countries, this seems unlikely. International copyright law is based on the Berne Convention. Article 18 says that the Convention only applies to works which were not in public domain when the treaty came into force. So new laws retroactively copyrighting the pyramid will not work. But suppose that Iraq, which is currently not a signer of Berne, got its act together and joined the WTO. It would have to respect the laws in place at signing, including this odd new Egyptian law.

I'm not a lawyer, and perhaps some other law or treaty would make this enforceable in the US.

I think this is a silly law, but Egypt has not asked my opinion. I suspect it would apply to replicas of any coins in any museum in Egypt. (It seems like it would be easy to get around it, by making 99% or 101% scale copies.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Google Book Search (by subject)

Google Book Search has a new (or new to me) 'subject' advanced search option.

There are 72 full-text books for subject 'coins', 123 for subject 'coins, greek', 132 for subject 'coins, roman' and 32 for for 'coins, ancient'.

'coins, american' yields only 1 full-view title, Catalogue of John W. Haseltine's Type Table of U.S. Dollars, Half Dollars & Quarter Dollars, also Many Other Rare and Fine Coins ..., a Bangs & Company auction from November 28-30, 1881

The quotes are important if you enter the comma. A search for coins, american yields 0 hits. coins american and "coins, american" both yield titles.

Although there is only one full-view American title, there are 4 with limited previews and 600+ searchable 'snippet view' titles.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Alex Malloy numismatic library auction

Malter Galleries will be auctioning the Alex G. Malloy library on January 12-13th.

The auction is not part of the New York International but is being held across the street during the coin show. It will also be possible to bid live on eBay.

Part 2 is 1568 lots of numismatic literature, mostly on ancients (there are only three lots on US coins). There is also a Part 1, 739 lots of books on antiquities, ancient art, and archeology.

There is a full page add in December's The Celator.

There might be some bargains. The books will be sold without reserves or minimums. Interestingly, the catalog doesn't describe the condition of the books. There will be new preview at NYINC. Instead, “Preview books will be only at a New Jersey home, about 1 hour outside of NYC. Preview will begin 2 weeks prior to the auction”

Thursday, December 13, 2007


The NYINC web site is up. There will be six auctions.

In case you haven't noticed, has a new look. Links to the NYINC Triton XI and Gemini IV auctions are there. The Gemini catalog includes 72 brockages from the Marc Melcher Brockage Collection.

The catalog for the Baldwin/Markov/M&M “New York Sale” is also up.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Pravda uses photo from Ancient Coins Canada

When I was growing up we were terrified of the Soviet Union's hydrogen bombs. The official Soviet newspaper was Pravda. We were worried when American newspapers reported angry talk from Russian leaders in Pravda.

Pravda now has a web site, and on the web site is a report of the arrest of a 70-year-old barber. He was arrested in Greece for possession of ancient coins without a license (a license is needed to collect in Greece).

The barber had 2,300 Hellenistic and Roman bronze coins. Pravda, the mighty former mouthpiece of the Kremlin, wanted to illustrate the Associated Press story. Pravda's editors didn't have a photo of the barber's collection or even a good stock photo of Roman bronzes from the Hermitage collection. They illustrated, with credit, an uncleaned lot offered by VCoins dealer Ancient Coins Canada.

The lot can be seen at Lot #unclgreek — uncleaned Greek coins for $6.50 each. Your chance to own a coin published in Pravda!

Islamic coins recovered in Iraq

The New York Times, in a story on the Iraqi museum, reports tomorrow that “... directors have managed to recover 4,000 missing pieces, among them gems, Islamic coins and carved stones.”

It has been firmly established that there were no coins in the 15,000 stolen items. So how were coins recovered?

...recovery picked up as word spread that rewards were offered for items returned.

I'm glad that the museum is acquiring more coins for its collection. I am irritated that the Times continues to imply that coins were looted from the museum.

80,000 Reagan artefacts missing from museum

(This is a month old, and has nothing to do with coins.),,2208145,00.html

The Guardian is reporting that 80,000 pieces in the collection of 100,000 items at the Reagan library are missing.

After antiquities thefts at Turkish museums there was chatter in the press that Turks were especially bad at museum security. Turns out things are not much better in California.

(via Art Law News)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

FBI seizes two tons of Ron Paul dollars

The RabidQuill reports:

I sincerely regret to inform you that about 8:00 this morning a dozen FBI and Secret Service agents raided the Liberty Dollar office in Evansville.

For approximately six hours they took all the gold, all the silver, all the platinum and almost two tons of Ron Paul Dollars that where (sic) just delivered last Friday. They also took all the files, all the computers and froze our bank accounts.

Although the website offering the Ron Paul dollar is up, ordering does not work. There are a few left on eBay.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The ANS has placed the entire contents of their magazine online.

As an ANS volunteer, I did the design and HTML for the site. The ANS supplies me with QuarkXPress files, and I convert them to HTML manually.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007 still down comes from, which depends on servers from Alabaza was acquired two months ago by NaviSite. NaviSite apparently laid off many of the folks who run the Baltimore data center where lived and were moving things to Andover Massachusettes because the lease on the Baltimore center was over.

Here is an article on what is happening:
Latest info from Alabanza at

According to a post on, 175,000 web site are down because NaviSite fouled this move.

They tried to move a few weeks ago, sites were down for maybe an hour, and they rolled back the move. They got a lot of flack for failing the move, so this time when they had problems they just decided to work through it.

Apparently direct customers of Andover are getting a couple of uniformative messages a day about the problem. I've heard nothing from I called them and they now just tell me to watch for updates on

Supposedly 30 techs are working on this problem, although another source says over 100.

Sunday, November 04, 2007 down

My personal web site, and Historia Numorum host is down. This also means I'm not getting my email.

The problem is at my provider, This weekend they tried to move from Baltimore to Andover.

Sorry for the disruption. The Wiki version at NumisWiki is up. If you haven't visited NumisWiki before, there is some good stuff there, including articles on fakes by Ilya Prokopov. The most recent prevents some Apollonia Pontika fakes with rough surfaces.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Frank Robinson auction

I haven't been writing much lately. Sorry, loyal readers.

Frank Robinson Mail Bid Sale #70 up. 396 lots, closing November 6th. These auctions are often good for bargain hunting.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Gorny & Mosch auctions 159-162

Gorny & Mosch auctions 159-162 are online. 2500+ lots of ancients. Also Medieval, modern and Russion coins. Auctions to take place the second week of October.

Monday, August 20, 2007

fine art insect casings

(This is also unrelated to ancient coins. I thought pictures were worth sharing anyway.)

French artist Hubert Duprat has tricked an insect called the caddis fly into assembling something very much like jewelry. Photos can be seen in an article on Duprat in Cabinet magazine.

The artist puts the insects in aquariums containing gold and jewels instead of the usual nesting materials.

United States v. One Solid Gold Object in Form of a Rooster

(this has nothing to do with ancient coins)

A link on lead me to Henry Mark Holzer's essay “How Americans Lost Their Right To Own Gold And Became Criminals in the Process”. It briefly describes court cases establishing FDR's seizure of gold.

