Newell and the ANS as the US Enters the Great War

Edward T. Newell
Edward T. Newell

On January 12, 1918, ANS President Edward T. Newell delivered his President’s Address at the ANS’s 60th Annual Meeting nine months after the United States entered the Great War. 100 years after that commitment, Newell’s address still resonates with hope and an eye towards a collaborative future. Reading the full text of the speech below, one is struck by “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Collecting, funding, staffing, and housing the ever-growing collection remain core issues, as does outreach and the sharing of knowledge through lectures and publications like the American Journal of Numismatics. The speech details an awakening of the Society where the world has taken note of it, marking a turn towards global citizenship and leadership in numismatics. Even in the midst of uncertain times, the future of the ANS remained bright to Newell whose confidence in the Society and its staff was unwavering in the face of financial hardship. He would be pleased at how far the Society has come in realizing his vision.

Text of the Speech

This is the sixtieth annual meeting of the American Numismatic Society, and of this fact you are doubtless all sufficiently aware. If I had little to say to you this afternoon, this would make a splendid text upon which to dwell at length to the edification of all concerned. I feel, however, that in recent years the Society has had a new birth, and it is never the fashion of youth, in its strength and enthusiasm, to look back; the goal of its desires lies ever forward.

Since the last annual meeting the entry of our country into the world war has taken place, and it is self-evident how this is bound to profoundly affect the Society’s outlook, its activities and their results. Already the effects have been felt profoundly in nearly every department of our work, but, on the whole, the impetus given by the events within our Society of the year 1916 is still carrying us along. Outwardly, therefore, you will not have noticed many changes directly due to this great war.

As you may remember, one of the most impassioned pleas made to the Society at the last annual meeting was the need of a Secretary, who must be a person of unusual attainments and ability to fill a post as important as it is difficult. Within a short time of that meeting the Governors made the happy discovery that this versatile person was actually residing in our midst. Mr. Noe was appointed to the onerous post, and, to the satisfaction of all, accepted. The fortunate results to the welfare of the Society have been patent throughout the last nine months.

The year 1917 has been one of intense activity within our building and in our particular sphere. This has undoubtedly been felt by all of you and has also reacted upon such of our members who are unable to keep in personal touch with us. The ever-increasing number of letters of inquiry, of encouragement, and also, needless to say, of protest or friendly criticism, clearly reveals this state of affairs; while the encouraging fact that the number of visitors to our building has doubled in the last twelve months shows that the outside world is beginning to take cognizance of our existence. This the staff in our building is fostering in every way possible, and it is to be hoped that our members will not fail to do their share in making us known throughout the length and breadth of the land.

The campaign which was inaugurated last year to cause to gravitate towards our building important collections of coins has brought about the highly gratifying results you all know, and which will be more fully described in the Curator’s report. In this field we can certainly point to the past year with pride, and with a feeling that the precedent thus happily set will undoubtedly make it easier for us in the future to secure important collections as may become available. The snowball has started on its way.

The Society has also been successful in commencing a policy of establishing contact with the Universities and learned institutions of the country. As a result we have had more inquiries and visitors from institutions interested in the scientific aspect of numismatics than ever before. Several of the Archaeological Societies of America have pressed us for lectures on our subject. Certain serious workers have not only directed many inquiries to our doors but have already, or are expecting in the near future, to pursue certain lines of research beneath our roof.

Another class of people the Society has established contact with in the past year are the medallists and sculptors of America. The field is large, and we have only commenced operations, but our tentative efforts are beginning to show results. Our Secretary will give you more details in his report, but let me call your attention particularly to the cordial letter just received from Mr. Paul W. Bartlett, President of the National Sculpture Society, accepting on behalf of that Society our invitation to hold a meeting in our building this coming month.

The Committee on Publication of Medals has had a most successful and important year. As you will see by their report, a precedent has now been established by which our Society may take a leading part in the publication or distribution of noteworthy civic medal issues a result which must ledound considerably to our credit and wider recognition.

As stated before, this is a time of national stress and danger. The opportunities of a numismatic society to enter into active war service are not great or even very evident. Nevertheless, such an opportunity did present itself a short time ago, when Dr. Hornaday of the New York Zoological Park approached us with a view to our co-operating with and actively supporting the Hulbert Bill now before Congress. The purpose of this bill and the success attending our efforts to secure the necessary financial backing will be detailed in the Secretary’s report.

