Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Eric P Newman Seminar reading list: the general Greek titles

(this is part 4 of a series on the ANS Seminar reading list. I haven't actually read any of the basic Greek titles so take this post with a grain of salt.)

Coinage in the Greek World has been reprinted by Spink for with new copies for £20. Charles Davis sells it in the USA. Surprisingly this book is totally unavailable new from the usual online bookstores. The first edition can be found used for under $40.

Jenkins was reprinted again in 2004 and that edition can be obtained new from the same dealers ($65 from Charles Davis). Used copies available under $50.

I've never seen the Kraay, Kroll, or Robinson papers but Journal of Hellenic Studies and the American Journal of Archaeology are available in most research libraries. JSTOR will sell “Dating the Earliest Coins of Athens, Corinth, and Aegina” for $10. Supposedly JSTOR has the Journal of Hellenic Studies but JSTOR wouldn't let me search for it as I lack an account!

The 1937 first edition Royal Greek Portrait Coins is seems widely available used for $6 plus; there is also a Durst reprint that is a little more.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Droit de suite

Europe gives artists a resale right called Droit de suite. Every time a painting is sold, the artist (and sometimes heirs after the artist death) receives a royalty of a few percent.

(More details on Droit de suite at Patry's blog).

If a system similar to Droit de suite was in place for ancient coins perhaps some source countries might come to believe that a trade in ancient coins is good for national pride?

I suspect that many of the restrictions on the coin trade were the result of source countries feeling left out of the market, and not a result of a strong national feeling about coins as cultural property. Here is a quote from Burton Berry's Numismatic Biography:

By the late 1950s, a new a strong trend was developing the
concerned every collector of ancient coins living in the Near East. First, prices were rising rapidly. Coins that I had purchased on the 1930s for $50 each were selling in public auctions in Switzerland for $1000.... And, more important, the attitude in the Near Eastern countries toward collectors was changing. Where formerly everybody was eager to help the foreign collector, people now were becoming suspecious, and even envious, that you, the foreign collector, saw value in objects in which they saw no value. Newspapers began to give prominence to stories of inflated prices that some antique objects brought abroad, and it was then but a step to accuse foreigners of carrying off the wealth of a nation! Certainly, there is a genuine grievance where newly discovered works of art are exported without authorization or where farmers are encouraged to dig for treasure on archeological sites on their land.... Many old friends who were officials had retired, and their replacements, regardless of their private feelings, were to this
new trend and found it expedient to go along with it.

Coins have never had a 'resale right' or tax sent directly to the creator, so at first it may seem rediculous to send money to the current government of Egypt whenever a Roman Egyptian coin is sold. Yet paintings didn't start out with a Droit de suite right either but the law is strangely popular and now covers California! Perhaps a new tax on antiquities, which could be called a 'right', would be beneficial to both collectors and source countries?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Vote for my web site on FORVM

My web site, http://snible.org/coins/, is a finalist for FORVM's 2008 Numismatic Excellence award. Click here to vote for up to three sites from a list of nine ancient coin sites.

I don't know if this blog is considered part of my site. Definitely included is the Digital Historia Numorum with it's links to Muensterberg's book on magistrates, the Christodoulous the Counterfeiter and other transcriptions of books on fakes, and a few articles I wrote on my gorgon collection. Probably the public domain hi-res ancient Greek maps are part of the site too.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Adam Savage on collecting, obsession, reproductions, and bronze casting

Adam Savage (host of TV's MythBusters) on his obsession with collecting, sculpting replica dodo birds, The Maltese Falcon, and bronze casting.

(17 minute video)

Imperial Coins Newsletter vol. 2

The latest Imperial Coins Newsletter includes interesting articles. Curtis Clay's piece on overstruck reverses is quite interesting. I also enjoyed Mark Passehl's article on Marcus Fonteius.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Translation of Numismatic Terms

Parthia.com has created a very nice translations of numismatic terms page. The languages are English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, and Dutch.

The site is asking for translation help for a few terms.

Eric P Newman Seminar reading list: the ancients titles

(this is part 3 of a series on the ANS Seminar reading list.)

The first ancients title on the general list is Hacksilber to Coinage. It's in print, $50, but I think ANS members get a discount on ANS titles from David Brown Books. I I haven't read my copy but I flipped through it and it's good! (There is a good short description on the David Brown page.)

Next is an 11 page paper by Teresa Clay, "Metallurgy and Metallography in Numismatics." Hopefully your local University library has a good selection of Italian-language classics journals because thats the only apperance of this paper. I've never seen it.

Next are two hard-to-find books in French, Numismatique antique. Problèmes et méthodes edited by Tony Hackens and others, and Georges Le Rider, La naissance de la monnaie: pratiques monétaires de l'Orient ancien. The le Rider was reviewed by Bryn Mawr Classical Review.

George MacDonald's 70 page paper "The Original Significance of the Inscriptions on Ancient Coins" looks interesting. It's only appearance is in the 1910 issue of the Memoires du Congrès International de Numismatique. Good luck finding that! MacDonald also wrote Coin Types: Their Origin and Development; a 275 page book which is easy to find reprinted for under $20. Perhaps this is the follow-up? I read Coin Types but wasn't super-impressed with it. It felt more like a transcribed lecture than a book.

Next is Milne, Greek and Roman Coins and the Study of History which I've never seen but is easy-to-get, about $12+ for the 1939 original or the Obol reprint.

The final general / ancient title is C. H. V. Sutherland's 29 page Ancient Numismatics: A Brief Introduction. I've never seen it but AbeBooks reports a copy in Very Good at $26. It's an ANS publication. Google only has it in Snippet View which is quite irritating! (If anyone at the ANS is reading this, please note that Google will let you promote your books for free. There could be a nice free preview for readers with optional revenue-generating ads.) A footnote in Striking New Images: Roman Imperial Coinage and The New Testament World cites the Brief Introduction regarding the debate among classicists and historians about the value of numismatic evidence. Perhaps that is the subject of this mini-book?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Eric P Newman Seminar reading list: the general titles

(this is part 2 of a series on the ANS Seminar reading list.)

The first general title on the general list is about numismatic libraries. It's by former ANS librarian Frank Campbell: “Numismatic Bibliography and Libraries” from the Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science. Amazon sells the Encyclopedia for $2065 but many libraries have it.

Google Books offers a preview that includes some of Frank's article.

Numismatics International reprinted Frank's essay. I purchased my copy from them. The Numismatics International web site is still offering the book for $5.

Much of the essay covers books that were significant when published starting with the little-used classics of the 16th century. There is also a list of research libraries with strong numismatic content. I recommending the NI reprint, especially for readers with an interest in the history of Numismatics who haven't read Kolbe's Studies in the History of Numismatic Literature v. 1-2.

