Current Cabinet Activities (Winter 2008)

by Robert Hoge

Following a period of inevitable curtailment due to our recent move to the ANS’s new headquarters, curatorial activities on behalf of members and the public have once more moved into high gear. As usual, we are asked to address a broad spectrum of issues, of which only a few may be offered here by way of illustration of the cabinet’s richness and fascination! Every area of numismatics has something to offer, as I hope these examples show.

The Ancient World

The ANS’s marvelous collections of coinages of the ancient world, as readers of this column are certainly aware, provide an outstanding resource for scholars and publishers. In a recent example, Wendy Cheshire ordered images of a copper drachm of Roman Egypt minted for Faustina Junior (ANS 1944.100.61531), the unusual spouse of the philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius (fig. 1), to illustrate a journal article. She also made use of images of several other coins in the cabinet, including an electrotype copy of a Seleucid tetradrachm of Cleopatra Thea from the mint of Akko-Ptolemais, a Roman sestertius of Gaius (Caligula) (fig. 2), and another Egyptian bronze of Faustina (fig. 3).

Fig. 1. Roman Egypt. Faustina II (Augusta AD 145-175). AE drachm, Alexandria, year 12 (of Antoninus: 148/9). Rev. Isis seated r., holding Harpocrates, within distyle temple. Dattari 3311. (ANS 1944.100.61531, bequest of Edward T. Newell) 35 mm.

Fig. 2. Roman Egypt. Faustina II (Augusta AD 145-175). AE drachm, Alexandria, year 15 (of Antoninus: 151/2). Rev. altar of Caesareum. Dattari 3305. (ANS 1944.100.61568, bequest of Edward T. Newell) 35 mm.

Fig. 3. Roman Empire. Gaius (Augustus AD 37-43), AE sestertius, Rome, 37-38. Rev. three sisters of Caligula, in the guise of Securitas, Concordia, and Fortuna. RIC 33. (ANS 1944.100.39337, bequest of Edward T. Newell) 35 mm.

Henry T. Hettger called attention to the Parthian gold coin imitation, found in a grave site, included in the Hidden Treasures of Afghanistan exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, in Washington, D.C. Dating from the first century BC to the first century AD, it bears an interesting countermark of a Parthian-style portrait, and one cannot help but wonder about its actual use and circulation, however unusual it may be. Another question about an ancient imitation, a late Roman piece, came from correspondent Ahmad Galal.

New York History and Margarita van Varick

Assistant Curator of American Art Marybeth De Filippis and Research Associate Leslie Gerhauser of the New-York Historical Society came to our facilities to review possible items for inclusion in an exciting upcoming exhibit to be featured at the Bard Graduate Center in cooperation with the New-York Historical Society. Planned to open next year, it is being prepared in celebration of the four-hundredth anniversary of the arrival of Henry Hudson on the scene of what was eventually to become New York. The interdisciplinary presentation will explore the relationships between the daily life of the early New Amsterdam/New York settlers and the world of international commerce. It will focus upon the 1696 testamentary inventory of one Margarita van Varick, whose descendant Richard Varick gave the family name to the street upon which the ANS facilities are now situated. A prosperous widow of both an early New Amsterdam officer of the Dutch Reformed Church and a former governor of four of the settlements of the Dutch East India Company, van Varick lived and died in the little frontier village Flatbush (now, and long since, a part of Brooklyn, New York). We will be working with the exhibitors to develop a numismatic component based on the van Varick testamentary inventory itemizations (fig. 4).

Fig. 4. Netherlands. AR marriage and prosperity medal, by Pieter van Abeele (1608-1684), Amsterdam, c. 1660. (ANS 0000.999.59151) 74 mm.

Early American Coppers Convention

At this year’s EAC convention, once again we were able to assist the “Boys of ’94” (fig. 5) in their effort to display a panorama of examples of specific varieties of the United States copper cents minted in 1794, the year of the greatest die variety usage. The focus was on the variety known as Sheldon 35. Interestingly, this is one of the issues for which the inscrutable and nefarious Dr. Sheldon seemingly obfuscated the provenance. The ANS is fortunate to hold four examples of this elusive variety, three of them from the great George Hubbard Clapp collection, of which one was stated by Sheldon to have been “unquestionably the finest known.” The “Boys” were seeking to feature examples of attractive coins that would show all stages of the progressive die breaks that characterize the variety (figs. 6–9).

Fig. 5. United States. 2008 EAC (Early American Coppers) convention, Dallas, Texas. The “Boys of ’94.”