This very much restricted statement of a few of our activities of the past year suffices to show that the Society is progressing as well as present circumstances will allow. It has been a year of the most rigid economy, because of the times through which we are passing. It is self-evident to all that ours must now be a policy of making things tight within the Society during the present storm, and particularly of preparing ourselves, in every way possible, for the great days that are bound to come the moment the world is again at peace. With this in mind, the present seemed to offer an excellent opportunity to put our coin room in the state of greatest efficiency.

This could only be accomplished by installing a uniform system of coin cases which would embody the latest devices, and at the same time provide the greatest economy of space. After prolonged work on the part of our Curator, plans for such cases were perfected. Certain of our members who were impressed by the imperative need for this constructive policy within our building responded generously to the appeal made to them, and six and a half steel cases have been ordered, which will just fill our coin room and furnish space, roughly speaking, for well over 120,000 coins and medals.

Thus far I have touched only upon new activities and the encouraging feature of our situation. Unfortunately, as is so often the case, there is also a reverse side to our shield which calls for infinite care and foresight, as well as such suggestions and assistance as the members of our Society can give. The rigid economy of which I have just spoken has enabled us to come through this past year with a very small deficit. In previous years our deficit usually amounted to thousands of dollars, which had to be met each time by special subscriptions. In 1917 more has been accomplished in every department than ever before, with a final deficit of about two hundred dollars only; but it must be remembered that we were assisted by the liquidation of some assets stored within our building, such as old publications, past numbers of the Journal, unsold medals and the like. These have now been converted into money, but the prospect of realizing to any great extent on such as remain is practically nil. What has been rigid economy will this coming year have to become uncompromising penury. This will necessarily have a terribly retarding effect upon the progress of which we are all so proud.

The fund placed at our disposal for the publication of Volume 50 of the Journal and the 1916–17 Proceedings is now practically exhausted, and we have nothing wherewith to issue the next number of the Journal. This does not take into consideration special publications, of which we have at least two available. Such is the impossible situation of a Society which ostensibly stands for the spreading of numismatic learning at home and desires to be on, at least, an equal international standing with similar institutions abroad.

The many and varied activities which have made this past year such a successful one in the history of the American Numismatic Society have also proven how unfortunately short-handed the staff is in the presence of the many calls made upon it. This state of affairs threatens to render somewhat s perfect and less effectual the outcome of such important activities as may be undertaken in the near future. Even this past year, which can record so many things successfully accomplished, must also show many things that had to be left undone, either because of lack of funds or because of the lack of necessary time on the part of the staff. It is the things not done, or only half done, that have always been the bane of this Society.

I do not dwell here upon the reverse side to our shield in any sense as a discouragement, but that the Society as a whole may fully appreciate the conditions. If we were to contemplate only one side of a situation to the complete exclusion of the other, one’s judgment would necessarily become warped, and, therefore, as in life, there is always a certain mingling of the unpleasant with the pleasant; it is vital to take cognizance of both. The staff is indeed immensely sanguine concerning the possibilities of the immediate future, in spite of the war and the general financial situation. At the commencement of the year just past the difficulties ahead loomed up exactly as large, and yet the Society has been able not only to meet some of the most pressing needs, but has won through with the minimum of financial loss. With this in mind the future holds no terrors for those immediately responsible for the success of the Society’s activities, as they know from past experience that they can definitely rely on a whole-hearted support from the members of the American Numismatic Society.


A Penchant for Abstraction: An American Collector of African Currency

Iron-currency, Nigeria/Cameroon. Original name: Bandaka. According to Ballarini this piece of currency of forged iron resembles a stylized profile of a person: nose, a ponytail tied up in a bun behind the neck, a stylized body which ends in an umbrella handle which is finished off with some ringlets (ANS 2013.17.4, previously of Alan Helms’ collection.)

In the past decade, the American Numismatic Society has been fortunate to acquire a number of African numismatic objects from the Boston-based collector Alan Helms. These objects are mostly produced within the last two centuries and are distinguished by their large size for objects of numismatic value. Most of the objects come from modern-day Congo, Nigeria, and Cameroon. At first blush they come across as simply worked pieces of metal. The ANS caught up with Helms to find out more about his overall collecting practices and what led him to these objects, and to learn about how he grew his collection.

