Friday, December 11, 2009

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Minimum Wage Machine

Blake Fall-Conroy's Minimum Wage Machine “allows anybody to work for minimum wage” by dispensing a Lincoln cent every 5.04 seconds when a mechanical crank is turned. Turning for an hour will yield 715 (or 714?) cents an hour, or the minimum wage in New York state.

(via bOING bOING)

Monday, November 23, 2009

CoinArchives Pro Academic Edition

CoinArchives is now offering academic subscriptions with results that don't include auction prices realized. The yearly fee is less than the $600 professionals pay. How much less? I don't know: “Pricing is based on the number of accounts requested per institution.... Academic Edition accounts are for non-profit research and educational use only.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Kirtas Books

Kirtas, the folks who make book scanners, has a new venture to sell print-on-demand copies of scanned books. The web site has a store full of public domain books.

Unlike Elibron, Kirtas is offering to sell books they haven't yet scanned. They have loaded the catalog of the University of Pennsylvania library and the New York Public Library into their database. These libraries have many desirable numismatic works that Kirtas claims to offer in reprint; for example the Photiadès Pacha auction catalog (1890), Imhoof-Blumer's 2 volume Kleinasiatische Münzen (1901), or the three-volume The Weber collection: Greek coins (1922-1929).

I ordered four volumes of BMC Greek published post-1900 that Google doesn't offer.

Kirtas claims to offer these books for $10 in paperback or $20 in hardcover. Download-only will be $2 once someone has paid for paperback or hardcover. I am curious to see if Kirtas can deliver quality and if they seriously intend to sell The Weber Collection (317 plates!) for $20 in hardcover.

To fund this Kirtas offers something I haven't seen before, a patent-pending business model they call “Invest in Knowledge”. For abour $30 you get the paperback plus a 5% royalty whenever anyone buys another copy of the title from Kirtas. So you'll break even if 20 copies sell. (Kirtas is suggesting you should buy this for your grandchildren (!?!) so they must think it will be a long-term money maker.)

I thought about “investing” in the BMC Greek volumes but I somehow doubt Kirtas will sell 20 more copies of these books. Maybe I will be kicking myself for the next century when Kirtas turns itself into the Wal-Mart of 19th century books.

It's not just books on Greek coins, I found the 1866-1869 American Journal of Numismatics also for $10.

If these prices aren't low enough the coupon code Save20%KirtasBooks gives $8 paperbacks and $16 hardcovers.

1824 medal commemorates man hanged for check forgery

Stephen Adams reports for the Telegraph of London on a medal made in 1824 for check forger Henry Fauntleroy.
Timothy Millett, who is selling the coin at the Olympia Winter Fine Art and Antiques Fair in London, said: "At the time it really was a sensational case. He was 'doing a Madoff', you might say. The press absolutely loved it."

[Millett] thought perhaps a few hundred of the 'medals' were made by an entrepreneur looking to make a quick profit from the hanging, bought by people to show they attended "in the same way as we might buy a t-shirt".
Henry Fauntleroy was apparently the last man hanged for check forgery in England.

Using the Optical Mouse Sensor as a Two-Euro Counterfeit Coin Detector mentions a paper by Spanish researchers Marcel Tresanchez, Tomàs Pallejà, Mercè Teixidó and Jordi Palacín on detecting counterfeit Euro coins using the sensor from cheap optical mice.

The full report PDF is available from MDPI - Open Access Publishing. The abstract claims the software does as well as a trained human and better than an untrained one. The report was published in Sensors volume 9 issue 9.
The researcher does explain that not just any optical mouse sensor will work, as images must be captured in real time, with a minimum resolution of 15x15 pixels (the team used 30x30 pixels). It is also better to use an LED- or infrared-based sensor, and not laser technology, as these[sic] provide images that are too wide.

Hadrien Rambach library auction

The catalog for the auction of the Numismatic Library of Hadrien Rambach is now online. 255 lots of books. There are also 48 lots of ancient coins.

The e-Sylum mentioned this last week, but the catalog wasn't available then. Hadrien Rambach is a coin specialist at Spink & Son.

The estimates seem low. Lot 572, Babelon's Inventaire sommaire de la colleciton Waddington (1898, 4 volumes), his Rec. Gen. (1904), and his son's Catalogue de la collection de Luynes (1924-1932), is estimated at only 100 euros.

Whoever made the catalog has copying text to the clipboard disabled, which is profoundly irritating.

A correspondent recently asked why auctioneers make low estimates. He mention the usual reasons (unfamiliarity with the market, desire to inspire new bidders) and the usual problem (bad estimates send a false signal to collectors who then don't research what the usual price is). For books I would add the irritation of storing and returning unsold lots. If a coin doesn't make reserve it can go back into the safe. Who has space for a book that doesn't sell?

Princeton computer science professor and ancient coin collector Kenneth Steiglitz wrote a book, Snipers, Shills, and Sharks: eBay and Human Behavior which is apparently on the psychology of auctions including ancient coin auctions on eBay. Has anyone read it? Perhaps it includes the latest research on how buyers and sellers make decisions.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Countermarked Perseus bronze

Bronze coin of king Perseus of Macedon, 179-168 BC.

This coin has a counterstamp, I believe of a prow.

I couldn't find any other prow counterstamps online. Perseus and his father Philip V struck other coins with prow types though. Is there an online database of counterstamps? I searched ISEGRIM and found Roman coins of the 2nd and 3rd century AD with prow counterstamps, but nothing Hellenistic.

A recent eBay auction of another countermarked Perseus had a similar countermark that could be a prow but could also be almost anything.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Stack family book auction

The catalog for the Stacks family numismatic library, to be auctioned in New York in January 2010, is up on George Frederick Kolbe's web site.

400 lots. The catalog itself is 171 pages! The lots include Guillaume Bude's De Asse et Partibus (1524!), Haeberlin's Aes Grave (1910), Gnecchi's I Medaglioni Romani (1912) and first editions of BMC Greek (all 29 volumes as a single lot.) The IBSCC's Counterfeit Reports are there, “possibly complete” for 1976-March 1981.

A lot of volumes 1-6 of The Numismatist is estimated at $25,000! Some rare correspondance on the Colonel Green collection and its sale to Egypt's King Farouk is estimated at the same price.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

NYC lecture: “Persian gods and kings: the coins of ancient Iran”

Vesta Sarkhosh Curtis, curator of Islamic and Iranian coins at the British Museum, will be lecturing at the ANS tomorrow on “Persian gods and kings: the coins of ancient Iran”.

Google says Ms. Curtis is the project leader of The Sasanian coins project and author of a book on ancient Persian love poetry.

The coinage of Kea

A reader wrote to tell me that Charikleia Papageorgiadou-Banis' The coinage of Kea (1997) (20mb, 107 pages, 21 plates) can be downloaded from the Helios Repository of the National Hellenic Research Foundation. This book covers the ancient Cycladic mint of Keos (also called Ceos), not the larger island of Chios.

The repository also offers Jennifer Warren's “The bronze coinage of the Achaian League: the mints of Achaia and Elis” (just 4 pages), originally published in Achaia und Elis in der Antike: Akten des 1. Internationalen Symposiums, Athen, 19.-21. Mai 1989 in 1991. Ms. Warren later wrote The Bronze Coinage of the Achaian Koinon.