I've never seen the rest of the general titles. The Casey can be found easily for $10-$20 online. Charles Davis is selling the Cooper for $275. Sellers on AbeBooks in various states of denial are selling the Grierson from $25 to $85. Both books containing Jones essay can be found used at high prices — a library might be a better alternative. The Morrisson seems unobtainable and in few libraries. The Williams is of a scarce kind of numismatic books — it's in print! (possibly as a second edition?) Amazon offers an online preview (click 'Look inside this book'). There are also many used copies of the first printing in the usual places starting at about $2.50.

Reading list for the Eric P. Newman Graduate Seminar in Numismatics

The American Numismatic Society offers a yearly eight week course in numismatics to graduate students in art history, textual studies, and archaeology. The Seminar is designed to take an expert in a field related to numismatics and make that person an expert in numismatics capable of doing coin research.

ANS members can get permission to sit in on some of the lectures. The ones I attended were quite good!

A numismatic researcher needs to understand the techniques of numismatics and be able to find out what other scholars have written on the subject. There is very little written on how to do good numismatic research. You won't find courses at your local college explaining how to use Clain-Stefanelli's Numismatic Bibliography. Your local library probably doesn't even have it! How does a collector who isn't a graduate student learn to navigate numismatic literature?

Take a look at the Seminar reading lists. The lists reveal the books the ANS curators feel provide the numismatic background to get started with serious research.

The general reading list provides the foundation. It begins with two bibliographies.

The very first book on the list is Clain-Stefanelli's Numismatic Bibliography. This book is small but very thick — 1848 pages! It costs about $200 used (there are two copies on VCoins now). I use it less now that the ANS library catalog and Google books are around but still consult it regularly.

The next book is Grierson's Bibliographie numismatique. I've never seen one in person. It's in French. There are two editions but I don't know the difference. Charles Davis describes a copy he has for sale as “A necessary supplement to Clain-Stefanelli with considerably more attention to auction catalogues.” I've avoided this title because I don't easily read French. (If any readers who don't read French find it useful please let me know. There are three copies on VCoins (one is part of a lot) for between $35 and $75, and others on AbeBooks.com.

Not included in the ANS' list of bibliographies is Kroh's Ancient Coin Reference Reviews. Kroh's cheap book ($25) is not a scholarly bibliography but useful for independent scholars on a budget because Kroh attempts to discuss the usefulness, price, and availability of the references. (Unfortunately Kroh's availability and pricing information is now two decades out-of-date.)

There are many more gems on the ANS lists, as well as intriguing works I've never seen, so... to be continued...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

January New York Sale

The New York Sale catalog is up. 474 ancient coins. Many Russian coins and very strong in Russian and Soviet military decorations.

The ANS Library: 150 Years of Learning

The American Numismatic Society in New York has a mini-exhibit on numismatic books, “The American Numismatic Society Library: 150 Years of Learning”, open during ANS hours through February 2009.

Photo-timestamp arrives!

Photo-timestamp arrives. The vendor is Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) using technology from Image Fortress.
Numismatic Guaranty Corporation, the world's leading independent coin certification and grading service, has selected Image Fortress Corporation's DigitalFortress digital archiving service as the platform for NGC's online coin catalog, the first online photographic catalog of certified and graded collectible coins. DigitalFortress service was selected by NGC because of DigitalFortress' unique ability to provide trustworthy archiving of all digital files, which insures files archived within DigitalFortress are unalterable and tamper-proof.

One of the significant innovations introduced by NGC in their online catalog is the application of the DigitalFortress feature that digitally seals and time stamps every archived file, in this case the photographs of all coins being graded by NGC.
The press release goes on to say that over one million coin photos have already been made tamper-proof by DigitalFortress. NGC will let normal users start slabbing ancients on January 1st. I don't know the price; NGC is charging $16 for US non-gold coins worth under $300 and $125 for US coins valued below $100,000.

I still believe the cheap (<10 cents per coin) photo-only service that I proposed in my Celator editorial, without grading or slabbing, is economically viable.

More vendors are entering the timestamp market outside numismatics. A recent editorial by Jonathan Baily, “Is Copyright Non-Repudiation Worthwhile”, says several new non-repudiation vendors recently opened web sites.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Internet Archive makes it too difficult to report copyright violations

The Internet Archive's copyright policy provides a mechanism for reporting copyright infringement. The report must include a signed statement by the copyright holder!

I couldn't find a mechanism for the general public to report copyright infringement. The public can report 'errors' but perhaps no one reads them — I reported some copyright date errors and got no response.

Recently someone scanned some volumes of Roman Imperial Coinage (RIC) but mis-identified the copyright date, allowing works that I believe are still in copyright to be downloaded as large PDF files. Nearly 200 people have downloaded them. This could open the Archive up to big problems if the copyright holder notices.

I'm surprised the Archive makes it so difficult for the public to report potentially expensive problems.

New book on the Athenian Dekadrachm

The ANS is offering The Athenian Decadrachm, a new book by Wolfgang Fischer-Bossert, at a pre-publication price of $50. List price will be $95.

The book will include a die-study of forty genuine decadrachms. The book also promises a full account of forgeries including ninety examples. I'm hoping for a longer telling of the story of how the British Museum acquired the Christodoulous fake.

(Mark Jones (Fake? The Art of Deception) wrote “[George Hill] spotted it, it is said, at a social function, nestling in the bosom of an attractive Greek lady...”)

I encourage non-members join the ANS to obtain the $45 pre-order discount.

What Do Museums Have That Sporting Events Don’t?

Freakonomics asks “What Do Museums Have That Sporting Events Don’t?”
About 140 million people in the U.S. will attend a major-league sporting event this year, according to this NPR article.

But as the same article says, museums will draw about 850 million attendees this year.

So why do more people make trips to museums than to sports games? ...

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Bookshelf for an ever-expanding collection

Nina and Isabel Farsen Schöllhammer have invented a bookshelf that accomodates a growing collection!

(via bOING bOING)

The links above also lead to an 'infinite' bookcase by designer Job Koelewijn.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

NCIC: Numismatic Crime Information Center

A former Chief of Police has created numismaticcrimes.org, an information center for law enforcement, dealers and collectors of coins. The site says NCIC has been active since 1987. The web site has only been up for two years and seems little-known.

The news section lists robberies, provides tips, and there is also a warning that a coin thief has escaped from federal prison!

The resources section includes forms for collectors to use when inventorying collections and guides for law enforcement illustrating numismatic items like slabs, Whitman folders and 2x2s. There is a way to report numismatic crimes.

Those interested in helping law enforcement can fill out a form to become a Numismatic Expert for their region.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Identifying Roman coins

SCOTVS CAPITIS explains how to attribute worn Roman coins.