Q: When was the first time you bought a numismatic object from Africa? What inspired you to collect this work in particular?        

I bought my first piece of African currency from Monsieur Huguenin at Galerie Majestic on Rue Guenegaud, and in short order I started buying from most of the galleries in Paris.  Whereas a good Baule wooden standing figure in those days might sell at auction for $3,000, $4,000, or $5,000, one could find superb currency for a fraction of that cost. This work remains one of my favorites.

Q: Where were you acquiring these objects when you lived in Paris? Can you describe the market for African works in Paris at the time?

I was a visiting professor at the University of Paris (Nanterre) in 1983 when a colleague took me to several African art galleries and the African collection at the old Musée de l’Homme.  I remember being totally smitten.  Around the same time, I discovered African metal currency, which I found equally intriguing as African art, and it was more affordable.  So I began to purchase examples in Paris. This launched me into a lifetime of collecting African currency in Europe and the United States. Within a few years I had some 80 pieces.

Q: How have these objects fit within the context of your overall collecting practices? 

The two main collections of my life have been African metal currency and Chinese scholar rocks—both incidentally among the world’s most beautiful abstract arts.

Iron hoe money, Nigeria/Cameroon. According to Ballarini, this hoe-currency is made out of heavy sheet of iron, forged into shape of fan, with the bottom part ending in a triangle. These models could have actually been used as hoes: some known specimens have a ring welded to the plate, which indeed was used to fit in the wooden stick of the hoe. (ANS 2013.17.2, previously in Alan Helms’ collection.)

Q: How did you learn more about the objects you collected? 

Visual features have been my sole guide throughout so I’ve never studied these objects in any systematic, scholarly fashion. I’m almost exclusively concerned with the forms themselves. But it’s also true that little serious work has been done to date on African metal currency.  Few catalogues exist and many of those are of doubtful value.  It’s a ripe field for art historians who specialize in African art!

Q: You have donated parts of your numismatic collection to several important institutions including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Wellesley College. Other than the study and care for your works, what relevance do you think they could carry?

 For one thing, the objects themselves are aesthetically fascinating.  Beyond that, they’re an important part of the material history of the cultures that have created them.

Canadian Indian Treaty Medals and the Sesquicentennial of Confederation

Anyone who has had the opportunity to look through the trays of coins and medals at the American Numismatic Society knows that the objects speak. They talk to us as we each have the ability to hear them. They speak to us of times long gone or only recently passed, of important events, and of people: the ones who made the objects, the ones who issued them, the ones depicted or named on them, and the ones who used or collected them. When I go through the Canadian section of the Society’s Indian Peace Medal collection some of the pieces there seem to have things to say about the coming sesquicentennial celebration of July 1, 1867—the day when the three British colonies of Canada (united modern Ontario and Québec), Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick joined together in Confederation and the Dominion of Canada was born (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1. The Fathers of Canadian Confederation as depicted on a Canadian silver dollar (1982). (ANS 1995.109.474.)

Every kid likes a good birthday party. Friends, family, presents, and cake are usually involved, so what could there possibly be not to like? However, sometimes as adults, birthdays can become a two-edged sword. While the party might be nice, at times our birthdays can also put us in touch with a sense of our own mortality or feelings of regret that make us uncomfortable. No matter how good the cake is, or how much ice cream is piled on, sometimes birthdays just end up reminding us of our frailties. There will be a big party and a lot of fireworks in Canada this July 1, but for truly reflective Canadians it is going to be one of one of those grown-up birthdays—not a kid one.

Fig 2
Fig. 2. French Louis XV (1715-1774) Indian Peace medal reengraved with the name of King George III and the date 1775. (ANS 1926.28.1.)