I mention this because I really liked the case name United States v. One Solid Gold Object in Form of a Rooster. 208 F. Supp. 99 (D. Nev. 1962). Holzer describes the rooster as a “206 troy ounce, eighteen karat gold rooster—the symbol of a Nevada casino's 'Golden Rooster Room'”. That name really tickled me... US versus a gold rooster. A gold rooster!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Fall catalogs starting to appear

Paul-Francis Jacquier's 2007 list is up. 700+ coins, 300+ books. There is a lot of good stuff here. Jacquier's site isn't part of, so it is easy to miss. I would not be aware of him at all if I hadn't spotted one of his numismatic literature catalogs on a table at the NY International several years ago.

The Auktionen Meister & Sonntag catalog, auction 5, is up on September 19-20th. Ancient coins, also 100+ lots of literature.

Monday, July 30, 2007

CNG 76

CNG 76 is online.

It includes a half Athenian Dekadrachm.

A few years ago CNG started describing the Etrurian 'gorgon' coins as depicting Metus, the personification of Fear. I haven't noticed any other catalogers doing this. I wonder what lead to the change?

In Medusa: Solving the Mystery of the Gorgon, Stephen Wilk theorizes some 'gorgons' might depict Fear and Dread, but he knows of no examples.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Three weeks ago hobbyblog shut down.

It was the first ancient coin blog with regular content, and an old-timer when I started blogging.

hobbyblog posted one coin per day. The coins were often rare provincials. I visited hobbyblog a few times a week. It was a good blog.

I recently changed blogger templates and my blogroll went away. But hobbyblog was first on that list. The coins are all still there in the archives, there just aren't new posts.

Caron and Tilde

I know my readers are all hungry for information on the typographic symbol for the reverse of a coin. No luck yet.

Unrelated to coins, but today I was reading Known Anomalies in Unicode Character Names. It's a list of the mistakes the worlds smartest experts on alphabets made when writing down the names of the characters.

A note under 'Caron' (inverted hat on some Czech letters) says "The term 'caron' is suspected by some to be an invention of some early standards body, but it has also been claimed by others to have been in use at Linotype before the days of digital typography. Its true origin may be lost in the mists of time." By mists of time, they mean the 1980s! Wikipedia has details.

It reminded me of a similar story, the history of the tilde. The famous squiggle character, ~, which existed for hundreds of years in Spanish to indicate a different n and is on every keyboard, was only born in 1963! It is not much older than I.

Jean Elsen list 241

The catalog for Jean Elsen list 241 arrived in the mail yesterday.

400+ ancient coins, plus many medieval and modern, and numismatic books.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Podcast of Thom Bray interviewing Wayne Sayles

Thom Bray's Pieces of Time has a new 'podcast'. This one features Thom Bray interviewing Wayne Sayles.

The new podcast is 14 minutes long. I listened to it on my computer, but it can be downloaded to an iPod or MP3 player.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Short article on forgery detection by Ilya Prokopov

FORVM has a short article by Ilya Prokopov on detecting fakes struck with modern dies. It is well worth reading.

A brief discussion on FORVM's boards shows what might be a clever fake of a Greek coin detected using the technique.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Coin shortage in Assam

The BBC reported a few weeks ago that millions of Indian coins are being smuggled into neighbouring Bangladesh and turned into razor blades. A new token currency has arisen: “To deal with the coin shortage, some tea gardens in the north-eastern state of Assam have resorted to issuing cardboard coin-slips to their workers. The denomination is marked on these slips and they are used for buying and selling within the gardens.”

(via Marginal Revolution)

I couldn't find any photos of the cardboard 'coin-slips'. They are the same size as the coins they replace.

The USA has taken steps to prevent this from happening here: It's illegal to melt pennies or nickels. It is also illegal for travelers to carry more than 100 nickels out of the country.

Only two days left for bringing Cypriot coins into USA

David Welsh, on UNIDROIT-L, reports that import restrictions are being imposed on Cypriot coins.

The full text is available in The Federal Register v. 72 no. 134.

As of Monday you'll need a valid Cypriot export permit to bring ancient Cypriot coins into the USA. If you were planning on importing anything, spare yourself some trouble and do it this weekend.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Three more BMC Greek titles from Google Book Search

Vol. 16 Ionia, by Head, 1892.

Vol. 17 Troas, Aeolis and Lesbos, by Wroth, 1894.

Vol. 19 Lycia, Pamphylia and Pisidia, by Hill, 1897.

All three volumes can be downloaded as PDF files.

Google now offers a 'view plain text' option that lets you see, as well as cut-and-paste, the OCRed text. (Cutting and pasting seemed to work better if I switched views to 'standard HTML mode', another new feature.) For these particular volumes the OCR is quite poor, probably because of the tables and multi-lingual text.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

More )(

The )( symbol is a new obsession of Wayne Homren, who reports in today's e-Sylum that he has contracted the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, Germany, The Type Museum here in London, the International Printing Museum near Los Angeles, the Museum of Printing in North Andover, MA; the JAARS Museum of the Alphabet in Waxhaw, NC; and the St. Brides Printing Library in London.

No useful replies yet.

In a June 3 comment here, Dr. Robert J. O’Hara pointed to an 18th century list of alchemical symbols, Medicinisch-Chymisch- und Alchemistisches Oraculum (1755), which includes both )( and ℞. Both symbols abbreviate words beginning with RE (Realgar and Recipe). If one needed to abbreviate “reverse” down to a single character to save space it makes sense to use a symbol which had already served that purpose. )( was such a symbol, but would numismatic readers in the 18th century have understood it?

The earliest numismatic use that I know of is from 1758, in a book published in Vienna, Prague, and Triest by Ioannis Thomae Trattner. However, I just haved looked. I don't have any 17th or 18th century books, and Google has scanned only a few. I would be curious to find earlier citations of the symbol. It would be interesting if the symbol started with publishers known for printing alchemical works. I have before never considered a connection between numismatics and alchemy.

It is interesting that the symbol died out. It was used by Eckhel, who is the father of numismatics as a science. It seems logical that authors would want to make the works look more like Eckhel's, so why did the symbol die out? Possibly type setters didn't have the symbol, but perhaps even in the 19th century no one knew the name of the symbol or its exact meaning?

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.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Another varient of mystery Latin symbol for 'reverse'

We previously discussed Eckhel's decorative symbol for reverse, which looks something like a cross between an asterisk and )(.

Notitia elementaris numismatum antiquorum ... (1758), by Erasmus Fröhlich, uses a similar symbol.

The symbol can be seen in context on page 21. Like Eckhel, sometimes )( is used instead, such as on page 73.

I'd really like to learn what the symbol is called, and why it came to represent the reverse of a coin.

I spotted a 20th century use of the )( form, in Haeberlin's Aes Grave (1910). So use of the symbol died out less than 100 years ago. Aes Grave is in German, so it's another non-Latin usage of the symbol.

Upcoming coin talks in NYC

Alan Roche will be speaking on numismatic imaging at the ANS tomorrow. He is the ANS coin photographer. I believe the talk is open to the public.

I had planned to attend but may miss it.

The ANS has promoted Roche's talk, but has neglected to mention that the Summer Seminar is now open to members. The seminar schedule includes some important topics. Last year I saw Dr. Bates presentation on Money Before Machinery which was interesting. The purpose of these talks is to teach PhD students in classics about coins, so the material is simultaneously introductory and advanced.

I think the policy of opening the lectures to members is a big deal and I'm surprised that it wasn't mentioned in their email newsletter, amnumsoc-l, the ANS Magazine, the postcard for the Roche talk, or yesterday's ANS letter on the 100-year anniversary of the Saint-Gaudens gold pieces.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The most impressive numismatic book?

