Mysteries from the Vault: A Roman Lead Token from Hispania Baetica

Fig. 1: New York, Richard B. Witschonke Collection. Ex CNG MBS 67, 22 September 2004, lot. 1073. Casariego 1987, p. 26, no. 3.
Fig. 1: New York, Richard B. Witschonke Collection. Ex CNG MBS 67, 22 September 2004, lot. 1073. Casariego 1987, p. 26, no. 3.

The dating, function, and iconography of Roman lead tokens from Spain have been objects of speculation among scholars for decades. Several of these tokens, with weights ranging from 4–400 grams, have been found in the Spanish region of Cordova, once part of the Hispania Baetica, an area known in Roman times for silver mines. Spanish silver mines were one of the most important sources of silver bullion for Rome, and the connected smelting activities took place on such a huge scale that the lead pollution generated by them is still traceable in the Greenland ice core. At the same time, Baetica was also an important producer of olive oil, traded all over the Mediterranean Sea. Spanish lead tokens then, made out of a by-product of silver smelting but possibly also connected to agriculture, represent a useful yet poorly understood tool to understand the economic organization of this province.

Fig. 2: Another token from the series de las minas with the man with the “shovel.” New York, Richard B. Witschonke Collection. Ex CNG 31, 9 September 1994, lot 1857 Casariego 1987, p. 26, no. 1.
Fig. 2: Another token from the series de las minas with the man with the “shovel.” New York, Richard B. Witschonke Collection. Ex CNG 31, 9 September 1994, lot 1857 Casariego 1987, p. 26, no. 1.

The Richard B. Witschonke Collection at the ANS includes 16 specimens of these tokens, nine of which remain unpublished. One of them (fig. 1) is a unique piece, part of lot of 10 Spanish lead tokens offered for sale in CNG MBS 67 on September 22, 2004 (lot nos. 1070–1079). The CNG catalogue offers the following description:

Obv. Nude male walking left, carrying bell(?) and shovel over his shoulder; P · S across field; all within wreath. Rev. Harrow (or miner’s axe?). Weight: 166.78 g

Fig. 3: Tokens from the series de las minas with P · S and man with the “shovel.” Casariego 1987, p. 26, nos. 1–3.
Fig. 3: Tokens from the series de las minas with P · S and man with the “shovel.” Casariego 1987, p. 26, nos. 1–3.

The identity of the man represented on the obverse, together with the function of the objects he is carrying, is a mystery. Is he a miner, carrying a shovel? This is the interpretation offered by F. Casariego, G. Cores, and F. Pliego, who first published this piece in their catalogue of Iberian lead tokens from Roman times. They classified this piece as part of the series de las minas (“mines series”), conventionally related to the Roman mining operations in Baetica. These mine tokens (figs. 2, 3, 4) are usually characterized by the presence of a man with a “shovel” (a conventional term; it is unclear what this is).

Fig. 4: Other tokens from the series de las minas. Casariego 1987, p. 27, nos. 4–7.
Fig. 4: Other tokens from the series de las minas. Casariego 1987, p. 27, nos. 4–7.

This representation closely resembles the miners portrayed on the Linares bas-relief (fig. 5). Moreover, some tokens of the series de las minas were found in the Roman mines of El Maderero (fig. 6) and of Posadas (fig. 7), both in the Baetican district of Cordova. The archaeological context suggests a dating in the first century BC for these tokens. According to this interpretation, these tokens may have served as a ‘company coinage’ for these mines, a practice well attested in modern times. This token and the others of the “mines series” would therefore be one of the first instances of this use of tokens.

Fig. 5: The Linares bas-relief.
Fig. 5: The Linares bas-relief. Image: Asociación Colectivo Proyecto Arrayanes.

However, some elements in the iconography of the token represented in fig. 1 do not seem to match this interpretation. The bell carried by the man with the “shovel” and the arrow on the reverse need to find an explanation. A possible solution for this enigma does not come from Spain, but from Central Italy.

Fig. 6: A specimen of the token type found in the mine of El Maderero. New York, Richard B. Witschonke Collection. Ex CNG MBS 67, 22 September 2004, lot. 1073. Casariego 1987, p.32, no. 25. Arévalo González 1996, p. 53.
Fig. 6: A specimen of the token type found in the mine of El Maderero. New York, Richard B. Witschonke Collection. Ex CNG MBS 67, 22 September 2004, lot. 1073. Casariego 1987, p.32, no. 25. Arévalo González 1996, p. 53.
Fig. 7: A specimen of the token type found in the mine of Posadas. Casariego 1987, p. 27, no. 7, Arévalo González 1996, pp. 65–66.
Fig. 7: A specimen of the token type found in the mine of Posadas. Casariego 1987, p. 27, no. 7, Arévalo González 1996, pp. 65–66.