I have always thought that a remarkable silver medal in the ANS collection (Fig. 2) perfectly symbolizes the three founding peoples of Canada. The medal was struck in France under Louis XV (1715-1744) for distribution to the leaders of Aboriginal allies or to those who had rendered some exemplary service to the French in North America. The medal itself represents the earliest permanent European settlers in what was to become Canada (Port Royal was established in what became Nova Scotia in 1605 and Québec City in 1608) and its unknown recipient, the original people of the land. The medal’s obverse legend, which originally named Louis XV, but was reengraved in 1775 to name King George III of Great Britain, represents the third of the original founders of Canada—the English. Canadian territories claimed by France were ceded to Great Britain in 1763, at the conclusion of the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763). People from many other places across the globe have since come to Canada and have made their unique contributions to the country in the centuries that followed, but Aboriginal, French, and English were the original founders of the country, in that order.

The Aboriginal owner of the medal almost certainly had the legend re-engraved to indicate his acceptance of alliance with the British in North America on the eve of the American Revolution and to retain a nice relic of the old French regime—French medals were prized by their Aboriginal recipients because they were generally larger and heavier than most subsequent British Indian Peace medals. It is nevertheless difficult not to think of the re-engraving of the British monarch’s name on a French medal bestowed upon an Aboriginal as a kind of allegory for both the sequence of political dominance in Canada, from Aboriginal, to French, to British and for the building of English Canada on pre-existing Aboriginal and French foundations. The medal is also allegorical of the serious problem that makes the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation such an adult birthday: The colonial powers of France and Great Britain are both given visible form respectively through the medal itself and the re-engraved legend while its Aboriginal owner has left no trace. He is invisible.

A lot of things can happen to you when you are invisible. Bad things. To offer only a few examples: Your communities can languish for decades without basic amenities (e.g. running potable water) that would be unheard of elsewhere, but no one else will notice; 40 or more women and girls from your communities can disappear over as many years, but no one will seriously investigate; and mainstream media can make light of appropriating your culture as if you are not even in the room. Even worse, if the intrinsic value of your culture is considered by others to be invisible, it is an easy step to attempts to extinguish it through repugnant educational and social means.

The continuing and still largely unresolved burdens of invisibility on Canada’s Aboriginal peoples trace their roots back a long way, to the kind of colonial disregard for the colonized that is reflected in the story of the first medals used to establish treaties between Aboriginal peoples and the young Dominion of Canada.

Not long after Confederation, in 1871, Canada negotiated treaties with various Anishinaabe and Mushkego (Swampy Cree) peoples of what is now southern Manitoba (Treaty Nos. 1 and 2) as a means of opening up new land for settlement, while the Aboriginal signatories hoped to gain some measure of protection from an expected ruinous tidal wave of European settlers. By the time of these treaties it was already long-established custom to seal such agreements with the gift of a suit of clothes, a flag, and a medal to the signing chiefs. Canada, however, failed to obtain any sort of appropriate medal for the occasions of Treaty Nos. 1 and 2. Instead, the treaties were solemnized by the distribution of stock medium-sized medals engraved by J. S. and A. B. Wyon of a type that was normally used for prizes in school or at agricultural fairs.

Fig 3
Fig. 3. Silver-plated electrotype Chief’s Medal awarded to Indians of the Northwest Territories awarded to replace the initial medals distributed at the signing of Treaty Nos. 1 and 2. (ANS 1925.173.9.)

The small size and the character of these medals understandably rankled with their recipients—they had signed away vast lands but in return did not receive even the dignity of a medal suitable for the occasion. In an attempt to mollify the resentment, in 1872, the government of Canada commissioned the Montréal  silversmith, Robert Hendry, to produce 25 replacement medals (Fig. 3).

Fig 4
Fig. 4. Silver Confederation Medal apparently awarded to minor Aboriginal leaders when the Chiefs’ Medals were distributed. (ANS 1934.23.1.)

With a diameter of 95 mm and a thickness of 10 mm the new medals certainly responded to the complaint about size, but they still lacked in dignity. They were not struck from dies prepared for a dedicated treaty medal, but created by silver plating electrotype copies of a Wyon commemorative medal struck for Canadian Confederation and encasing them in 11 mm wide rings. Each ring was inscribed with an English legend identifying the medal as a “Dominion of Canada Chief’s Medal” and the intended recipients as “Indians of the Northwest Territories.” A further piece in the ANS cabinet (Fig. 4) indicates that Confederation medals were also distributed without the additional outer ring, presumably to important Aboriginal figures of lesser status than the main signatories of Treaty Nos. 1 and 2. However, such pieces are not mentioned in the surviving documentation.

