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, 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​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 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.