Seleucid Coins Online v.2 is Live

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The American Numismatic Society (ANS) is pleased to announce the release of version 2 (v.2) of the web-based research tool: Seleucid Coins Online (SCO). As a component of the National Endowment for the Humanities-funded Hellenistic Royal Coinages (HRC) project, SCO aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the coinages struck by the Seleucid kings between ca. 320 BC and 64 BC, from Seleucus I to Antiochus XIII.

In January 2018, the American Numismatic Society initially launched SCO. At the time it was announced that the development of SCO would take place in two parts in imitation of the print volumes, Seleucid Coins: A Comprehensive Catalogue by Arthur Houghton, Catharine Lorber, and Oliver Hoover, published in two parts in 2002 and 2008 by the American Numismatic Society and Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. The first part, by Houghton and Lorber, presented and interpreted all the numismatic material for Seleucus I to Antiochus III known up to 2002. The second part, by Houghton, Lorber, and Hoover, did the same for the Seleucid kings from Seleucus IV to Antiochus XIII. In total, more than 2,491 primary coin types were published in these volumes.

The newly unveiled version of SCO (v.2), launched in November, 2018, completes the type corpus incorporating material related to Seleucid Coins, Part I, covering the reigns from Seleucus I to Antiochus III (c. 320–187 BC), and the material in Part II covering the reigns from Seleucus IV to Antiochus XIII (187–64 BC) as well as the posthumous Roman imitations (63–14/13 BC).

Ultimately, SCO will provide wide access to the coins listed in the print volumes of Seleucid Coins. While the Seleucid coins in the ANS collection (some 5,129 pieces) serve as the core of the searchable catalogue, ultimately links to coins (many of which are unique) in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the British Museum, the Münzkabinett der Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, and many other public and private collections currently are and will be included. More than 1,000 types are linked to at least one coin that has been photographed.SCO will also stand at the cutting edge of the discipline through the inclusion of new coin types and varieties that have been recorded since 2008. SCO will be the only place where researchers can keep track of such new coins comprehensively and the expanding picture of Seleucid economic, political, and art history that they reveal. Frequent updates to the website will permit users to find and learn about new material almost at the rate at which it is discovered, thereby making SCO the most up-to-date catalogue available to students of Seleucid coinage.

“A Handheld History”—An Exhibit of Medallic Art at Bowdoin College Museum of Art

Curators of "A Handheld History" (l. to r.), Benjamin Wu, Amber Orosco, and Stephen Pastoriza.
Curators of “A Handheld History” (l. to r.), Benjamin Wu, Amber Orosco, and Stephen Pastoriza.

Before Thanksgiving I had the great pleasure of participating in “Holding History in the Palm of One’s Hand: Contemporary Perspectives on Medals and Coins from Antiquity to the Recent Past,” an event at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Brunswick, Maine, celebrating the exhibit “A Handheld History: Five Centuries of Medals from the Molinari Collection at Bowdoin College.” Three speakers, myself, Dr. Stephen K. Scher, and Prof. Susan Wegner, presented different aspects of medallic art and its history from its inception in the Italian Renaissance to the twenty-first century. We were then joined on stage by the curators of the exhibit, Amber Orosco, Stephen Pastoriza, and Benjamin Wu, for a panel discussion. Significantly, all three of the curators are currently undergraduate students at Bowdoin, which makes their achievement in curating this exhibit all the more remarkable.

In 1966, the Bowdoin College Museum of Art received from Amanda Marchesa Molinari a gift of a collection of approximately 1,500 art medals and 200 related books—including numerous rare volumes from the seventeenth through the twentieth centuries— that she and her late husband, Cesare Molinari d’Incisa, had assembled over the course of several decades. The collection is rather astonishing for the large number of important medals of the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries from Italy and Northern Europe especially, some of which, in fact, are lacking in the ANS’s collection, such as the John VIII Palaeologos medal by Pisanello. Curators at Bowdoin in the 1960s were certainly aware of the importance of this collection; a partial catalogue of the collection by Andrea Norris and Ingrid Weber was soon published and an exhibit of some of the highlights was put on display. In the decades since, however, this collection had not received the attention it rightly deserves.