I recently saw E. J. Haeberlin's Aes Grave (1910) at the ANS library. The plate volume is the most impressive numismatic publication I've seen.

First, it's huge. The pages are folio size. I wish I had measured them. My recollocation is that each page was 3'x2', although that seems impossibly large. It is probably about half that.

Second, the printing. The book was printed with a collotype process. This makes each page near photographic in quality. No masking or pixelization. The paper may have changed color but the ink doesn't look faded at all. The black and white printing gives them a dreamlike quality.

Third, the 'coins'. Very large Roman cast coins. Coins weighing half a pound. The designs aren't complex or especially lifelike. The primitive casting technology forced the Romans to use very simple designs. Simplification gives the coins a powerful and primitive appearance. The coin's large size gives them an alien appearance.

Finally, the surfaces. I don't know if the rough surface represents a patina or the casting technology. The collotype process seems to have captured it perfectly. Lacking the coins, I can't be sure, perhaps the collotype process improved the texture making it look more like grainy art photography. Any, it looked cool.

Forni is offering a reprint for 460 euros. An Italian bookseller website says it's an 'anastatic reprint'. I don't know what anastatic means. I assume the quality will be much lower than collotype.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Der interaktive Katalog des Münzkabinetts

As reported by cogito on, the Berlin state museum
(Staatliche Museen zu Berlin) ancient coin collection is now online.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

New strategy for OCR

Ben Maurer is proposing a new way to 'OCR' old books. Words the computer can't OCR will be turned into CAPTCHAs.

A possible problem is that OCR programs often can't distinguish a word from a smudge, decorative gylph. Books often contain occasional Greek letters, nonsense, etc. So if the CAPTCHA implementation isn't good, Ben's strategy will add to the 19 person-years already wasted every day filling out annoying CAPTCHAs.

Still, it is a good idea and worth considering.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

A numismatic commentary on Pausanias (1887)

Microsoft's scanning effort is starting to bear fruit.

A numismatic commentary on Pausanias (1887) by Percy Gardner and F. Imhoof-Blumer. Unlike Google, the PDFs include OCRed text, and thus are searchable.

Five more BMC volumes

Google has given us five more volumes of BMC:

BMC Thrace (volume 3, Head and Gardner, 1871)

BMC Seleucid (volume 4, Gardner, 1878)

BMC Thessaly (volume 7, Gardner, 1883)

BMC Central Greece (volume 8, Head, 1884)

BMC Phyrgia (volume 25, Head, 1906)

At this point they aren't downloadable as .PDFs. Sometimes fresh titles can't be downloaded for a week or so, I'm hoping these will be available soon.

I've been working on a web page for BMC volumes. The goal is to reverse-link the plates, so that one can flip through plates and get Sear numbers and hyperlinks to Google. This is my own project, I don't think the BM even knows I do it. I emailed them once about rights to a book and got no answer, so I assumed they were too busy and took initiative myself.

Perhaps I'll find time to index Google's latest, although this month I'm very busy getting caught up with digitizing the ANS Magazine. (The current issues, with their support, for their website!)

It costs Google about $30 to scan a BMC volume, so the five volumes means they spent about $150 to greatly improve my hobby. I appreciate that. I often wonder why this job falls on Google. The institutions that paid for the writing and publishing just 100 years ago lack the interest (or will?) to scan their own books. These institutions don't even link to Google's editions from their web sites!

It isn't just institutions; for years I begged people to send me particular old coin books for scanning. I got a few emails but no books ever arrived. Somehow I'm misjudging what people will think is a good idea....

Saturday, May 12, 2007

May 2007 Celator

The May 2007 Celator arrived yesterday. I was pleased to see a lot of material on literature for Greek collectors.

Part 2 of Reid Goldsborough's article on Greek attribution guides appears. Reid is kind enough to mention this blog and my web site. His complete list of SNG volumes and parts, with their sizes, is very useful. (It is also online).

Daniel Koppersmith's article briefly discusses the auction catalogs of all the major firms selling Greek coins for about the last 100 years. He gives each firm 1-4 stars, and mentions catalogs of particular importance in each series. Koppersmith's efficient format covers a lot of information in just four pages. I learned a lot, but the article left me wanting to know more, especially about the 3 and 4-star catalogs, such as their availability and cost.

Ursula Kampmann's press release on the James Joy collection of Greek bronzes is a mini-review of the upcoming M&M auction. Kampmann neglected to mention Mr. Joy is that guy who has been running classified ads in The Celator for at least the last ten years looking for coins of Greek islands. I always wondered what kind of response he got....

Friday, May 11, 2007

Kolbe auction 103

Kolbe auction 103 arrived in the mail today. The catalog is also available on the website. 770 lots. Not a lot of material related to ancients in this auction.

The Kolbe publishing arm has released a new book on “Comitia Americana” medals. Details are available on the website.

How to use ISEGRIM

ISEGRIM is searched using an ISEGRIM-specific query language (rather than simple web forms.) Learning a bit of the language is necessary to use ISEGRIM.

When searching for matches to an unknown coin, the most important search parameters are the obverse type, the reverse type, the metal, and the city. ISEGRIM uses the following database field names, based on German abbreviations:

  • VT Obverse Type
  • VA Obverse Attributes
  • RT Reverse Type
  • RA Reverse Attributes
  • M Metal
  • PO City / Poleis

ISEGRIM uses the colon (:) as the equals sign. The colon means exact match. (Actually, it's a 'regular expression' match).

For example, suppose we are looking for silver coins with a boar on the obverse. The ISEGRIM query for this is

vt:boar m:ar

This isn't a very good query. Although it matches against 'BOAR', it doesn't match 'BOAR WINGED'. To search for anything beginning with 'BOAR...' on a silver coin, append ".*", like this:

vt:boar.* m:ar

The ".*" is a 'regular expression'. It means "any amount of any character". (I recommend appending ".*" no matter what you are looking for.)

Sometimes I want to search for a phrase, such as 'BOAR WINGED'. The obvious query 'vt:boar winged' wouldn't work, because ISEGRIM doesn't see a join between 'boar' and 'winged'. Use a period (.) instead of the space:


The period is a regular expression meaning "any character" (including space).

It is also possible to prepend ".*". So to search for anything flying right, use

vt:.*flying.r.* m:ar

ISEGRIM describes types at multiple levels of specificity. So a coin depicting Athena is listed using both 'WOMAN' and 'ATHENA'. This is incredibly useful because sometimes it is impossible to identify the particular diety or person without knowing the city. This principle is what makes ISEGRIM far more useful than other query systems.

ISEGRIM lists 'attributes' such as clothing and objects in the 'attribute' fields, not the type fields. So to search for a helmeted Athena use

vt:athena.* and va:helmet.*

The ISEGRIM format is very similar to the format in Otfried von Vacano's book Typenkatalog der anitiken Münzen Kleinasiens (1986), and Vacano works on ISEGRIM.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Mionnet's Scale

I always thought that Mionnet invented his scale, but it seems to be merely improvements to a scale by Charles Combe. Here is Mionnet's scale and Combe's scale (from 1782!) together.