Fig. 6. U.S. cent, 1794, S. 35. Perfect dies. Very dark—almost black—gray-brown patination. There are small marks on the obv.: (1) on neck, (2) on cap, and (3) below E and in r. mid-field. On the rev. there appear several rim “dings” appear around the top, and there are clear die clash marks. AU-50; CC-1. Plate coin in Chapman’s Cents of 1794 (1923). (ANS 1946.143.97, gift of G. H. Clapp, ex Henry C. Miller, 13-14 April 1917, 680; T. Elder; B. Max Mehl, June 1945)

Fig. 7. U.S. cent, 1794, S. 35. Obv. die break from rim through r. serifs of E through head to point of 4; from rim through cap to back of head. Rev. die clash marks. Dark, evenly brown patina, very slightly granular surfaces; small carbon spot in r. field. VF-30+. (ANS 1946.143.98, gift of G. H. Clapp, ex D. Proskey, to V. Brand; to Pearl Coll.)

Fig. 8. U.S. cent, 1794, S. 35. Same obv. die breaks as no. 2, above. Brown patination, some grayish areas; slight marks on cheek. VF-25+. (ANS 1946.143.96, gift of G. H. Clapp, ex E. S. Sears, Oct. 1922)

Fig. 9. U.S. cent, 1794, S. 35. Similar die state. Dark brown patina; miscellaneous “dings” and slight pits on obv.; rev. slightly rough. More worn, but still attractive. F-15. (ANS 1938.127.13, gift of the Defendorf Coll., ex Capt. Wilson)

An 1854-dated Kellogg & Co. San Francisco $20 gold piece, among other coins, was the subject of an inquiry from Paula Washburn, on behalf of her family. Such an interesting and valuable item of historic Americana does not turn up every day. Washburn reported that her coin was indeed gold, but that as a child, sad to say, she had intentionally scratched it. Of course, it is often necessary to submit such specimens to a third-party grading/authentication/encapsulation service to establish that the coin is genuine (and primarily to promote its marketability). Many of our correspondents do not realize that it is not possible to authenticate items from images alone, and that in fact, even if it were so, this is not a service in which the ANS engages. In the ANS collection itself, all the Kellogg 1854 $20 pieces are forgeries or replicas! Fortunately, we have two nice specimens of the 1855-dated issue, including a magnificent example from the Fecht collection (fig. 10), as well as the original dies, passed down through the Kellogg family.

Fig. 10. United States: California. Kellogg and Company, AV 20 dollars, 1855, San Francisco. (ANS 1980.109.2369, bequest of Arthur J. Fecht) 34 mm.

Francisco Silva inquired about the U.S. $100 legal-tender note issue of 1862, of which, unfortunately, the ANS does not own an example. Henry Quezada, on the other hand, wanted to know where he could find information on one-dollar Silver Certificates of the series 1935F, 1957A, and 1957B—more commonplace issues of which the Society does now have nice examples…. And then there was a Mr. Sapkota, from Nepal, who claimed to have found a U.S. $1,000,000 bill and did not care to be informed that no such note exists, insisting instead that he had already received a request for it from another museum, which must have meant that it was valuable. Mark Twain wrote a story about a million-pound banknote. I shall not attempt to go one better than that.

Foreign Exchange and Some Islamic Issues

Jon Blackwell, with COINage magazine, contacted us to obtain background information for preparing an article about coins of the era of Charlemagne: Islamic coins from the ‘Abbasid caliphate, the first papal coins, the coins of England’s King Offa of Mercia, the first Japanese coins, and so forth. Since the publication of the work by curator Henry Grunthal and visiting University of Chicago scholar Karl Morrison, the ANS has become well known as the repository of a fine collection of Carolingian coinages, which were largely developed by Grunthal during his tenure with the Society. The Society is also known to have a reasonably representative assortment of medieval English coins, including an outstanding run of Anglo-Saxon Stycas.

What is less well known to the world at large is the presence in the cabinet of one of the rare Carolingian imitations of the contemporary gold coinage of the ‘Abbasid caliphate (see ANS Magazine, Spring 2005, p. 37). Lutz Ilisch, curator of the Islamic coin collection at Tübingen University, assembled a catalogue and survey of eighth- and ninth-century dinar imitations, the title of which translates as “The Imitative Solidi Mancusi: ‘Arabic’ Gold Coins of Carolingian Times.” Since the famous gold dinar of the Anglian king Offa of Mercia (r. AD 757/8–796) is itself copied from the earlier imitation AH 157 (AD 773/4) prototype, it seems warranted to suppose that the Carolingian issues were minted under the great emperor Charles (r. AD 768–814) sometime between 774 and 796 (fig. 11).