Case containing medals pictured in the accompanying folio volume, the Histoire Métallique.
Case containing medals pictured in the accompanying folio volume, the Histoire Métallique.

In the summer of 2017, Museum Co-Director Dr. Anne Collins Goodyear and the student curators paid me a visit at the ANS and also spoke with Stephen Scher at The Frick Collection. Dr. Scher introduced them to highlights from the collection he had recently donated to the museum, then on view in the exhibition “The Pursuit of Immortality: Masterpieces from the Scher Collection of Portrait Medals.” Their purpose was to discuss the history of the medal, the Molinari collection, and their intent to put on a new exhibit of this outstanding collection. The results of their efforts, “A Handheld History,” are truly impressive. In eight cases, the exhibit not only displays some of the most important pieces from the Molinari collection, but also focuses on various aspects of medal production, metallurgical analysis in the study of medals, and the evolution of medallic art over the centuries. Two of the cases are particularly noteworthy. One includes a 1723 edition of the folio volume accompanying the Histoire Métallique documenting the reign of Louis XIV of France along with a selection of the medals illustrated in the volume; another includes a volume of Gerard van Loon’s 1732 folio Beschryving der Nederlandsche historipenningen along with medals depicting the ill-fated de Witt brothers, Johan and Cornelis. Rarely indeed are these two important early volumes exhibited side-by-side along with some of the actual medals illustrated on their pages.

Case containing medals of the de Witt brothers and the folio Beschryving der Nederlandsche historipenningen.
Case containing medals of the de Witt brothers and the folio Beschryving der Nederlandsche historipenningen.

The exhibit will be on display at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art through January 20, 2019. A video of the panel discussion will be made available on the Museum’s website.

NLG Awards Recognize Two ANS Publications

IMG-2422On August 16, 2018, the Numismatic Literary Guild recognized two American Numismatic Society publications at its annual bash and awards ceremony.

A Monetary History of Central America by Brian Stickney won the award for best book on world coinage (1500–present).

ANS Deputy Director Gilles Bransbourg won the award for best article or story of the year for his piece in ANS Magazine, “U.S. Money Doctors in Latin America: Between War and Depression, the Short-Lived Reinstatement of the Gold Standard,” which appeared in issue 2017.4.

ANS Members receive ANS Magazine four times a year as part of their membership, as well as a 30% discount on books. To become a Member of the ANS, call Emma Pratte at 212.571.4470 x117.

Antonine Pyres and Consecratio Coins

Fig_0_PortraitSteven Burges is a PhD candidate in the Department of History of Art & Architecture at Boston University. He is currently writing a dissertation that examines the representation of Roman imperial funerary pyres on the coinage of Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius and the commemorative significance of these representations within the ideology of antiquity and beyond. He was a participant in the 2018 Eric P. Newman Graduate Seminar.

In March of the year 161 CE, the Roman emperor Antoninus Pius died at the age of 74 at his villa near Rome after reportedly “eating Alpine cheese at dinner rather greedily” (Historia Augusta, M. Ant. 12.4). His death marked a turning point in Roman imperial history, since, for the first time, a deceased emperor was succeeded by a set of official co-regents, Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus. Hadrian had organized their joint adoption by Antoninus 23 years earlier.

Fig. 1. ANS 1966.62.10.
Fig. 1. ANS 1966.62.10.

The co-rulers issued coinage – bearing the obverse legend Divus Antoninus, or the divine Antoninus—to commemorate their father’s passing and subsequent deification, and it reflected the unprecedented transition of power and the continuation of the familial piety that had earned Antoninus the title “Pius.” An unparalleled type from the series contained the first images of a funerary pyre on which the emperor was cremated to appear on gold denominations of the Roman mint (fig. 1). In fact, the pyre became the exclusive reverse type of the aurei struck for Divus Antoninus in addition to becoming the most prevalent type of the silver and bronze issues. All included the legend consecratio, which likely referred to the funereal process of deification itself.