The site's search showed some other titles but I couldn't download them.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Stahl, The Rebirth of Antiquity: Numismatics, Archaeology, and Classical Studies in the Culture of the Renaissance

Alan M. Stahl, The Rebirth of Antiquity: Numismatics, Archaeology, and Classical Studies in the Culture of the Renaissance (2009), Princeton University Library (not Press!), 178 5x9’ pages, $40 (currently $35 on Amazon).

A collection of papers on Renaissance numismatics, edited by Alan Stahl, is now available on I got a $20 copy in May after an e-Sylum announcement. I don't know if those copies are still available.

For $20 I was expecting a photocopied paperback. I received a quality hardcover.

All of the papers are about coin collecting except for Tamara Griggs' which is about antiquities dealers.

I found this book interesting even though I'm not curious about the Renaissance and collecting back then. I'm reasonably educated but not as well as Stahl's contributors — I had to consult a dictionary when reading this. The authors also like to throw in an Italian word here and there which did not help!

For the beginner I'd recommend Bassoli or maybe, if you can find it, Cunnally's Images of the Illustrious (Cunnally also contributed to this volume). If you already have those then you may want this.

John Spring, Ancient Coin Auction Catalogs: 1880-1980

John Spring, Ancient Coin Auction Catalogs: 1880-1980 (2009), self-​published, distributed by Spink (but not yet on their website). 369 large pages describing 886 auction catalogs. Charles Davis is selling this for $110 and CNG is selling slightly bumped copies for $95.

It's a nice book! Every catalog is described by size and color. The number of plates — Celtic, Greek, Roman aes grave, Roman Republican, Roman Imperial, Roman Provincial, Byzantine, and "barbarian migration" — is given. There is often information about the collector, collection, or auctioneer. Sometimes that information comes from the catalog, but Spring also seeks biogrpahical information from other published sources such as obituaries in numismatic journals. The photos depict the collector or firm. The catalogs themselves are not pictured.

The author does not judge the paper quality, the method of reproduction of the plates, nor the numismatic merit of the coins. Tables of the "most important" sales are provided, broken down by category (Greek, Republican, etc), but imporantance for Spring is the number of plates. For example, Spring lists some Alex Malloy sales among the "most important" for Greek and Provincial. I don't know if those Malloy sales were well-made but the Malloy sales I know from the late 1990s were newsprint-quality affairs. If so it is hard for me to accept them as among the most important.

This catalog will shine is when used in conjunction with an auction catalog from a numismatic book dealer by putting the offered catalogs into context with the series of catalogs available. It will also be handy to use this within a large numismatic library like the ANS'. I only have a few of the catalogs and I'm finding it frustrating looking at Spring's book while unable to follow his leads.

I still haven't decided if I want to own and study old auction catalogs. I'm excited about old digitizing catalogs and having the coins online and individually searchable. I enjoy the few catalogs I have. Yet these old catalogs are not cheap. Very few of them illustrate more than 500 Greek coins. Anyone off the street in 2009 can email a dozen dealers and receive sample catalogs postpaid with more illustrated coins. Are these old catalogs still relevant for coin collectors? There is something lovely about the Collotype plates in the better old catalogs.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

ANS twitter feed

The ANS has a good numismatic twitter feed. It's both frequent and high-quality. There is good brief numismatic news and daily numismatic book recommendations.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sestini's Sopra i moderni falsificatori di medaglie greche antiche

Google has scanned Domenico Sestini's 1826 book Sopra i moderni falsificatori di medaglie Greche antiche nei tre metalli e descrizione di tutte quelle prodote dai medesimi nello spazio di pochi anni (“On the modern forgers of ancient Greek medals in the three metals and description of all produced by them in the space of a few years”).

Google's copy was scanned at the University of Ghent in March.

I believe this is the oldest illustrated book on fakes meant to deceive coin collectors. There are four plates of drawings. Imagine the difficulty of the collector or dealer in 1826 with this book in determining if a particular ancient coin was a die match for Sestini's drawings.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Counterfeit 1970 Lincoln cent in gold

A Brooklyn woman received an 18 karet gold counterfeit cent in change at a C-Town grocery store according to New York Times blogger Jennifer 8. Lee.

The fake copper-plated gold penny was put into circulation in Los Angeles in 2007 as a publicity stunt by artist Jack Daws to publicize his limited edition of 10 counterfeit US cents in gold. A Seattle art gallery is selling the other Daws coins for $1000 each.

The melt value of the fake is $100.

The US Secret Service says “Anyone who manufactures a counterfeit U.S. coin in any denomination above five cents is subject to the same penalties as all other counterfeiters.” which seems to rule out a counterfeiting beef for Mr. Daws.

The blogger's middle initial, 8, is not a typo.

Database of Macedonian royal bronze coins

Macedonian Kingdom: the bronze coinage is a web site with a searchable database of 1470 Macedonian bronze coins.

I found several rarities that I've never seen elsewhere. Although there is a lot of duplication there are some very rare pieces.

The main site is in modern Greek, to get an English version click the image of the Philip bronze then click the tab labled 'English'. This link takes visitors directly to the English search page (but without the intended frames.)

The coins are from the Alpha Bank collection, the Charles Hersh collection (now dispersed), and the Dimitris Portolos collection (now in the Archeological Museum of Thessaloniki).

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Medal exhibition opening in NYC on Saturday Nov 7th

Palva Burroughs / A Great Gnashing of TeethPalva Burroughs, A Great Gnashing of Teeth, 70x108x30mm.

There will be an opening at Medialia ... Rack and Hamper Gallery on Saturday, November 7th (3-6pm). The exhibition is New Ideas in Medallic Sculpture 2009-2010.

Medallic Sculpture from WW I will also be on display, a tribute to medal collector (and friend) David Fleischmann who passed away this year.

Monday, November 02, 2009

English translation of Weidauer's Probleme der frühen Elektronprägung

Dane Kurth has translated Dr. Liselotte Weidauer's 1975 classic on archaic electrum coins, Probleme der frühen Elektronprägung (Problems of Early Electrum Coinage) into English.

The translation is available in electronic format only (PDF or Word document), and does not include plates. To obtain the translation contact There is a US$20 fee to cover costs of translation. The translation is authorized by Dr. Liselotte Weidauer.

The book itself, with German text and plates, is available from CNG for $45 plus shipping. $45+$20 is a great deal; a few years ago used originals were selling at auction for $175 plus juice.

Jeffery Morin's $5 million CoinsForAnything empire

A Washington Post story by Thomas Heath covers the history of coin entrepreneur Jeffery Morin, whose “coin” dealership brings in $5,000,000/year.
During lunch breaks, Morin would run to his barracks, package the coins into bubble-padded envelopes, address them by hand and walk them to the base post office for mailing; the envelope and postage for each coin cost him $1.05, which came off his profit.


His mother lent him $500 to buy more coins, and he was quickly earning $300 to $500 a month from the business. Profits went in to buying more coins.
Morin started with “military challenge coins” a kind of military-themed artist's medal.

The web site organizes the medals for sale by artistic theme: Marines, Navy, Air Force, Army and Other. These ‘coins’ cost anywhere from $9 to $16. The more expensive coins have unusual shapes and features, such as this Air Force Knife coin. Visitors can also order coins based on their own artwork (minimum quantity 100 coins, $2.20 per coin).
Morin was 22.

In the past five years, Morin has expanded his coin business beyond the Marines to include other service branches, weddings, sports teams, and corporations such as Starbucks, Delta Air Lines and United Parcel Service. He hired a Web designer to jazz up the online site. He changed his company name from Marine Corps Coins to Coins for Anything and has expanded into trophies, pins and lanyards (the neck straps to which security badges or credentials are attached).