While the size of the 1872 replacement Chief’s Medal was impressive, its thin silver plating, which had a tendency to wear off, was not. Therefore, at last in 1873, when Canada was preparing to negotiate Treaty No. 3 with the Anishinaabe peoples of what is now northwestern Ontario and eastern Manitoba, proper treaty medals were commissioned from the Wyons (Fig. 5) at a cost of $26 per medal and struck for distribution at the signing of Treaty No. 3 and eight further numbered treaty settlements that were negotiated up to 1921.

Fig 5
Fig. 5. Silver Indian Peace Medal distributed at the signing of Treaty No. 3. (ANS 1934.23.1.)

The objects in the ANS collection are always ready to speak. They regularly tell us of what has happened in the past, but sometimes also invite serious reflection on the present and future that has grown and will continue to grow out of a given past. Sometimes they even have something to say about birthday parties. All we have to do is listen.







Free Article! “Wishes Granted: The ANS and the NEH”

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The Spring 2017 issue of ANS Magazine will be mailed to Members on June 20th, but the article “Wishes Granted: the ANS and the NEH” can be read right now for free (3 MB download).

The article, authored by Peter van Alfen, Gilles Bransbourg, Ethan Gruber, and Andrew Reinhard, details all of the recent NEH-funded work being done at the ANS with a nod to the Society’s past regarding Open Access initiatives and data-sharing.

The 63rd Eric P. Newman Graduate Summer Seminar in Numismatics


On June 5th, the 63rd Graduate Summer Seminar in Numismatics, which has been generously sponsored by Eric P. Newman, began at the ANS under the direction of Dr. Peter van Alfen. Since 1952, the Society has offered select graduate students and junior faculty the opportunity to work hands-on with its preeminent numismatic collections. 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 select a numismatic research topic and, utilizing ANS resources, complete a paper while in residence. The Seminar is intended to provide students of Classical Studies, History, Art History, Textual Studies, and Archeology who have little or no numismatic background with a working knowledge of a body of evidence that is often overlooked and poorly understood.

This year’s Visiting Scholar is Dr. Thomas Faucher of the Institut de recherche sur les archéomatériaux, Centre Ernest-Babelon, part of the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS) and the Université d’Orléans (Orléans, France). Dr. Faucher is, among other things, a specialist in ancient coin production and Ptolemaic coinages. In addition we welcome eight students who come to us from McMaster University, the University of Pennsylvania, Yale University, the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (NYU), the University of Delaware, the University of Houston, and Rutgers University.

Learn more about the Seminar.



Bolivia’s Central Bank Independence: when U.S. Expertise was welcome in Latin America

A few weeks ago, quite a large number of Latin American banknotes were donated to the American Numismatic Society, largely early 20th-century issues from Bolivia. Many of these banknotes, One-Boliviano bills dated 1911 and issued by El Banco de la Nacion Boliviana, bear an imprinted overstamp that reads “Banco Central de Bolivia.” Three signatures appear at the bottom, which seem almost as if they had been processed manually because of their range of colors, irregular locations on the banknotes, and various combinations of signatories.

It would be futile to understand the context that had led to their issuance without some understanding of Bolivia’s currency history. Partially ruled by the Incas before the Spanish conquest, the territory of what would become Bolivia became part of the Viceroyalty of Peru until 1776, when it was transferred to the newly established Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata. Incorporating the Potosi Mines, the area became Spain’s main silver supplier from 1545 until its independence on August 6, 1825. The young Republic, founded by Simon Bolivar, naturally turned toward silver to create the backbone of its currency system in 1827, with the new Sol exchanged on par against the Spanish colonial Real. However, wars, internal conflicts, excessive reliance on imports, and economic growth led to a permanent lack of monetary supply. Limited use of gold, minting of debased silver coinage and of bronze small change were not sufficient to alleviate this issue, leading to the introduction of paper money in 1867. At the same time, the world was moving away from the bimetallic gold and silver standard, adopting gold as its monetary anchor. As a result, the value of silver fell and Bolivia adopted the gold standard in 1895. Minting of silver coins decreased, coming to a halt by 1909, while Peruvian and British silver coins gained legal tender status. By the early 20th century, banknotes, issued by four private banks, had grown to represent more than half of the country’s overall monetary supply. At that time, a new currency unit, the Boliviano (worth 8-Soles) had been in circulation since 1864.