Fig. 2.
Fig. 2.

In an effort to discover why the innovative iconography of the pyre came to dominate the commemorative coinages of Antoninus, I conducted a die study and hoard analysis of the aurei honoring Divus Antoninus. I then compared the results to studies of aurei minted after the death of his wife, the empress Faustina the Elder. She died and achieved godhood in 140 CE, at the beginning of her husband’s reign. While Antoninus produced a massive series of aurei for Diva Faustina with 24 different reverse types over a period of nearly twenty years, only one uncommon type from the early issues bore the consecratio inscription (fig. 2). It depicts the empress and a female driver in a quadriga – perhaps the celestial vehicle that bore her to the heavens. Although absent from her aurei, contemporary bronzes announcing her apotheosis were the first of any denomination to carry images of a funerary pyre.

Fig. 3.
Fig. 3.

In the years to follow pyres continued to adorn currency honoring deceased empresses and emperors, but primarily, they were found on the silver and bronze coins. The numerous tiers and ornate decorative sculptures, garlands, and tapestries align with the descriptions of ancient eyewitnesses (Cassius Dio, Historia Romana 75.4-5). Between the years 310 and 313 CE, the emperor Constantine would strike the last pyre coin, a rare gold solidus, to honor his deified father, Divus Constantius (fig. 3).

My analysis of the original Divus Antoninus aurei has enabled the identification of 30 obverse and reverse dies from 70 coins all with the same reverse type. In contrast, the earlier aurei of Diva Faustina survive in over 900 examples with nearly two dozen reverses, reflecting both the extraordinary scale and longevity of their production (Martin Beckmann, Diva Faustina: Coinage and Cult in Rome and the Provinces, 2012). Despite the limited run of the Antoninus coins, the ratio of dies observed to the number of coin examples is nearly equivalent. Hoard evidence from Italy, France, and Portugal also suggests that the two coinages circulated within similar regions.

Fig. 4. ANS 1965.66.10.
Fig. 4. ANS 1965.66.10.

The difference lies in the significant expansion of the novel consecratio reverse with the pyre to the aurei under the adopted Marcus and Lucius. This suggests that they intended the pyre to serve as a specifically Antonine advertisement of dynastic continuity for the elite users of gold coinage. Further, it was a memento of the cremation and deification ceremony itself, which the co-rulers jointly oversaw, as the inscription on the pedestal of the column of Antoninus Pius indicates. The dynastic uncertainty of the time had been likewise countered in some of the last coins struck during Antoninus’s life. They depict the fecundity of his daughter Faustina the Younger surrounded by her four daughters: Lucilla, Cornificia, Fadilla, and Annia Faustina (fig. 4).

As I continue this research, I will expand the scope to the pyre reverses found in other denominations struck under Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus along with other contemporary consecratio types, in order to continue unveiling the significance they held for the citizens, soldiers, and senators who used the coins.

NEW BOOK! Ancient Engraved Gems in the National Museum in Krakow

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The ANS is pleased to have contributed to the publication of a new book on engraved gems from antiquity, which is now available for purchase. Ancient Engraved Gems in the National Museum in Krakow, by Paweł Gołyźniak (in English), is considerable in size and top in quality. It consists mostly of the specimens assembled by the extraordinary collector and art dealer Constantine Schmidt-Ciążyński (1818–1889). Almost 780 cameos, intaglios, scarabs, and finger rings are presented in this beautifully designed volume. This book will be useful not only to scholars interested in gems, but also to those who study the history of the art market and collecting, as well as to enthusiasts of Classical art and archaeology.

Part I: History and Character of the Collections (includes a brief biography of Constantine Schmidt-Ciążyński and the history and original structure of the collection).