The enterprise now encompasses five companies that will generate around $5 million in revenue this year, with the coins and trophies representing the vast majority. His costs include $2.5 million for the products, $500,000 in payroll for 16 employees, and about $7,000 a month in rent on a 4,000-square-foot headquarters in a Stafford office park. He pays Google around $1 million a year.
The knife coin looks cool! I think Jeffery Morin even beat the Pobjoy mint on that one. Maybe next year Palau or Liberia will be minting legal tender folding knives.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Dimitar Draganov to be tried for treasure hunting

Professor Dimitar Draganov, perhaps the most famous Bulgarian numismatist (see his 37 papers) was arrested in 2008 for intending to profit from selling archaeological findings according to a story in The Sofia Echo by Petar Kostadinov.

Police found about 400 ancient coins, worth 370 000 leva, in Draganov’s home.

According to police, the coins were about to be sold abroad, with Draganov hired to record them as an expert. Draganov’s version of the story is different. He said that the coins were part of a collection owned by the Bobokovi Foundation and his job was indeed to register them as archaeological artefacts so that a catalogue could be compiled and a book written about them.
“The Bobokovi Foundation” are the brothers whose collection of coins from Deultum takes an entire SNG, Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum Bulgaria, Thrace and Moesia Inferior, Vol. 1, Deultum. Draganov seems to have done nothing wrong:
"The collection which police confiscated from my desk, I received from the Bobokovi brothers with a protocol so that I can do research on it. I did so, and it won me the sole prize awarded at the 14th International Numismatic Congress held in Glasgow this past September," [Draganov] said.
The Numismatic Congress web site says the prize was a Numismatic Congress medal for the best poster. The poster was “The Coinage of the Scythian kings in the West Pontic Area; Iconography”.

Go read the full story.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Antiquities Smuggling Video

A 1997 17 minute documentary on Turkish antiquities smuggling produced by Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Journeyman Pictures, which seems to own the rights and uploaded the clip to YouTube, has not provided the credits and I don't know who the reporter is.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Rhousopoulos catalog

I stumbled across Google's downloadable Rhousopoulos catalog today.

4627 Greek coins described and pictured on 58 plates, auctioned by Hirsch in 1905. Original copies cost $1200.

Google gives this work the title Auctions-catalog einer sammlung griechischer münzen aus dem nachlasse eines ....

A few other Hirsch sales:
If any numismatic sites are tracking and organizing the important auction catalogs being posted by Google please let me know. I can't keep up any longer.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Lexicon of Greek Coin Inscriptions, Volume II

Volume 2 of Wolfgang Leschhorn's Lexikon der Aufschriften auf griechischen Münzen (AKA Lexicon of Greek Coin Inscriptions) is now available.

I have not yet seen it. (I have volume 1. I almost never consult it as I almost never need to identify Greek coins by inscription.)

Volume 1 was large and thick (426 pages), volume 2 is said to be 1092 pages! The price is €159. Volume 2 looks to be interesting — the first major catalog of magistrates on coins since Münsterberg's Die Beamtennamen auf den griechischen Münzen of 1911-1927.

The web site mentions an online edition with a different ISBN and provides a password-protected link for access. The online edition password doesn't seem to be available for purchase yet. The prices of online books from this publisher, Austrian Acadamy of Sciences Press, that are available for purchase range from €0 to €49.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Extracting plates from Google books

Mediterranean Ceramics posts Brief Thoughts on EPUB Books at Google
Once you've downloaded that file, it's easy to unpack. I'm a Mac/Linux user. If you are too, and you like the command line, 'unzip Catalogue_of_Arretine_pottery.epub' will do the trick. Otherwise, change the extension to ".zip" and double-click on the file. I'm sure something similar will work in Windows.

Once unpacked, you have two directories, 'OEBPS' and 'META-INF'. The first is the one with all the goodies in it. Open 'OEBPS/images' and you'll see the plates from the book. Those files aren't hi-res, but better than nothing.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Bookride comments on Google

Bookride comments on Google books
Buying out of print books ('orphans' in googlespeak) from book dealers has a great deal to be said for it but money is sometimes tight and many books are too rare to be affordable or even to be available. As a dealer I see the scheme opening up the market rather than harming it. New collectors, readers and book enthusiasts will be created by this bold 'Forever' project - especially among the under thirty crowd, who are now seldom seen in bookshops or at bookfairs; those born after the year of the Jubilee and Punk (1977) i.e. the post-literate generation. Sergey was four at the time but by the time he was 26 he had accumulated well over 15,000 real books...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Database of 28,298 coins

The American School of Classical Studies at Athens has a database of 28,298 coins, many with low-resolution black and white photos.

The database is a bit tricky to search. To search use the small white box in the upper right corner reading category:coin. Add search terms but keep the coin category or the search will include non-coin finds like pottery fragments.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Egypt running out of mummies?

Egypt's mummy population is dwindling, reports satirical newspaper The Onion:
Afterlife Preservation Society president James Amarcas said he can recall a time when Egyptians did not have to go to a museum, but could look out their window and see an entire herd of shroud-wrapped forms staggering on missions of revenge.

"My grandchildren have still never seen a mummy," said Amarcas, who vividly recalls his first mummy sighting in 1947, when he was just 3 years old. "These terrible monsters are little more than a legend to them. It's sad to think they might never see the bloodthirsty march of an undead Egyptian prince on a cool, calm night."

Prospects for Egypt's mummies are grim. A population that reached more than 12,000 in 1970 has today dropped to less than 300.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Hess-Divo to auction Frank Sternberg's library

Hess-Divo is auctioning the numismatic library of dealer Frank Sternberg.

Apparently 1193 lots, all on ancients. 358 lots just on Greeks!

Online bidding ends October 28. The estimates are very low. I do not think you will be able to pick up a complete set of BMC Greek for 1000 Swiss francs, nor a folio-sized first edition of Percy Gardner's The Types of Greek Coins: An Archaeological Essay (1883) for 50 francs.

Notes on Alan Walker's review of Benner's Achaian League Coinage of the 3rd Through 1st Centuries B.C.E.

Alan Walker reviewed Steve M. Benner's Achaian League Coinage of the 3rd Through 1st Centuries B.C.E. for the September 2009 issue of The Celator. It's a long review and an even longer version of the review is available from Walker and (soon) on The Celator's Website.

The book being reviewed is #7 in the series Classical Numismatic Studies published by Classical Numismatic Group. It costs $65. I haven't seen the book but believe the review itself is worth commenting on.

Alan Walker's review is important. He spends 12 single-spaced pages correcting Benner's mistakes and typos. Anyone interested in Achaian League coinage needs the review to annotate their copy of this book, their copies of General M. G. Clerk's Catalogue of the Coins of the Achaean League (1895, recently reprinted from scans), and Margaret Thompson's The Agrinion Hoard (1968) with corrections. Numismatic scholars with little interest in League coinage should still read Walker's review. His complaints about the structure of this book explain how scholars use numismatic references and what a book should have. The ideal structure of scholarly numismatic books is not discussed anywhere else that I know of.