Many of the circles are the same size. Combe uses letters, and in tables gives sizes as a letter, often with a + or -.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Symbols meaning 'reverse'

The great English numismatist Barclay Head used the symbol (Rx, the “prescription symbol” to mean “reverse.” For example, in his 1911 work Historia Numorum, p. 13, he says “Symbol on ℞. Club” while describing a coin with a club on its reverse. What is the name and origin of the symbol as applied to numismatics?

The Unicode standard calls the symbol “Prescription Take”. The Wikipedia page for Rx says that Rx is the symbol for medical prescriptions. (Wikipedia also gives a numismatic meaning: Rx means “tens of Rupees”).

The Straight Dope, Cecil Adams’ newspaper column, gives the medical history of the Rx symbol. There is controversy among pharmacy historians. There are three theories. 1. “Rx is an abbreviation for the Latin word ‘recipere’ or ‘recipe,’ which means ‘Take, thou.’”. 2. Rx is the astrological symbol for the god Jupiter. 3. Rx comes from the Egyptian symbol for the left Eye of Horus.

None of these sources explains why ℞ would be used in numismatic works to mean “reverse”. Barclay Head isn’t the only writer to use the symbol, it was also used by French writers Mionnet and Babelon in the 19th century. It is always followed by a period.

Another odd symbol was used in the 18th century. J. H. Eckhel used a symbol that looks like a cross between mismatched parenthesis, )(, and an asterisk to mean “reverse”. For example, volume 2 page 209 of Eckhel’s Doctrina numorum veterum (1792). I don’t know the name for this symbol, or if it was ever used non-numismatically. Eckhel also used )( without the decoration – perhaps his publishers didn’t have enough of the rare symbol to set type? At least one English-language author used the symbol in the reversed parenthesis form, R. S. Conway (The Italic Dialects (1897), for example p. 14).

Speculations: Eckhel’s reverse symbol is 1. a decorative version of actual mismatched parenthesis, 2. a decorative version of the Roman ‘Denarius Sign’ (an X with a line through it), or 3. a version of the Pisces astrological symbol without a space between the fishes. The problem with these theories is that the symbol doesn't look much like any of them. Pisces makes the most sense, as the Pisces symbol is supposed to represent two connected fishes swimming in opposite directions.

I would enjoy corresponding with anyone on this topic.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Coins that are difficult to catalog

Some coins are difficult to catalog, because scholarship is not in agreement about the origin. The attribution of this coin is apparently insecure.

An anonymous cataloger (Künker auction 97, March 2005, lot 897) attributes to Euagoras II, 361-351 BC, Salamis Mint. Cites Babelon (Les Perses Achemenides (1893), #191) and Koray Konuk (SNG Kayhan 1066). The cataloger hedges saying an alternate is an uncertain Cilician mint.

Another cataloger (CNG, MBS 67, September 2004, lot 825) attributes to Datames, Satrap of Cilicia and Cappadocia. 384-362 BC, citing George Hill (BMC Cilicia (1900), pg. 100, 25) (as Mallos) and Babelon, (Les Perses Achemenides (1893), #191).

A similar coin is fancifully attributed to “Memnon, Satrap in Ionien (?)” in Nachfolger auction 376 (October 2003, lot 357). This attribution was not satisfying; a similar coin (auction 386, April 2006, lot 256) was catalogued as the satrap Mazaios, 361-334 BC, struck at an uncertain mint but possible Tarsos; citing Axel Winzer (Antike Portraitmünzen der Perser und Griechen (2005)).

A Baldwin’s cataloger attributes one of these (auction 34, October 2003, lot 84) to “Caria/Ionia, uncertain mint, satrapal coinage, time of Artaxerxes III, c. 358-340 BC” citing “Traité p.167, 30; Head, Coinage of Lydia and Persia, pl.III, 27, Pharnabazus”

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Athens - Sparta - New York

The three irregular lines are supposedly the traditional spit coinage of Sparta. The originals are in New York City for the next three weeks, as part of an exhibition, Athens-Sparta, at the Onassis Cultural Center, 645 Fifth Avenue.

Admission is free. There is a lot of amazing pottery and scuplture, nearly all from Athens or Sparta.

I was also excited about some metal toy soldiers and mythological monsters. The exhibit card said the figures had some votive purpose. Maybe they are found in temples, but I still think they are toy soldiers. A lot of Christian churches keep a room full of toys, and not for any religious purpose other than to get parents to come to Bible study class.

Anyway, the coins. A very nice group of Athenian coins, including one of the ANS's dekadrachms. Most (all?) denominations of the Athena-owl coinage are on display, including the tiny fractions.

There is also a group of coinage spits of Sparta. I have no idea how archeologists tell these spits from cooking spits, it wasn't explained in the exhibit. (There is a very nice $30 catalog of the show but I didn't get it.)

A Syracusan dekadrachm is also present. I don't know why. It is on display in the middle of the Athenian coins. It kind of looks out-of-place. I never thought I'd turn down seeing a dekadrachm but the Athenian coinage would have been more impressive without the Sicilian invader.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Bill Wyman Signature Detector

Bill Wyman quit his band, the Rolling Stones, 15 years ago. He now writes about antiquties (Bill Wyman's Treasure Island) and recently designed a new metal detector.

This is a great development. We need more numismatic authors and antiquities experts. If you are in a band, maybe The Who or Pink Floyd, now is your chance to do something important like writing literature.

While researching this story (looking at the Wikipedia entry for Bill Wyman), I learned that he was his own grandfather. You blow my mind, Bill Wyman.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Friday, April 13, 2007

CNG 75

The CNG 75 auction is online. 570 book lots, 575 ancient Greek lots, etc., etc., etc.

(Update) The most interesting coin is lot 392, a fourée electrum 1/24 stater. The anonymous cataloger tells us that this coin proves the same mint made good and fourée coins. It would be interesting to re-examine the good specimens in light of the new piece!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

More auctions

The Numismatica Ars Classica auction 39, auction 40, and auction R catalogs are online. The highlight is lot #8, an Akragas tetradrachm, although there is an Athenian dekadrachm with a higher estimate. Closing May 15, 2007.

The Hess-Divo auction 307 catalog is online. Closing June 6, 2007.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Gerhard Hirsch Nachfolger catalogs online

The Gerhard Hirsch Nachfolger auction catalogs 250 and 251 are online. They also arrived in the mail today. The auction 250 catalog is hardcover and celebrates the 125 anniversary of Hirsch (1878-2007). The coins are very high quality.

55 lots of ancients in auction 250 and about 600 in auction 251.

I was just thinking about Hirsch's illustrious history this afternoon. I know they sold Imhoof-Blumer's collection in 1907. 2515 lots. I have a lot of photocopies of Imhoof-Blumer's works, and they often describe a rare or unique coin, unpictured, and say "M.S." which is German for "My Collection". It would be a nice catalog to have, or to have a CD-ROM of. I've never actually seen a copy, although the ANS has one.

19th century Numismatic Chronicles

Google recently added a bunch more full-view and downloadable issues of the Numismatic Chronicle. Most of the 1850s issues are now available. I've updated my web page on available issues. The new issues were scanned at the UofM and the Bodleian. Thanks.

Google is still blocking most non-US countries from this material. At the bottom of my NC page is a link to access my page through a US proxy. Use that. My favorite proxy is now running advertising banners, but it isn't bad.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The Baldwin's catalogs for the April 24-25th auctions are online

The auctions are #50, #51, and 'Islamic #12'. The Islamic auction is at as interactive HTML and on Baldwin's usual website in PDF format. Baldwin's is in London but their website address is, suggesting they are located on the South Atlantic Isle of St. Helena! Do not be fooled. If you are in London it is worth stopping in; I was able to get a copy of SNG Levante Supplement inexpensively three years ago there.