Part II: Catalogue (includes hundreds of entries featuring a Babylonian cylinder seal, Egyptian plaque, Mycenaean seal, Archaic Greek gems, Classical Greek finger rings, Hellenistic Gems and Finger Rings, Etruscan scarabs and ring stones, Italic and Roman Republican gems, Augustan gems, Roman Imperial gems, Cameos, Early Christian gems, and appendixes on magical and Sassanian gems). Indexed by collectors and collections, subjects, and materials, with a concordance and bibliography.

ISBN: 978-3-95490-243-9
Publisher: Dr. Ludwig Reichert Verlag
Hardcover, 318 pages, 30 b/w figures, 112 b/w plates
8.5″ x 12″, lay-flat binding

$150 plus shipping, no Member discount

Order directly from the ANS by contacting Emma Pratte at membership@numismatics.org or 212-571-4470, ext. 117, or order online with PayPal.

American Journal of Numismatics Guidelines Updated for 2018

The American Journal of Numismatics is an international, peer-reviewed journal that annually publishes original research in all areas of numismatics, in the form of articles, review articles, and short notes. Interdisciplinary contributions that relate numismatic research to broader questions of archaeology, anthropology, art history, economic history, cultural or social history, and related disciplines are particularly welcome. Questions and submissions should be emailed to Nathan T. Elkins (Greek, Roman, pre-Islamic Persian, Celtic, and other ancient topics) or David Yoon (medieval, modern, Asian, American, and other non-ancient topics).

The AJN is published once a year. The annual deadline for submissions is May 1. The journal’s guidelines have been updated for 2018.

Manuscript Preparation

Prior to submission, manuscripts should be complete and formatted according to AJN guidelines. If you have questions about the preparation of the manuscript that are not answered here, please email the editors. After manuscripts are complete, submit them by email to Nathan T. Elkins (Greek, Roman, pre-Islamic Persian, Celtic, and other ancient topics) or David Yoon (medieval, modern, Asian, American, and other non-ancient topics).

Articles may range from brief research notes (minimum of 1,000 words) to lengthy articles exceeding 10,000 words. Authors should contact the editors before submitting an article in excess of 15,000 words (including footnotes and bibliography); these can usually be accommodated, but space may become limited close to the annual deadline for submissions. Articles that are under review elsewhere will not be considered, and articles that have been previously published will not be considered unless there are no legal restrictions on the author’s right to republish and the information is not available in any widely known language of international scholarship.

For anonymity during the peer-review process, authors may wish to omit overt references to their own work, or acknowledgements that would relay their identity. Any special characters or non-Latin writing systems should use Unicode fonts where possible; if this is not possible, authors should use a font that is distributed under a non-restrictive, free-of-charge license and send the font to the editors with the manuscript.

 When a manuscript is accepted for publication, the author will be asked to provide the final artwork, copies of any necessary permissions, and a revised version of the manuscript that incorporates all changes specified in the acceptance letter and conforms to the guidelines described below. A manuscript will not be scheduled for production until all requested revisions, illustrations, and permissions have been received. Once the revised manuscript has been submitted, no major changes to the text will be allowed unless extraordinary circumstances warrant them. For the preparation of the final manuscript and accompanying illustrations, it is essential for authors to refer to the ANS Author Guidelines.

The AJN largely follows The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th ed. (CMS), and enforces American English spelling. All publishers encourage the practice of following a consistent style, and authors in numismatic studies should find it helpful to follow these guidelines from the beginning of the writing process, even if their manuscript ultimately is published elsewhere. The Chicago Manual of Style prescribes two citation formats; in general, AJN articles aimed at a humanities audience may prefer to use the first (“Notes and Bibliography”) format.

Example 1

Text: …in the direction of Jerusalem via Diospolis in 614 ce.156 The written sources do…

Notes:

  1. J. F. Haldon, Byzantium in the Seventh Century: The Transformation of a Culture, rev. ed. (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 42; C. Foss, “The Persians in the Roman Near East (602–630 AD),” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 13 (2003): 152–53.

Bibliography:

Foss, C. “The Persians in the Roman Near East (602–630 AD).” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 13 (2003): 149–170.