On January 7, 1911, Banco de Bolivia y Londres was turned into a mixed bank with a 78.4% state participation called Banco de la Nacion Boliviana, which enjoyed exclusive privilege of printing banknotes from 1914 onward. Its first banknotes were overstamped on existing pre-1911 bills, before the regular Mercury-type new banknotes were printed shortly after a May 11, 1911 law covering a 1–100 Bolivianos range:

1-Boliviano Banknote, El Banco de la Nacion Boliviana, May 11, 1911, Pick 102a. (ANS 1992.117.692, Mr. Arthur Mintz.)
1-Boliviano Banknote, El Banco de la Nacion Boliviana, May 11, 1911, Pick 103. (ANS 1992.117.693, Mr. Arthur Mintz.)

However, like most other countries all around the world, Bolivia’s cycles of economic boom and bursts worsened with the Great War. Currency convertibility into gold had to be suspended between 1914 and 1928. However, high demand for raw materials from the US stimulated tin production, originally only a by-product of the country’s mining sector, which brought back prosperity. After a provisional fall in 1918, tin exports surged to become 24% of world production by 1929. This amounted to 70% of Bolivia’s total exports. Logically, excessive credit expansion and unregulated speculation reached their peak.

Enter Princeton Professor Edwin Walter Kemmerer. Holding PhDs in Philosophy, Economics, and Finance from Wesleyan and Cornell, he witnessed the suspension of the Gold Standard in most of the world (but not the US) following 1914, followed by a period of strong monetary expansion that degenerated into high inflation and currency disorders in several countries. The breakdown of paper-money convertibility into gold, even if restored provisionally in some countries in the 1920s, had opened the doors for unlimited abuse of monetary expansion at the hands of political authorities and economic agents. A strong advocate of more independent central banks, return to gold standard, and control of monetary supply, Kemmerer was called by Guatemala in 1919, where he oversaw the creation of a central bank. This started a cycle of economic and financial reforms sweeping the continent, Kemmerer and ad-hoc teams of advisors steering a range of financial, monetary and legal reforms in Colombia (1923), Chile (1925), Ecuador (1926), Bolivia (1928), and Peru (1930). At the same time, he was involved with other countries as diverse as China, Turkey, and the Philippines.

In Bolivia, Kemmerer intended to suggest reforms of the taxation, custom, and financial systems altogether, while creating a true central bank with capacity to offer rediscount facilities to other banks. Kemmerer concluded his mission in July of 1927. A law dated July 11, 1928 and promulgated on July 20, 1928 led to the transformation of the existing Banco de la Nacion Boliviana into a central bank, initially named Banco Central de la Nacion Boliviana, operating alongside a banking regulatory and supervisory body, la Superintendencia de Bancos y Seguros, as well as a controlling authority. Regulations protecting private savings were set up as well as reserve ratios between banks’ capital and their balance sheet and limits on the banks’ ability to expand credit. The new central bank’s mandatory reserves of metal were fixed at 50%, and the Boliviano defined as a currency unit equivalent to 0.54917 g of gold. British and Peruvian Pounds were reestablished as legal tenders alongside the national currency. On April 20, 1929, the bank adopted its final name, Banco Central de Bolivia, and initiated its activity on July 1. Although the state owned 62.5% of the bank, it could appoint only 2 board members out of 9.

The central bank started to issue new banknotes bearing “Banco Central de Bolivia” and the July 20, 1928 date, displaying a portrait of Simon Bolivar, which replaced the former Mercury of the 1911 series. The law of 1928 had provided for coinage of silver for fractional denominations up to the 1-Boliviano unit. However, through amendments on February 5 and December 3, 1929, it was agreed to retain the 1-Boliviano notes. As a result, the denomination range produced by the new central bank was no different than in 1911, with banknotes of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 Bolivianos to which higher denominations of 500 and 1,000 Bolivianos were added. The date of the law that had established the new central bank replaced the previous 1911 date.