Fig. 11. Carolingian empire (Charlemagne?). AV mancus (dinar), an imitation of a standard mintless dinar issued in AH 157 (AD 773/4) under the ‘Abbasid caliph Al-Mansur. Ilisch Group I. (ANS 1917.215.28, gift of Edward T. Newell from the collection of Prof. Charles Torrey) 18 mm.

Milan Iliev claimed to have discovered a unique gold coin of the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II (1876–1909) and hoped to be able to find more information about it. We are very fortunate to have in the ANS cabinet thirty-four gold pieces (and two counterfeits) of Abdul Hamid II, all part of the marvelous Jem Sultan collection formed by the late William Holburton and donated in 1997 by Olivia G. Lincoln. This collection was the basis for the famous Jem Sultan catalog, one of the leading references for Ottoman numismatics.

Working on a project for National Geographic magazine, Patricia Healy contacted us to obtain images of a Damascus-mint silver dirham of the famous Sultan Al-Nasir Salih al-Din Yusuf I (usually referred to in Christian references as Saladin), founder of the Kurdish Ayyubid dynasty and one of the most renowned leaders of the medieval world. Saladin has been a cultural hero of the Kurds for centuries (fig. 12). Now, in a time when they are beginning to have hopes for a degree of self-rule, his fame may serve the Kurds as a standard of honor and achievement. The ANS coin utilized by Healy is a notable specimen. Using a black-and-white photograph, evidently Paul Balog, in his classic study, erroneously listed this particular coin as a copper fals, assigning it in his catalog no. 143, an issue that does not actually exist. Properly catalogued as a dirham, the coin is really an example of Balog’s no. 93.

Fig. 12. Syria. Salih al-Din Yusuf II (AD 1169-1193). AR dirham, Dimishq (Damascus) mint, AH 583 (AD 1187/8). Balog 93. (ANS 1917.215.1199, gift of Edward T. Newell from the collection of Prof. Charles Torrey) 21 mm.

Nina Sweet, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, referred Dean Marler to us to help try to identify an item he found in the 1970s in the jungle of Borneo. Its images appeared to show an Islamic “pilgrim” token, perhaps from Java or Malaya, or maybe even Borneo itself; there were traces of legends in Arabic script. It would seem probable that a piece like this dates from the nineteenth or twentieth century, since traditional Muslims of longer ago would surely have been less likely to have depicted a living being. In India, such items are generically known as rama-tanka, meaning “temple tokens,” and most of them are Hindu rather than Islamic. For a Muslim, a token of that kind might have represented an offering having to do with a pilgrimage to some holy site, or perhaps even the obligatory hajj, the “once in a lifetime” pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca. An important reference for these is Irwin F. Brotman’s A Guide to the Temple Tokens of India, and items of this kind are also covered by Dr. Michael Mitchiner in his monumental publications on Oriental coins. (See the issue discussed in the Summer 2007 issue of this column.)

Some Medallic Miscellany

Referred to us by former ANS curator Dr. Alan M. Stahl, now in charge of the numismatic collections at Princeton University, Joan Piper contacted us with questions regarding one of the works by the great twentieth-century medalist Karl Goetz: his 1914 issue mocking the arrival at Marseilles of Indian and African troops in support of the Allies near the beginning of World War I (fig. 13). This is one of the series sometimes considered offensive in its racist caricaturing.

Fig. 13. Germany. Satirical-commemorative of the arrival of allied troops at Marseilles, AE medal by Karl Goetz, 1914. Kienast 138. (ANS 1979.38.192, Gift of Ira, Lawrence and Mark Goldberg) 58 mm.

Goetz used his considerable talent and energy to cast bas-relief aspersions on the enemies of his fatherland, often with evocative if controversial results. His famous medal alluding to the sinking of the Lusitania was perhaps the best-known example. While not as overtly racist as some of his other works, the “Marseilles” medal delivers an unflattering depiction of the British imperialist and his exotic foreign minions. The tartan-clad giant Brit appears to be scooping up the excrement of the Indian elephant on the reverse, with the expression ALL RIGHT! WEITER ZUM KRIEGSSCHUPLATZ (“Forward to the battlefield”).