Haldon, J. F. Byzantium in the Seventh Century: The Transformation of a Culture. Rev. ed. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

However, recognizing that numismatics is a cross-disciplinary specialization, authors writing more for a science or social science audience may prefer to use the second (“Author-Date References”) format.

Example 2

Text: …20–25% silver (Baker et al. 2017; Crusafont 1982, 237), compared to perhaps 2–4%…

References List:

Baker, J., V. Kantarelou, A. G. Karydas, R. E. Jones, P. Siozos, D. Anglos, and B. Denham. 2017. “The Height of Denier Tournois Minting in Greece (1289–1313) According to New Archaeometric Data.” Annual of the British School at Athens. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0068245416000113.

Crusafont i Sabater, M. 1982. Numismática de la corona catalano-aragonesa medieval (785–1516). Madrid: Editorial Vico.

Digital Data

ANS print publications are integrated with digital publication. All authors are requested to provide their ORCID identifier so that their article can be correctly attributed to them online. Authors who do not yet have an ORCID identifier can easily create one at orcid.org; the editors can advise on this process if necessary.

Articles that present large amounts of quantitative information (e.g., metrological analyses of large groups of coins) are encouraged to provide the quantitative data as a digital file that the ANS can make available to other researchers online, rather than putting the raw data in print. This digital AJN data repository can also be used to make available supplementary material that supports an article without being integral to it.

Publication of Previously Unpublished Material

The AJN supports laws designed to discourage fraudulent collectibles and the illicit trade in antiquities. Objects originating before ca. 1500 whose history cannot be traced before the adoption of the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illegal Import, Export, and Transfer of Cultural Property of November 14, 1970, are subject to certain limitations for publication in AJN, if they have not previously been published in a scholarly (non-commercial) publication. If the object is in an institutional collection, has been reported to an official finds recording system (e.g., the Portable Antiquities Scheme), or has entered the marketplace legally (e.g., after review under the Treasure Act in the United Kingdom), there are no restrictions. Otherwise, if the information has a verifiable source such as a prior publication, a published sale catalogue, or a named owner, it may be used in publication as part of a larger discussion (e.g., a die study, a typological study, etc.) but not as the sole focus of the article. If no such source can be cited, the object is not suitable for publication. AJN reserves the option to reject any contribution that appears to publish recently looted or stolen material, especially from recent conflict zones, even if it otherwise meets these conditions.

Images and Sources of Images

 Images, charts, and graphs should not be embedded in the final text. Refer to the ANS Author Guidelines for the preparation of images. It is the author’s responsibility to secure and provide written permission for the use of any illustrations taken from other publications, the Internet, or other sources (in general, authors should assume that any image created after 1922 is restricted by copyright unless there is evidence to the contrary). All illustrations should have an attribution to source unless created by the author(s).

For ancient material, authors should give preference to illustrations of objects held by institutional collections over unprovenanced material from the trade or in private collections. Many institutions allow images of their holdings to be used free of charge for academic publications such as the AJN; if uncertain whether this applies, please discuss image sources with the editors. Illustrations of objects from the trade or in private collections may be used where necessary for completeness, if they can be cited to a verifiable source (as described in the previous section); however, objects with a verifiable pre-1970 provenance or in institutional collections should be used wherever possible. In general, articles that deal with types and iconography should always use institutional images, unless dealing with a type that is unknown in such collections. If contributors are unclear as to the guidelines or expectations, please contact the appropriate editor.

Conflict of Interest

Authors should disclose any potential conflict of interest at the time of submission. For instance, if the article describes or illustrates objects that the author owns or seeks to sell, this should be declared in a footnote.

Open Access

There is no embargo period for authors wishing to share their work online or through their institutional repository. The editors do ask that authors wait to share their work until the formal publication of the volume.