Although Walker has a few positive things to say (e.g. “... the photographs are as good as they can be ...”) much of the review is negative
... I found it tremendously disappointing. It contains so many mistakes, both of fact and of organization, that the only way to correct it would be to re-write it.
Someone at CNG green-lighted this book before it was ready. The volumes in the Classical Numismatic Studies series by Brian Kritt and David MacDonald are quite good. Classical Numismatic Studies does not have a named ‘series editor’. With authors like Kritt and MacDonald a heavy-handed editor isn't needed.

Walker's most biting comments are directed at the poor organization of the catalog rather than simple inscription misreadings.
  • “[Benner] confuses issues with varieties
  • “instead of making an alphabetical list of names ... [Benner] has made a list that is in alphabetical order by mint ... making it a real chore to find anything.”
  • “the Greek lunate sigma, ϲ, is sometimes listed under sigma, but sometimes at the beginning of the alphabet, as if it were a Latin C ...”
  • Use of a monogram table instead of putting monograms inline
  • the monogram table is not indexed back to the catalog
  • Benner credits dealers for photographs but doesn't provide the auction name and lot number
  • The concordance appendix is reversed from the usual practice
Many of the mistakes that Benner made are mistakes that I could easily make. I'm mostly self-taught. The structural principals Walker describes are not codified anywhere that I've found.

Until I read Walker's article I didn't understand the meaning of ‘issue’. It's not defined Melville-Jones' A Dictionary of Ancient Greek Coins. Walker explains
Normally an issue is considered to be a single discrete series struck under a single magistrate, who may have a number of junior colleagues who also sign the dies using full or abbreviated names, monograms, symbols or a combination (Athenian New Style tetradrachms are like this, as are any number of other coin series). Coins of a single issue can vary in the way the magistrate’s name is placed, often just due to the whim of the die cutter; thus, a single issue can contain many varieties due to changes in the junior magistrates or from the way the die engraver arranged the legend. In some cases, all the varieties of an issue are simply die variants. SMB, however, confuses issues with varieties: he apparently considers every change in legend, no matter how slight, to indicate a new issue.
Putting magistrate lists in alphabetical order by mint rather than by magistrate name implies that Benner has not spent a lot of time looking up magistrates in catalogs. The purpose of the list of names is to help people look them up, not to know which magistrates worked in which cities.

Regarding alphabetizing, I can't add much to Wikipedia's article on Collation. Sorting foreign languages can be hard for English speakers. It's also hard for computers (and impossible for computers without correct multi-alphabet typesetting.)

If space and paper quality permit it's always better to include symbols and photos inline. No one wants to flip around trying to find things.

The lack of an index back to the catalog implies that Benner has not spent a lot of time looking up symbols in catalogs. Benner probably knows Achaian League coinage well enough that he no longer needs his own tables. Lack of two-way indexes is a common problem in numismatic books. I often see coin on plates I cannot find it in the text. Usually this is because the text and plates are in a slightly different order, or the plated coin is only discussed in a footnote! I once spent over an hour trying to find a coin in a short article written in modern Greek that used Greek numerals. Remember that if your numismatic book becomes important most of your readers are not yet born. Don't expect them to read the way you do.

When citing coins it's always best to include as much information as possible so future authors can track your sources back. In his review, Walker shows that Benner uses the same coin to illustrate his Dyme #11 and Dyme #13. This wasn't a simple typo — one photo came from Clerk's 1895 plates and the other was cited by Benner cited as “Dr. Busso Peus Nachf”. Walker tracked that coin to a specific sale (Peus 378, 28 April 2004, lot 142). I was surprised to see a Clerk coin at auction because Walker tells us elsewhere that “in 1920, after his death, [Clerk's] collection went to the British Museum” Perhaps this coin was sold by the BM, such as in the famous “Duplicates” sale, Ars Classica V, June 1923? It's awkward that Benner didn't notice the coin was the same but I've had a hard time telling myself especially if photos of casts are used. The general principal is to leave enough clues behind so future scholars can track back your work to published sources.

The backwards concordance indicates that Benner hasn't spent time going through coins cataloged under an old system and using a concordance to find the new numbers. I am not a cataloger like Walker and I've never done it either although I knew what a concordance was for. Note that the Wikipedia definition of concordance doesn't describe the numismatic kind. Is there a book for numismatic scholars that defines ‘concordance’? I know of none.

I hope Walker's review becomes widely known among numismatic authors. Perhaps my review-review will inspire someone, even Walker himself, to write essays describing the organization of numismatic reference works and to document how they are employed in the course of numismatic research.

[Update 10-11-09] Alan Walker reminds me that his review of Benner does not contain corrections to Clerk nor Thompson.


If this medal was a Roman Coin, how would you catalog this obverse?

Add your suggestion to the comments.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

SWAT team raids orchid grower

Last year I wrote an editorial for The Celator about how ancient coins could be controlled but self-registered to avoid the difficulties of an official government registry. I mentioned the problems of the 1973 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) treaty at controlling ivory.

A recent story on problems with CITES for flowers surprised me. An elephant has feelings, but a flower seems like just a flower. Yet the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service takes orchids very seriously:
When 60-year-old Kathy Norris asked court officials why U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's very own SWAT team had raided and ransacked her home, they helpfully explained, “You don't need to know. You can't know.”

George [Norris], along with his business associate Peruvian grower Manuel Arias-Silver, is charged with conspiracy to smuggle endangered phragmipediums (orchids) into the U.S. Since Manuel is one of only three growers to have been given permission by the Peruvian government to artificially propagate the newly discovered phragmipedium Kovachii, it appears that the U.S. government has singled out the pair for special attention over suspicions that this is the species they were smuggling. There appears to be little evidence of this, though it is likely the pair were taking some shortcuts on paperwork because of the challenges of importing other, legally propagated species, into the U.S.
(via bOING bOING)

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Overstruck Greek Coins

David MacDonald, Overstruck Greek Coins (2009). 14+272 pages. List price $40.

This is a wonderful book! It's a good-quality hardcover. There is no dust jacket but the cover is glossy and full color. (What's the word for that?) Every page is glossy and in color. Each coin is shown enlarged in its section and illustrated again actual size on 22 plates at the end. 160 coins are discussed. The undertype is presenting by line drawings.

This review is a work-in-progress as I haven't finished the book.

Although this book is readable it's not intended for beginners. MacDonald doesn't waste a lot of space defining terms that you already know. It's also not a catalog. In the preface it's made clear that the book isn't even trying to list all commonly encountered overstrikes. It's unlikely but possible that catalogers will start including "MacDonald -" when selling overstricks.

This isn't a breathtaking coffee table book listing the highlights of Greek coin art. The coins are nicer than average grade, and often uglier than average. As MacDonald points out
Overstruck coins are usually ugly. They are not popular with most collectors and, consequently, are avoided by many dealers.
What makes this book wonderful is that the overstruck coins are used to jump into open questions on dating of ancient coins. MacDonald describes simply the currently accepted dating and why it might or must be wrong. He gives enough hints that I could follow the arguments without having to go look up stuff in other books. That's the real strength of this book. In a lot of journal-level numismatic writing the authors are writing towards other PhD classics professors which makes them hard to follow. This book is much smoother.

Because only 160 coins are discussed in nearly 300 pages there is enough room to give background on the coins. We get a lot more than whose on the front and a date range like "480-460". Each coin gets a quality discussion which tells us not just the the issue dates, but often tell us which expert proposed the dates and the historical events that begin or close the date range.