The Illicit Numismatic Trade in Argentina

It's not antiquities! A report by Anne Szustek in Finding Dulcinea quotes heavily from Uki Goni's story in last week's Time: “Spare Change? There's None in Buenos Aires”.

Goni claims there is no simple explanation for the coin shortage but Szustek points out that there is more copper value in the coins than face value.

A black market has developed to sell coins at a profit to small business owners. Stores that can't afford to buy coins are giving their customers candy instead of change.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Economic model explains bids on ancient coinage?

Professor J. Edward Taylor of UC Davis analyzed auction prices for Alexander the Great tetradrachms in his paper Valuing the Numismatic Legacy of Alexander the Great (2007).
... This paper uses a hedonic price modeling approach to analyze auction prices of the major coin type of Alexander the Great. The findings make it possible to identify the effects of specific coin characteristics on realized auction prices, sellers’ reservation prices (auction price estimates), discrepancies between realized and estimated prices, and the variability of auction prices around predicted prices, or auction price surprise.


By far the most important factors determining the realized auction price of Alexander tetradrachms are the grade and year of striking. A condition of “extra fine” or higher adds an estimated $339, or 78.7%, to the coin price .... If the coin is both “extra fine” and struck during Alexander’s lifetime, an additional premium of $1,034 (240.4%) is added. A descriptive of “rare” or “scarce” is associated with an increase in realized price of $591 (137.4%), “toned” with an increase of $133 (31.0%), and other positive traits, with an increase of $254 (59.0%).


If bidders value coin traits in the same way that the auction house does, there will be a one-to-one correspondence between the estimated and realized price, and the effect of all coin characteristics, controlling for this estimated price, will be nil. A positive effect of a given trait would imply that bidders place a higher value on the trait than the auction house, and the trait has an effect on the realized price that is not reflected in the dealer’s price estimate....
Professor Taylor used data from CoinArchives.com to support his conclusions. He also calculates that Alexander's tets appreciated by 8.9% between 2001 and 2006.

The paper only analyzes characteristics supported by the auction text. Many characteristics important to collectors, like Herakles having a handsome appearance or a recognizable lion skin, are not discussed.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Dubious coins from Himera

Italian eBayer sicilgrecheromane recently offered some deceptive bronze Himera replicas as replicas (250323372246, 250322899554, and 250322898559) but later cancelled all bids “because of an error in the minimum bid or reserve amount”.

Himera gorgon bronzes with standing man reverse type are very rare; John E. van Wielink's excellent Magna Graecia Coins illustrates the Calciati plate coin.

Recently an Italian dealer's list, linked from SixBid.com, included an example of the type. I wonder if that specimen is genuine? The same auction house includes another Himera bronze that is a match for two fakes illustrated in Sayles' Classical Deception (page 54).

If Richard Branson Ran GM

(non-numismatic post)

I grew up outside Detroit and know how important the automakers are. The executives are out of touch. The blog Graduated Taste suggests what would be happening if Richard Branson ran GM.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

What's the revenue-maximizing price for an out-of-print book?

Last month Google announced it had reached an agreement with US authors and publishers that will allow Google to scan books, keep a copy of the scan, and allow users to search for phrases within the scanned books. The agreement further allows Google to sell downloads of out-of-print books and give the money to the author and publisher (unless the author and publisher specifically opt out.) Public-domain books will still be free and in-print books will not be sold by Google.

Unless the copyright holder logs into Google and sets the price Google is free to decide the price using an algorithm to 'maximize revenue for each rightsholder'. It will do this by dividing books into price categories called bins with prices of $1.99, $2.99, $3.99, $4.99, $5.99, $6.99, $7.99, $8.99, $9.99, $14.99, $19.99, and $29.99. When Google starts selling books it will somewhat randomly assign books to various bins. Google aims to eventually put similar books in similar price bins, and to move popular books to the more expensive bins and unpopular books to the cheaper bins. No books will cost less than $2 or more than $30 although Google reserves the right to add more bins.

This is all explained in the settlement agreement [PDF].

Setting the highest price at $30 seems insanely low. For example, right now I am lusting after Robert Göbl's 1973 German-language classic Ostkeltischer Typen Atlas (Atlas of Eastern Celtic coin types). I've found a used copy for $150. I would pay $75 to download the work. To maximize the revenue for the publisher (Klinkhardt and Biermann, a non-US publisher, so this deal doesn't apply to them) Google has to estimate how many people will buy at each price point. Almost no one wants a book in German on Eastern Celtic coins, so perhaps the market is five people no matter if the price is $2, $10, $30, or $100.

As a thought experiment, consider the imaginary book Humorous sayings of Bill Gates' Grandmother. To maximize revenue one could set the price at $50,000 and sell one copy. At $100 perhaps two copies would sell.

That sounds pretty rediculous but have you seen the pricing for back issues of medical journals these days? Or consider Sebastian Heath's example, Brickstamps of Constantinople, with a list price of $750. A human priced it! WorldCat reports 58 libraries buying it at that price. Perhaps $750 is the true revenue-maximizing price, and at $125 only a few more libraries would acquire it.

It will be interesting to see what titles fly off Google's virtual shelves at the $30 price-point. It will also be interesting to see where Google's algorithm prices books with few readers but insanely dedicated ones. Books about expensive obscure collectibles (ancient coins, knives, etc) fall into this category, as do books on stage magic.

CNG Triton XII up

CNG has put the Triton XII auction catalog live on their website.

There are some very nice pieces including a tetradrachm of Pyrrhos of Epeiros.

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.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Fantasy ‘ancient’ Greek coin depicting Barack Obama

Every US president gets featured on dubious private mint collectibles. An enterprising US artist now living in Greek gives us the Baracko, a Barack Obama fantasy in the style of ancient Greek coinage. A gold-plated example recently sold on eBay.

An eBay coins search for Obama produces 108 items, the worst being a gold plated Kennedy half dollar with Kennedy's face scraped off and replaced with a painting of Barack and Michelle Obama.

Gemini auction catalog up

Harlan Berk and Freeman&Sear have posted the catalog for January's Gemini Auction in New York to be held in conjunction with the New York International Numismatic Convention.

Too many highlights to name them all: Rare Contorniates from Frank Kovacs collection; early Athenian tetradrachms in amazing shape; and duplicates from the ANS collection, some with long-time provenances. The coin pictured is a silver drachm of Akragas estimated at just $1000 and once part of Newell's collection.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Revue numismatique continued

The Revue Numismatique is still published once a year by the Société Française de Numismatique (French Numismatic Society).

Volumes from 1836-1908 and 1958-2003 are available online.

The following volumes are available from Google Books. Google may restrict access in countries with differing copyright law. In the US these may be downloaded as PDF and viewed either as images or OCRed text.