Apply for the 64th Eric P. Newman Graduate Summer Seminar in Numismatics

64th Annual Eric P. Newman
Graduate Summer Seminar in Numismatics
June 4 through July 27, 2018

Study at the Foremost Seminar in Numismatic Methods, Theory, and Data Science

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For over half a century, The American Numismatic Society, a scholarly organization and museum of coins, money, and economic history, has offered select graduate students and junior faculty the opportunity to work hands-on with its preeminent numismatic collections. With over three-quarters of a million objects, the collection is particularly strong in Greek, Roman, Islamic, Far Eastern, and US and Colonial coinages, as well as Medallic Art. Located in New York City’s SoHo district, the Society also houses the world’s most complete numismatic library.

The rigorous eight-week course, taught by ANS staff, guest lecturers, and a Visiting Scholar, introduces students to the methods, theories, and history of the discipline. In addition to the lecture program, students will select a numismatic research topic and, utilizing ANS resources, complete a paper while in residence. The Seminar is intended to provide students of History, Art History, Textual Studies, Archeology, and Data Science who have little or no numismatic background with a working knowledge of a body of evidence that is often overlooked and poorly understood. Successful applicants are typically doctoral candidates or junior faculty in a related discipline, but masters candidates are admitted as well.

This year’s Visiting Scholar will be Prof. Mariangela Puglisi of the Università degli Studi de Messina. Prof. Puglisi is, among other things, a specialist in ancient coin iconography and coins found in archaeological excavations.

Applications are due no later than February 23, 2018. A limited number of stipends of up to $4000 are available to US citizens, and non-US citizens studying at US institutions under certain visas. For application forms and further information, please see the Summer Seminar page of our website: numismatics.org/seminar, or contact the Seminar Director, Dr. Peter van Alfen (212-571-4470 x153).

Zoomable High-Definition Images now in MANTIS, ARCHER

Original and zoomed images of an Arethusa coin.
Original and zoomed images of an Arethusa coin (ANS 1997.9.54).

The ANS is pleased to announce a new image-zooming feature in MANTIS, the online database of its numismatic collection, and ARCHER, the Society’s digital archive. The ANS will now make its highest-resolution images freely available under a Creative Commons license, enabling researchers to zoom down into minute details of an object that were obscured in the lower-resolution images previously published. Furthermore, users may crop and download part or all of an image. More than 160,000 numismatic objects have been photographed thus far and are available in this new interface including the Syracusan coins of Arethusa and the Agnes Baldwin Brett collection of photographs of her travels in Italy, Greece, and Turkey in the early 20th century. This new image feature is built on the International Image Interoperability Framework, IIIF, a standard set of methodologies for the publication of images and metadata.

ANS Executive Director Ute Wartenberg said, “finally researchers can publicly access high-resolution images online to assist them in seeing minute details to help them in their work. This is something the ANS has wanted to do for a long time, and it has now become a reality.”

Original and zoomed photo by Agnes Baldwin Brett of the Temple of Apollo in Ancient Corinth.
Original and zoomed photo by Agnes Baldwin Brett of the Temple of Apollo in Ancient Corinth.

Beyond MANTIS, the high-resolution IIIF images of Roman Republican, Imperial, and Hellenistic coins will likewise be available within their respective online type corpora projects: Coinage of the Roman Republic Online, Online Coinage of the Roman Empire, and PELLA. These projects have supported the integration of IIIF images since January, when Rutgers University Library became the first Nomisma.org partner to publish their images in this way. Since then, the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Harvard Art Museums, and KENOM have provided high-resolution images according to the IIIF standard. These four Nomisma partners combine to provide images for more than 11,000 coins; the ANS extends this coverage by more than 55,000 coins for these three corpora.

While access to high-resolution imagery is itself useful for numismatic research, these methodologies form the building blocks for standardized image annotation. In the future, it will be possible annotate and link iconographic motifs, monograms, counterstamps, and signatures on bank notes to standard vocabularies of concepts, which will enable new modes of classification and query for numismatic objects. These visual features may be annotated not only upon the ANS’s own coins, but any Nomisma partner that provides images that conform to the IIIF standard.