In a series of articles, C. Stannard showed the certain iconographical relationship between lead tokens from Baetica and local bronzes from Central Italy. The motif of the man with the “shovel” is attested in the area of Minturnae, Naples, and Pompeii, where no connection to mining activities can be made (fig. 8). The man with the “shovel” was probably not a miner, after all. As represented in fig. 4, the most frequent iconography of this figure is a walking man, either naked or wearing a short tunic, carrying the “shovel.” In the Italian material, he often also carries an askos, an oil or wine jar; in the Baetican, a bell (as in the case of the token in fig. 1). Could the man with the “shovel” be a farmer? The farming context could help explaining the presence of a harrow on the reverse of our token. Moreover, M. P. García-Bellido argues that the letters P · S, appearing on the token at ANS and on other ones of the same series, could be interpreted as P(ublica) S(ocietas), a State-owned enterprise exploiting oil-production in Baetica. According to this second interpretation then, the tokens of the series de las minas were used as a “company coinage” in an agricultural context, not in a mining one.

Fig. 8: The man with the “shovel” on the local bronzes of central Italy. Stannard 2005, p. 50.
Fig. 8: The man with the “shovel” on the local bronzes of central Italy. Stannard 2005, p. 50.

The iconographical similarities between Baetican tokens and Italian bronzes bear testimony to the active commercial relationships between Italy and Baetica in the Age of High Empire (first–second centuries AD), especially wine and oil trade. Mount Testaccio in Rome, an artificial mound composed almost entirely of testae, fragments of broken oil and wine amphorae dating from the first– third centuries AD (figs. 10, 11) bears testimony to the enormous scale of this trade. While researching Mount Testaccio’s amphora stamps, B. Mora Serrano (fig. 9) noticed the correspondence between the names appearing on some tokens of the series de las minas and the ones on amphora stamps from Testaccio. He therefore argued that at least some of the Iberian lead tokens of the series de las minas are connected to the transport of the Spanish olive oil to Rome. It follows that the man with the “shovel” on the unique piece of the Richard Witschonke Collection would not be an Iberian miner, but rather an Italo-Baetican farmer, probably occupied in producing wine and oil to export to Italy.

Fig. 9: Examples of correspondence of names appearing on tokens from Baetica and amphora stamps. Morra Serrano 2004, p. 529, fig. 2.
Fig. 9: Examples of correspondence of names appearing on tokens from Baetica and amphora stamps. Morra Serrano 2004, p. 529, fig. 2.

However, neither the presence of a bell nor the generously ithyphallic representations (cf. fig. 4) of the man with the “shovel” are addressed by this interpretation. C. Stannard argues that these elements could be explained if these figures were mimes. The Roman mime differed from Greek Comedy in that actors did not wear masks, as in the images on the Iberian lead. According to Stannard’s hypothesis, the man with the “shovel” represents a mime, a decorative element on tokens that were used as a “company coinage” in the context of an Italo-Baetican oil-trade enterprise.

Fig. 10: Aerial view of the Mount Testaccio in Rome. Image: CNN.
Fig. 10: Aerial view of the Mount Testaccio in Rome. Image: CNN.

In sum, the identity of the man with the “shovel” on the token presented in fig. 1 raises historical and iconographic questions that show the strength of the commercial and cultural interconnections within the Roman world. Were the tokens of the series de las minas really connected to mining activities, as their findspots seem to suggest? Or were they connected to the trade of Spanish oil, as B. Mora Serrano posits? The debate is still open.

Fig. 11: Mount Testaccio in Rome. Image: Michael Ezban.
Fig. 11: Mount Testaccio in Rome. Image: Michael Ezban.

Two elements still need further interpretation:

  • Even if not univocally linked to mines, some tokens of the series de las minas did circulate in mining areas. It is therefore not possible to entirely dismiss the “mining” interpretation.
  • The findspots of some tokens of the series de las minas show that these kind of tokens were already circulating during the first century BC, so they could not be directly linked to the Spanish oil trade of the first and second centuries AD.

Not all the questions are solved, then. The mystery of “our” man with the “shovel” is still intact.

New hypotheses on the iconography and the function of the man with the “shovel” and the function of the fascinating Spanish lead tokens will be formulated at the interdisciplinary conference “Tokens: Culture, Connections, Communities” at Warwick University (June 8–10, 2017), where all the published and unpublished lead tokens from the Richard W. Collection will be presented.

Standards for Empire: The Power of Coinage in the Met’s Ancient China Exhibition


Age of Empires: Chinese Art of the Qin and Han Dynasties (221 B.C.–A.D. 220) on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (April 3–July 16, 2017) shows how art was pivotal in the formation of a Chinese identity. Too small to fully appreciate without holding, coins often go unnoticed in major exhibitions. They remain reminders of monetized economies, the flow of goods, and regnal shifts. In addition to commissioning China’s Great Wall, the Qin ruler, Ying Zheng (r. 247–220 BC), unified the empire’s monetary system increasing the circulation of copper coinage. He also introduced standards of universal weights and measures. Such policies made money a cosmopolitan language of exchange across vast territories.