As I reported previously, the 1958-2003 volumes are available from http://www.persee.fr/. Google has scanned other 20th century copies for snippet view but I lost interest in recording them.

Detectorist finds Celtic gold and silver in a cornfield near Maastricht (Netherlands)

Toby Sterling reports for the Associated Press on a trove of 39 gold and 70 silver Celtic coins of the first century BC.
The coins will go on display at the Centre Ceramique museum in Maastricht this weekend.

Curfs said he considers his metal detector habit a meditative hobby and not an obsession.
(via FORVM Celtic Coins)

Selectiorvm nvmismatvm, praecipve Romanorvm, expositiones, elegantibus nummorum ectypis, and indicibus necessariis instructae

Costanzo Landi's Selectiorum numismatum, praecipve Romanorum, expositiones, elegantibus nummorum ectypis, & indicibus necessariis instructae (1695) has unusual plates of Roman coins.

The coins are usually illustrated as if they are architectural features of crumbling monuments.

Landi's odd presentation style makes the coins seem gigantic. It's not clear to me if Landi's monuments are fantasies or if he chose actual crumbling monuments. Notice that he has perfected the coins by illustrating them as perfectly preserved and perfectly round and deliberately placed them in front of broken masonry.

(A different set of scans can be obtained from The University of Münster).

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

BMC Parthia

Google scanned Warwick Wroth's 1903 BMC Parthia two years ago but the scan had many black squares causing illegible pages.

Google has now cleaned up the scan and the improved version can be downloaded from Google.

I have gone through my HTML version of the pages and fixed omissions where the black squares had prevented me from getting the correct information. I've also linked to the Elibron reprint of the volume ($31 on Amazon.com as of this writing).

Monday, November 10, 2008

Two important book auctions in January

George Kolbe will hold two important auctions of numismatic books New York City in January.

Kolbe Auction 107 features only 100 lots, on American numismatics, including fantastic rarities I'd never heard of before such as Johnathan Swift's A Defence of the Conduct of the People of Ireland in their unanimous Refusal of Mr. Wood's Copper-Money, &c. (1724). Yes, this the author of Gulliver's Travels! (I don't think Kolbe is pulling our leg here...)

Kolbe Auction 108 is 275 lots from the library of Ferdinando Bassoli (author of Antiquarian Books on Coins and Medals from the 15th to the 19th Century — which is a good book that belongs in the library of everyone interested in the history of numismatics, book-collector or not.)

Auction 108 is the first part of Bassoli's library; the second part will be sold by Kolbe later in 2009.

Friday, November 07, 2008

The coinage of Lydia and Persia

The Internet Archive offers Barclay Head's The coinage of Lydia and Persia; from the earliest times to the fall of the Dynasty of the Achaemenidae (1877) for download.

Unlike Google's PDFs these are OCRed allowing the user to search and cut/paste text.

Making money (literally) with free software

Dutch artist Stani Michiels explains how he used free software to design an amazing 5 euro coin commemorating 'Netherlands and Architecture'.

The obverse of the coin depicts the Queen. The reverse depicts a bookshelf.

(via Raw Thought).

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Booksellers are always looking for the right way of getting it wrong

Bookride blog offers 14 guidelines to fail at bookselling.

(Bookride is a blog about bookselling that I highly recommend. Most post cover the rarity and value of particular books but my favorites are the posts on 'Where do you get these books' and 'Bastards with Bookshops').

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Currency Wars

John Cooley's Currency Wars (2008) isn't a numismatic book. It describes itself as 'true crime'. It covers the use of forged paper money in modern times to destabilize economies and for simple financial gain.

The lack of pictures makes the book irritating from a numismatic perspective. I wanted pictures comparing the genuine notes and the forged notes. The book has no pictures at all, not even of the crooks!

I was disappointed that Cooley emphasized the masterminds rather than the actual forgers and printers. In cases like the Portuguese forgery of the 1920s this wasn't a problem because there were no forgers (the swindlers there convinced the printers who made currency for the government to make currency for them.)

I recommend this book to anyone interested in modern counterfeiting. The author has done serious research and I learned a lot from it. The Amazon link above has a preview feature ('search inside this book') and I also saw the book on the shelves in an actual bookstore (a Borders) which is unusual for anything numismatic-related!

Friday, October 31, 2008

UK export rules for coins

A few months ago there was some discussion on the ancient coin blogosphere about UK export rules for ancient coins — are they antiquities or numismatic or both?

The UK Museum Libraries and Archives Council has a downloadable booklet, Guidance to exporters of antiquities (including numismatic items), which says that Article 2(2) of the EC Regulation on the export of cultural goods (Number EEC 3911/92) allows member states to exclude objects of limited archaeological importance. It goes on to say:
5. The UK has decided to exercise its discretion under Article 2(2) by excluding the following categories of archaeological objects as being of limited archaeological or scientific interest:
(a) numismatic items of a standard type which are published in a reference work on numismatics;
(b) objects, other than numismatic items, which possess no special or rare features of form, size, material, decoration, inscription or iconography and which are not in an especially fine condition for the type of object.
... with some additional rules about being lawfully on the market, etc.

Thus nearly all ancient coins don't fall under the strict rules suggested by the EU regulation.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

New documents from the EU's COINS project

The EU's project to combat numismatic fraud and looting has released new PDFs and Excel spreadsheets describing their work. There is a lot of stuff, including screenshots of the software, and I haven't been through it all yet.

BMC Pontus free download

BMC Vol. 12 Pontus, Paphlagonia, Bithynia and Kingdom of Bosporus, by Warwick Wroth, 1889: Preface, Contents, Introduction, Coins, Indexes, Plates from Google Book Search.

Tenedos Island museum awaits its visitors

Vercihan Ziflioğlu reports for Turkish Daily News on a local history museum in Bozcada, Thenedos, Turkey. (This is the island that was called Tenedos in ancient times. The ancient coins featured a double "Janiform" head (facing forward and back like the Roman god Janus) and a double axe.)

Ziflioğlu reports that Hakan Gürüney, the museum's founder, "has not been permitted to exhibit the ... coins from ancient times ... and other archeological relics he has purchased" ("despite being registered as collector of archaeological works with the Istanbul Archeology Museum"). "Because of that, he took photos of the artifacts and put them on display in the museum."

Gürüney's museum isn't state-operated. "Gürüney then decided to open a local history museum on the area he purchased in Bozcaada. He started the construction together with his wife and completed his dream museum in 2006. He meticulously placed each object he had collected in the museum and opened its doors to visitors."