Artist Mark Wagner is Reinventing the US Dollar Bill

Fig. 1. Ben Bernanke. Commissioned and rejected by Time magazine for their 2009 "Person of the Year" cover. Later purchased and exhibited by the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian. Photo: Mark Wagner. Courtesy of the artist.
Fig. 1. Ben Bernanke. Commissioned and rejected by Time magazine for their 2009 “Person of the Year” cover. Later purchased and exhibited by the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian. Photo: Mark Wagner. Courtesy of the artist.

Visual Artist Mark Wagner exclusively uses US dollar bills in his work, and has done so for decades. From creating collage-style portraits, still lives, and sculptures to an actual money tree, Wagner attempts to meticulously use every detail of the banknotes he works with. Wagner’s humorous, approachable, and culturally relevant pieces have made him a favorite of the New York City art world and beyond.

Over the years, Wagner has continued to create subversive works that offer a larger social commentary on money, economics, and beyond. In 2009 he constructed a 17’ x 3’ recreation of the Statue of Liberty entitled Liberty, made from pieces of over 1,000 dollar bills. Several of Wagner’s other works including, FROM DARKEST DECAY was featured at the Expo Chicago in September and his other work, CUT UP CUT CUT is on view at the Bellevue Arts Museum and will be traveling as part of a group exhibition through 2009. We sat down with Wagner to discuss his relationship to money, how he obtains the bills he uses in his work, as well as the larger personal and political underpinnings that fuel his art.

ANS: What first attracted you to working with money?

Mark Wagner: I’ve always been a sucker for paper culture—for different printing methods and graphic design styles, as well as different methods of illustration and text presentation. Everything from fine art printing, to common stuff like packing materials, and paper napkins. In the ’90s I’d been doing a lot of collage from a bunch of different materials, anything I could get my hands on. I always had a large supply of Camel Cigarette wrappers because a couple friends saved them for me. There was something about the familiarity of the package that made those collages effective, especial to Camel smokers. So, I tried to think of other popular pieces of paper I could use and settled on the single most popular piece of paper on the planet: the US One Dollar bill.

At first I loved the dollar bill for material reasons—it was readily available, the paper it’s printed on is super sturdy, more durable than literally any piece of paper you can buy from an art supply store; the printing on it is super fine, and anything you make from it is immediately familiar to the viewer on a subconscious level. It started to dawn on me what it meant to use MONEY. That money is not some neutral thing, it’s not like cutting up bus tickets or playing cards at all. That everyone has money issues  and that addressing those issues with this material could make for some pretty OK art.

"Are What You Eat What You Are" or "Hand to Mouth." Photo: Mark Wagner. Courtesy of the artist.
Figure 2. “Are What You Eat What You Are” or “Hand to Mouth.” Photo: Mark Wagner. Courtesy of the artist.

ANS: What is your process like in conceptualizing a piece and then getting the materials needed to create it?

MW: I’m always processing materials. I’ve got an assistant who helps me as well. We break down bills into rudimentary parts and build these up into shapes, textures, and passages that might be useful in the future—Bins of head parts, a binder full of constructed trees and other plant life, little hands, little birds, little figures of George Washington. Then I work from the other end as well. Drawing sketches and figuring out how I can deploy these “moves” to greatest effect. How I can use money to say something about money  or sometimes just make something pretty.

ANS: How do you obtain the money used in your pieces?

MW: I get stacks of crispy ones directly from the bank when they have them. Sometimes I set aside crispy bills I receive as change. I like the small portrait bills from the 90s for the larger US denominations; usually I buy these on Ebay.

ANS: What is your attitude towards money?

MW: Money is basically a form of magic. Here is a substance I can transform into any other substance. That money and all our attitudes about money are a funny amalgam/chimera of everything money has ever been in the past. It is part honor-exchange, part commodity, part bank draft, part debt. Our last clear foci of money was as an amount of metal: here is a quantity of gold that can be exchanged for a quantity of some other substance. Or new foci, I think, will be more like the electricity inside a battery—here is a quantity of power I can use to perform an amount of work.