Water clock excavated from burial pit no.4 of Tomb no. 8 at the burial site of the Zhang Family, Fengxiyuan, Xi’an, Shaanxi, 2009. Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

An impulse to standardize Chinese knowledge is a phenomenon apparent through several non-monetary objects showcased in the exhibition. A bronze waterclock from the Western Han dynasty (206 B.C.–A.D. 9) embodies this characteristic. A piece of wood or bamboo was likely fed through a small hole in the lid of this container. As water drained out of a tube at its bottom at a steady rate, the wood would sink and mark time. It was the norm for these clocks to be kept in all Qin and Han administrative offices. This simple technological solution brings to mind a number of waterclocks throughout art history. On the opposite side in the spectrum of simplicity, the design for a waterclock of al-Jazari in twelfth-century northeastern Syria/Iraq, a manuscript of which is in the Met’s Islamic holdings, would be a much more fanciful and multipurpose innovation.

“Design for the Water Clock of the Peacocks”, from the Kitab fi ma’rifat al-hiyal al-handasiyya (Book of the Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices) by Badi’ al-Zaman b. al Razzaz al-Jazari. MMA 55.121.15. Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The exhibition also features gold ingots (metal exchanged for its value) in the shape of horse-hooves of the Western Han dynasty (206 BC–AD 9). These objects show how certain standards change with the reigns of new emperors. Because of an auspicious vision, the Han Emperor Wu (r. 141–87 BC) transformed the shape of gold ingots from the hooves of qilins (mythical creatures) to horses. A bronze mold for half-ounce coins (banliang) from the Qin or early Han dynasty, ten bronze half-ounce Qin banliangs, and five Han dynasty imitations of Ancient Persian (Parthian) coins are other examples.

Three hoof-shaped ingots excavated from the tomb of Marquis Haihun in Nanchang, Jiangxi, 2015. Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Instead of directly showing coins, some of the most iconographically complex objects in the exhibition imply the importance of a monetary economy. The lids of two bronze cowry containers are comprised of sculpted figures, one even displaying a sacrifice scene.

Cowry container with scene of sacrifice excavated from Tomb no. 69 at Lijiashan, Jiangchuan, Yunnan, 1992, lent by Lijiashan Museum of Bronzes. Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

According to the exhibition curators, cowry containers such as these could have been adapted from bronze drums. In ancient times, cowry shells were utilized as currency, particularly in coastal regions, before copper became more accessible. The American Numismatic Society’s collection features cowry that are attributed to China, Africa, and India, and perhaps these would be the kind of objects that would fill these sumptuous containers.

Bone cowrie, China, 500–221 BC. ANS 1937.179.4191.
Bone cowry, China, 500–221 BC. ANS 1937.179.4191.

One of the most elegant objects in the show is known as a “money tree” (qian shu) or “money-shaking tree” (yao qian shu). The exhibition label reports that approximately 200 of these are known and they were functioned as funerary goods. The example in the exhibition made of bronze is attributed to the Eastern Han Dynasty (AD 25–200). From afar, the six layers of branches of the tree look highly ornamented, yet coming close one notices that the leaves of the tree are formed of bronze square-hole coins. How were these money trees produced? Did the same artisans responsible for minting money cast them?

“Money tree” excavated from Shixiangcun, Wanfuxiang, Guanghan city, Sichuan, 1983, lent by Guanghan Municipal Institute of Cultural Relics. Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

While numismatic evidence may pose many difficulties in museum exhibitions—their scale, legibility, and overall impact on a viewer—being a few, Age of Empires demonstrates how coins were inherent to the process of imperial standardization. Highly ornamented and much larger scale objects potentially imply the power of numismatics.

Victor David Brenner’s Design for a U.S. Dollar

I was working on an article about George Kunz and the redesign of United States Coinage (ANS Magazine, 2017/1) when I came upon an interesting coin design in the ANS vault. It was an electrotype model of a U.S. dollar by Victor David Brenner, made about fourteen years before his actual contribution to the redesign of U.S. coinage, the iconic and ubiquitous Lincoln cent (1909). His was one of twenty-five dollar designs submitted for a competition in 1895, part of an organized effort at improving the nation’s much maligned coinage that was ostensibly carried out by several private art groups but was in reality undertaken mostly by two: the National Sculpture Society (NSS) and the ANS. The NSS showed real commitment to the cause, putting up all of the prize money: $300 for first place and either $100 or $200 for second (accounts vary). This was big money in 1895; first prize would be comparable to about $8,000 today.