Auction 50 is Ancient, British, and Indian coins. Only 205 ancients, but one is an Athenian dekadrachm!

Auction 51 is foreign, medals, and books. There are only about 150 lots of books but many are group lots with several titles, and the selection of books on Indian numismatics is good.

I got the auction 50 catalog in the mail with an offprint of 51 containing just the books. I've never seen an auction offprint before. It is a good idea; books descriptions don't need to be printed on super-glossy paper. It also saves space, because I don't need the medal catalog.

Monday, April 02, 2007


I visited the Industrialization exhibit at Medialia on Saturday. I'd like to recommend the show, but Saturday was the last day.

The show presented art and historical medals on the theme of industrialization. I enjoyed the show, which occupied two glass cases in the small gallery, as well as the permanent medal collection. My favorite pieces were some Japanese medals what seemed like a traditional style, and a Soviet space medal showing the Baikonur Cosmodrome behind Kazakh peasants.

Medialia is a gallery selling fine art sculpture. All the pieces are small, and most are what I'd call art medals. Until last week, I was unaware that New York even had a medal gallery. I've been to most of the shops that advertise in the ‘Coin and Stamp Dealer’ category in the phone book or whom show at the few local coin shows. Medialia doesn't do either. It appears in the phone book under ‘Antique Dealers’ and ‘Art Galleries & Dealers’.

I didn't know how to behave in the shop. When I'm in a coin dealer, I know that nearly everything is for sale, and that anything I'm not allowed to touch will be in a protective slab or 2x2. At an art gallery, one never touches anything.

I was given a free catalog of the show. It wasn't on glossy paper but it was still nice — and something one doesn't get at coin shops. The catalog seemed like something that medal and numismatic literature collectors would want, but I've never seen a Medialia catalog in a coin book auction and the ANS library appears to lack them as well. So, the catalogs are a new offering or great rarities.

At Medialia, only a few of the items had prices. The prices seemed high to me, but the medals offered were mostly better than the $50 medals I've bought at coin shows and on eBay. I plan to go back again, and learn about art medals. The space seems to host a lot of short shows. I picked up an announcement about an opening this Saturday, but the details are not yet on the web site.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Bootleg Bulletin on Counterfeits

I received the bootleg Bulletin on Counterfeits yesterday.

Although ‘Microbe’ promised a pressed CD all I received was an unlabelled CD-R.

The CD-R contains the 1976-1999 run, as JPEG files, two pages per file. The pages were scanned at 150dpi. The pages are quite readable, although on some years there is bleed-through from the other side of the page. (Recommendation: put black construction paper between pages while scanning to counteract this scanning flaw.)

The disc also contains a 21 page MS-Word format index. The index is broken down by category (Greek Silver through Modern). The contents of each category are sorted alphabetically by city or country. It's useful, but an improvement would be an HTML document that hyperlinks to the individual page files.

I don't know if the bootlegger wrote the index or if he merely acquired it elsewhere. This index is different from the partial index at the Lakdiva site. I hope the author puts it online.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

German translation

A lot of numismatic books are written only in German. I don't read German, but I need to read German coin descriptions. Here's what I do.

The first step is to type in the German text. It's important to get accents right. Use Windows Character Map (Linux has something similar) or the 'Insert Symbol' feature in Microsoft Word. Then I feed the text to Google Language Tools for a very rough translation.

Google is lacking a lot of words. There are four dictionaries I use. For coins, Münzen Lexikon is useful. There are also two big general German-to-English dictionaries online, LEO and The New English-German Dictionary.

There is also a Wiki translating dictionary, Wiktionary. If none of the above dictionaries have the word I can go there and enter requests for English definitions of German words by volunteer translators.

The text that comes out of Google is often poor, especially because without a numismatic dictionary Google doesn't even know the parts of speech. However, I can hand-edit the text into something readable, especially if I have a picture of the coin being described to refer to.

Other multilingual numismatic glossaries are Wörterbuch der gebräuchlichsten Fachausdrücke für Münzsammler and Moruzzi Numismatica glossary, but I rarely have luck there.

For abbreviations, like "pkr" (= perlkreis) I have to ask for the full word on an ancient coin website.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

LHS and Tkalec catelogs online

The LHS auction 100 and Tkalec 2007 auction catalogs are online. The LHS auction is April 23/24th and the Tkalec is April 22nd.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Information wants to be $35

On Friday a Yahoo account named 'Mike Robe' (=microbe) offered CD-ROMs containing the entire run of “Bulletin on Counterfeits” and an index, for $35. The offer sounded bogus, but initial reports said it was legit.

The web site hosting the offer is now gone, and the seller claims his run of 25 copies sold out.

Reid Goldsborough reports that the IAPN is now considering selling a legitimate CD-ROM. No word on availability or price.

Reid concludes his message with a screed against freeloaders, saying “If I and others aren't paid for some of our work, if everything is free for the taking, guess what's going to happen to the quality of information available.”

I wish it was that simple.

I'm told that most books on ancient coins do not recoup their printing costs. Authors who have the support of a press willing to take a loss can get paid. Everyone else has to self-publish. Under these conditions it makes sense to write for free. Why would anyone want to earn NEGATIVE $7000 publishing a book? Better to put it online and only lose $10/month.

There isn't much money in numismatic writing. I've heard that RPC volumes 8 and 9 are done but there is no money to pay for publishing. The publishers of Agoranomia tell me they don't like putting 'coins' or 'coinage' in titles because it discourages libraries from buying! We are in a period in history when there is very little interest in old coins. I don't think the lack of interest is because of file-sharing. No one has offered me digital copies of RPC!

Publishers are free to charge whatever they want. A pirate who named himself after H5N1 Avian Flu sold 25 copies of BoC and made about $30x25=$750 profit last week. The IAPN made a business decision to price BoC at over $500 and probably made $0 last week. I'd rather the IAPN get the money, but that's now how economics works.

The musician Frank Zappa was very clever. Pirates released albums of his concerts. Frank took their packaging and sold it himself. The IAPN could turn around tomorrow and sell microbe's package.

I bought the IAPN's book on The Caprara Forgeries and was paying $60/year for “Counterfeit Coin Bulletin”. I thought Caprara was worth the money.

The recent incarnation of the Bulletin was not worth $60/year to a collector. It was mostly pictures of US fakes with arrows pointing to die flaws. No interesting text. To a dealer, $60 may be a bargain. Collectors don't see it that way. One suggestion is to charge a lot of money for current issues, and make additional money selling last year's issues to collectors at a lower price.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

New software for 'scanning' with digital camera

Teleread's Branko Collin briefly discusses Snapter, new software to improve digital photographs of books making pages look scanned.

A free trial of Snapter is available from the Atiz website.

New book on forgeries

SP-P has announced a new book by I. Prokopov, Coin Forgeries and Replicas 2006. I haven't seen this book yet. The earlier books in the series are good.

The book publishes 201 fakes, including a 20 page catalog of fake Histiaea tetrobols.

