Islamic Curator’s News (Spring 2004)

by Michael Bates

A British scholar’s inquiry led to some unexpected information about Howland Wood, Curator of the ANS collection from 1913 to 1938. It seems that “a friend” purchased some old papers on slavery and gave them to Wood. They included a slave autobiography by ‘Umar b. Sa’id that soon became rather famous after its publication in the American Historical Review, 1925. ‘Umar was an educated man, a religious scholar, who was swept up in a slave raid and came to the United States as a slave, known as “Morro” to his masters. His autobiography was handwritten in Arabic.


Howland Wood with the Society’s Swedish copper plate 8 daler coin (ANS 1914.81.1, gift of Emerson McMillan). Copper, about 14 kilograms, 590 x 290 mm. The photo may have been made at the time of the gift, May 1, 1914.

Dr. J. R. Fairhead, an historian/​anthropologist at the University of Sussex, sent this information, with the added news that ‘Umar’s autobiography and other documents had been discovered in the attic of Wood’s grand-daughter in Virginia. Originally, they had been collected by Theodore Dwight (1796-1866), who became interested in the several publicized examples of literate educated slaves who had been brought to America. Dwight was active in the American Ethnological Society, as well as in the anti-slavery movement. Among the documents, for example, was Dwight’s correspondence with the early presidents of Liberia, the West African nation founded by Americans in 1847 as a refuge for freed slaves. Dwight interviewed several of the literate slaves, including ‘Umar b. Sa’id, and collected a mass of information on the phenomenon, most of which, disgracefully, was never published. Much of his documentation and notes has disappeared.

Dr. Fairhead is researching the discovery by European-Americans that the slaves brought from Africa were not mere “savages,” but included men of education, literacy, and intellect, and the implications of that discovery for the history of the anti-slavery movement (one simple result was co-operation between the friends of slaves in the U.S. and the missionary movement in the Levant, which possessed a supply of Bibles translated into Arabic). He was kind enough to send a draft of his current article, “Early Encounters Between America and Guinea: Nineteenth Century West African Arabic texts in the United States,” which makes interesting reading.

Dr. Fairhead’s basic questions for us were two. First, does the ANS have more Wood papers about slaves of Muslim background? The answer seems to be no, although preparations for our move to William Street have turned up lots of unexpected items, and there may be more surprises. A second question is the identification of the friend who acquired the manuscripts for Wood’s use. It might have been Edward T. Newell, but we were able to suggest another plausible candidate, Elliott Smith, President of the New York Numismatic Club in 1914-15 and a frequent donor to the Society’s collections between 1914 and 1941 (his wife and his son David Elliott Smith were donors subsequently, and the latter produced several numismatic articles in the 1950s). One of his collecting interests was slavery-related material, resulting in his 1928 gift of 101 medals and tokens relating to slavery, including some of the greatest rarity and historical interest, which still are nearly all kept together in their own tray.


New York Numismatic Club Presidential Medal, Elliot Smith, 1914-15. Obverse by John M. Swanson (reverse, by V. D. Brenner) (ANS 1960.4.1, gift of Henry Grunthal). Bronze, 39.3 grams, 38 mm.


United States. The Colored American Institute of the State of Penna. Awarded to M. A. Augustine for Vest Shirts (ANS 1928.25.12, gift of Elliot Smith). Engraved Silver, 31.8 grams, 46 mm.

Was Elliott Smith the wealthy friend who purchased materials from Theodore Dwight’s nachlass for use by Howland Wood? Did Wood have other materials of this nature? Because part of our library is already packed for moving, the answers to these and other questions will have to await the future. Readers who can contribute to the search are welcome to do so.

A medieval penny offered on eBay with IOHANNES DUX as the only legible inscription led Ralph Cannito to write me for assistance. “John the Duke” is not a very helpful beginning. Although it doesn’t suggest any famous historical figure (other than John Wayne), lots of dukes and lots of men named John (Jean, Johannes, Giovanni, etc.) are named on medieval pennies. Despite this, and against my expectation, our curatorial database solved the problem, after a couple of tries. Selecting medieval coins with “dux” in the obverse inscription (the shortest, clearest, and rarest search term is always the safest) brought up 255 records. When these were sorted alphabetically by ruler, there turned out to be only seven with a name cognate to IOHANNES. All of them were coins of someone named Jean, Duke of Brittany, and of these, two were issues of Jean le Roux (“Red John”), 1237-86, with the same obverse inscription as the eBay coin, and with BRITANIE and the ducal arms on the reverse. In the tray, there turned out to be five of these variously labeled over the decades, leading to an updating of the descriptions and scans of all five. The keywords “jean le roux” will display the results on our webpage.


France: Brittany. Duke Jean I (1237-1286), AR denier. Roberts 4611 (ANS 1967.182.186, gift of Douglas P. Dickie) 19 mm.