Picture_of_Victor_David_Brenner wiki
Victor David Brenner

Given that coins are small sculpted pieces used by nearly everyone, the promotion of high quality coinage was a natural undertaking for the NSS. The group was founded in 1893 to promote quality sculpted art to the masses. To help fulfill its civic-minded goals, it opened its membership to non-sculptors—administrators, businessmen, and others that might help the cause. Kunz, Tiffany’s resident gem expert, joined the group in its first year. He also joined the ANS in 1893, and it appears that he was the primary agent at both groups promoting coinage redesign, apparently with the backing of an influential party in Washington.

The dollar designs that were submitted for the competition were displayed at an exhibition of ancient and world coins and medals at the American Fine Arts Building on 57th Street in New York City. The show was curated by the ANS and was intended to show historical examples of quality artistic coinage. Brenner did not win. First prize went to Albert Jaegers, specifically for the eagle on his reverse. Albert Randolph Ross came in second, for his obverse showing Liberty and a turkey. The prizes had no official standing and the two artists would play no role in the actual coinage redesign that began a decade later.

Brenner’s 1895 dollar design, obverse (ANS 1896.39.2)
Brenner’s 1895 dollar design, reverse (1896.39.3)

An electrotype of Jaegers’s design sits next to Brenner’s on a tray in the ANS vault. Unfortunately, though a letter from Ross and an entry in the Society’s proceedings say that he also donated his model to the ANS, a search for Ross’s turkey design was unsuccessful.

Letter from second-place winner Ross regarding the the transfer of his model to Kunz

Incidentally, it is great to learn of the close relationship between the ANS and the NSS during the latter’s first years because the two organizations have been happily reunited in modern times. The ANS and NSS have shared office space at 75 Varick Street since 2009.

For more on the founding of the National Sculpture Society and its early history, see Michele Bogart’s Public Sculpture and the Civic Ideal in New York City, 1890-1930 (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1989).

ANS Launches Image-Based Roman Coin Identification

The ANS is pleased to announce a new interface for Online Coins of the Roman Empire (OCRE), which allows non-specialists, hobbyists, collectors, archaeologists, and others to browse Roman Imperial coins by image for free online. People can compare the coins in their collections or those coins recovered from archaeological excavations against diagnostic specimens in OCRE. The OCRE project received $300,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) in 2014.

OCRE’s “Identify a Coin” search page.

The “Identify a Coin” interface works on any device, from computers to tablets to smart phones. Users can begin browsing Roman Imperial coinage right away, or can filter search criteria by portrait, material, and even legends, which includes the ability to enter all or part of a legend as well as marking illegible characters. The portraits are listed chronologically, first by dynasty, and then by personage within the dynasty (including empresses and children). In many cases, examples of portrait images are available in gold, silver, and bronze varieties, as well as worn examples that one may encounter with stray finds or excavation. More than one material may be chosen, which is useful for later Roman coinage, when severe wear makes it difficult to distinguish between what Roman Imperial Coinage has designated as “silver,” “bronze,” or “billon.” By clicking the left and right arrows below the image, it is possible to scroll through available portraits, which may show several phases of portraiture, such as Nero, who grew from a teenager into adulthood over the course of his reign.

OCRE’s “Identify a Coin” tool offers an easy way in to one of the most complete depictions of numismatic Imperial portraiture online, and the ANS hopes that it will also prove itself a useful art historical tool to trace the development of Roman portraiture from the Augustan period through the Soldier Emperors to the Tetrarchy until the end of the Roman Empire.

Ethan Gruber, the ANS’s Director of Data Science, created the interface, and ANS Curatorial Assistant Disnarda Pinilla identified all of the portraits used in the tool. The ANS’s Associate Curator, Gilles Bransbourg, has overseen the OCRE project from its inception. Although primarily drawn from the ANS’s permanent collection of Roman Imperial coins, other specimens are included from the Münzkabinetts in both Berlin and Vienna, as well as from the Fralin Museum at the University of Virginia.

Curatorial Intern Kara Woodley

One of the ways that the ANS teaches students about numismatics is through student internships, where a student gets to learn about our work by participating in it. This semester, we have been lucky to have Kara Woodley from Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York, working with our curatorial department.

Kara Woodley cataloguing a token.
Kara Woodley cataloguing a token.

Kara is a senior completing a double major in art history and history. For her two senior theses she is writing about Ireland during the struggle for independence in the early twentieth century. As part of her art history degree, she was required to complete an internship to gain practical experience. Prof. Megan Cifarelli suggested the ANS as a possibility that might be a good choice for a student with more interest in history than in the contemporary art scene.

Kara has worked on a few different tasks at the ANS, but the majority of her time has been devoted to entering our nineteenth-century Irish tokens into our curatorial database. Although these tokens have been acquired since the founding of the Society (some of them were donated in our first year, 1858!), hardly any of them had been entered into the computer yet.

ANS 1858.4.14, donated by Ezra Hill in June 1858.
ANS 1858.4.14, donated by Ezra Hill in June 1858.