1-Boliviano Banknote, Banco Central de Bolivia, July 20, 1928, Pick 118. (ANS 1992.117.740, Mr. Arthur Mintz.)
1,000-Boliviano Banknote, Banco Central de Bolivia, July 20, 1928, Pick 127. (ANS 1987.88.37, Mr. David Hudson.)

Since no real currency reform had taken place, the monetary structure that had operated since 1911 could be maintained. The law had simply provided for the replacement of the old banknotes with the new ones issued by the central bank, which paid royalties to the central treasury in exchange of this privilege. Pending the printing of the new series, it was then decided to use the older types, incorporating a “Banco Central de Bolivia” overstamp.

1-Boliviano Banknote, El Banco de la Nacion Boliviana, 11 May 1911, Pick 112, with overstamp BANCO CENTRAL DE BOLIVIA. (ANS 1992.117.722, Mr. Arthur Mintz.)
100-Boliviano Banknote, El Banco de la Nacion Boliviana, 11 May 1911, Pick 117, with overstamp BANCO CENTRAL DE BOLIVIA. (ANS 1987.88.35, Mr. David Hudson.)

Interestingly, a range of overstamps were used, with four different colors—black, blue, pale blue, magenta—and four different sizes for the letters: very large, large, medium, and small. This created potentially 16 combinations for each denomination. Actually, not all these combinations were used for each denomination. As far as the 1-Boliviano banknote is concerned, neither the red overprint nor the largest letter size are to be found. The delay in getting the new series printed may be explained by the fact Bolivia, like most Latin American and many other developing countries at that time, subcontracted the printing job to corporations located in the US or in Europe. In this case, the American Banknote Company, which was responsible for printing the majority of the paper money used by the Latin American countries between ca. 1870 and 1970, was entrusted with that task.

One of the difficult parts was the fact banknotes had to carry the signatures of no less than 3 different officials. In 1911 they were the Contador (Accountant), the Delegate of the Government, and the “Gerante” Director of the issuing bank. The 1928 law had substituted them with the Accountant, the Superintendent of the Banking Authority and the “Gerente General,” the Central Bank Governor. As a result of bureaucratic and political instability, these names changed frequently. No less than 16 possible combinations of officials are encountered on the un-stamped 1-Boliviano 1911 banknotes, to which the three additional combinations displayed on the overstamped series need to be added. The plates and inks that were used for printing the signatures vary as a result, with exact location on the banknote, color, letter thickness, and shape displaying much instability. The range of colors and sizes used for the letters on the stamp added to this variety, ensuring that each banknote featured almost unique characteristics.

Three of the 1-Boliviano stamped banknotes recently donated to the ANS. Mr. Eduardo Feller.

The banking reform did not allow Bolivia to escape the consequence of the 1929 market crash and subsequent economic depression. Mining exports collapsed, and private consumption dropped 25% between 1929 and 1932. With high unemployment, capital imbalances and falling salaries, Bolivia left the gold standard for the second time in 1932 after it had defaulted on its public debt in late 1930. A military junta had taken over in July 1930, and the country went into a disastrous war with Paraguay between 1932 and 1935. In 1939, the central bank was nationalized, after its independence had been gradually reduced as a result of the economic and financial crisis.

Kemmerer’s faith into the gold standard had not helped the country: its overvalued currency exchange rate, fixed at the height of Bolivia’s mining activity, had effectively hindered its capacity to export goods in a competitive fashion, while allowing cheap imports. To some extent, Bolivia suffered the fate of those countries that did not leave the gold standard and devalue their currencies soon enough, like France, even though Bolivia left the gold standard before the US did.

Obviously, one cannot only blame Kemmerer’s inspired reforms for what was happening: the crisis was global, and it is likely that reining in excessive credit before 1929 had allowed the country to mitigate some of the economic depression’s impact. In the long run, the most striking tribute to the 1928 financial overhaul lies probably with the survival to these days of some of the institutional framework it had created: Bolivia is still enjoying a Central Bank that helped extract the country from further inflation and hyperinflation in the 1950s and early 1980s.

In any case, most economic crises find their roots outside of the realm of monetary policy, and even the most efficient central bankers have to deal with their governments’ generally sub-optimal economic policy choices.