Robert Hoge found some historical background: Jean’s father Pierre Mauclerc (“Peter the Bad Scholar”), placed upon the ducal throne by Philip Augustus of France when he seized the region from the English, was the first of the line of Dreux-Montfort-the family who ruled Brittany until the region was subsumed by France in 1532. Our “Red John” went on crusade in 1270. Specimens of his coinage, attributed to the Vannes mint, are listed as no. 4611 in the splendid catalogue by Roberts, 1996, which has helped popularize the field and make it more accessible to many students and collectors. In the classic work of Faustin Poey-d’Avant, this is no. 363.

A new exhibit of art from the Hispanic Society of America was a major project of the fall. Our neighbor the HSA, for the first time in its existence, will loan a part of its coin collection for an exhibit outside its own building. “Caliphs and Kings: The Art and Influence of Islamic Spain” will be at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of the Freer Museum of Art, part of the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington from May 8 to October 17, 2004. It will include treasures never yet exhibited, at the HSA itself or anywhere else.

How does the ANS come in? Archer M. Huntington, the founder of the HSA and refounder of the ANS, had a huge collection of coins of Spain, Portugal, their colonies and ex-colonies, assembled in large part through the purchase of other collections. This he donated, for reasons that are not known, to his Hispanic museum, not to his numismatic museum which had the resources and personnel to store a coin collection and make it available for study and viewing. This anomaly was partially rectified in 1948, during Huntington’s lifetime and at his direction, by the permanent loan of the collection to the ANS. George C. Miles, who played such a large role in the Society’s activities in the mid-20th century, was assigned to produce a series of volumes cataloging the collection. Before funding and time ran out, he wrote three, covering the coinage of the Iberian peninsula for half a millennium, from the arrival of the Visigoths until the Mur~bi (“Almoravid”) conquest.


José López Mezquita, Archer Milton Huntington (1930). Courtesy of the Hispanic Society of America.

At first the collection was subject to various restrictions placed by Huntington: originally, it had to be kept separate from the ANS collection and could not be illustrated (except in the HSA catalogue series) or exhibited, but with time all these rules were gradually relaxed. In 1957, after Huntington’s death, another large parcel of coins belonging to him were found and loaned to the ANS. These needed to be sorted, identified, labeled, and integrated with our main collection, a job I finished, as regards the Islamic coins, as Assistant and Associate Curator in the 1970’s. In recent years the HSA has begun to alter its policies, and objects from their collections have been on loan to other museums. We are very pleased that this change now allows this first, major loan of coins from the HSA to another museum.

Most of the coins are Islamic, but there are also two rare late Visigothic coins that the Arabs would have encountered when they arrived, and nine medieval Christian Spanish coins showing Arab influence. In fact, the star coin of the lot is a 50 excelentes gold coin of Ferdinand and Isabella. At most, there are three surviving examples of this issue, which possibly has never before been exhibited publicly.


Spain: Ferdinand and Isabella (1475-1504) AV 50 excelentes, Seville mint, ca. 1497-1504. Cayon 2849. (HSA 1001.57.2040, Hispanic Society of America loan). 175.9 grams, 66 mm.

What is involved in putting together an assembly of coins for an exhibit like this one? Usually the curators who approach us for a loan know little or nothing about coins. In this case, Dr. Heather Ecker, the Sackler Visiting Curator, had a general knowledge of Islamic coins, having brought two Columbia Islamic art classes to the ANS for a general introductory lecture on Islamic numismatics, but she was not familiar with Spanish coins. I’m no expert on that country’s numismatics, but fortunately I once organized a coin display covering the entire era of Muslim rule in Spain, as part of a Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibit, and wrote the section of the catalogue on the coins. On another occasion, I wrote a description of the Spanish Islamic coins in the Society, including those of the HSA. Using these and other references as our guides, Dr. Ecker and I spent hours looking through the coin trays for items that would complement the rest of the show, ending up with 52 coins in all, from the very earliest Spanish Muslim coins with Latin inscriptions to the last coins of Arab Granada, as well as the eleven Christian coins mentioned above.


Spain, Umayyad Caliphate of the East, 711-50). AV solidus, dated Roman year 11, Hijra year 94 (712-13 CE). Balaguer, p. 234 no. 11 (this coin). (HSA 1001.57.1255, Hispanic Society of America loan). 3.5 grams, 11 mm.