Casey J. Terwilliger contacted us in the course of wondering about a medal inherited from his grandfather, a World War II veteran. This item, naming the prominent Dutch Renaissance scholar Desiderius Erasmus, matched a specimen in the ANS cabinet (fig. 14). Terwilliger had been able to learn of the presence of this specimen in the collection, as is now so often the case, by virtue of our vast online database. This specimen includes, as its obverse, a facing portrait of the humanist scholar, l., with the oddly displayed legend E/ RAS/ MVS/ RO/ TE/ RO/ DA/ MVS/ 14/ 69/ 19/ 69 around. On the reverse is a hand holding a quill pen, with the legend NON/ EST/ CONSTANTIA/ SEMPER/ EADEM/ LOQVI,/ SED/ SEMPER/ EODEM/ PERTENDERE (a quotation from Erasmus, “Constancy is not always to say the same thing, but always to persist in the same thing”). Five hundred specimens of this medal are said to have been issued.

Fig. 14. Netherlands. Commemorative AE medal celebrating the quincentennial of the birth of Desiderius Erasmus, by J. C. H., Dutch mint, 1969. (ANS 2001.11.89, gift of Donald Oresman) 50.4 mm.

Gerrit Gerritszoon—Erasmus—was the illegitimate son of one Roger Gerard, who became a priest, and a girl named Margaret, his housekeeper. Desiderius/Gerrit was probably born in 1469, as stated on the medal (or perhaps it was in 1466 or 1467), in Rotterdam, where he spent his early years (or possibly he was born in Gouda, where his father became a curate). Following the untimely death of his parents by bubonic plague, the young Desiderius/Gerrit received a monastic education and gained a reputation for his brilliant classical scholarship. Due to poverty, he reluctantly lived the monastic life and took holy orders but was then, on account of his exceptional abilities in Latin, given a position as secretary to the bishop of Cambray. With the bishop’s support, he was eventually able to pursue higher education, studying and teaching at the universities of Paris, Louvain, Cambridge, Turin, and Basel. Earning the distinction of being given a dispensation, by Pope Leo X, to depart from monastic rule, he lived as an independent scholar, though he was offered a number of esteemed academic positions.

Erasmus traveled very widely for his time and had many important friends and correspondents. One of the foremost critics of the abuses of the Catholic Church at the beginning of the Reformation, Erasmus nevertheless remained a loyal adherent due largely to his devotion to the concept of free will, which other early Protestant religious leaders typically rejected in favor of the idea that the destiny of the soul is preordained. He became internationally famous for his classical learning, his wit, and the quality of his writing, and is acclaimed today as the foremost exponent of Christian humanism.

A prolific writer, Erasmus prepared new editions of the New Testament in Greek and Latin, improving the style of St. Jerome’s vulgate. He was the author of many other works as well, perhaps the best known and most influential of which is his 1511 Stultitiae Laus (“The Praise of Folly”). Written in England, this phenomenal bestseller was originally entitled, in Greek, Morias Encomion—whereby the word for the “silliness” being commended can also be taken as a punning reference to the name of Erasmus’s English friend and companion, Renaissance man Sir Thomas More—the “man for all seasons”—with whom he was staying at the time.

The “Rock of Europe”

At the point where the Bosphorus reaches its narrowest point (about 660 meters) stands Rumeli Hisarı (“Rock of Europe”)—the Castle of Rumelia—built in 1452 by the Ottoman Turkish sultan Muhammad II, “the Conqueror” (Fatih Mehmet). He designed and constructed this vast achievement in military architecture the year before he used it to help conquer Constantinople. The fortress itself was said to have been actually situated on the location where the great Persian king Darius had supposedly reviewed his armies marching into Europe to chastise and conquer the Hellenes in classical antiquity. A fine example of medieval fortification, the edifice was designed to function in cooperation with Anadolu Hisar, the older castle on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, to cut off the Constantinopolitan communication lifelines to the Black Sea. One of Rumeli Hisarı’s old names was Boğaz-kesen: “cutter of the strait”—also translated as “cutter of the throat”!

A 1958 Turkish medal commemorating the restoration of the vast old fortress—a major European cultural project—was the subject of a recent inquiry due to the presence in the ANS cabinet of an example donated some years ago by my late friend Bill Spengler. The medal, issued in several metals and sizes, features on its obverse the turbaned bust of Muhammad II (Mehmet Fatih), r., with the legend FATİH SULTAN MEHMET/ 1430–1481. The reverse legend reads RUMELİ HİSARININ RESTORASYON HATIRASI/ 1958 (“In remembrance of the restoration of the Rumeli Hisar, 1958”) and shows a fine depiction of the walls, gates, and towers of the fortress (fig. 15).

Fig. 15. Turkey. Rumeli Hisarı restoration AE commemorative medal, 1958. (ANS 1969.169.2, gift of William F. Spengler) 77 mm.