Monday, March 12, 2007

New discounts from David Brown Book Company

The David Brown Book Company is discounting these titles:

Caesarea Maritima: The Coins and the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine Economy of Palestine by Jane DeRose Evans
$68.00 (list $84.95)

Agoranomia: Studies in Money and Exchange Presented to John H. Kroll edited by Peter G. van Alfen
$100.00 (list $125.00)

Roman Provincial Coinage VII: Gordian I to Gordian III (238-244). Première partie. Province d'Asie by Marguerite Spoerri Butcher
$192.00 (list $240.00)

Roman Provincial Coinage, Volume I by Andrew Burnett, Michael Amandry and Pere Pau Ripollès
$260.00 (list $325.00)

Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum Deutschland 14: Attika - Megaris - Aegina
$76.00 (list $96.00)

Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum Deutschland: Syrien: Nicht-koenigliche Praegungen
$132.00 (list $165.00)

Islamic History Through Coins: An Analysis and Catalogue of Tenth-Century Ikhshidid Coinage by Jere L Bacharach
$22.00 (list $24.50)

Money of the Caribbean edited by Richard G Doty and John M Kleeberg
$52.00 (list $65.00)

Coins of the Holy Land: The Abraham D. Sofaer Collection at The American Numismatic Society by Ya'akov Meshorer et al.
$120 (list $150)

Sylloge of Coins in the British Isles 55: Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg Part IV. English, Irish and Scottish Coins, 1066-1485 by Marina Mucha
29.98 (list $85.00)

Ancient Greek Coins: Catalogue of the Classical Collection, Museum of Art (RI) by Ross Holloway
14.98 (list $50.00)

Ancient Jewish Coinage: Vol. 1. by Ya'Akov Meshorer
9.98 (list $45.00)

Catalogue of the Aksumite Coins in the British Museum by Stuart Munro-Hay
49.98 (list $117.00)

Coin Hoards IX. Greek Hoards Meadows, Andrew
79.98 (list $130.00)

Zecca: Mint of Venice in Middle Ages by Alan M. Stahl
19.98 (list $79.00)

Coinage and Identity in the Roman Provinces edited by Christopher Howgego, Volker Heuchert and Andrew Burnett
59.98 (list $150.00)

The Coinage of the Atrebates and Regni by Simon Bean
19.98 (list $50.00)

Coins (Interpreting the Past) Burnett, Andrew M.
4.98 (list $12.95)

Humphrey Cole: Mint, Measurement and Maps edited by Silke Ackermann
9.98 (list $27.00)

Metal Analyses of Roman Coins Minted under the Roman Empire by L H Cope, C. E. King, J. P. Northover and T. Clay
9.98 (list $22.50)

Studies in Greek Numismatics in Memory of Martin Jessop Price edited by R Ashton and S Hurter
39.98 (list $150.00)

Sylloge: (SNG ANS 6) Palestine-South Arabia Meshorer, Ya'Akov
14.98 (list $125.00)

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Should fake antique dealers be punished?

Writing for China Daily, Li Qian asks Should fake antique dealers be punished?

“A fake ancient coin dealer was sentenced to three years in jail and fined at a Nanjing court days earlier, causing an uproar in the collections [sic] society...”

“Experts estimate as many as half of antiques dealers would face jail terms in China if the country punishes them using current laws for common businesses...”

“Fake antique articles have left many collectors suffering from hefty losses, as the technological trend of counterfeiting becomes a headache for even the most experienced experts ... Some [forgers] raise bugs and mice to bite on scrolls to make them appear ancient.”

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Elsen auction 91 online

Jean Elsen's auction 91 catalog is online, with 474 ancient coins. There are also many 'siege coins'.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Tom Cederlind Buy or Bid sale 142

Tom Cederlind's Buy or Bid Sale #142, with 358 lots, is online now. Closes April 5th.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Copyrighting individual coin descriptions

The e-Sylum reported yesterday on David Hewett's story on the auction description copyright lawsuit between Heritage and Superior.

Hewett's article shows examples where the same word patterns are used first in Heritage catalogs and then in Superior catalogs, for example in describing an 1879 gold Stella:

The regal beauty of this curious denomination has kept demand very high for an attractive example, such as the coin offered here, and many numismatists have long desired to own such a prize. However, the price of ownership seems to continue to outpace all but those who greatly desire and can afford the cost required to secure an example. Here is an opportunity for yet another collector to fulfill the dream of finally obtaining one of America’s most popular and unusual denominations ever produced.

Heritage, February 23, 2005

The regal beauty of this curious denomination has kept demand very high for an attractive example, such as the coin offered here, and many numismatists have long desired to own such a prize. However, the price of ownership seems to continue to outpace all but those who greatly desire and can afford the cost required to secure an example. Here is an opportunity for yet another collector to fulfill the dream of finally obtaining one of America’s most popular and unusual denominations ever produced.

Superior, September 29, 2006

The problem is that Superior hired an ex-Heritage cataloger, James Jones. It is difficult for a person not to sound like himself when describing the same coin type! This case reminds me of the famous "stealing from himself" lawsuit against rock singer/composer John Fogerty. In that case, a manager who owned part of an old song's copyright sued the singer for rights to a new song that sounded a lot like the old one.

Collectors want the descriptions of similar coins to look similar. If every cataloger put creativity into every description there would be no way to compare descriptions. For example, one of the examples in the suit uses “glossy chocolate-brown surfaces” to describe a colonial Vermont copper. We don't want one dealer using 'chocolate-brown', another using 'coffee', another using 'mocha', another using 'mahogany', etc.

For longer prose descriptions like the Stella quote above it may make sense to ban re-use of descriptions by catalogers who change firms. I don't know. I don't want a large settlement scaring other auction houses into bizarre sentence construction and new adjectives. (I'd also like to see catalogers get bylines on catalogs.)

Israel cracks down on delinquent diggers

A short item by Roger Atwood on Israel's demands that licensed diggers publish their findings. (via PhDiva, who notes that Egypt adopted a similar policy.)

Atwood's book on looting was recently remaindered and can be purchased cheaply at Oxbow books.

United States bans collecting of military medals

The United States banned collecting of military medals on December 20, 2006. It's illegal to purchase, sell, mail, ship, import, or export any service medal, badge, ribbon, or imitation.

A long article by David Hewett in the March issue of Maine Antique Digest covers the law and the response in the medal collecting community.

The anti-collecting law was part of the Stolen Valor Act, an attempt to ban the practice of fraudulently wearing unearned medals. The anti-collecting provisions were the result of over-zealous bill-writing. The article says the Orders and Medals Society of America (OMSA) had its members contact their representatives, which was almost successful -- there were promises of changing the wording of the bill to allow collectors and museums to continue acquiring the pieces. Unfortunately the law passed with the original anti-collector anti-museum wording.

The OMSA website carries further details.

I am surprised that this law was proposed, debated, and passed without my knowledge. I first learned of it this morning!

I do not support con men wearing imitation Purple Hearts but it should be legal for a soldier or heir to donate medals to the local history museum and send them the medal to the museum through the US mail. It should be legal to make and sell replica medals to Hollywood directors making war movies. Schools where they train engravers to make future medals should be able to obtain representative styles of medals. Why not just keep capitalism legal, and ban merely the practice of wearing a medal with intent to deceive?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

New accusations in Veliko Tarnovo Museum coin robbery

Michel van Rijn has a new post on the Veliko Tarnovo Museum robbery of last year, written by Arthur Brand. Van Rijn's site links to this blog because we wrote about Bulgarian reports last year. Brand's post claims to give the names of the robbers. It also claims the coins were moved through eBay sellers 'Pagane' and 'Silenos'.