The presentation, with a line drawing of the visible part of the undertype and a photograph of the coin is new to me. It's a good way to present an overstruck coin. MacDonald only reveals the visible lines so there isn't much undertype to see if it is mostly obscured by the overstrike. I would have liked to have seen more undertype, maybe illustrated with dotted lines in grey to indicate that they were reconstructed. Not including those lines is probably more scientific though, because who wants to see reconstructed features that might just be imagination? It's incorrect to make up things in coin catalogs! Thus I think MacDonald chose the right format even if I want something else.

Note that the cover picture on this post, from Whitman's web site, isn't the cover of the actual book, although they are similar. The fake cover says 'Edited by' David MacDonald. The real cover shows those five coins and two more.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Images de la Gorgone

I'm trying to write a book on ancient coins depicting Medusa. To do a good job I need to read the other books on the subject and they can be hard to get.

I was especially interested in Images de la Gorgone (1985) by Irène Aghion and Evelyne Veljovic. It documents a 1985 exhibition by the Cabinet des Médailles of the Bibliothèque Nationale. That's the French national coin collection. The book isn't held in any of the usual places in New York. The ANS doesn't have a copy, nor the New York Public Library, nor NYU, nor Columbia. The nearest library copy I could locate is at Harvard, three hours away by car. I've never seen copies for sale and I've checked numismatic, book and eBay dealers.

The University of Michigan has a copy. They have a great service, MITS, that will photocopy articles and send them for a fee. They refused to copy Images! They are bound by US law ... they will only copy 100-year-old documents or documents registered with the Copyright Clearance Center. (If I was in the library myself they wouldn't bar me from using the machines.)

Next I tried the British Library. Same story. They cannot copy the book for me.

Eventually I found the book's entry at the Bibliothèque Nationale itself. Unlike the UofM and the British Library, getting photocopies from the BnF is a pain. I had to open an account, by mail — not email — request the book by mail, and pay with a euro-denominated money order by mail. It took about six months and cost about $80.

I assume the BnF realized that since they are the publishers they didn't have to be bound by copyright law.

This was a lot of work to obtain a photocopy of a recent rare book with a list price of 40 francs (about $7). The text is quite readable. The plates of my photocopy are muddy and difficult to see. I have no clue how good the original plates are.

This book is an example of an “orphan work.” Although I believe the authors are still alive and working for the BnF I couldn't figure out how to email them and didn't have the resources to track them down for permission.

Google's deal to get orphan works from libraries to readers failed. Folks on both sides of the discussion are talking about what should be done but what I'm reading is generalities. When you think about how society should handle orphan works, it's worthwhile to think of some specific examples like Images de la Gorgone. Suppose Google collected money on behalf of Aghion, Veljovic, and the BnF. How much could they expect to receive? I'd guess in all the world there is about $200 worth of interest in this book. I was about $80 interested in it, I'd guess 3 or 4 other people are that interested, maybe a a couple of dozen would be interested at $10 a copy.

No scheme in the world is going to get more money into the hands of the copyright holders.

In tomorrow's New York Times Book Review Lewis Hyde suggests that letting Google take a cut of the money would be like letting an executor drain an estate. He thinks the court should appoint a guardians to look for rights holders.

There is no money in 99% of orphan works. Most orphans are only worth a few dozen copies. That's the problem Google is trying to solve for five million orphans. Google wants to give researchers legal access to read truely rare books. The books that librarians and dealers consider ‘rare’ are books that are valuable. Those are the books on closed shelves in major libraries. Truely rare books are a bit more rare than that.

Recently a friend gave me John Yonge Akerman's Fourrès and forgeries: general observations on the coins and coinage of the Romans (1970). WorldCat reports exactly one copy of this book known. It's in Eastern Kentucky University Library. That's a rare book! It's not particularly interesting; it's just plate 14 and pages v-xix from Akerman's A descriptive catalogue of rare and unedited Roman coins (1834) plus a new photo plate by the publishers.

Do you want to see that book? You will have to go to Kentucky.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Errol Morris on art forger Han van Meegeren

I recently stumbled across Error Morris' seven-part essay on the artist and forger Han van Meegeren. He forged Vermeers in Nazi-occupied Netherlands.

Morris believes the false Vermeers were accepted not because of their resemblance to real Vermeers, but because they looked like a cross between Vermeers and the Nazi art of the day. Nothing about coins, but a bizarre story about how connoisseurs fool themselves.
The Uncanny Valley is a concept developed by the Japanese robot scientist Masahiro Mori. It concerns the design of humanoid robots. Mori’s theory is relatively simple. We tend to reject robots that look too much like people. Slight discrepancies and incongruities between what we look like and what they look like disturb us. The closer a robot resembles a human, the more critical we become, the more sensitive to slight discrepancies, variations, imperfections. ... You would think a close copy would be the goal of a forger, but it might not be a smart way to go. If you were a brilliant technician it might be an acceptable strategy, but my forger, Van Meegeren, is not as good as that. So if he’s going to try to pass himself off as Vermeer, he isn’t going to do it by painting “The Girl With Two Pearl Earrings.”

... nobody ever did any scientific test on Van Meegeren, even the stuff that was available in his day, until after he confessed. And to this day, people hardly ever test pictures, even multi-million dollar ones. And I was so surprised by that that I kept asking, over and over again: why? Why would that be? Before you buy a house, you have someone go through it for termites and the rest. How could it be that when you’re going to lay out $10 million for a painting, you don’t test it beforehand? And the answer is that you don’t test it because, at the point of being about to buy it, you’re in love!
(via Cheap Talk)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Looking for treasure

No coins, but the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold was recently found in England. [New York Times]. NPR [audio + transcript].
... the discovery was not the outcome of a carefully planned archaeological enterprise, but the product of a lone amateur stumbling about with a metal detector.
Here in the US there aren't any Roman treasures to find with metal detectors. Or are there? In 1924 Charles Manier found two gigantic lead crosses with Roman-Jewish inscriptions outside Tucson Arizona. The crosses, swords, and other “Roman” relics were supposedly exhibited in Tucson in 2003 according to Western & Eastern Treasures magazine's copy of a story from the Tucson Citizen. However, the story doesn't show up in 2009 search of the Tucson paper's archives nor does it show up in current or searches of the Arizona State Museum's web site.

New York judge sinks Google reprint settlement

Bobbie Johnson reports in today's Guardian, “Google Books deal postponed after avalanche of criticism”.

The judge overseeing Google's controversial agreement with American publishers to digitise millions of books has delayed a hearing into the $125m deal - effectively shutting down the settlement and sending it back to the drawing board.

The deal, if and when it happens, will allow Google to sell out-of-print in-copyright books that it doesn't have the rights to. The money would go into a lockbox that the copyright holders could get when they realize they own money-making orphan books.

The good news is that Google and On Demand Books have a partnership to print public domain titles in bookstores using the Espresso Book Machine. You'll be able to walk into bookstores (currently in San Francisco; New Orleans; Ann Arbor; Manchester Center, Vermont; and Provo, Utah) and for $8 walk out with a paperback book such as Catalog of the Greek coins of Phyrgia.

And look at that cover! I feel certain it was auto-generated. I may be the first human to have ever seen the cover of this numismatic book, when I opened the web site this morning. If the Espresso Book Machine ever makes it to New York I will be ready with many titles I'm willing to pay $8 for. If the Google deal had gone through many titles from the 20th century could have been available for just a little more.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Charles Davis mail bid sale October 17, 2009

Charles Davis is holding a mail bid sale [PDF] October 17th. 691 lots. Many titles on British tokens. Lots 491-578 are titles on ancients and many of the ancients titles are useful catalogs: SNG volumes, Crawford on Roman Republican, RIC volumes etc.