After the fall of the city, the Rumeli Hisarı enjoyed no further real importance and reverted to secondary functions, later falling into ruin despite several repair campaigns. Its north tower became notorious as a prison—on occasion used especially for members of foreign embassies. Altogether, the castle spanned a steep valley with two tall towers on opposite hills and a third at the bottom of the valley, at the water’s edge, where a sea gate is protected by a barbican. A curtain wall, defended by three smaller towers, joined the three major ones, forming an irregular figure some 250 meters long by 125 broad at its maximum dimension. It is this projection of the fortress’s appearance that figures on the medal struck to commemorate the completion of the immense restoration effort that culminated in the reopening of the monument as a public attraction in 1958, with its museum opening to the public in 1960. The sultan himself selected the site of the Rumeli Hisarı, drew the general plan of the castle, and spent much time supervising the labor of the workmen he had collected for this purpose from the various provinces of his empire. Supposedly erected in only 120 days, it was possibly the first European fortress constructed with a view toward taking advantage of cannon. From the top of its three gigantic, octagonal/circular towers, the Ottomans could fire at long range, while a battery of cannon on the shore of the Bosporus could hit at close range any ship attempting to attack the fortress. The historical importance of the fort is underscored by Turkish president Celal Bayar’s selection of three talented pioneering female Turkish architects, Cahide Tamer, Selma Emler, and Mualla Anhegger-Eyüboğlu, to design and oversee the restoration project, which lasted five years.

Diocese of Philadelphia

An inquiry from Father Ed Brady, a priest with the Diocese of Philadelphia, involved a medal donated by a parishioner, a commemorative of the centennial of the Diocese dating from 1908 (fig. 16). The corresponding specimen in the ANS cabinet demonstrates that the medal is a product of the famous Newark, New Jersey, firm of Whitehead and Hoag, somewhat notorious in medallic-sculpture circles for routinely not having included recognition of its corps of artists on their products. Besides the groundbreaking articles some years ago by Eleaine Leotti, little has been published to date on this important body of work. (Medals author D. Wayne Johnson has been compiling a study of the works of this company, which will surely be a boon to researchers.)

Fig. 16. United States: Pennsylvania. Catholic Diocese of Philadelphia AE centennial commemorative medal, Whitehead and Hoag, 1908. (ANS 0000.999.45997) 51 mm.

Come for a Visit!

As the American Numismatic Society settles into its new home on Varick Street, we hope all members will come for a visit and to say “hello!” Our new, well-appointed facilities will be better able to serve researchers’ needs than ever before. And, as a reminder, we are again “up and running” to provide photography and other services for those who are not able to visit to conduct their inquiries in person.


Balog, Paul. The coinage of the Ayyubids. London: Royal Numismatic Society, 1980.

Chapman, Samuel Hudson. The United States cents of the year 1794. Philadelphia: S. H. Chapman, 1923.

Dattari, Giovanni. Monette imperiali greche. Numi Augg. Alexandrini catalogo della collezione G. Dattari, comp. dal proprietario. 2 vols. Cairo: Tip. dell’instituto francese d’archeologia orientale, 1901.

Ilisch, Lutz. Die imitativen solidi mancusi: “Arabische” Goldmünzen der Karolingerzeit. In Fundamenta Historiae: Geschichte im Spiegel der Numismatik und ihrer Nachbarwissenschaften: Festschrift für Niklot Klüßendorf zum 60. Geburtstag am 10. Februar 2004, ed. Reiner Cunz, 91–106. Veröffentlichungen der urgeschichtlichen Sammlungen des Landesmuseums zu Hannover 51. Neustadt an der Aisch: Verlagsdruckerei Schmidt, 2004.

Kienast, Gunter W. The medals of Karl Goetz. Cleveland, Ohio: The Artus Company, 1967.

Leotti, Elaine J. Artists who worked for Whitehead & Hoag. The medallist 6, no. 3 (December 1989): 4–8; The medallist 6, no. 4 (March 1990): 1–5; The medallist 7, no. 1 (June 1990): 2–8; The medallist 7, no. 2 (September 1990), 5–7.

RIC = Roman Imperial Coinage. Vol. 1, from 31 BC to AD 69. Rev. ed. by C. H. V. Sutherland; ed. C. H. V. Sutherland and R. A. G. Carson. London: Spink & Son, 1984.

Sheldon, William H., with the collaboration of H. K. Downing and M. H. Sheldon. Early American cents, 1793–1814: An exercise in descriptive classification with tables of rarity and value. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1949.