Armed with the standard references on the topic, Kara has been going through the tokens one by one, creating full database records for them. One of the tokens that she found interesting in relation to her academic research is a token or medalet commemorating Daniel O’Connell, an early nineteenth-century campaigner for Catholic Emancipation and repeal of the 1801 Act of Union. This piece is pierced for suspension, and the box has a note on the back saying that it was worn at an election meeting in 1865.

ANS 1932.999.1162.
ANS 1932.999.1162.


Another piece she found interesting is a token issued by the banker William Hodgins in Cloughjordan, Co. Tipperary. This token is typically catalogued among Australian tokens, despite its reference to Ireland. Although originally produced for use in Ireland, large quantities of this token were apparently shipped to Australia, where they helped make up for a scarcity of official coinage.

ANS 0000.999.57452
ANS 0000.999.57452


During her internship Kara has been learning how museums work behind the scenes; in particular, about the processes involved in how a small staff manages a very large collection. She hopes this will be useful in her future career as an art historian, especially if she ends up working in a museum setting.

Next year Kara will be going to graduate school at Trinity College, Dublin, where she plans to specialize in Irish art of late antiquity and the early Middle Ages.

The Computer Aided Die Studies Program

Sample die connections as created by the CADS algorithm.

Coins first appeared in the western world some 2,700 years ago. During most of this long history, coins were entirely handmade. The metals were excavated and smelted by hand; the coin blanks were manufactured by hand; the dies were engraved by hand; and the coins were struck by hand. Their use as monetary instruments required that coins be standardized, but because coins were handmade each individual coin differed in some way from all the others produced at roughly the same time: the alloys would differ from batch to batch depending on the metal sources; individual weights within a single batch would vary; dies would wear and be recut; or different obverse and reverse die combinations would be used. Of the billions of handmade coins produced over the centuries, only a very small proportion of them remain today. The detailed study of every existing coin thus helps us to piece together the bigger picture of a state’s fiscal and monetary policies, particularly the decisions made about how many coins to strike in a given year, in which denominations, and in which alloys. Detailed study also helps us to understand how mints operated as both government institutions and factories, how they developed organizational structures and production processes to meet demand.

For numismatists working on ancient Greek coinage particularly die studies of individual series remain the hallmark of our contributions to our overall understanding of ancient monetary systems. But to complete a die study, especially on larger issues, is a mind-numbingly difficult task, requiring not just the laborious and time-consuming gathering from a multitude of sources of images or casts of all known specimens, which can number in the thousands, but also the tedious and arduous task of comparing the images to find examples struck from the same die(s). The largest die study of ancient Greek coinage completed to date, Wolfgang Fischer-Bossert’s study of the didrachms of Tarentum included roughly 8,000 coins. This monumental undertaking cost Fischer-Bossert nearly a decade of his life and a good deal of his eyesight to complete. To try to tackle a die study the size of the late 5th c. Athenian “owl” coinage, of which ca. 60,000 coins probably exist today, would undoubtedly take a lifetime.

Overlays of three die-matched "owls" as identified by CADS.
Overlays of three die-matched “owls” as identified by CADS.

It has long been recognized that developing a computer program to do much of the heavy lifting for die studies is something we all would readily welcome to help us speed smaller die studies along and to allow enormous die studies projects like that for late 5th c. Athenian owls to have a shot of actually being completed. The technology for such a program certainly exists today and a number of individuals in the numismatic community have been attempting to develop such a tool. At the ANS, our late colleague Richard (Rick) Witschonke took it upon himself to privately fund the development of what he called CADS: Computer Aided Die Study Program. During the last three years of his life (2013–2015), he worked closely with Huapeng Su to develop CADS, which he hoped to make a freely available, open source program to aid numismatic research. By the time Rick died in early 2015, CADS was functioning well with certain types of coinage, but still required further work to make it fully operational across a broad spectrum of numismatic material. It was Rick’s hope that the ANS would be able to find the funding to complete the work on CADS.

Happily, Prof. Josiah Ober of Stanford University has now stepped up, generously donating $10,000 of his research funds to the ANS to see a beta version of CADS released by the end of this year. Ober’s interest in this project stems from his attempts to find ways to quantify economic performance in the ancient Greek world, demonstrated, for example, in his most recent book The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece (Princeton 2015) and in the launch of the POLIS website. What we can learn about the production and consumption of coinage has the potential to play a key role in gauging ancient economic performance, but only if we can generate quantifiable data through die studies and hoard studies. Currently, only about 15–20% of all possible die studies for ancient Greek coinage have been completed, meaning we still have a long way to go before we have significant and comparable data sets. It is our hope that with the launch of CADS, we can initiate a new era of numismatic studies, in which other digital tools like OCRE and PELLA can provide the assemblage of raw numismatic material for a series or type that a program like CADS will then use to produce die studies in a matter of hours rather than weeks, months, or even years.

