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!