Monday, March 31, 2008

Coin photography under different lighting conditions

Voz has posted two denarius photos on The coins look like before-and-after-cleaning shots, but they are actually of the same coin, taken on the same day, under different lighting conditions.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


I've written about ISEGRIM before. Now 'archivum' on FORVM has written Really Working with ISEGRIM. Worth reading!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Uncleaned coins, gold found

Derrick Fretwell has found two gold solidi of Carausius (286 AD). One is apparently unique. has the details: “They are just the 24th and 25th gold coins from his reign that have ever been found, the last discovery being in 1975.”

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Contextual Numismatics!

Wayne Sayles' recently blogged criticism of Nathan Elkins 2009 AIA panel on Contextual Numismatics in response to Elkin's call for papers on Contextual Numismatics.

Wayne has never heard of 'Contextual Numismatics', and neither has Google (regular or Book Search).

I also couldn't find anything on 'contextual numismatics' but given that this is an AIA conference I assume the phrase means applying the principals of contextual archaeology to numismatics. 'Contextual Archaeology' gets 2700 Google web hits and more importantly 306 hits on Google Book Search.

A History of Archaeological Thought by Bruce G. Trigger explains (p. 348) that Ian Hodder's contextual archaeology is a challenge to processual archaeology. “Basic to contextualism is Hodder's enthographically well-documented claim that material culture is not merely a reflection of ecological adaption or sociopolitical organization but also an active element in group relations that can be used to disguise as well as reflect social relations.”

Ian Hodder himself says (Reading the Past: Current Approaches to Interpretation in Archaeology, p. 156) “New developments in Marxist-influenced archaeology and social theory have lead to a more complete discussion of the role of agency in society, and a consideration of embodiment helps us understand how agents experience the world and hose they are formed as subjects in the world.”

As an outsider I can't make much of that!

Elkins seems to be bringing a message to archaeologists that coins should be studied as more than art objects or datable material objects. He wants to discuss what the ancients were consciously and unconsciously thinking about coins, using the genre techniques of anthropology, psychology, sociology, and maybe literary criticism.

Some numismatists study coins this way. For example, I've been thinking a lot lately about why many Greek cities used Medusa, a hideous monster, on their coinage. A search for 'propaganda' in the ANS library catalog gives 321 hits, mostly papers speculating on the meanings of images on ancient coinage. It is reasonable to want to gather cultural speculations on coins under an academic umbrella and encourage students to make it their field.

I think it would be great if anthropologists and psychologists started writing books on numismatic iconography (both ancient and modern.)

Elkin's use of the phrase 'critical study', and the highly academic vocabulary of the Call For Papers suggest he wants to encourage authors from the humanities. I wish Contextual Numismatics success as a sub-field but hope that its adherents encourage a style of writing accessible to numismatists and undergraduates. I find the language used by literary folks hard to understand. The stuff I read on Contextual Archaeology this morning called to mind a famous somewhat-satirical essay How to Deconstruct Almost Anything by Chip Morningstar. Morningstar makes the point that academics in the humanities write for each other, not for general audiences.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Recipe for convincing fake gold bars

Theo Gray tells How to make convincing fake-gold bars. He's never actually done it. He believes his recipe is more difficult to detect than the fake gold bars in Ethiopia's central bank.

(Anyone interested in gold bars should visit the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Reservations are required to be let into the gold vault. If you don't have reservations it's still worth a visit for the ANS coin exhibits. Visitors receive some odd numismatic-related publications, like these free comic books.)

Friday, March 14, 2008

Greatest comic book collection

(via boingboing)

Comic book dealer Chuck Rozanski has written a 17-part series on his 1977 purchase of the greatest collection of golden age comic books. He essentially rescued them from the collector's heirs who threw away some and would have thrown away the rest.

This tale has nothing to do with coins, computers, or numismatic literature. I am bringing it to your attention because it has a lot of insights about collecting, dealing collectables, and what your heirs are going to do to your collection. One amusing tidbit is that Mr. Rozanski was aparently the first person to realize that mint condition comic books from the 1930s, perhaps finest known example and unique in mint, were worth more than 2x the price well-used copy. He started charging 4x or 5x the price of a reading copy. Many collectors hated him for it and he lost friends over it.

Friday, March 07, 2008

New online article by Prokopov

Steel Matrixes from 'Demitrovgrad Studio' on FORVM Ancient Coins website.