Turkish citizens seem uninterested in the museum. "... lack of interest in the museum has been frustrating both for [Gürüney] and his supporters. Left to its destiny, the museum opens its doors only in summers and certain holidays such as Christmas and Easter. Its only frequenters are the granddaughters and grandsons of Bozcaada's erstwhile Greek residents who have migrated to Greece in the past decades." "... tour companies do not include visits to the museum on their sightseeing programs because they do not want to pay the YTL 2 [two Turkish New Lira, about US$1.30] price for a ticket."

Commentary: If all ancient "Turkish" coins are cultural treasures and cannot be exported because they are important to the national feelings of the Turkish people why is it illegal to show them to Turkish citizens in a Turkish museum? Ancient coins from Tenedos use the Greek alphabet to the place name and I know there are some hard feelings associated with Greek elements in Turkish history. I don't know a lot about modern politics of the region. Are bans on public displays of ancient coins in museums and bans on exports to American collectors and museums part of the same pattern or am I associating two unrelated policies?

Hoard of Roman coins declared treasure

A story by Laura Hannam in MK News reports on a hoard of 1400 bronze Roman coins, discovered in 2006, and recently declared treasure.
"It was about 5.30pm at this time of year so it was pitch black and we couldn't see a thing," added Mr Phillips.

"We laid on our bellies and kept pulling out coins.

"It is difficult to explain how you feel when you are finding coins left, right and centre.


The hoard has since been identified by the British Museum as dating from the 4th century AD.
(via Rogue Classicism)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

BMC Attica free download

BMC Attica - Megaris - Aegina (1888), by Barclay Head, from Google's scan of Harvard's library.

I scanned the plates from my own copy a few years ago. I hope to cross-reference my plates with Google's soon.

Ancient Greek Numismatics: A Guide to Reading and Research on sale at HJB

A recent flyer from Harlan J. Berk offered copies of William Daehn's Ancient Greek Numismatics: A Guide to Reading and Research for $29. The price elsewhere is $75.

This book offers summaries of most English-language articles and books on Greek coins. I recommend it to anyone who wants to research Greek coins or who buys numismatic books sight-unseen and needs to know which ones are appropriate for a particular collecting focus.

Although easy to use this book can be frustrating to operate at home because it points out tantalizing sources that are expensive or unobtainable.

What in-copyright numismatic books are being digitally pirated?

I have seen bootleg copies of
  • RIC (all volumes together, on eBay and also BitTorrent),
  • Bulletin on Counterfeits (all ISBCC issues, on eBay),
  • and SNG Berry (someone sent me this in the mail).
I urge my readers to post (anonymously if necessary) naming other works being passed around the numismatic file-sharing underground.

I'm curious to know which works are considered to be worth the effort of scanning.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The end of 'snippet view'?

Google announces a settlement with The Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers. The $125 million agreement is the result of two years of negotiations.

The bulk of the money will be funneled through a new non-profit, the Book Rights Registry. Copyright holders can register to receive cash from future book sales (!!!) and ad revenues and a cash payment if Google has already scanned the book.

I hope and pray for the Book Rights Registry to include a 'print on demand' feature for out-of-print books. I loath paying some dealer 5x or 10x over the cover price with nothing going to the author.

(via InfoWorld).

Sunday, October 26, 2008

New Greek coinage books

Van der Dussen is offering some interesting new books, including Ann Johnson on Greek Imperial Denominations, ca. 200-275 (83 euros) and a new SNG of Greek bronze: SNG Belgium: Bibliothèque royale de Belgique; La collection de bronzes de Marc Bar. The Belgian SNG includes 1373 bronze coins on 196 plates. Van der Dussen is charging 115 euros but the library web site says 98 euros.

Two upcoming events in NYC @ ANS plus exhibition

On Tuesday November 11th François de Callataÿ of the Royal Library of Belgium coin collection will lecture on “Beauty and Sublimity: Why Greek Coins are so admired&rdquo at the new ANS headquarters.

Then on Wednesday the 19th of November Haim Gitler of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem will lecture on “The Thirty Pieces of Silver — a modern numismatic perspective”.

The ANS is also starting a new coin exhibit. The coins are all from the collections of prominent New York area collectors. There will be a members-only viewing on Wednesday the 5th of November. Hopefully the exhibit will be open right before the lectures the following weeks? I don't know how big the exhibit will be or it's focus; the flyer depicts a Nero aureus, a US colonial copper and a 20th century silver medal.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

More gorgon/incuse cast fakes

A few years ago I (along with Reid Goldsborough) wrote about cast fakes from Parion. I'm disappointed to see a new batch of cast fakes of this type. The first one comes via an eBay seller located in Bulgaria with vary low feedback. It seems to less finished than the other two, which come from a high-volume eBay seller.

'Book helpdesk' in the middle ages

This Norwegian video (with English subtitles) depicts what is must have been like as monks adapted to the new technology of the book.

(via David Brin)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Any topics?

My last post descended into covering current US politics. This is probably a mistake! What numismatic / computer / digitization topics do readers wish covered in future posts? Reply in a comment with suggestions.

Good time to invest in bulk Lincoln cents

A January 2007 New York Times column by Austan Goolsbee urges the government to declare the Lincoln penny to be worth five cents. Goolsbee credits the idea to a Mr. Velde. (The article proposes doing away with the nickel, but I'd suggest keeping it for a few years as a proof-only collectable.)

Why is this proposal interesting? First, it's a good proposal! We like The Penny but it isn't worth enough to use. This $5.6 billion idea isn't much compared with the "stimulus package." Second, the NY Times columnist proposing it is Austan Goolsbee, chief economic advisor to Barack Obama (who seems about 51% likely to become US President) who is looking for cheap new ideas to reduce waste and stimulate the economy.

I'd say the chances are pretty good this will pass and suggest that holding a few grand in Lincoln cents might pay off during these uncertain times.

A President's chief economic advisor is probably the most important job. Unlike his VP choice it flys completely under the radar. Few people are talking about Goolsbee.

Goolsbee seems interesting! He is a University of Chicago professor in the new field of Behavioral Economics. George Will says he seems like the sort of person you would want at the elbow of a Democratic president. He is associated with the ideas of 'libertarian paternalism' believing that rather than forcing people (on retirement, health care, etc) society should be set up so that there are these Great Society-type programs but folks who don't want them can opt out. I think this is a much better idea that the traditional Democratic idea of forced help or the Republican idea of faith-based non-governmental help.

Goolsbee's former hobby is preforming improv comedy. I share this hobby and think it is good training for thinking on ones feet. Watch a video of the Yale improv team (post-Goolsbee, unfortunately, so we don't know how funny he is.)

Goolsbee is a member of Skull and Bones and was the first member to 'tap' women for the secret society. I can't even think of a spin for this fact; I sense it reveals something important but I don't know what.

