Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum

In San Jose there is an “Egyptian” museum run by the Rosicrucian Order, a fraternal organization.

I visited five years ago. The museum is full of replicas.

The museum's faq assures the visitor that “there are less than 20 [replicas] in a display of over 3,000 authentic artifacts“. It seemed like there were a lot more. The museum's biggest display is a gigantic replica tomb. It's cool. I would have loved it when I was 10. Because it's a replica it's easier to touch than the real tombs in New York's Metropolitan Museum.

The building itself is in a faux Egyptian style (picture here) surrounded by cement bulls and hippos and replica Roman statues. The museum seemed very proud of its replicas, boasting of one bust that it was one of only three copies of the original in Berlin!

(The coin display is not good. I recall only two coins plus a glass weight described as a coin.)

I often think about the Rosecrucian Egyptian Museum when I read that countries want their better antiquities back.

The Rosecrucian Museum is perhaps educational for children and the general public. There is nothing wrong with having a museum with small genuine antiquities and large replicas. Egyptian-revival sculture gardens are cool. It's possible to have museums without many antiquities.

Something puzzles me about the Cultural Property rights debate. US and European museum collections are heavy in antiquities from other places. Why don't Cairo, Athens and Rome have museum wings full of American Indian arrowheads, Shaker furniture, and classic Detroit automobiles? If such museums opened up there would they be visited?

Friday, June 27, 2008

Why I'm not posting much lately

My daughter was born last weekend. I am a new father! It is taking a lot of time to take care of my wife and daughter.

Why you should throw books out

Economist Tyler Cowen explains why throwing out books is good for society.

Monday, June 16, 2008

425 plastic packing crates filled with treasures

Glenn Collins reports for The New York Times on the ANS's move.

“... one of the great hoards of coins and currency on the planet, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, was utterly unalarmed as it was bumped through potholes, squeezed by double-parked cars and slowed by tunnel-bound traffic during the trip to its fortresslike new vault...”

“... New York police detective, Gregory Welch, of Emergency Service Unit Truck One... shadowed the move with hidden heavy weapons 'just in case,' along with patrol cars...”

“... For long stretches, the only sounds were the popping of tape and bubble wrap, the squawk of trays sliding into cabinets and the very occasional ring of a coin bouncing on the concrete floor ...”

Thursday, June 12, 2008

On Rarity

June's The Celator includes an interesting article “Defining Rarity” by Arthur Houghton and David Hendin.

The authors propose five levels of rarity: Common, Scarce, Rare, Very Rare, and Extremely Rare.

The authors attempt to map each level onto it's frequency of appearance on the market. Unfortunately, their frequencies are similar but not identical for different series! Thus a Scarce Seleucid coin appears on the market ‘once every few months’ but a Scarce Ancient Jewish coin appears ‘on a fairly regular basis’. A Rare Seleucid coin appears ‘several times a year’, but a Rare Jewish coin ‘once or twice a year’.

If Houghton and Hendin could agree on the frequencies implied by their terms their scale would be much improved.

The authors give rough estimates for the number of examples for each sub-field, in both precious metals and bronze. For example a ‘rare’ Seleucid bronze should have 10-30 known specimens, while a rare Jewish silver coin has 25-75 examples. There is no contradiction here. A rarity scale useful for collectors should rank based on market appearances rather than surviving specimens.

Also missing in the article is an acknowledgment of overlap or fuzziness in the categories. A Very Rare type might appear three times in the same year because of a statistical fluke, and a merely Rare coin might not show up for five years.

Market availability has a lot to do with dealer optimism. Some scarce types appear common because a few dealers have G or VG condition specimens on their web sites at 5x market value.

Valuable coins also appear more common than they really are. Hendin acknowledges this in his frequency for Scarce, but market price seems to be an additional factor. A $15,000 coin with 10 known specimens seems to appear on the market more often than a $150 coin with 10 known specimens.

Because of such factors I'd prefer to see overlap in the estimates of known examples. For example, instead of Hendin's Extremely Rare=1-3 examples, Very Rare=4-25, and Rare=25-75 I'd like to see Extremely Rare=1-10 examples, Very Rare=5-50, and Rare=25-100.

Houghton and Hendin don't define the term 'market'. I tend to think of the term 'market' to mean the coins I see, online at VCoins/MA-Shops/SixBid/eBay, in glossy catalogs and walking the floor at NYINC. I don't know what fraction of the coin market I'm not seeing. I'm not seeing the uncleaneds, coins in shops, or in European coin shows. Because Houghton is known as the top Seleucid guy it's likely he gets offers of a lot of rare coins the rest of us don't see. His table suggests that “one or more“ examples appear on the market, over a few years, for types of Seleucid bronze with 2-10 extant specimens. Maybe that is what top collectors and dealers see. I'd expect a type with 2-10 specimens to appear in the markets I see less than once a decade.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Revue numismatique online (1958-2003)

Lee Toone reports that the 1958-2003 volumes of Revue Numismatique are online at

The site is searchable by article title, and Moneta has direct links to all of the volumes. Individual articles can be read online or downloaded.

There seems to be some problem with the plates. The titles of the plates are available, but where the coins should be is a tiny picture of a lock. The PDF downloads for the plates claim to be large (40+ MB) but upon downloading are small (3 MB) and contain the same glyph of a lock where the coins should be.

Bulletin de correspondance hellénique is also available from Persee.

For older volumes, Google Books has three 19th century volumes.

I don't know much about Persee. It claims to be in beta. It has an icon for English-language access. It seems to be from the Ministry of State for Higher Education and Research.