Coin Forgeries and Replicas 2006 by Ilya Prokopov

Published in 2007, in Bulgaria, text in English. $20 + $8 shipping from SP-P Publishing House.

78 pages on good paper. The photographs are good quality and many are enlarged.
  • 41 Greek coins (3 AE, 4 gold, the rest silver)
    +110 Histiaia tetrobols
  • 1 Celtic imitation of Phillip II
  • 2 Roman Republican (1 gold)
  • 25 Roman coins (6 AE, 9 gold, 10 silver)
  • 2 Byzantine coins
  • 17 'Mandev studio' coins (8 Greek, 1 Bosporos kingdom, 7 Roman, 1 medieval)
  • 6 antiquities

The six page Introduction mostly describes large pseudo-hoards of fake tetradrachms and Republican denarii arriving on the market. (These hoards aren't in this book.) There are three pages on the Mandev studio. The rest of the book is a catalog of fakes. Some of the fakes get a paragraph describing their manufacture or patina.

The coins are divided into three sections. The first section contains all coins except the Mandev and Histiaia fakes. The second section is the Mandev studio coins. The third is the tetrobols.

The Histiaia coins are all shown life size and with an accompanying enlargement. Only 18 non-Histiaia coins are enlarged. The enlargements are on three separate pages far from the life sized image the description. I would have preferred to see the enlargements next to the life size photo and description. The same glossy paper is used throughout so there is no benefit to forcing the reader to flip around for enlargements.

Putting the Mandev coins into their own section makes sense because seeing them together helps the expert develop an eye for the Mandev style. It also makes it harder to find particular coins. I would have preferred to see the Mandev coins mixed in with the other fakes AND shown together, as enlargements, in a separate Mendev section.

Recommended and a bargain at $28 postpaid.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Counterfeit Studios and Their Coins by Ilya Prokopov

Counterfeit Studios and Their Coins by Ilya Prokopov and Ruman Manov
Published in 2005, in Bulgaria, text in English. $20 + $8 shipping from the publisher SP-P. Some coin dealers stock it.

CS&TS is highly recommended.

The book is 88 pages long and covers:

55 Greek coins (2 electrum, 2 gold, 40 silver, 4 more 'low quality', 7 more suspect silver and a suspect fourree)
2 Roman Republican
44 Roman (6 gold, 8 AE, 9 silver, 12 more silver, 5 more AE, 2 more silver, a gold, and a billon copy of a gold, one more suspect)
3 Roman Provincial

Besides the catalog of fakes there is a good short introduction to types of counterfeits, seven pages on diagnostics, and seven pages on the technical characteristics of seven forgery 'studios' producing fakes.

The chapter on diagnostics is appreciated. Prokopov discusses what to look for when examining surfaces with the microscope or magnifier and a bit about learning to detect fakes by feeling them. He even discusses smell!

The diagnostics chapter is a good start but doesn't make the reader an expert. This kind of material can't be learned from books. For example, Prokopov suggests touching genuine coins and learning the 'very specific odour' they give off. It is probably good that he doesn't try to name or describe the odor! Wine experts try to describe the smell of fine wines and even though they've had centuries to develop specialized vocabulary their wine descriptions aren't helpful to beginners. Numismatists shouldn't imitiate wine writers or encourage readers to become overconfident.

The chapter on forgery studios discusses the striking technique and patinas of their fakes. Expect technical detail here as little is known (or can be revealed?) about the forgers themselves. The studios are merely identified by the name of their city or region.

The photographs are good, printed well on glossy paper, and there are blowups of some coins at the end.

What I found annoying about the book is the organization. The first section of coins discusses the good fakes. Next come the low-quality fakes from Ruman Manov's collection. The final section is suspected fakes.

Within each section the organization is good--Greek geographically then Roman chronologically. The problem is the three main categories. That ordering works well when reading. When using the book as a reference against specific fakes it is difficult to remember if a particular fake type was one of the low-quality fakes of Manov, or is only strongly suspected of being fake, or is in another similar volume by Prokopov! I crave an index to the series.

This book is a great bargain at $28 if it warns you away from a single fake. Highly recommended.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

ANS booksale: journals

The ANS Duplicate Book Sale page now lists offered journals. There are only four titles, but long runs of them: Spink's Numismatic Circular, Seaby's Coin and Medal Bulletin, Coin Hoards, and Numismatist. The dates of the walk in sales, starting next Saturday, are also up.