A better source than this blog for details on the case is this FORVM post.

I haven't been keeping up with the story but there doesn't seem to be anything new other than Brand's accusations. Google has a new News Archive Search; searches there for /Veliko Tarnovo robbery/ offer few details. Most of the details are behind paywalls, and seem to be repostings of the material that came out early last year.

The Sofia Echo claims to have reported, in April, on calls for the museum director to step down. Apparently he did; in September the Echo suggested that the proposed new director of the museum, Hristo Haritonov, might be underqualified. That doesn't make any sense, because Mr. Haritonov was already the director! Perhaps the dates are wrong on the Echo's web site, or I misunderstood before and Mr. Haritonov did get a promotion in August.

(Mr. Haritonov is a numismatist and writer. His books include Coins in the Bulgarian Folk Culture (c. XV-XVII). He also wrote the paper “Semiotic Aspects of the Monetary Iconography in the Context of the Medieval Bulgarian Culture” which was published in the museum's journal.) I have never read these books and would be curious to know if they are highly regarded.)

Anyway, both the police and museum claim to have photos of the stolen coins. It should be a simple matter to check eBay's records. I would have preferred the release of the photos allowing the public to help in the search. Maybe Brand is wrong and the coins are still out there? It would be wonderful if Brand has cracked the case but I am skeptical. I don't recall these eBay dealers moving a better or different product than their usual offerings any time in 2006.

I look forward to more details as they are uncovered.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Harlan J Berk sale 153

Harlan J. Berk sale 153 is online. 442 ancient coins, plus antiquities.

The catalog arrived today. If there was an email announcing this sale I missed it.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Numismatic literature

This month's Celator contains a full-page 'People in the News' segment on new firm Douaglas Saville Numismatic Books. Kerry Wetterstrom talks highly of Saville's FPL No. 1.

A highlight of the FPL is the complete set of 17 Ars Classica/Naville auction catalogs bound in eight volumes (£2200). Kerry Wetterstrom, apparently quoting Saville, calls this series the “single most important series of auction sales relating to Greek coins ever published.”

I wonder why? Although I've seen the catalogs in person at Charles Davis's NYINC booth I've been afraid to open them up and look at them. What makes them worth $200 each?

These catalogs have about 1500-3500 lots and 30-100 plates. That was a lot of photographs for their day, but modern catalogs reach that. Modern catalogs are in color and free.

Some auction catalogs are purchased by literature collectors who want the catalog as an object. I am interested in catalogs for the information they carry. A finite budget forces me to be selective. How shall I choose which old catalogs to acquire?

Warren Esty's site discusses the merits of ancient coin auction catalogs. Mr. Esty has done a great service to the coin collector by inventing a series of codes to compactly describe the focus of ancient coin auction catalogs. For each catalog in his collection he tells us how many Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Celtic coins are presented. He has also invented codes for the quality of the coins inside (he uses MV, HV, and VHV, which mean $, $$, and $$$!) and for the presentation of the catalog (photography, printing, etc). If a catalog has a special focus (a city or denomination) he calls that out.

I wish book dealers would adopt Mr. Esty's codes.

Hiding valuables in your home

A burglar offers advice on hiding valuables.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Gorny & Mosch auctions 155-7

Gorny & Mosch auctions 155, 156, and 157 catalogs are online. Auctions are held 5-8 March 2007.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Kolbe auction 102

The Kolbe auction 102 catalog is online. 707 numismatic books. Closes March 15th.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Books (non-numismatic)

Forbes: The 10 Most Expensive Books Of 2006 (via Books Found blog).

Half of the top ten were geographical works by classical authors!

There is a $10/month service called ScoutPal that allows you to look up Amazon Marketplace value of books and CDs from your cell phone.

Slang of the Book Trade: part one and part two, from the great new Bookride blog.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Coin database formats

The Vatican Library's coin collection is coming online, with photographs. Many papal coins and medals are already viewable. The Vatican has chosen to use MARC 21 as their metadata format.

A coin database needs fields for the attributes that can be searched. Sebastian Heath and Andrew Meadows have created the Numismatic Metadata Project to determine the ideal fields for numismatic metadata.

Existing databases, like the Moneta, ISEGRIM, and Tantalus Coins (no direct link to their database format) use whatever fields the authors and users wanted.

For librarians and computer scientists this is a problem. It makes it difficult to combine databases when the fields have slightly different meanings. I wish Heath and Meadows success in uniting the field with a single proposal with strictly defined meanings for each field.

Achieving concensus on design is difficult because different users expect different things. For example, I often use coin databases to identify coins from partial inscriptions. I'd like a numismatic database to contain information on individual letter characteristics, such as serif vs. sans-serif, and orientation (vertical, horizontal, clockwise, etc.) Most users won't want to even see that on the screen - so why put it in the database?

Monday, January 29, 2007

Restrictions on Cypriot coins

By now you've read that the government of Cyprus wishes to add 'coins more than 250 years old' to the list of restricted cultural objects making it illegal to import such items without a license from Cyprus and requiring our Customs and Border Patrol to be on the lookout for such coins.

Hopefully you've also read Wayne Sayles' response.

I'd like to see a world where numismatists can send coins across borders for study — a Numismatic Free Trade Agreement — and don't like it when governments try to restrict the sale of old coins.

This agreement is more than just a restriction that burdens coin collectors. Adding coins to Cyprus' list means that our customs agents will need to learn to recognize the coins of Cyprus.

Customs is a hard job. (Here is a nice How Customs Works that explains what the officers do.) It's best if the list of things the agents need to monitor is small. It isn't hard to recognize a gun or a brick of cocaine. Recognizing Cypriot coins is harder than detecting guns. Obviously a smuggler isn't going to write 'auto parts' on a shipment of coins. He is going to write something like 'recent silver tokens'. The Customs agent will need to study the difference, leaving little time to look for guns and bricks of cocaine.

When the Iraqi museum was robbed the state department put out a list of stolen Iraqi artifacts, including coins. This was a problem, because no coins were stolen! The list is still there, but now says 'Present, Stolen or Missing'. (Coins are 'Present', but you wouldn't know it from the site.) Look at the 'Islamic Coins' and 'Parthian Coins' on that website. This is the kind of information that will be given to Customs agents.

There is a pre-existing agreement for Byzantine metal antiquities with Cyprus; the images are here. If coins are added you can expect to see 'Greek', 'Byzantine', and 'Medieval' coins added to that list. Having coins on the list means Customs Agent will be spending a lot of time opening boxes when the X-ray shows coins. Recent and old coins look similar under the X-ray.

More Google

Jeffrey Toobin reports on Google's Moon Shot in next week's The New Yorker.

According to the article, Google plans to scan at least 32 million volumes, and be finished within ten years. The article estimates the cost of this at $800,000,000; elsewhere I've read numbers as low as $100,000,000 million.

“Previously, when people have done scanning, they always were constrained by their budget and their scale,” Clancy told me. “They had to spend all this time figuring out which were the perfect ten thousand books, so they spent as much time in selection as in scanning. All the technology out there developed solutions for what I’ll call low-rate scanning. There was no need for a company to build a machine that could scan thirty million books. Doing this project just using commercial, off-the-shelf technology was not feasible. So we had to build it ourselves.”