The catalog gives the URL of Davis' (new?) site, http://​www.​charlesdavisnumismatics.​com/ which, at the time of this writing, is merely a gallery of photographs of numismatic books and bindings.

I received a copy in the mail today.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Creepy talking Rhodes tetradrachm

A creepy talking Rhodes tetradrachm urges you to shop for reproduction coin necklaces created by Boxing Pandora.

Another video of coin striking

William Bjornson, Arion the Wanderer, and Ian Cnulle of the An Tir Moneyers Guild demonstrate striking a coin in the ancient Greek style and the 2009 ANA Money Show.

There is a Yahoo group for folks who re-enact ancient methods of coining.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Gregory Zorzos goes commercial

Gregory Zorzos, whose strange ancient coin YouTube videos have been discussed before has gone commercial.

His videos Ancient coins from Bactriane and PICTURES OF BYZANTINE COINS
are available from as video on demand.

The price is $25 for a digital download that can be played on two computers. The Baktrian video can also be rented for seven days for $2. The first two minutes of the videos can be seen for free by following the links above.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Ancient Coin Auction Catalogues 1880-1980

Charles Davis is offering a new book by John Spring, Ancient Coin Auction Catalogues 1880-1980. It's described as 374 pages, size A4 (roughly equivelent to 8.5x11).

If any readers have seen it please leave a comment letting us know what you think.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Wikipedia on fourrées

Wikipedia's article on fourrées includes a section on modern fourrées which surprised me
The 1982 and later US one cent piece (Lincoln penny) is an example of a fourrée since it is zinc which has been plated with copper in a manner to deceive.
Nice! I hadn't thought about it that way before.

The image on this post is not from Wikipedia, but from my own collection of fourrées depicting Medusa. I bought this in 2003 and finally got around to scanning it. This one is from Rome, about 74 BC, with the name of the moneyer L. Cossutius C.f. Sabula. The numeral on the back, XXII I think for mine, is for the die; Michael Crawford says “The control-marks are the numerals from I to XXXXII; no control-numeral has more than one die.” I would be interested to see other XXII issues to see if they are in similar style to this fourrée.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Ancient silver coins in Uttar Pradesh

Thaindian News reports (no byline)
Lucknow, Aug 20 (IANS) Nearly 68 kg of ancient silver coins dating back to 1861 and 1892 were recovered from three men who were arrested in Uttar Pradesh’s Varanasi district, police said Thursday.
Rajesh Singh, Aditya Sharan and Mukesh Mishra were nabbed Wednesday night from Chetganj locality of Varanasi, about 250 km from here.


According to police, the coins carry symbols of Queen Victoria and King George V of Britain.

“We will hand over the coins to the archaeological department for evaluation,” said Rai.
How can this hoard date back to 1861 and 1892? Shouldn't it be one or the other?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Ukrainian detained for attempting to smuggle ancient coin into Ukraine

“Ukrainian detained for attempting to smuggle ancient coin into Ukraine” reports the Kyiv Post (no byline).
The press service of the Crimean customs service reported on Wednesday that a copper coin had been found in his wallet at the Kerch customs post.

According to preliminary reports, this is a coin from Panticapaeum dates (sic) to around 314-310 BC.
The illustration depicts not an ancient coin, but twelve old coins, mostly British pence with the reverse used in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Art Pantine repatination kits

A reader alerted me to the Art Patine web site, YouTube videos, and items of eBay seller la_vitrine_du_prospecteur. [A Google translation of the French site is available.]

Art Patine is selling a patination product for coins and antiquities, replica Roman coins (plus toy metal detector), and antiquities like this triple phallus.

As far as I know this is the first repatination product marketed directly to coin cleaners and replica merchants. The art of patinating isn't new, bronze artists have been doing it for centuries and there are even books such as Richard Hughes and Michael Rowe's The Colouring, Bronzing and Patination of Metals (1991) (I haven't read this.). I asked some zappers a few years ago about patination and they all insisted they don't do anything beyond reverse electrolysis.

If anyone is using this product I'd be interested in a review. I would also be interested in hearing from any bronze artists who patinate and want to guest-blog about it here.

I don't know much about detecting artificial patinas. Supposedly a real patina is thicker and often changes color or consistency with depth. Authentication seems to require destructively slicing into coins; I haven't been able to bring myself to do that. (It's also illegal damage antiquities in some countries). Does anyone out there have much experience with spotting artificial patinas?

Art Pantine also sells a product for silver plating coins (video here).

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Andrew McCabe visits a bookbinder

Andrew McCabe describes his visit to a bookbinder on Moneta-L.

The real toughies were Martini, Haeberlin and Goodman. Martini was a special case, a softback with superb but loose plates that I needed to get bound into a recovered hardback. After a debate during which the bookbinder asked me "is this a valuable book" (it is, very.) he decided rather than stitching into the existing paper of the plates, to make a separate attachement to each plate which will then get stitched in.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Israel to require collectors to register?

Cultural Property Observer comments on a Jerusalem Post story by Jonah Newman on new enforcement of a 2002 law jailing unregistered collectors for up to six months. Under Israeli law, a collector is anyone with 15 or more artifacts.

This seems like a huge pain for the Israeli government, especially if, as Newman reports, 100,000 citizens have 15+ artifacts and collectors can choose to receive an appraisal of the historical significance of their artifacts. Who writes appraisals of 1,500,000+ artifacts?

Cultural Property Observer hints that the mandatory registration in Greece has devolved into a system where only wealthy, “connected,” people become “registered collectors.”.

I don't know much about the Greek registration system. It's described here. Apparently, under Greek law, the collector is required to give the government photographs of every object and facilitate visits. The collector “shall be responsible for the unity of a collection. The collection may be dispersed upon permit granted by the Minister of Culture following an opinion of the Central Archaeological Council.” What does that mean? If a Greek collector decides to trade a coin with another registered collector do both need permission from the Central Archaeological Council? How often does it meet?

Greek collectors have some rights, for example they are entitled to “reproduce and dispose of photographs or other representations of their monuments.” Does this mean non-collectors cannot dispose of photographs? How do do non-collectors dispose of photographs they don't want anymore?

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Medals of Dishonor

I am not in London and unable to see Medals of Dishonor at the British Museum.

It's an exhibit of satirical and political medals from the 16th to the 20th centuries, including medals recently commissioned. The web site includes a gallery of 18 medals. TimeOut: London has a review.

OxbowBooks has the catalog for $30 and Amazon has it available for preorder.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Numismatists needed (for pay!)

The editors of Business Standard report “Jobs aplenty in archaeology dept, but no takers”.
There are many a job opening, with posts falling vacant regularly, but there are no candidates to fill them up. This is the plight of the Archaeological Survey of India ...


“The situation is still deplorable in this area. Across the country, there are hardly 3-4 numismatists left to study old and ancient coins,” he said.

Underling the urgent need to create a cadre of epigraphists and numismatists, Rao said the Vivekananda Institute of Indian Studies (VIIS) of which he is the director would start shortly programmes in Indian studies including epigraphy and numismatics in co-operation with the ASI and the directorate.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ancient 'love tokens'

In the 19th century coins were often used for engraving. They are called 'Love tokens' by collectors and there is even an eBay category for collectors of such items.