Once the preliminary selection for an exhibit is made, each object has to be examined and fully described. This often means updating the ANS computer record for the object. That sounds simple, but when the original database was created, only the basic classification information was entered, along with any notes on or in the object box, leaving it to a future occasion to add fine detail. When a coin is to be loaned out, the future occasion becomes now. Exhibit labels and catalogue descriptions have to reflect the latest and best scholarship on the subject. The catalogue will probably include full details, such as the complete inscriptions on the coin. In this case, Dr. Ecker was able to do much of the decipherment, but there were problems that challenged both our abilities. I also scanned all the coins, so that we would both have images to work from (all the images can be seen on our collection web site, but there is no way to select only those that will be exhibited; use “Spain” or another appropriate keyword and check the box to show only records with an image). Naturally, there were additions and deletions to the original list.

When the list is final and the descriptions are as correct and complete as may be, all the materials go to Dr. Elena Stolyarik, our Collection Manager, who, we are thankful, takes care of all the paperwork and correspondence to get the objects from our museum to theirs, and safely back again. For this particular exhibit, the process is complicated by the participation of three institutions, but our colleagues at the HSA have been splendidly helpful. As this is written, the coins are about to leave for Washington. While Dr. Ecker and the Sackler deal with installation, we at the ANS only have to wait for the opening reception. The show should be brilliant, and well worth the trip to Washington.


Spain, Nasrid Sultans of Granada. Muhammad IX (1428-30). AV mithqal. Vives 2175. (HSA 1001.1.9171, Hispanic Society of America loan).

Another interesting exhibit that brings in the ANS will focus on ancient China. “Recarving China’s Past: Art, Archaeology, and Architecture of the Wu Family Shrines” will open at the Princeton University Art Museum in March 2005. The show is being organized by Dr. Cary Liu, Curator of East Asian Art at The Princeton University Art Museum, and will be accompanied by a symposium on the era, with a volume of published papers, as well as the catalogue which will include essays by several scholars on general subjects as well as some short essays on selected objects included in the exhibition. The show will go on to at least two other venues after Princeton.


Rular in chariot with parasol, turning to attendant, from “Wu Family Shrine” Pictoral Stone, ink on paper rubbing, 184 x 140 cm. Princeton University Art Museum, Far Eastern Seminar Collection. 2002-307.36.

The Wu shrines are in Shandong and date to the second century AD. Coins, like those found in tombs and depicted on other objects of the Han era, will form part of the exhibit, as well as material relating to their manufacture. We were visited in mid-December by Virginia Bowers, consultant to the exhibit, to make a preliminary selection of material, and in February by Dr. Anthony Barbieri-Low, Assistant Professor of Early Chinese History at the University of Pittsburgh, and his student Sheri Lullo. The need for ANS coins was eliminated when we put Ms. Bowers in touch with Dr. Brooks Levy, curator of the numismatic collection of Princeton’s Firestone Library.

Dr. Barbieri-Low specializes in the history of technology and production in ancient China, with a book in progress, Artisans in Early Imperial China, that will include a treatment of mint and metalworking techniques. His interest therefore is in the Society’s fine range of ancient coin molds, castings, and trees. These include large fragments of plaster molds used as masters to make negative molds in which coins were cast; smaller square red clay molds with a central hole, that were stacked and bound together to form an assembly into which metal was poured to produce a series of four radiating sprues with coins; and a bronze mold with incised images of a tiger and (perhaps) a dragon, symbols of east and west, that might have indicated the proper ritual alignment of the mold in use. Dr. Barbieri-Low’s discussion of these objects in the exhibit catalogue and in his forthcoming book will draw upon new discoveries, such as recent caches of molds discovered near Xi’an, that make earlier treatments obsolete.


China, Western Han, emperor Xuan Di, plaster mold for wu zhu, dated March or April 63 BC, probably March 31 (ANS 1937.179.23769, Collection of John J. Reilly, Jr., gift of Miss Frances Reilly). 108 x 150 x 32.

China, bronze wu zhu mold (ANS 1918.71.2, Avery Fund Purchase). 87 x 228 mm.

In 1914, there was a large exhibit of Chinese material, including examples from the Lo Collection and two cases with “fragments of clay molds, complete castings, and finished strings of “cash,” showing method of manufacture and use of these obsolete coins.” This was doubtless the last time these objects were publicly shown. We look forward to seeing them again in context with other artifacts of their era, and with Dr. Barbieri-Low’s commentary in the exhibit catalogue.


Plaque with wu zhu coin molds, coins on sprues, and coins of Wang Mang, AD 9-23 (1913.38, Gift of Charles Gregory).