Museum of the American Revolution and the ANS

On April 19, 2017, a new cultural institution, the Museum of the American Revolution, will open in downtown Philadelphia. It will present relics of the Revolutionary War to the public as a way of telling the dramatic story of the nation’s founding. For their inaugural exhibition the Museum of the American Revolution requested the loan of 12 eighteenth-century medals from the ANS. Several Colonial-period Indian peace medals are included in this loan. These medals were issued as tokens of friendship to members of Native American nations to gain their support and allegiance. This group includes two of the earliest Indian peace medals known: a British bronze medal with the image of George I (1714–1727) and a Native American hunting a deer with bow and arrow (fig.1), and a French silver medal with a bust of Louis XV (1715–1774) on the obverse, signed by Jean Duvivier, and a reverse depicting two warriors reaching out and clasping hands, the man on the right representing France, with the other representing the Indian allies of France (fig.2).

Fig. 1: Great Britain. Bronze Indian peace medal. George I (r. 1714–1727). (ANS 1921.132.1, purchase) 40 mm.

Fig. 2: France. Silver Indian peace medal. Louis XV (r. 1715–1774). (ANS 1925.109.1, gift of John W. Garrett) 55 mm.

It is interesting to observe that on another ANS example of this Louis XV medal the name GORGE III [sic] was engraved over LUDOVICUS XV (fig.3).

Fig. 3: France/Great Britain. Silver Indian peace medal. Louis XV (r. 1715–1774)/George III (r. 1760–1820). (ANS 1925.108.1, gift of William B. Osgood Field) 55 mm.

Another remarkable medal in this group was issued at the time of Pontiac’s Revolt in 1763, a conflict named after the Ottawa chief who led the Indians of the Great Lakes region against British rule after end of the Seven Years’ War resulted in the transfer of claimed sovereignty over their lands from the French to the British. The obverse of this medal shows an armored George III with a legend containing his usual titles. The reverse depicts an American Indian and a uniformed British officer seated on bench under tree, smoking a pipe of peace (fig.4).

Fig. 4: Great Britain/United States. Silver Indian peace medal, “Happy While United”, 1766. George III (r. 1760–1820). (ANS 1925.173.1, purchase) 59.6 mm.

These early Indian peace medals carry immense historical importance both as landmarks in American colonial history and as symbols of the importance that the colonial powers placed on building alliances with the Native Americans. This portion of the exhibition explores the consequences of Anglo-American victory in the Seven Years’ War for the diverse peoples of North America, including former French and Spanish colonists living in the newly expanded British dominions and Native American nations of the Great Lakes and trans-Appalachian West.

Fig. 5: Great Britain. Bronze medal commemorating the capture of Portobelo in 1739 by Admiral Edward Vernon (1684–1757). (ANS 0000.999.38125) 36.5 mm.

Fig. 6: Great Britain. Bronze medal commemorating the siege of Cartagena in 1741 by Admiral Edward Vernon (1684–1757), with Admiral Chaloner Ogle (1681–1750) and General Thomas Wentworth (c. 1693–1747). (ANS 1977.135.748, purchase) 38.3 mm.

Also among the ANS items on loan to the Museum of the American Revolution is a group of Admiral Vernon medals (figs. 5–6), exhibited in a gallery that introduces visitors to the Anglo-American sense of shared glory in all things British during the French and Indian Wars. These medals were issued in celebration of Admiral Vernon’s campaigns in the War of Jenkins’ Ear. On November 21, 1739, Admiral Vernon attacked the harbor of Portobelo in what is now Panama with six ships. After brief resistance the Spanish garrison surrendered. The British force destroyed the harbor fortifications before they left and returned to their base in Jamaica. Vernon then assembled a larger expeditionary force for an attack on Cartagena in what is now Colombia (fig.7).

Fig. 7: Great Britain. Bronze medal commemorating the siege of Cartagena, 1741. Ironically, although the siege was a costly failure for the British, this medal imagines the Spanish commander, Don Blas de Lezo (1689–1741), kneeling and handing his sword to Admiral Vernon. (ANS 0000.999.38214) 37.6 mm.

When this fleet set sail in 1741 Admiral Vernon was commander of more than 50 warships, with 12,000 soldiers from England and the American colonies, many of whom died of disease during the futile campaign. Among the American survivors was Captain Lawrence Washington, half-brother of George Washington, who went on to name his home Mount Vernon after Admiral Vernon.

Maundy Money

4d silver groat, London, 1660–1662 (ANS 1963.6.3).

Today is Maundy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter), which for Christians signifies the day on which Jesus washed the feet of his disciples (John 13:1–17) while instructing them to love one another (John 13:34). It is also the day of the Last Supper.

Maundy Thursday also has numismatic significance by way of the Royal Maundy, a religious service in the Church of England. Current practice holds that the Queen (or a royal official) gives out two purses of coins to elderly recipients as symbolic alms. A red purse holds money for the poor to buy food and clothing, while a white purse contains the special Maundy money. Recipients in the contemporary service are chosen based on their service to their communities around England. This tradition of the distribution of alms in England by a monarch dates back to the reign of King John (r. 1199–1216) who in 1213 gave 13 pence each to 13 poor men in Rochester, Kent in a Maundy ceremony.