Commentary for undecided US voters: Both candidates want to trim waste and massively intervene in the financial sector of the economy. Neither has run a major business successfully. Conservatives shouldn't write off Obama's economics because he is a democrat. Goolsbee has some good new ideas and they aren't the tax-and-spend / borrow-and-spend ideas that we've had for the last two decades.

RPC vol 1 on sale!

The David Brown book company is selling new copies of Roman Provincial Coinage vol. 1 for $260. Usually it costs $325 from there. Volume 1 comes as two books in a slip case.

Just a few years ago this volume was scarce. One copy is being offered on VCoins for $800.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Decima metal detector

This machine could be cool coupled with the brains of a Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner. The radio-controlled Decima prototype seems more difficult to use than a regular detector. (Disclaimer: I haven't used a regular detector either.)

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

BMC Corcyra 89

The British museum owns a unique ancient Greek fraction depicting on one side a gorgoneion and on the other side a kantharos. It was first published by Percy Gardner in his catalog Thessaly to Aetolia in 1883 (page 120). David Sear also published it (#2013). However, neither author included a photograph.

Some of my readers know that in addition to collecting coins I collect pictures of coins depicting gorgons. I wanted a picture of this unique type. There are a number of mysteries. Gardner claimed to see a Δ above the kantharos. He attributed it to Corcyra (= Korkyra = Corfu), a city that otherwise did not depict the gorgon on it's coinage. Today Corcyra is associated with gorgons because of an amazing gorgon temple excavated in 1911 by Kaiser Wilhelm II (who later abdicated the throne of Germany to become an archaeologist!) In Gardner's time there was nothing to attributed it other than similarity to other Corcyra types with kantharos reverse. It seems a poor attribution: Neapolis, Mytilene, and Koroneia all issued coins depicting both gorgons and similar pottery (although not near 1.85g with both gorgon and kantharos together.)

I had hoped that I could just ask nice and get a picture of this unique treasure. It ended up costing £60 and taking five weeks. For me it was worth it but if one needed a lot of images this is a costly proposition. £60 is the photography fee; to reproduce the image would have been an additional fee (so I have traced it for my readers.)

Amelia Dowler, the Curator of Greek Coins was very friendly and obtained the “PRN code” and even searched the Department of Coins and Medal's internal partial database for other coins with gorgons. I then had to send that code to folks at British Museum Images, a division of the British Museum Company Limited. They emailed me a form which I had to print out and mail with my credit card number. (British Museum Images doesn't accept credit cards by email). Eventually I received an email with a URL and password that unlocked a very high resolution image of each side of the coin.

The coin itself is terrible. I'd grade it G, but not a pleasing G. The corrosion makes it difficult to tell what is a feature of the coin and what is corrosion. If the Δ that Gardner saw is there I can't see it!

I'd love to show a photograph here. I don't know how much it would cost me. I tried to calculate the price but blogs and non-commercial web sites were not options on the bmimages.com fee calculator. The categories for licensing an image are advertising, merchandise, corporate/promotional, and editorial. This blog is basically a long rant so I chose editorial. It then asked the types of media: books, prints, newspapers, film, and TV. I hope to one day write a book based on my research and I attempted to inquire about the price to license the image for an academic book. I was then asked the print run, and the only choice was <750. I knew academic books were not popular but 750 copies max seems kinda sad.

As an American I have no standing to complain. I'm grateful that the British Museum bought the coin and preserved it these past 150 years so that I could see it. I've found many other coins mentioned in old Numismatic Chronicles in private collections and I despair of ever seeing them.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Lincolnshire detectorist sees Thatcher in ancient portrait

The Lincolnshire Echo is reporting (no byline) on a Celtic coin that appears to depict Margaret Thatcher.

Treasure hunter David Baker is quoted as saying "But I couldn't believe it when I cleaned it up a bit and saw this image of Margaret Thatcher glaring up at me".

Why isn't this being reported in US papers? Our media is obsessed with the bailout and looming elections. Few mainstream newspapers even have full-time reporters covering offbeat coincidences and numismatics. It's been over two months since the New York Post reported on the Roman Elvis.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

What is commercial use?

A story from last year (“Greece says Verizon telecoms apologizes over unlicensed Parthenon advert”) explains that 'commercial' use of photographs of ancient monuments require substantial fees and must be approved by senior officials.

(found via a post by PhDiva with pictures of J. Lo. vamping on the Acropolis).

I'm not sure what 'commercial' use is. Would a textbook targeting high schools be 'commercial'? There is something very troubling when a government believes that some fields of endeavor (for example, businesses) deserve less speech rights than others. Does this law mean that if/when the Elgin marbles go back to Greece it will be against the law to print pictures of them?

Audubon Terrace

David Vega-Barachowitz writes about Audubon Terrace for the Columbia Spectator. New Yorkers may find the article interesting.

Vega-Barachowitz's research reveals that the American Numismatic Society (coins and metals (sic)) is long-gone. Actually it re-opened last week with a lecture by Andrew Burnett on what coins, especially misengraved coins with spelling mistakes, tell us about Hadrian's rise to the throne of Rome.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

M&M to auction numismatic literature

The catalog for Münzen & Medaillen Auction 28 is online at SixBid.com, including 1294 lots of numismatic literature from the library of Dr. Bernhard Schulte. Schulte's coin collection is being sold in 822 lots. (It's medieval stuff.)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Is Rosen 367 fake?

The first two images depict the same coin — a unique electrum 1/3 stater of unknown origin. The upper picture comes from Nancy Waggoner's 1983 catalog of the Rosen collection and the second from an auction house that later sold Rosen's collection.

The final image is of a cast fake in the Bulletin on Counterfeits (vol. 12 no. 1 (1987)). The obverse is the same as the Rosen third! I think I am the first to notice the relationship.

Did a forger produce a cast of Rosen's unique piece around the time it was sold at auction (by a major European firm) and mule with a wreath reverse?

Or was Rosen's piece a product of the same forger who did the wreath piece?

It would be nice to see Rosen's electrum piece but I don't know it's current location. Could the Rosen piece be cast? I see marks that could be bubbles on the reverse but it's probably my eyes playing tricks on me because the photo isn't good enough to see things like that.

Rosen was business partner with Robert Hecht. Probably most of Rosen's collection came through him.

A mill-sail reverse on an electrum coin is surprising yet a 1/6 electrum stater of Kyzikos with gorgon obverse also has a mill-sail reverse. This was published in SNG Post. A second example from the same dies as SNG Post is Stacks/Coin Galleries MBS, July 2007, lot 522. The Rosen coin couldn't be related to the Kyzikos coin because Kyzikos never struck 1/3s and the gorgon's style is different.