During research for the Princeton exhibition of ancient Chinese molds and casts, we found an interesting assemblage that includes obverse and reverse terracotta molds for wu zhu of Wang Mang (AD 9-23), a cast sprue with one coin (but not from the molds in the assemblage), a waster or defective casting, and a wu zhu coin of the type that would have been produced by the molds, all set into jig-sawed slots in a board about 195 x 245 mm. With the help of Curatorial Assistant Dawn Bennet, we were able to identify this as accession 1913.38. It was probably made for a Professor Lo (earlier recorded as Ro), Rector of the University of Peking. His collection of 511 “odd-shaped ancient Chinese coins” was purchased for the ANS by a consortium of donors, comprising William B. Osgood Field, Archer M. Huntington, Edward T. Newell, J. Sanford Saltus, and H. A. Ramsden, at the end of January 1913, just two weeks before the assemblage was bought by Charles Gregory from Bauman A. Belden and donated to the Society. The Lo Collection had been on exhibit at the Society since September 1911, while the officers tried to raise money to purchase it. These seem to be the hundreds of spade and knife coins that we own, each in its own little wood plaque that has been carefully cut out to fit the coin, with attached paper tags showing a hand-drawn image of the object and its inscription as well as an identification in precise Roman characters. The tags on the assemblage and on the little wood plaques match, indicating that both come from the same collector and linking them together to Professor Lo. Previously it was thought that the individual coins in boards came from John Reilly, Jr. The assemblage will not be in the Princeton exhibit.


China, Eastern Han, emperor Ling Di, terracotta mold for wu zhu, emission of AD 186 (ANS 1941.7.1, Gift of Mr. Nai-Chi Chang). 68 x 68 x 8 mm. Thierry, “Chronologie,” p. 242 no 57.


Kingdom of Zhao pu (spade) of Anyang city, early 3rd century BC (ANS 1937.179.16347, registered as gift of Miss Frances Reilly; from the Lo collection?). 3.92 grams, 29 x 48 mm.

Related Reading and References

John Franklin Jameson, (ed.). “Autobiography of Omar ibn Said, Slave in North Carolina, 1831,” American Historical Review 30, No. 4 (July 1925), 787-95. Also on the web at http://docsouth.unc.edu/nc/omarsaid/omarsaid.html among North American Slave Narratives collected by the Academic Affairs Library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Jean le Roux: James N. Roberts, Silver Coins of Medieval France (476-1610). South Salem, NY: Attic Books, Ltd., 1996.

Faustin Poey-d’Avant, Monnaies féodales de France. Paris, 1858. Islamic coins of Spain: http://www.asia.si.edu/exhibitions/future.htm.

Anna M. Balaguer, trans. Michael L. Bates, “Early Islamic Transitional Gold Issues of North Africa and Spain in the American Numismatic Society,” American Numismatic Society Museum Notes 24 (1979), 225-41.

Michael L. Bates, “The Islamic Coinage of Spain,” in Al-Andalus: The Art of Islamic Spain (ed. Jerrilynn D. Dodds; New York, 1992), pp. 385-91.

Michael L. Bates, “Spanish Islamic Coins in the Collections of the American Numismatic Society and the Hispanic Society of America,” in Actas III Jarique de Numismática Hispano-Árabe, Museo Arqueológico Nacional, Madrid, 13-16 diciembre 1990 (Madrid, 1992), pp. 77-90.

Adolfo, Clemente y Juan Cayón. Las monedas españolas: Del tremis al euro: Del 411 a nuestros días. Madrid, 1998.

Antonio Vives y Escudero, Monedas de las dinastías arábigo-españolas (Madrid, 1893; reprint, 1984).

Chinese coin production: http://www.princetonartmuseum.org/

http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/Rubbings/ Has three rubbings from the Wu family shrines, including the one illustrated here, with a fuller description.

Wu Hung. The Wu Liang Shrine: The Ideology of Early Chinese Pictorial Art. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1989.

http://www.aasianst.org/absts/2002abst/China/sessions.htm#13 Abstracts of a 2002 panel discussion of the shrines, with presentations by Drs. Liu and Barbieri-Low, as well as a paper on Eastern Han coin trees by Klaas Ruitenbeek.

Hua Jueming, “The Mass Production of Iron Castings in Ancient China.” Scientific American 348, no. 1 (1983), pp. 120-28.

François Thierry, “La chronologie des wuzhu, étude, analyse et propositions,” Revue Numismatique 6e sér., 31 (1989), 223-47.

François Thierry, Monnaies chinoises, I: L’antiquité préimpériale. Paris: Bibliothèque Nationale de France, 1997.

The Lo Collection:

The Numismatist, May 1913, p. 281.

The American Numismatic Society Proceedings at the Fifty-Fourth Annual Meeting, 1912 (New York, 1912) p. 8.

The American Numismatic Society Proceedings at the Fifty-Fifth Annual Meeting, 1913 (New York, 1913) p. 6.

Howland Wood, “Report of the Curator,” The Numismatist (April, 1913), 218-19.

The American Numismatic Society Proceedings at the Fifty-Sixth Annual Meeting, 1914 (New York, 1914) pp. 11, 14.

Howard L. Adelson, The American Numismatic Society 1858-1958 (New York: American Numismatic Society, 1958), pp. 189-90 and p. 339 note 120.