In the early tradition of Maundy money, the coins used were circulated and not marked as Maundy alms. This changed in 1752 when the Royal Mint began to produce specialized sets of Maundy money based on coins not struck for circulation. These sets included one silver coin each in denominations of 1d, 2d, 3d, and 4d. The obverses sport the bust of the reigning monarch, and the reverses (since 1822) feature the denomination topped by a crown and encircled by an oak wreath.

There are 430 specimens of Maundy money in the ANS’s collection, one of which is illustrated in MANTIS (pictured above). This 4d silver groat, minted in London between 1660 and 1662 under the authority of Charles II, was traditionally called a “Maundy piece,” this coin exemplifying the Simon issue of 1660–1662. In actuality, this coin was part of a mintage for circulation.

According to the Royal Mint, “Maundy money as such started in the reign of Charles II with an undated issue of hammered coins in 1662. The coins were a four penny, three penny, two penny and one penny piece but it was not until 1670 that a dated set of all four coins appeared. Prior to this, ordinary coinage was used for Maundy gifts, silver pennies alone being used by the Tudors and Stuarts for the ceremony.”

The ANS library holds 94 publications on the Maundy tradition.

The distribution of Maundy money changes each year. In 2017, Queen Elizabeth II will give away the coins in Leicester Cathedral.



ANS Awarded New Funding for NEH/Mellon’s Humanities Open Book Program


The digitization of the American Numismatic Society’s backlist of monographs has been funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation as part of the joint NEH-Mellon Humanities Open Book Program. All of the ANS’s book-length publications through 2010 will be made available for free online for anyone to use. The ANS is one of the United States’ oldest academic publishers, producing printed scholarship since 1866, pre-dating storied university presses such as Johns Hopkins University (1878), the University of Pennsylvania (1890), and the University of Chicago (1891). The ANS continues to lead the way with digital scholarly publications, something it could not have done without the support of the Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

This is the second year the ANS has received Mellon funding for the project, and will conclude the work begun in 2016. In 2016, the Humanities Open Book Program selected 10 academic publishers to convert their out-of-print books of enduring scholarship into EPUB e-books licensed to allow readers to search and download these books freely, and to read them on any type of e-reader. In 2017, eight grants were awarded.

As in 2016, the ANS will convert its remaining scanned books into TEI XML, which will allow for instant generation of e-books as well as internet-friendly text that both contains and encourages links to other content online: related people, places, and events.

“Numismatics is uniquely placed in between history, archaeology, economics, art history, geography, and other disciplines,” Andrew Reinhard, Director of Publications for the ANS said. “By encoding these books and making them available as Open Access, scholars and hobbyists alike can exploit the true interdisciplinary nature of numismatic data for their own work, finding content and making connections that would otherwise be hidden.”

“Academic and non-academic researchers increasingly use the Internet as a source of information and a vehicle for disseminating the results of their work,” said Earl Lewis, President of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. “Today, more than ever, scholars, teachers, students, and members of the public need access on the Internet to reliable and authoritative works that were previously published but are now out-of-print.  The Humanities Open Book initiative seeks to help provide that much-needed access.”

The grant covers the encoding and tagging of the remaining 127 ANS monographs from three series: Numismatic Studies (3 titles), Coinage of the Americas (3 titles), and Numismatic Notes and Monographs (121 titles). At the conclusion of the grant period, the ANS will continue to make its TEI XML-encoded books available for free online one year after publication of new scholarship.

The second batch of Mellon-funded EPUB and TEI-encoded publications will be available by June 2018. The ANS thanks the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for its continued support, and the Mellon Foundation and NEH for their enthusiasm and commitment to making the Humanities available to everyone. With the NEH’s funding and very mandate under threat, the ANS encourages its US-based members and researchers to contact their elected senators and representatives to remind them that the Humanities are what makes us human.

Read the official joint statement from the NEH and Mellon Foundation on the Humanities Open Book Program.

PELLA in Oxford and Paris

The OPAL organizers, Frédérique Duyrat and Andy Meadows.
The OPAL organizers, Frédérique Duyrat and Andy Meadows.

On April 3–4, the Oxford Paris Alexander Project (OPAL) hosted a conference at New College, at the University of Oxford in England, entitled “A Linked Open World: Alexander the Great, Transnational Heritage and the Semantic Web.” Established by Frédérique Duyrat, Director of the Coin Cabinet at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BnF), and Andrew Meadows, Professor of Ancient History at New College, and funded by LABEX Les Passés dans le Présent and the Arts and Humanities Research Council, OPAL is designed to supplement and enhance the ANS-based PELLA project with additional data and an interpretative framework. “Additional data,” in this case, has been the concerted efforts by Simon Glenn at the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford and Caroline Carrier at the BnF to catalogue the thousands of Alexander-type coinages held by those two institutions in order that the individual coin records and photographs may then be linked to the PELLA website. Thanks to their efforts, PELLA now contains records of nearly 19,000 coins. The “interpretive framework” portion of OPAL includes the New College conference.

