Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Odd surface on presumably fake coin

I show here two coins from the same die pair. The high grade example is a Bulgarian replica of a Neapolis stater. The damaged example was sold as genuine on eBay this spring.

This replica shows up being offered from time to time as genuine. This new example surprised me because the damage is so strange. Here is a close-up:

Several things are going on. Pieces are broken off! There is strange cracking that follows the shape of the gorgoneion. There is a lot of wear both normal and strange looking.

Has anyone else seen a coin with this coin of surface?

Friday, December 23, 2016

3D model of Kushan coin

The Institute of Archaeology of the University of Warsaw has provided a remarkable 3d scan of a Kushan bronze coin. The model was done by Otto Bagi and Sergi Mañas Jolis. Apparently photogrammetry was used to to infer the 3D coordinates.

I am inquiring what kind of equipment and software is needed to produce such models.

The team also has a nice model of an Alexander tetradrachm and a cupped Byzantine coin. All the models can be rotated and zoomed with your mouse or trackpad.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Is this 'panther' Cerberus?

Numismatic Naumann, auction 46, lot 182

Medusa is not the only creature in Greek mythology with snakes for hair. The monstrous dog Cerberus, who fought Herakles, had a mane of snakes.

Coin depictions of Cerberus (electrum hekte, Italian bronze, Roman aureus) show the monster with two or three heads but no snakes. Vases often show snakes.

There is an animal with snakes in its mane on a very rare Greek coin. This diobol (weight 1.08g, 11mm diameter) seems to depict an animal with a mane of snakes on the reverse. The animal has whiskers and triangular ears. The coin is rare; I have only been able to locate two other examples.

CNG e-334, lot 157
CNG 73, lot 419, no snakes

I suspect that this coin reverse depicts the head of Cerberus. In addition to the snakes, the ears resemble the ears of Cerberus on vase paintings. Some dogs have whiskers, and some Greek and Roman art shows Cerberus with a at least one lion head. Thus, none of the features rules out Cerebus. In addition, Cerberus is not always depicted with multiple heads.

The reverse is thus not a generic panther or lion as suggested by the catalogers of the coin example, but a rare depiction of Cerebus with a mane of snakes.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Identifying a bronze coin using Münsterberg

I purchased this coin in 2004 from Clark's Ancients. It had been identified as being from Abdera, like the first example on this CoinTalk thread. It did not look like that type. It had previously sold in 1980, and the tickets that came with it showed several unsuccessful attempts to ID the inscription.

I didn't even think the animal looked like a griffin. It looked more like a panther. I did some basic searching on sites such as Wildwinds, The ANS' DONUM, ISEGRIM, and dealer sites but found nothing.

There is an inscription, perhaps ΑΝΔΡΟΝΙΚ. Both the dealer and the collector, Biblical coinage expert James Lovette, had tried to identify the coin and failed. I spent a long time on it and got nowhere. I took another look at it this week and identified it in under an hour. The inscription ΑΝΔΡΟΝΙ? previously recognized by myself and the other experts appears in Münsterberg's 1911 book listing the names of Greek coins. I scanned the book with help from Pat Lawrence and put it on my web site 10 years ago!

The entry is here. (Interestingly, that link takes me directly to the entry in Chrome but in Safari 10.0.1 only to the top of the page.)

Münsterberg names ten cities: Ambracia, Adramyteum, Cyme, Teos, Rhodus, Saittae, Apamea Phr., Trapezopolis, Sala, and Laodicea, naming the magistrate Ἀνδρόνικος (Andronicus).

Back in 1911 the reader would have followed each entry to Münsterberg's entry for the city, which would cite the work the entry is to be found in. Today it is much easier just to go to popular ancient coin search engines, like Wildwinds. I searched all those cities again, and nothing resembling my coin showed up.

At this point I SHOULD have fallen back on using the book as Münsterberg had intended. I had failed at that before. I went to my next identification technique: flipping through all the volumes of SNG Copenhagen looking for a match. I found a similar coin in the Epirus volume, for Ambracia, naming a different magistrate. This match gave me the strength to search Ambracia again, and a Google Image search for 'Ambrakia Griffin' turned up this sales record.

