Volunteer Impressions (Winter 2005)

by Rick Witschonke

One of the important functions of the ANS is to support numismatic scholars worldwide in pursuit of their research. Even though the contents of the ANS collections and library are available on the web, there are many inquiries which require access to the actual object. And since many scholars are unable to visit the Society in person, we do our best to respond to their requests by mail and e-mail. This aspect of the ANS’s charter was brought home to me beginning in August, when requests for information from three scholars were passed along to me.

Rick checking coins for Alan DeShazo

In mid-July, we received a letter from Alan S. DeShazo, of Metairie, Louisiana, regarding an analysis of certain tetradrachms of Alexander the Great (one of the largest and most complex coinages of antiquity) which he was engaged in. Mr. DeShazo is not a professional scholar, but has written several important numismatic studies, including a joint article with Michael Bates on Islamic coinages. He has the rare ability to detect previously unnoticed patterns in a variety of coinages, and his current project involves the Alexander tetradrachms of Amphipolis with lambda control marks. He has devised a scheme of categorizing these issues, which he believes will enable us to date them much more precisely. In order to test his theory, he needs to populate a 9×11 matrix of issues based on subsidiary control marks and other characteristics.

The coinage of Alexander was a specialty of former ANS Chief Curator Edward T. Newell and, as a result, the ANS trays contain one of the largest collections of this coinage in the world, approximately 5,500 pieces, making the ANS an essential resource for anyone studying the coinage of Alexander. Upon reading Mr. DeShazo’s request, I thought that it would involve examining each of our specimens (a massive undertaking), so I suggested that he plan a visit to the Society to view the trays in person. He responded cordially, and requested that I just examine ten coins (for which he provided accession numbers from our database) from the mint of Amphipolis, and place them into his categories. I examined the coins and sent him the information he had requested, along with some data on related issues that I discovered. The categorization of one coin surprised him, so I sent him a scan of the coin to confirm. He then asked for categorizations of seven additional coins, which I sent on September 9. At that point, Hurricane Katrina intervened, and I heard nothing for several weeks. I e-mailed him again, inquiring as to his safety. Finally, in mid-October, I received word that he was OK, but that his house had been partially flooded and had to be gutted due to mildew and mold. He is living in Shreveport for the interim, but expects to get back to his research eventually.

Prof. Alberto Simonetta of Florence has published extensively on Parthian and Indo-Parthian coinages. In late July, he contacted the ANS, requesting assistance on the pre-Roman coinage of Cappadocia. He is working with the British Museum and the Cabinet des Medailles (Paris) to publish their collections of Cappadocian coins, along with his own. Prof. Simonetta requested scans of the ANS holdings, so that he could confirm his attributions, and note any unusual pieces in the ANS trays.

Upon checking, I determined that the ANS has approximately 220 pre-Roman Cappadocian coins, primarily regal silver drachms and civic bronze. I first scanned twenty-four of the coins and e-mailed them to Prof. Simonetta, to make sure the quality was adequate for his needs. I then scanned the entire group, and sent a CD with the images in early August. Inevitably, there was some confusion in matching the images with the ANS database entries and interpreting the legends on specific coins, so in late August and early September, we exchanged e-mails in order to resolve these issues. As of late September, the work is nearly complete, awaiting responses from a few more institutions. Several of the ANS’s specimens will probably be illustrated.

Also in July, Dr. Karsten Dahmen of the Berlin Muenzkabinett requested images of five ANS Roman Provincial coins of Pellene in Achaia. Dr. Dahmen is working with Dr. Achim Lictenberger of Muenster University on an article regarding these coins for the next issue of Boreas, the Muenster University Archaeological Journal. In early August, I sent Dr. Dahmen images of the five coins, along with comments on the reverse types. As it turns out, one of the ANS specimens is otherwise unknown, so Dr. Dahmen requested a digital photograph to include in the article, which I sent on September 22.

For me, responding to these inquiries was a very enjoyable experience. I was able to help three numismatic scholars and demonstrate once again the importance of providing access to the wonderful holdings of the ANS.