Attack of the Megalisters

Mick Sussman's NYT essay Attack of the Megalisters explains strategies used book stores are using to inventory and price books. Very interesting!
The new strategy involves a selective embrace of e-commerce, focused mainly on a category of book that scarcely existed before the Internet — books you might call “rare but not collectible.” These are books sought after not as artifacts or for resale value, but for their content — often concerning subjects with appeal to fervent communities of interest. If you absolutely have to have Joseph C. Lisiewski’s “Kabbalistic Handbook for the Practicing Magician” right away, what else can you do but shell out the $149.50...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Brewster Kahle: A digital library, free to the world

20 minute video by Brewster Kahle on digitizing books, audio, and movies.

Cultural Property protection in New York City

“... the United States has made few laws restricting the export of our cultural property, limiting such laws to the protection of historically, architecturally, or archaeologically significant objects on land that is owned, controlled, or acquired by the federal government...” (James Cuno, 'Museums, Antiquities, Cultural Property, and the US Legal Framework for Making Acquisitions', Who Owns the Past?, p. 146)

Yesterday the City of New York declared Keepers Self Storage as landmark making it one of 23,000 buildings under the jurisdiction of the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission. The building is considered worthy of municipal protection because it had manufactured a well-known brand of dog food in the 1920s.

Cuno is technically correct. New York City made the law rather than the federal legislators. It isn't illegal to export antiques from landmarked buildings — but removing architectural features changes a building's appearance and is a crime. Thus Cuno is basically wrong. I'd guess zoning and landmark designation are the primary legal means to restrict commerce in cultural property in the USA.

Landmark designation in NYC is often fraught with controversy with the property owners (usually called 'Developers' in news accounts) arguing that their property isn't culturally important against zealots claiming that allowing owners to build on their own property would destroy neighborhood character. The character is said to define the residents and somehow belong to everyone in the district.

(By now my readers should figure out that I'm posting stuff hoping to get comments. I could write about non-controversial stuff but then I wouldn't know if anyone is reading. So in the comments section I'd like to hear your thoughts, pro or con, about legal protection of US architecture. Also, if you don't like political stuff and wish I'd get back to discussing digitizing and hyperlinking coin books feel free to post that too.)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Andrew Burnett to speak in NYC

The American Numismatic Society is hosting a lecture by Andrew Burnett on September 17th. The lecture is 'Trajan and Hadrian at Rome and Alexandria: a Chaotic Succession.'

Dr. Burnett is co-author of Roman Provincial Coinage.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Created my first timestamp-notarized file

I ran this Roman denarius .JPG file through e-Timestamp.com/​Digistamp's service. This X.509 certificate uses SHA-1 with RSA to prove that the image's hash was seen by DigiStamp on September 8, 2008.

Unfortunately DigiStamp only certifies this until May 21, 2010 so I'll have to sign it again (or perhaps I'll sign a combination of today's certificate and the image again) by that date.

I wrote a short piece for The Celator suggesting that coin collectors and dealers voluntarily use a system like this to prove they had access to ancient coins before certain dates in case future restrictions on coin collecting exempt coins on the collector market before the restrictions are put into place. I unfortunately didn't realize that DigiStamp's certificates are only good for two years when I wrote that piece. I expect a longer certification could be achieved through technical means such as using keys with more bits.

Clicking on the .cer link above runs, at least on my Windows XP machine, the program CERFILE which gives details of the certificate but not the date it was notarized. To see the date the free software from e-Timestamp.com can be used.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

BMC Catalogues of Galatia and Caria

Yesterday I received two Elibron reprints of 19th century catalogs, Wroth's 1899 catalog of Galatia and Head's 1897 catalog of Caria.

I was surprised to find these catalogs on Amazon because they aren't on Elibron's website with the other BMC catalogs.

The British Museum catalogs, issued between 1873 and 1927, are the best catalog of Greek coins ever issued. There are 29 volumes including 10,688 pages and 952 plates. Somewhere I read that there are about 29,000 coins described (not all are illustrated.) There are a few flaws. Most bronze coins don't have their weight recorded. The sizes and weights are given in inches and grains rather than mm and grams. For some series the best-guess dates have changed.

The benefit of these books is that your coin is likely to be in them especially if it is rare and nowhere else. There is also text that often explains the dating.

Originals have Autotype plates. These are amazing. Autotype was a photographic printing process. The plates look like photographs. It was very laborious and I read somewhere that the exact formula for doing it was lost during WWII. Originals tend cost about $200 for problem copies. Most people know of the Forni reprints which are still available from the publisher but expensive with the high Euro.

Elibron has reprinted about half of the catalogs in paperback. The print quality is as good as the Forni reprints. The problem is the size. No one told the Elibron people to keep the plates the original size. They've been reduced about 10%. The two volumes I received yesterday even included the maps (in color!) but they were reduced from a fold-out to a tiny half page and illegible.

The benefit to the Elibron editions is the price: about $25 each versus about $100 for the Forni hardcovers. I highly recommend Elibron's reprints. The Forni reprints are worth the $100, but with 29 volumes it adds up quickly. A library with 29 new-looking Fornis looks a lot more dignified than my motley assortment of broken-spined originals, '60s Fornis, and Elibron paperbacks with various covers.

Many but not all of the volumes are also available on Google Books.

Readers looking for cheap BMC reprints will encounter paperbacks with a yellow border printed by Kessinger. I have not seen these but I would avoid them because Kessinger's reprints are often miserable. Their Guide to the Principal Gold and Silver Coins of the Ancients From Circa BC 700 to AD 1 is the worst numismatic reprint I've seen. It's even worse than my Indian reprint of the BM catalogue Greek and Scythic Kings of Bactria and India.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Treventus ScanRobot

This book scanner from Treventus looks great! 25 pages a minute. No word on price.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Professional coin straightening service

A goldsmith in Colchester operates a coin straightening service. Amazing pictures!

(The page is from the Colchester Treasure Hunting site, which also has a great Find of the Year page).

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Good Money: Birmingham Button Makers ...

Alex Tabarrok reviews Good Money: Birmingham Button Makers, the Royal Mint, and the Beginnings of Modern Coinage, 1775-1821 on the Marginal Revolution blog.
To encourage circulation, for example, issuers promised to redeem their tokens in gold (which the Royal Mint did not). In turn, the promise to redeem gave producers an incentive to make their coins difficult to counterfeit, which they did by making the coins beautiful...

Lady Stewartby made honorary sheriff

The Berkwickshire News is reporting that Lady Stewartby has been made honorary sheriff. The BBC reported in 2007 that Lord Stewartby's £500,000 collection of medieval coins was stolen. A substantial reward was offered for help recovering the coins, and “Coin dealers have also been asked to look out for the stolen collection.”

Two years ago it was reported that £500,000 in coins were stolen at gunpoint from a London businessman. The robbery is still unsolved as far as I know. There was, and perhaps still is, a £25,000 reward. Those coins were Greek, Roman, Byzantine, medieval and modern English.