Where did I go wrong with Münsterberg? His first reference is to 'Rollin n. 3160'. This is where I had gotten stuck in 2004. Since that time HathiTrust Digital Library has scanned and placed online the 1864 catalog by coin dealers Rollin and Feuardent. The entry for #3160 gives the reverse as 'Griffon marchant à dr.; dessous, ΑΝΔΡΟΝΙΚ' and gives a price of three francs. So a match was found.

Because the type is rare and low-value no examples with photos exist on ancient coin database sites. The example found on the dealer aggregator VCoins was found through a Google search. (VCoins itself doesn't allow sold coins to be searched for.) The ANS and British Museum both had examples in their databases, but neither had photos or inscriptions recorded, so I didn't find them. I was unable to find any examples naming the magistrate Andronicus.

The coin itself is very thick. I am surprised it was assigned 238-168 BC by Percy Gardner in his 1883 catalog. I suspect much earlier. I was wrong about the panther — on better examples the wings of a griffin can be seen.

Why am I going into such detail? I think it is important to share techniques for using the numismatic research tools. I spent over 100 hours putting up Münsterberg a decade ago and I haven't gotten a single question about using it. I can think of many simple improvements (dropping the lower case Greek letters comes to mind!) and extensions. No one in my circle seems to make them to me.

What tools are people using to identify coins? What do you like and dislike about them?

Friday, October 07, 2016 should be back should be back online. It is now hosted by Amazon.

Monday, October 03, 2016 will be back soon

My web site is down. I hope to have it up again tonight. Until then, you may access the AWS mirror.

It was not hacked. The operators shut it down because it went over quota. It is apparently under attack by a virus.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Collectors have the opportunity to comment against Cypriot import restrictions

Ancient coins struck in Cyprus before 235 AD cannot be imported into the United States unless they have an export permit from the Government of Cyprus or documentation they left Cyprus before July 16, 2007. It is believed that no export permits are granted for coins. So American collectors can typically only buy coins from US-based dealers.

This policy, the “Memorandum of Understanding” between the US and Cyprus, is up for review. The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild is suggesting collectors send public comments to the US Government by September 30th. Our hope is that if enough pro-collecting comments are heard a way will be found for some categories of Cypriot coins whose history cannot be tracked before 2007 to enter US collections.

I object to coins appearing in the Memorandum between my government and Cyprus. It is not because I hate all regulations! I object to it because a 100% ban for coins that lack pre-2007 publication means there is no motivation for collectors, archeologists, and the people of Cyprus to have a dialog on different rules that would let us work together.

To me it is obvious that medium-cost export licenses combined with cash rewards for reporting unlicensed antiquity exports would put a halt to the problem. If I don’t object to a simple renewal of the MOU there won’t even be a chance to for folks such as myself to even propose something different than the blanket ban.

If you think ANYTHING other than a blanket ban on coins is appropriate please leave comments asking for coins to be reconsidered in the renewal.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The gorgons of Mallos part 3

Antiochos IV, Uncertain mint (Mallos?), 175-164 BC
(Münzen & Medaillen Auction 30, May 2009 “Roland Müller collection”, lot 706) 1.56g 11mm

Web sites and reference books for Greek coins group the coins by city. For example,'s Mallos entry contains the coins struck under the authority of Mallos.

The typical arrangement skips over coins struck under the authority of a king and used in the city. For Mallos Wildwinds shows nothing for the centuries between a stater of Balakros (struck some time between 333 and 328 BC) and coins of Caligula (struck AD 37-41). Coins issued from 328 BC to 100 BC at Mallos will be hiding in catalogs of Seleukid coins.

The coin at the top of the post depicts a side view of Medusa. The reverse shows Nike standing left holding wreath. Arthur Houghton and Catherine Lorber and Arnold Spaer place the type under the mint at Mallos. [SNG Spaer (1998), p. 150 #1006]. They connect Medusa to the aegis of Athena Magarsia, not to the earlier tradition of gorgoneions at Mallos.

The Gorgons of Mallos

Monday, September 12, 2016

It will soon be difficult to sell autographed slabs in California

David Siders reports for the Sacramento Bee that California Governor Jerry Brown has signed a law with a lot of new requirements for selling autographed items (such as books and coin slabs) in their state.

The bill was promoted by Assemblywoman Ling-Ling Chang, and Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker. The full text of the law is here and I could not understand it. I I have seen nothing about this law on numismatic trade web sites.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Strangest ancient coin I've seen this month

A very unusual reverse on an ancient Greek diobol! The reverse side literally depicts the lion's tail end.