Ancient coins were sometimes modified in similar ways. They seem to be very rare, I've only found a few references to them. In the academic literature I found a short piece from Schweizer Muenzblatter vol 19 1969 p. 14, “Amulettarige Uberarbeitung eines spatromischen Follis” and a three page article in English by Brooks Emmons Levy, “Another Converted Roman Coin?” (Schweizer Munzblatter vol. 32 (1982), p. 40.

The first article features a Roman follis, the second a 30mm provincial from Antioch featuring Mên.

Ken Steiglitz illustrates a Ptolemaic coin with similar modifications on his web site. I also found a Bosporan coin with similar mutilation in an old CNG catalog. The coin pictured above comes from FORVM.

I would be interested in seeing pictures of similar coins, or speculation on the why this was done. It strikes me that the few examples I've found come from very different times and places, but have similar grooves. This could be because grooves are the easiest thing to cut, so everyone who mutilates a coin naturally does grooves.

FORVM attributed my coin as being from the Amphipolis mint. I don't know much about Alexander bronzes, does anyone know if this is correct? What is the diagnostic?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Peter Rosa on YouTube

Someone has made an animated slide show of Greek Coin replica dies made by Peter Rosa. The video is set to some classical music that I don't recognize.

There is also a Part 2.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Book Ripper Project,, has plans and software for a book scanner that costs $250 to build. With a human turning the pages it can scan 600 pages an hour.

The $250 cost is mostly two digital cameras, which you can also use for anything else you want.

(via TeleRead)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Paul-Francis Jacquier catalog 36 up

Paul-Francis Jacquier's catalog 36 (Summer 2009) is up. The sale features 775 (+79) lots of ancient coins and 380 lots of numismatic literature.

Looks like some good stuff. Lot 1043 is Price's The Coinage in the Name of Alexander the Great and Philip Arrhidaeus estimated at 225 euros.

I haven't bought coins from Mr. Jacquier but I have bought numismatic books and had no problems.

Network of scientific numismatic libraries to form

Founding Meeting in Glasgow
A new international network of scientific numismatic libraries is about to be establishing the International Numismatic Libraries Network (INLN). Its aims will be to coordinate common efforts (for ex. in developing cataloguing standards) and quite generally to distribute and to exchange informations.

The INLN includes already 25 numismatic libraries world-wide and will be founded formally at the International Numismatic Congress in Glasgow (2nd and 3rd September 2009).

For more informations, please contact Ans ter Woerds (Geldmuseum, Utrecht) or Elizabeth Hahn (American Numismatic Society, New York).
(via International Numismatic e-News (July 2009) [PDF] via the ANS Twitter feed)

I wasn't aware of International Numismatic e-News. It seems to be monthly and in English and German. The current issue (link above) previews the XIVth International Numismatic Congress in Glasgow and lists newly published numismatic books. The main web site,, seems to be German-only and I couldn't figure out if other issues of International Numismatic e-News are available. I did find an interesting German numismatic blog, Read it in English using Google's translator.

Cory Doctorow essay on public organizations shaking down the public for access to their own collection

Cory Doctorow's essay, “UK National Portrait Gallery threatens Wikipedia over scans of its public domain art” is featured on bOING bOING today.
... If you take public money to buy art, you should make that art available to the public using the best, most efficient means possible. If you believe the public wants to subsidize the creation of commercial art-books, then get out of the art-gallery business, start a publisher and hit the government up for some free tax-money.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Simon Wieland, Lars Rutten and Markus Beyeler launched today. It includes 300,000 ancient coin auction and sale records with photos.

The announcement says that the site had planned to launch later in the year, but “hurried a bit” to launch this week.

I wish them the best of luck! The site is visually pleasing. Unlike CoinArchives, if there are more than 1000 results it is possible to view them all. Unfortunately, only shows 20 coins per pages meaning a lot of clicking and scrolling when dealing with large query responses.

Lars and Simon's previous site was It will be interesting to see if they have any kind of cross-linking planned for the two sites. Currently Romanatic lets users search WildWinds and CoinArchives, and I'd expect an link can't be far away. It will be more interesting to see if they can come up with a way to automatically generate links from results to scholarly information on Romanatic.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009 to become a pay site

The great research tool, has removed 93% of it's content. A new pay site, CoinArchives Pro, will offer the old content. The new site has a $600/year subscription fee.

$600/year is a lot to host other peoples images and offer text searching over other people's text. I hope that the new venture is so successful that it inspires many imitators to offer better content at lower prices. (Meaning I lack the ability to explain to my wife where $600 goes every year, but maybe someone else will sell me access to old catalogs for $30/year).

CoinArchives Pro access might be worth this kind of money. We are talking 750,000 coin records. Compare to a full set of BMC Greek that costs $3000 and has only about 30,000 coins. I'm not saying CoinArchives Pro isn't worth $6000 for a decade of access, just that it will be tight budget-wise for me to find the money.

I wonder if the glossy catalog dealers, who produce catalogs at a loss for their customers, will see a jump in subscriptions because of this move?

Saturday, July 04, 2009


ISEGRIM is back at a new location,

For those who have never seen it, ISEGRIM is a complicated search engine over ancient coins from Asia Minor in the world's collections. It has no pictures. It can be cryptic to use because of it's 1980s-style text-based query language that uses German abbreviations. FORVM user Archivum has written a user's guide. The format is similar to Otfried von Vacano's Typenkatalog der antiken Münzen Kleinasiens (1986).

(via FORVM)

Laurens van der Maaten's automatic recognition of coins

RJO and Peter Tompa wrote to let me know about a press release, Computer Recognizes Archaeological Material And Fake Van Goghs by NWO (Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research).

The press release discusses the PhD thesis of computer vision researcher Laurens van der Maaten. Via Google, I learned that last week van der Maaten defended his PhD thesis Feature Extraction from Visual Data in conjunction with a symposium on 'dimensionality reduction'.

His personal web site allows download of Matlab extensions that implement his techniques and a technical report on how to use it.

I wrote to Dr. van der Maaten who provided me with an paper, “A New System for the Classification of Modern and Historical Coins”. The historical coin portion of the paper discusses an experiment using 4822 Merovingen coins from the Dutch Money and Bank Museum (AKA The Netherlands Mint Museum or Het Nederlands Muntmuseum.) The researchers (van der Maaten, Paul Boon, and Eric Postma) trained their computer using the Merovingen coins and then fed 50 different Merovingen coins into the system. The goal was to find coins “perceptually similar” in the training database. The image above is taken from that paper (and modified by me to show a single row of pairs.)

So, rather than trying to identify the ruler or inscription, the task was to find coins that looked similar in the opinion of 10 non-numismatist humans. The paper reports that the computer got 20% right "magnitude", 43% right "orientation". I think orientation was figuring out how to orient the coin (right-side-up) but I am not certain.

The research was supported by NOW/CATCH, a Netherlands program to develop innovative tools for accessing cultural heritage.

In a personal email, Dr. van der Maaten reported that in a database of 4000 Roman coins the computer got a good match for 50% of the queries. I assume the criterion are similar, a match that looks perceptually similar to non-numismatists, such as a similar imperial portrait facing in the same direction. The Roman database used in the experiments is online, RICH: Reading Images for the Cultural Heritage. (I was previously unaware of this database and encourage Roman coin collectors to try it out and send me their thoughts in the collection, and its presentation and web interface.)