A few years ago I was begging Frank Campbell to let me scan some titles at the ANS library. He had so many concerns I hinted that it might be better for me to just wait for Google. Frank seemed surprised that I would believe Google would scan numismatic works and auction catalogs.

As the article implies, Google doesn't have a choice. They cannot afford to decide which books are worthy of scanning. At $30 to scan a book it's cheaper to scan than to pay a graduate student to decide which books are worth scanning! If librarians in any of Google's member libraries thought a title was worth acquisitioning then it'll be on Google.

What won't be there? 20th century auction catalogs? Anything else?

In related news, Google's copyright lawyer has a blog.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Maps from books

Google's blog announced yesterday the addition of automatically generated maps for books.

For example, suppose you are reading the anonymous catalog International Medallic Exhibition of the American Numismatic Society. Click on 'About this book' and a new section, 'Places mentioned in this book' appears. It's a map of the world, with red pins sticking into it.

One of the pins is over Texas. Hover over the pin and a tooltip reading "Sabine Pass, Texas" appears. Click on the Texas pin and a balloon appears with an excerpt showing the details of medal 3395 and a page number. Click on the page number and page 242 appears with 'Sabine Pass, Texas' highlighted.

Not only is the technology amazing, but completely automated. No bibliographer typed in a list of cities into Google. An Artificial Intelligence figured this out on its own.

The flaws in this techology are obvious. Also on page 242 is a Washington medal of New Orleans, but New Orleans doesn't appear on the map. Presumably Google's software is looking for "(city), (state)" and "(city), (country)" patterns. It hasn't yet been taught the "(important city)" pattern.

It's an important start. I look forward to that day when Google can extract the ancient cities - polis - and map Greek coin books.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Counterfeit detection pens

Excellent article on how counterfeit detector pens work.

The pens detect the starch content in money. Regular paper has starch, currency paper doesn't.

Magician and skeptic James Randi uses an ironing product, spray starch, that makes genuine bills appear counterfeit. Then he returns the starched bills to the bank. Eventually someone will attempt to pass the genuine but starched bill, leading to police, siezed money, etc.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Legal and Ethical Issues in Ancient Numismatics

I hadn't noticed this before, but last year the ANS added 'Legal and Ethical Issues in Ancient Numismatics' to the reading list for the Eric P. Newman Graduate Seminar. (This is the seminar the ANS offers on numismatics to graduate students in related fields like Classics and Archeology.)

It's an interesting list.

The ANS's own statement on cultural property is here.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Sonic Fingerprints Safeguard Art

A report by Nicole Martinelli, Sonic Fingerprints Safeguard Art, discusses Pietro Cosentino's invention of 'sonic fingerprinting' for antiquities.

Professor Cosentino attached sensors to an ancient funeral url, then tapped the urn with a small rubber hammer. The sensors recorded the vibrations. The idea is to create a 'fingerprint' of the interior structure of the urn.

According to the report, the technique works on stone, wood and ceramics. Not metal, so this wouldn't be a good technique for examining ancient coins.

Ancient coins has a similar technique called the 'ring test'. The coin is struck and a human listens for a ringing sound. Reid Goldsborough explains the test. It's used for detecting cast counterfeits and to check for crystalization.

Could a quantitative test be developed for ancient metallic objects? Perhaps something with a tuning fork and very accurate measurement of sound waves or object vibrations? I suspect such a test would reveal very little about coins of good metal, but perhaps would be of use for measuring crystalization or patina composition.

(via Harvard Art Law News).

Monday, January 22, 2007

“I'd like nothing better than to do a film on the antiquities trade.”

Part 2 of Suzan Mazur's interview with Bruce McNall.

McNall talks about the antiquities market, Hecht, Numismatic Fine Arts, and the Hunt brothers, as well as his new movie Alpha Dog starring Bruce Willis, Justin Timberlake and Sharon Stone.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Right Wing Coin Geek

Dealer Jim McGarigle (Polymath Numismatics) has a new blog, Right Wing Coin Geek. In today's post he explains how he prices ancient coins. He also touches on misattribution and rarity.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Priceless mirror makes smashing TV debut

Ouch! IOL reports that a bronze mirror from the Warring States period, 475-221 BC, fell out of its box while being held by an assistant during taping of a Chinese television program.

Although priceless, the owner Chen Fengjiu had previously been offered $1,000,000 for the mirror.

Freeman and Sear FPL 12

The printed catalog for Freeman and Sear Fixed Price List 12 arrived yesterday. 190 lots. The catalog features coins with fine portraits of rare rulers, including this tetradrachm of Cleopatra and Marc Antony.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The famous catalogue of the Burlington Fine Arts Club Exhibition of Ancient Greek Art

Alan Walker of LHS Numismatik gave a fascinating talk on “Famous Collectors of Greek Coins” last Saturday at NYINC on behalf of the ACCG.

Walker told personal anecdotes about several 'name' collectors and described the auctions and catalogs of their coins.

The collectors were Photiades, Rhousopoulos, (Arthur John) Evans, Jameson, Pozzi, Clarence S. Bement, and Charles Gillet & Marion Schuster. Except for the Schusters I had heard all the names before but knew next to nothing about them. I vaguely knew that Evans had excavated linear-B tablets on Knossos and that Pozzi was a doctor who was murdered by a patient. The others were just names.

Walker's research into the people behind the names illuminated the collecting scene in the 19th and early 20th century. I was surprised that a lecture on coin collecting could be as interesting as the coins.

Although these collectors were not or have lost universal fame they are famous enough in numismatics to have only 'one name', justifying the 'Famous' in the title.

Describing Evans's coins, Walker says “... 211 of Evans's coins, all from Magna Graecia and Sicily save for nine from Crete, were published by G. Hill in the famous catalogue of the Burlington Fine Arts Club Exhibition of Ancient Greek Art held in 1904.” [emphasis mine].

Walker might have used 'famous' in jest, but I suspect he believes Hill's catalog is truely famous. Perhaps to the people who were in the room the catalog is famous.

(Walker makes an error; I believe the exhibition was held in 1903 and published in 1904. The Historia Numorum (1911) bibliography gives 1903 as the publication date. The ANS library catalogue entry holds both dates. Clain-Stefanelli's bibliography doesn't have an entry for the catalog.)

I've never seen a copy. The ANS library has one but it must be in the rare book room — I've never seen it in the regular Greek coinage stacks. I've never seen it offered for sale at a coin show. I don't recall it listed in any auctions of numismatic literature. Google hasn't scanned it. Clain-Stefanelli's bibliography doesn't list it and neither does Kroh's. 'Obscure' is a better description for the catalog.

I only know of the catalog because Historia Numorum cites it twice for tetradrachms of Sicily. For years I've fantasized annotating my Historia Numorum web site with photos, including the two from Hill's Burlington catalog.

If there is a community of numismatic bibliophiles for whom this catalog is famous I need to meet these people and hang out with them.

Hirsch auction catalog online

The Gerhard Hirsch Nachfolger auction catalog is now online. Antiquities, ancient coins, and over 600 lots of numismatic literature. (Mostly covering German coins, though.)

The web site is a bit difficult to navigate. I received the printed catalogs in the mail yesterday.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Interview with Bruce McNall on Roman Bronze Boy

Suzan Mazur has a brief interview with Bruce McNall on the Scoop website.

The interview implies the difficulty of forensic testing of bronze antiquities. Robert Hecht is mentioned.