Typically on ancient Greek coins it is the front half of the animal that appears. The front half is called a 'protome'. There is no word for the back half appearing, as there hasn't been a need.

From today's Numismatik Naumann auction (lot 181). I am neither the buyer or seller.

Friday, August 26, 2016

US Department of Justice settles with accused counterfeiters

See part 1

Real or fake US coins?

Joe Palazzolo, writing for Wall Street Journal blogs, reports that the United States Justice Department has settled with three scrap metal importers.

The importers had been accused of sending counterfeit coins with a face value in the millions of dollars to the US mint for reimbursement through the mint’s Mutilated Coin Redemption Program.

The settlement terms were not disclosed. The Justice Department had wanted five million dollars and a Porsche.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The gorgons of Mallos part 2

Part 2: The uninscribed Earring Gorgons

See Part 1.

In 1883 Imhoof-Blumer published a rare gorgon/sphinx obol in his book Monnaies grecques and proposed that it was minted at Nagidos. 130 years later there is still no agreement on the mint of origin. In the catalog for Obolos 5, Alan Walker speculated that the sphinx/gorgon obol type could be from Mallos.

This is the type I wish to discuss:

Classical Numismatic Group e-Auction 174, October 2007, lot 57

Mallos has been suggested before. Jan Six offered Mallos as a possible mint for the gorgon/sphinx and gorgon/head obols in his 1885 thesis. Although his suggestion is no longer cited I believe his attribution is correct. This gorgoneion greatly resembles the gorgoneion on bronze coins of Mallos. The arrangement of the hair is identical, and the triple earring matches. Those bronze coins are dated to 400-300 BC. It’s tempting to assign these fractions to the same period due to the resemblance and the lack of an incuse reverse. These pieces lack an ethnic and could perhaps be earlier.

The bronze type with ΜΑΛ inscription has the same style gorgoneion

Six’s suggestion of Mallos was not accepted. George Hill pointed out in 1900 that the sphinx is depicted identically to the throne-supports on the staters naming a Persian satrap Pharnabazus with inscription ΝΑΓΙΔΙΚΟΝ for Nagidos "confirming" the Imhoof-Blumer's Nagidos attribution and overshadowing Six's. Imhoof-Blumer’s recanted the Nagidos attribution in favor of the mint Aphrodisias in 1931. Mallos was not mentioned again.

The throne supports depict a similar sphinx

This style of gorgon is unusual. It also occurs on similar obol.
SNG Levante #249

There are two unique coins that also match the style, a tiny fraction gorgon/sphinx and a unique gorgon/eagle from the D. Klein collection.

It's tempting to consider the uninscribed gorgoneion obols as originating at Mallos based on similarity of style to the bronze coin. The obols of Mallos demonstrate huge variety so it is clear the mint had the desire to make a lot of different issues instead of repeating the same type. Yet it would be more satisfying if we could connect the gorgoneion to Mallos for some reason so let us now enter the realm of wild speculation.

Homer’s Odyssey places the gorgoneion in Hades. A hot spring may seem to be an entrance to Hades. The scholar J. H. Croon believed coins depicting gorgons correlate with mints near hot springs. Croon noted twenty-seven Greek cities with Gorgoneion coins; out of these there are eleven where hot springs occur. Croon followed E. S. Hartland’s theory that Perseus was linked in ancient times to hot springs and believed those legends confirm his hypothesis. (The folktale connection is dubious; Hartland’s chapter on wells includes only tales far removed from the Perseus myth.) Croon managed to get a paper into the Journal of Hellenistic Studies in 1955 connecting hot springs and Greek mints striking gorgon types.

Was there a real, physical entrance to the mythic underworld at Mallos? I am not sure. The location of Mallos is unclear. It was at the month of the Pyramus river but the river has since moved. The mouth has silted up and thus the coast itself also moved. There is a hot spring at Duzici Haruniye Ilicasi on the Pyramus but I have no idea how far it was from ancient Mallos.

Mallos was founded by the seer Mopsus. The editors of Wikipedia write that at Mopsoukrene, the "spring of Mopsus", [Mopsus] had an oracular site. Was this a hot spring or even a spring emitting mysterious underworld narcotic gasses similar to the set-up at Delphi?