A success rate of 20% to 50% doesn't sound great but it is pretty impressive! As with the COINS results discussed on this blog, I am curious to see if statistical problems boosted the success rate. Most Roman coins feature a man's head facing right on their obverses. A system that classified EVERY image as a man facing right might be rated as 25% success by non-experts. I look forward to the publication of the Roman results in detail.

An image and 38 second video of the Roman coin recognition can be seen here. It is either a silent movie or my PC doesn't have the right version of Quicktime to play the sound.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Greek and Roman Coins from the du Chastel Collection

I recently won a copy of Greek and Roman Coins from the du Chastel Collection (Callataÿ & Heesch, Spink: London, 1999). Originally published at £60.00, it's now remaindered for £20 (about $33) from Spink. I got mine on eBay from Charles Davis who still starts auctions below wholesale.

It's a well-researched and well-made catalog of mostly Greek coins. The 41 plates are great. The 819 coins, collected by count du Chastel are all exceptional. Unfortunately in numismatic publishing, mere quality does not translate into sales. It's hard to compete with free color dealer catalogs. The best book in a category, such as Roman Republican Coinage (still in print at $490!) or Roman Provincial Coinage can move copies at high prices, while the second-best book doesn't move at all unless heavily discounted.

du Chastel is great but it's best feature is the superb dust jacket. The dust jacket photograph, by Stephen Sack, is the best I've ever seen on a coin catalog. It's an extreme closeup of the reverse of a sestertius of Nero, featuring the emperor on horseback. Sack manages to get an 8” picture out of the center of a 35mm coin that looks like an artistic masterpiece of detail and patina and light.

The image isn't photoshopped. My understanding is that he spent months looking at hundreds of worn bronzes with interesting patinas under a microscope looking for the textures and images that eventually make it into his work.

Sack had a show of his fine-art coin photography at the British Museum. The catalog, Metal Mirror: Coin Photographs by Stephen Sack is mind-blowing. Although I missed the London premiere I saw the pieces at Ariel Meyerowitz Gallery in New York. Very impressive.

I believe the Ariel Meyerowitz Gallery is gone but a few of Sacks' coin works can are available on VCoins, like this peacock and this goddess.

I can't afford a €4,000.00 picture of a peacock no matter how much I might want it, though. I bought a second copy of the catalog intending to dismember it and mount several images in 8x10 frames. I couldn't bring myself to take the blade to the duplicate catalog, though!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Robotic coin dealers coming to Europe?

James Wilson's strangely-titled report, “Germans taste machines with Midas touch” for the Financial Times says
... Germans will soon be able to sate their appetite for the yellow metal as easily as buying a chocolate bar after plans were announced on Tuesday to install gold vending machines in airports and railway stations across the country.


A prototype vending machine on display in Frankfurt Airport on Tuesday appeared to be a converted version of the dispensers typically used to sell snacks. For €30 airport shoppers could buy a 1g wafer of gold, with a larger 10g bar priced on Tuesday at €245 and gold coins also on sale.


When the Financial Times bought the cheapest product it was dispensed in an oblong metal box labelled “My Golden Treasure”, with a certificate of authenticity signed by Mr. Geissler but no receipt and the wrong change. Mr. Geissler said he hoped to have a more advanced prototype available this month.


Friday, June 19, 2009

Numismata graeca: Greek coin-types, classified for immediate identification

Leo Anson's 1910-1916 work, Numismata graeca: Greek coin-types, classified for immediate identification, is now available from

This book attempts to publish a catalog of all Greek coins ordered by types. This makes it a useful work for identifying coins of unknown cities, especially those lacking inscriptions. 150 plates!

The work is similar to Richard Plant's Greek Coin Types and their Identification but it uses photos rather than drawings, doesn't illustrate all types, and doesn't index animal or god types.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Fakes of US coins getting better?

F. Michael Fazzari, “Chinese Fakes Get Harder to Spot Over Time”:

Today, excellent copies of U.S. Trade dollars and Flowing Hair dollars have been reported. From what I have seen, a "second generation" of these fakes is very deceptive.

While most Chinese counterfeits, such as the Morgan dollar illustrated here, will not pass inspection by a knowledgeable numismatist, those fakes often do. This is especially true when their surfaces are chemically altered or cleaned to simulate age.


Sunday, June 07, 2009

Software from COINS

I've written before about The COINS Project (Combat On-Line Illegal Numismatic Sales), a European Union sponsored effort “to enable the traceability of cultural heritage objects”. The project is developing “technologies aimed at allowing permanent identification and traceability of coins”.

COINS recently released software that attempts to compare and match coin photos against databases of coin photos. The newly released software comes in several pieces.

The key pieces are the Image Recognition Tool, said to be able to match a photograph against a database of coins, and the Shape Matching Package, which is apparently also for matching photos.

There is also a a web spider “to discover and identify stolen coins illegally sold on the internet” based on the open-source search engine Nutch. The spider comes with source code. It should robotically download all image files on a site and compare them against the database of coins. (My first reading of the search code did not impress me. I found code that looks for pages containing the word 'coin' or 'moneta' but I didn't find code to invoke image processing.) There is a user interface, which can be previewed here, for conducting simple searches of a coin database. For example, enter 'Alexander' in the simple query box, or 'eagle' in the iconographic query box. This Flash-based web interface is nothing special, and the spider's ability to search for stolen coins is only as effective as the photo-matching capabilities powering it.

A good image recognizer for ancient coins would be quite useful. It probably wouldn't help much to find particular categories of cultural property, such as ancient Cypriot and Chinese coins, as these are usually sold with descriptive text making photo recognition superfluous. Recognition technology would be useful to detectives for particular stolen coins and for computer-assisted die studies by numismatists.

I downloaded COINS' Image Recognition Tool (IRT) and loaded it with a database of 80 fake coins from my own photo-file. Although the IRT can compare images in popular formats such as JPEG the database only accepts greyscale TIFF files. I used Pierre Gougelet's free XnView to convert color JPEG files to greyscale TIFF.

I queried IRT using a fake image that wasn't in the database. I chose a cast fake Himera bronze, a type which gets past many dealers despite having been published as false in Wayne Sayles' Classical Deception. I had several of fakes from the same forger's mold in my database. The software coughed up five possible matches, with the highest being another coin of this type! (The other offered matches made little sense and were ranked poorly by the software.)

That seems like impressive performance. However, my database is small. Only 43 coins, or about half of the 80 coin database, correctly segmented as round. The other half of samples weren't exacted from the patterned background. Backgrounds that a human wouldn't even see, such as a finger, are not detected as expected by IRT.

The 4 non-zero matches returned in my first try represent 10% of the 43 coins whose edges were detected. Obviously a matcher that thinks 10% of the database matches a particular specimen is not yet trustworthy enough to assist law enforcement. Furthermore, the coin I first checked is a cast fake, so the geometry of the edge should help the software to detect matches more easily.

Oddly, the edge geometry didn't play a role. Although the correct match was found, the system believed a 60 degree rotation was needed. Actually the coins had the same orientation! (The picture at the top of this post is of this match.)

I tried genuine coins of different types than the fakes and got many false positives. The strength of the match is reported by IRT in the 'Matches' field. The two identical casts got 17 matches; a Ptolemaic bronze got 8 matches a shipping envelop with an eBay logo. I don't know what number is considered by the COINS scientists to be a good match.

I've just started playing with this software. I will try the Shape Matching Package next and report here on its accuracy. I invite other collectors experimenting with this software leave a comment on this post describing your success or failure matching coins using COINS' tools.