ANS: What are some of the broader themes you explore in your work in relationship to wealth and capitalism?

MW: I prefer subject matter that has a direct link with the materials. I use US bills for the most part anything Americana, American identity, or Founding Father-ish. I do portraits at least in part because of coin and currency addiction to portrait busts, sometimes the portraits are representations of some sort of human “value” trying to reclaim that word from its fiduciary use.

There are lots of representations of wealth in the work, architecture, leisure activities, lavish gardens, artworks. Concentrations of wealth have given us both some of the most beautiful things in our culture, as well as gross examples of decadence. There are lots of barriers and dividing lines depicted in the work—fences, hedge, walls. There’s a fair amount of menace. And there’s no shortage of both mystery and mythology. The thing is, I could represent anything out of money and it would seem like I was on topic and making a statement. If I depicted, say, the coffee cup sitting in front of me it would seem like I was commenting on the prices at Starbucks.

Figure 3. Benjamin. Photo: Mark Wagner. Courtesy of the artist.
Figure 3. Benjamin. Photo: Mark Wagner. Courtesy of the artist.

ANS: Do you think there is a gendered component to the work you create? And if so, what do you think that is?

MW: I hadn’t thought about this until you asked, but of course there is. There are no women on US bills I can easily cast as characters in my work. And money itself is probably considered a masculine thing. I do think the patience of execution harkens back to my Mom sewing, though. Quilts and embroidered samplers have informed my work as well as cropping up as subject matter.

ANS: What are some current projects you have in the works, and do you have any upcoming exhibitions?

MW: I’m just finishing up a 6’ x 4’ money tree. I’m making some dollar bill “Loan Ranger” masks. I’m making some portraits of at-risk children from Ghana. I’m working on a couple of essays about the nature of money and art. I’m working on plans for a 12’ x 18’ collage of movie monsters battling over New York City.

ANS: Do you collect any coins or other currency beyond $1 bills?

MW: Yes, mostly in a catch-as-catch-can manner. My coin collection started as a kid with a jar of European coins that my dad had brought back decades earlier from World War II. I came from a small town in rural Wisconsin, and I loved the connection to another place and time.

As a kid I loved—and still love to this day—a few of the coins from the jar, which had circulated for well over 100 years, worn almost completely smooth: Napoleon’s name, or one of the George’s only barely visible. I still have the US silver quarter and about a 1/4 of it worn away that I used for silver-point drawing in art school. I still have the silver quarter I was handed as change at the deli, that I recognized first by the unfamiliar, deeper note within the handful of jingle. I love the beautiful face on the Mercury dime and the oddness of the fasces on the back. I love the weight of the Franklin half-dollar which is  judged most comfortable for practicing my finger rolls and palming.

I’ve got a small collection of paper currency. People know I like money, so they give me unwanted currency left over from their foreign trips. And I’ve got a small collection of late 19th, early 20th century stock certificates I love for the art and design’s sake—the decorative borders, the classicism meeting anachronistically with technology and modernism, all the rubber stamps and signatures and cancellations.

ANS: Have you run into any legal issues with cutting up US currency? If so, what happened and how did you resolve it?

MW: No legal issues so far. I think it’s pretty clear there’s no fraudulent intent in what I’m doing. I’m hurting no one. I’m generating a fair amount of economic activity, tax revenue, and seigniorage through my actions. I’m naughty, but safe-naughty.

ANS: Do you view your work as subversive and are there any political underlinings to your current work given the current administration?

MW: Subversive, I’d like to think so, but then again maybe I’m just commodifying my own dissent. My first reaction to the new regime art-wise was to try to ignore it. I’m still on that tack, trying to make pretty things or timeless things or the same sort of things I would have made a couple years ago.

Before the election I made a portrait of Trump for an art show. It hung in a voting booth next to a portrait of Clinton back in September of 2016. After the exhibition (but before the election) I burnt the Trump portrait because I’d really come to detest the man.

A blog of the American Numismatic Society