The idea that Mallos used the gorgon as its type to advertise its hot spring or oracle is probably nonsense. I am not suggesting that a hot spring proves Mallos struck the uninscribed gorgon obols, merely adding another mint possibility to Croon's list.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The gorgons of Mallos

Part 1: Was a gorgon featured on the earliest coinage of Mallos?

Classical Numismatic Group, e-auction 174, October 2007, lot 55.

Sometime around 400-300 BC the Greek city of Mallos issued a small bronze coin depicting the gorgon’s head on the reverse.

This bronze type was first published by Imhoof-Blumer. His attribution to Mallos is based on the ΜΑΛ inscription on the reverse of most specimens.

The head on the obverse is identified as the river-god Pyramos, who gave his name to the river Pyramos, because of the letters PY on some specimens. (Imhoof-Blumer identified the young head as “probably” Triptolemos, and that identification appears in older catalogs.)

This wasn’t the only coin from Mallos with a gorgoneion. A very rare obol (four specimens known) in the collection of the American Numismatic Society also features a gorgoneion on the reverse.

The head on the obverse of this coin was identified as Zeus Ammon by the ANS cataloger, but in my opinion could as easily by a river god as on the bronze coin. The silver coin has the inscription Μ-Α-Ρ. It seems strange to see a Greek rho instead of lambda in the abbreviation for Mallos, but the early coins of Mallos did abbreviate the city’s name that way.

Another obol depicting a gorgon was recently sold in a German auction. The type has not been associated with Mallos, but the inscription seems secure. This type is as rare as the first, with only 3 or 4 specimens known.

  • Numismatik Naumann, Auction 45, lot 154
  • Classical Numismatic Group, e-auction 338, lot 103
  • Classical Numismatic Group, e-auction 274, lot 160

Incredibly, the reverse looks exactly like the coinage of Athens. The only difference is the inscription, ΜΑΡ instead of ΑΘΕ.

The style of the gorgon is on this gorgon/owl type matches almost exactly the head/gorgon type. Both gorgons have four pronounced upper teeth and then smaller teeth to either side. The nose and brow are similar. The hair is similar.

The similarity with the coins of Athens doesn’t end there. Athens struck obols featuring a gorgoneion as well. For example, here is one in the collection of the American Numismatic Society.

This coinage of Mallos seems to mule two types associate with Athens. Why?

But wait, there’s more! A very mysterious coin of unknown origin looks very similar to the Mallos/owl coinage.

Classical Numismatic Group, e-auction 174, Lot 73

This unique obol has the ΑΘΕ inscription seen on coinage of Athens! One expert thought the Hebrew letter G, for Gaza, appears on it. There is some precedent for the types in the region. For example CNG 63, Lot 780 also features a gorgon/owl.

The gorgon/ΑΘΕ is poorly preserved but it seems very similar in style and fabric to the Mallos gorgon/ΜΑΡ. It does not resemble the Samarian gorgon/owl. It seems likely that it came from the same place the made the gorgon/ΜΑΡ. If so, it must have been very early, before mint officials realized they must use their own city’s name on its coinage.

The coinage of Mallos is traditional dated as commencing circa 425 BC. The gorgon/incuse obols of Athens are dated 520-509 BC, with the Athena/owl coinage starting soon after that. 425 BC seems much too late for a city to strike the wrong inscription on it's coinage. If the gorgon/ΑΘΕ coinage is a blundered product of Mallos it must be commence early in the fifth century BC, and be among the earliest coinage of the city.

Monday, July 25, 2016

New interview with Frank Bourassa

Brigitte Noël has interviewed counterfeiter Frank Bourassa. Bourassa's crimes were previously detailed by Wells Tower for GQ. This World's Greatest Counterfeiter created $200,000,000 or $250,000,000 of counterfeit US $20 bills.
... Frank dropped $125,000 on a four-color Heidelberg offset printer. His arsenal of equipment also included a $24,000 single-color Heidelberg (for test batches); two platen presses for embossing and applying color-shifting foil; an industrial paper cutter; platemaking equipment; counting machines; strapping machines; twenty or so Ricoh ink-jet printers...
The Canadian justice seems is surprisingly lenient. “In the end, he would serve a six weeks sentence and pay a $1,350 fine.”
The world's best counterfeiter now runs his own enterprise, offering consulting services to help businesses thwart counterfeiters.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Provenance search service

A press release from Ex-Numis informs us that a company has been formed to search out lost coin provenances.