Together more than US$1,750,000 of coins were stolen in just two heists. As far as I can tell no information on the coins themselves has been released. Unfortunately, no details on the coins have been given making it difficult for collectors to avoid the coins or try for the reward. I would be curious to hear from any readers of this blog who are dealers with more information.

Numismatic museum opening in Dubai

A new museum in Dubai will display “... nearly 500 ancient coins dating back to the time of the Islamic caliphates ...”

XPRESS, no byline
AME Info, no byline

The slideshow photos suggest that very large reproductions will also be on display.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Weight Watchers & Archaeology

Electric Archaeology proposes proposes looking for competitive and game-like experiences in amateur archeology using the ideas of Jane McGonigal.

Problems with Renfrew

Ted Buttrey of the Fitzwilliam recently wrote about Colin Renfew's positions on collecting. Dr. Buttrey's essay is a good one. Here's a sample:
A single example from the real world. In the 1980's a hoard of 5000 later-3rd-century antoninani, found locally in Cambridgeshire, was brought to this museum for examination and offered to us for sale. We cleaned it, and in return were allowed to pick out about 250 pieces for our trays. The rest we did not want -- we would have had to purchase a whole new set of cabinets (no money to buy them, no place to put them anyway) and spent God knows what in the way of man-hours accessioning this material -- and anyhow could not use: the 4750 remaining coins were the same old stuff which we already know of by the thousands. So we kept what we felt to be useful in filling gaps, in studying, and in teaching. The rest of the
hoard was offered to the British Museum who turned it down. Finally the finder took it to a dealer who paid 50 pence per coin and sold them on for a pound.

Be clear about this: the hoard was legally found, legally reported, legally offered to several museums (none of whom wanted it), legally returned to the finder, and legally disposed of by him. No-one anywhere was going to take the time and the trouble (and the expense!) to provide each coin with a ticket (and photo?) guaranteeing its provenience. So there are 4750 perfectly OK coins from this hoard somewhere out there scattered about the market...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Postage stamps and economic development

Which stamp predicts development and which stamp dissension?

I don't normally cover stamps but Michael Kevane's paper “Official Representations of the Nation: Comparing the Postage Stamps of Sudan and Burkina Faso” (African Studies Quarterly, Spring 2008) looks interesting. This is not a stamp collecting magazine but a serious journal on African society.
An analysis of the imagery on postage stamps suggests that regimes in Sudan and Burkina Faso have pursued very different strategies in representing the nation. Sudan’s stamps focus on the political center and dominant elite (current regime, Khartoum politicians, and Arab and Islamic identity) while Burkina Faso’s stamps focus on society (artists, multiple ethnic groups, and development). Sudan’s stamps build an image of the nation as being about the northern-dominated regime in Khartoum (whether military or parliamentary); Burkina Faso’s stamps project an image of the nation as multi-ethnic and development-oriented.
(via Chris Blattman's blog via Marginal Revolution.)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Mediterrean countries cannot afford to pay finders for coins?

Many commentators understand the lack of market payments for coin finders in source countries tempts them to sell coins on the black market. Risky, but better than no payment! The obvious solution of paying finders market rates for coins is considered too expensive. Source countries are 'too poor.'

Wikipedia gives the GDP of the United Kingdom, 1870, at 100,179,000 'international dollars'. International dollars, also called Geary-Khamis dollars, aren't something that can be collected but are 'equivelent' to 1990 US dollars in purchasing power.

Wikipedia gives the GDP of Bulgaria, 2008, at 92,894,000 (Purchasing Power Parity). I believe that's also in Geary-Khamis dollars but I'm not sure.

So the UK of 1870 was a little richer than Bulgaria now but not by much. In terms of population, the 1871 population of the UK was 31,845,379 and the current population of Bulgaria is 7,640,238. So the per-capital GDP of Bulgaria today is actually three times higher in 1990 dollars than the UK in 1870!

A letter from the Royal Numismatic Society to the Lords Commissioners from 1871 argues that paying the finder less than the market value causes destruction: “... the practice of the Treasury in giving to the finder the intrinsic value of the objects found, virtually concedes the principle of their being his property, but, at the same time, does not prevent the constant concealment and destruction of coins and other antiquities; for the mere fact of a claim to them being advanced, accompanied though this may be by the promise of payment for them of an unknown sum at a period always indefinite and often remote, suffices in many cases to deter finders from openly producing the results of their discoveries, and drives; them to dispose of such relics clandestinely.”

I picked Bulgaria because I've heard they are considering a market system for coins. I hope it happens. They are not poor by historical standards.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

What have archaeologists ever done?

A collector I respect recently asked me 'what have archaeologists ever done?'

He wasn't asking me to name books and reports written by archaeologists. He was asking why modern societies value the professional archaeologist so highly.

Most societies seize land and treasure if an archaeologist reports that antiquities lie beneath the surface. In the United States it's a little different; here municipalities attempt to buy land to protect it. We sometimes declare a monument to have 'landmark status' meaning the owner cannot remodel it without governmental permission. In most of the world, including some rich democracies of Europe, the state owns almost all of antiquity. Only items found before the mid-20th century remain in private hands.

That's surprising. Other professions don't have this power. We don't give electrical engineers the right to size land containing magnets. We don't give chemists the right to seize rare chemicals or drug designers the right to nationalize rare plants.

These professions have given the world amazing boons such as the electric light, plastic, and penicillin. Yet we expect these folks to join corporations or universities that pay for research materials. There is public outcry when the legal principal of eminent domain is used to transfer property for the benefit of these helpful sciences.

What archeology does, in my opinion, is the measure and test history. The study of history is necessary in democracies which depend on educated voters and judiciaries. The historian and the classicist tell us what life was like in other times. It's important that some citizens know history for the same reason that it's important that some folks travel. We need to understand how other societies work so that we can make good decisions for our own. Archaeology tests the results of the ancient authors and the modern interpretations of historians.

The names of the dynasts of ancient Egypt are not interesting to me. I'm interested in how those societies worked and faced problems.

Accounts of ancient times give people a national identity. People sneer at nationalism as outmoded beliefs that lead to many 20th century wars but nationalism also inspires good struggles such as the end of colonialism.

Society should encourage young people to become archaeologists and interpret the past for us. Societies should acquire ancient relics for scientific study. I believe socities should pay the landowner. Societies need votors and jurists who understand history but few will pay for their own education in this field! Like schools, fire departments, and the military archeology is a public good that can't easily be privatized.

Sometimes people tell me that the poor countries of Eastern Europe can't affort to pay for culturally important relics. Other folks have suggested state auctions of antiquities to raise the money for some to keep. Another idea is to pay the land owner in lottery tickets.