OPAL's home in April, New College, Oxford University.
OPAL’s home in April, New College, University of Oxford.

The aim of the conference was to examine how the digital collection of data through the semantic web can assist in identifying, collecting, interpreting and preserving transnational heritage. With its focus on the coinage and empire of Alexander the Great, the conference organizers were particularly concerned first to investigate how the accumulation of data can help us to write the history of an Imperial economic space. They aimed to do this through some carefully chosen case studies and the broad analysis of statistical data provided by the PELLA project. The second part explored the role of Alexander’s coinage as a bridge between different cultures and different periods, with a particular interest in the question of the preservation of global cultural heritage in a transnational environment.

Ethan Gruber, ANS Director of Data Science, presents at OPAL.
Ethan Gruber, ANS Director of Data Science, presents at OPAL.

Speakers from the ANS included Director of Data Science Ethan Gruber and Research Scientist Sebastian Heath, who both addressed the technical side of ANS-based digital projects like PELLA and the sematic web, that is the intensive and deliberate interlinking of different types of knowledge on the web, including, for example, numismatic, geographical and biographical data within a single website like PELLA. Also from the ANS was Peter van Alfen, who presented one of the historical case studies. A print volume of the conference proceedings is planned to appear in early 2018, published by Ausonius Éditions, the chapters of which will probably adhere closely to the conference program:

The “French Quartet” (l. to r.) of Frédérique Duyrat, Julien Olivier, Maryse Blet-Lemarquand, and Caroline Carrier, present their metallurgical study of a section of Alexander the Great’s coinage.
The “French Quartet” (l. to r.) of Frédérique Duyrat, Julien Olivier, Maryse Blet-Lemarquand, and Caroline Carrier, present their metallurgical study of a section of Alexander the Great’s coinage.

Part 1: New Tools

Equality and Concept: Broadening the Scope of Linked Open Data (Sebastian Heath)

ANS Digital Projects: A Comprehensive Platform for the Study of Numismatics (Ethan Gruber)

Statistical Exploration of PELLA Data (Julien Olivier)

OPAL conference lunch in New College, Oxford.
OPAL conference lunch in New College, Oxford.

Part 2: Imperial Economic Space—Using PELLA to Write a New History

What is an Alexander? (Andrew Meadows)

The Destruction and Recreation of Monetary Zones in the Wake of Alexander’s Conquests (Peter van Alfen)

Exploring Localities: A Die Study of Alexanders from Damascus (Simon Glenn)

The Impact of Alexander’s Conquest on Minted Silver: New Data from Metallurgical Analysis of Coins Kept at the BnF (Maryse Blet-Lemarquand, Julien Olivier, Caroline Carrier)

The First Generation of Alexander’s Influence: Diversity of Empire (Karsten Dahmen)

Alexander Gold Coinage throughout the Empire and Beyond (Frédérique Duyrat)

OPAL speakers Simon Glenn (l.) and Pierre Briant (r.).
OPAL speakers Simon Glenn (l.) and Pierre Briant (r.).

Part 3: Cultural Interaction and Legacy

The Coinage of Alexander the Great as Perceived during the 16th–18th Centuries (François de Callataÿ)

The Legacy of Alexander: Money in Central Asia (Simon Glenn)

Looting and its Impact: The Case of Alexanders from the Near East and the Role of an Online Corpus Project (Caroline Carrier & Simon Glenn)

The Debate about the Spread of Alexander’s Coinage and its Economic Impact: Engaging with the Historiographical Longue Durée (Pierre Briant)

Conclusion: Alexander: The Wider Vision (Robin Lane Fox)

OPAL keynote speaker, Robin Lane Fox.
OPAL keynote speaker, Robin Lane Fox.

The conference proved to be quite a success, illustrating just how the development of digital tools like PELLA can have a transformative effect on how we interpret existing evidence from the ancient world, on how we approach other interpretations of this same evidence from across the ages, and on the way in which we preserve this entire heritage. In addition to the enlightening papers and conversations, participants were also treated to an after-hours reception at the Ashmolean Museum to view a special exhibition on Alexander’s coinage curated by Simon Glenn, as well as a guided tour of the New College gardens, in full spring bloom, by the eminent historian and Financial Times gardening columnist, Robin Lane Fox.

Alexander the Great: Coinage from a Common Past exhibit display at the Ashmolean Museum, on view until April 23, 2017.
Alexander the Great: Coinage from a Common Past exhibit display at the Ashmolean Museum, on view until April 23, 2017.

A blog of the American Numismatic Society