The Ex-Numis web site tells us that it will cost 5 Swiss francs (about US$5) to submit a coin image to the service. Then, if provenance is found in the company's database of coin records there will be an additional fee of 25 or 50 francs to learn what the provenance is.

New subscribers to the service can get a 25 franc credit.

I would be curious to know if any readers of this blog have tried the service and what their results have been?

Ex-Numis claims to have a database of nearly one million coin records. For comparison, the free search tool claims to have 2.8 million records. The subscription-bsed claims to have 'millions'. Both of these sites focus on recent sales. The American Numismatic Society's photo file, which predates the Internet, has 600,000 records.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Keep The Change: A Collector's Tales by Harley J Spiller

Keep the Change is a curious book written by Harley J. Spiller, also known as Inspector Collector.

The full title is Keep the Change: A collector's tales of Lucky Pennies, Counterfeit C-Notes, and other Curious Currency. 112 pages, softcover. $19.95. The heart of the book is eight essays on Spiller's numismatic interests. His main collection is of damaged coins he received in change at face value. He is also interested in money manipulations by artists.

Spiller seems to be doing well with his hobby. He secured a table at the Wall Street Bourse coin show at the Museum of American Finance just to show off his collection and sell these books.

The book is severely limited by Spiller's emphasis on the material he collects and the events he was physically present for. He doesn't hunt for material on auction floors but waits to receive it in change. The book lacks ancient coins, which I have found much more likely to be damaged and corroded in interesting ways. Spiller's New York focus is also limiting: there are no non-US coins, and the chapter on burning money does not even mention The K Foundation!

I wonder where Mr. Spiller will go next. Ancient coins would be a good fit for him, as they often have very interesting corrosion collectors of ancient coins have a culture of acceptance of fine patinas. I gave Mr. Spiller a copy of the catalog of Stephen Sack's Metal Mirror with best wishes in the hopes of getting him interested.

It is difficult to assemble a collection at face value over a single human lifetime and for that we must commend Mr. Spiller for not losing focus. I recommend the book for anyone interested in either the intersection of Contemporary Art and Money.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

India considers banning the melting of ancient coins

An article by Shakti Singh in The Times of India quotes Indian Minister of State for Chemicals and Fertilizers Hansraj Ahir promising to “Pursue with the government the need to frame rules to prohibit melting of ancient coins.”
"I personally believe that melting such precious heritage is a cruel act and the government should work on making strict laws to stop it from happening," he said. "Ancient coins which form a very important proof of ancient civilization have been underrated by several generations. All they see is the value of metal the coin holds," said Ahir while addressing a three-day first international seminar on 'Gupta coinage' organized by the Coin Society of India ...

The article also quotes the former president of the Numismatic Society of India, S. K. Bose, who credits the work of coin societies in raising awareness. “Instead of melting coins [people] are coming to us to know the historic value of such coins.”

(Note that the Indian Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972 allows ancient coins to be sold within India. Coins 100 years or older require permission to be exported. Think twice before trying to rescue coins dated 1916 and earlier from

Sunday, January 03, 2016

An imitation of Perseus/Pegasos?

Mithridates the Great issued thick bronze coins depicting Perseus wearing a Phrygian cap with griffin head decoration, and Pegasos on the reverse.

Classical Numismatic Group

Recently bronze coins of Mithridates have been appearing on the market in large quantities. Among them I spotted two coins with odd style. I believe they are imitations.

On the aegis/Nike example, the head of Medusa has a mane rather than the usual human hair. The visible part of the ΑΜΙ-ΣΟΥ inscription has the M and I connected. The same seller had other odd-style aegis/Nike bronzes for sale.

The Perseus/Pegasos bronze above seems to have an odd style as well. Perseus has a pointed noise. The griffin on the hat seems to be just a few lines. The inscription seems blundered.

Unfortunately, the coin has been triple-struck and is also quite worn. So it is hard to be sure what was really on the die and what is just damage caused by the strike.

To me the portrait looks really odd. Perseus lacks the serious expression seen on Mithridates coinage. I suspect this to be a Skythian imitation of the Perseus/Pegasos coinage of Amisos rather than an official issue.

The head of Perseus, on the official issues, is considered by scholars such as Barclay Head as depicting not merely Perseus but “Mithradates VI as Perseus”. If so, and if I am not delirious when I see the coin under discussion as Skythian, then it is possible that the new coin depicts Mithridates the Great as his Skythian subjects saw him.