Hiding in Plain Sight: New Seleucid Discoveries at the ANS

They say that admitting that you have a problem is the first step on the road to recovery. One of my recurring problems is that when my wife asks me to get an item out of the fridge I cannot find it. When I report that the item in question is not there, nine times out of ten she will walk over and pull it out without even having to search. Usually when this happens, the item was sitting at the front of the shelf —and at eye-level to boot—hiding in plain sight.

As I continue to prepare the ANS Seleucid coin database for the Seleucid Coins Online project it has become increasingly clear that previously unpublished coins—both control varieties and types—have also been hiding in plain sight in the Society’s trays for decades, despite the close attention of many specialists over the years. It is only now that almost the entirety of the Seleucid collection has been photographed and the images associated with the MANTIS database entries that these new coins have been revealed. The new discoveries in the trays mirror the general state of Seleucid numismatics, which has seen new types and control varieties appear at a remarkable pace in commerce over the years. Since Seleucid Coins, Part 2 was published jointly by the American Numismatic Society and Classical Numismatic Group in 2008, hundreds of previously unknown coins have been recorded. The purpose of this post is to introduce a few of the interesting new Seleucid discoveries in the ANS cabinet.

Figure 1: Alexandrine tetradrachm (ANS 1944.100.77077).
Figure 1: Alexandrine tetradrachm (ANS 1944.100.77077).

Perhaps the most intriguing of the coins is the Alexandrine tetradrachm from the bequest of E. T. Newell accessioned as ANS 1944.100.77077 (Fig. 1). Based on the original database entry, Newell considered this coin to belong to an oft-discussed series of tetradrachms struck under Seleucus I Nicator (312–280 BC) frequently bearing an anchor symbol and which he attributed to the north Phoenician mint of Marathus. The Marathus anchor Alexanders were subsequently reattributed as a whole to neighboring Aradus in 1998 before closer analysis of the historical and hoard evidence permitted the identification of their true origin at a mint in Babylonia (Uncertain Mint 6A in Seleucid Coins, Part 1) in 2002. Despite the interest in sorting out this Alexandrine series, neither Martin Price, Arthur Houghton, myself (when I was reviewing the trays for SC 1 in 1999–2000), nor anyone else seems to have noticed this coin and therefore it does not appear in the pages of The Coinage in the Name of Alexander the Great and Philip Arrhidaeus (1991) or Seleucid Coins, Part 1 (2002). It continued to be overlooked as late as 2015, when the American Journal of Numismatics published a new study of Uncertain Mint 6A by Lloyd Taylor.

Figure 2: Anchor Alexander, uncertain Mint 6A (Newell’s Marathus) (SC C67.5a, see CNG Electronic Auction 376, lot 237).

Artistic style and the monogram in the left field of the new coin indicate production at Uncertain Mint 6A (Newell’s Marathus). Indeed, the obverse die seems to have been cut by the same hand as a die employed for that mint’s anchor Alexanders (SC C67.5a, see CNG Electronic Auction 376, lot 237; Fig. 2). However, the wreath around the left field monogram and the bee symbol below it also suggests a degree of influence from the so-called “Imperial Workshop” of Babylon (SC 82.2b; Fig. 3)—now thought to have coined Alexander tetradrachms for Seleucus’ arch-enemy, Antigonus the One-Eyed, during his occupation of Babylonia (315-308 BC).

Figure 3: (SC 82.2b).
Figure 3: Alexandrine tetradrachm of Babylon I, the “Imperial Workshop” (ANS 1944.100.80957).

With the exception of the anchor, field symbols are otherwise unknown at Mint 6A and the mint is already known to share a wreathed monogram with the “Imperial Workshop” (SC 67.5a and SC 81–85). While the obverse die seems to belong to Taylor’s Series II, which he dates to c. 306–304 BC, the treatment of Zeus and the absence of an anchor symbol connect the new coin to Taylor’s Series III, which he dates to 304–303 BC. The possibility of influence from the “Imperial Workshop” of Babylon will require further study and may perhaps demand revisiting and revision to the Marathus/Aradus/Uncertain Mint 6A complex of Seleucus’ Alexandrine tetradrachms yet again. And to think that the coin has been sitting in the cabinet since the mid-1940s!

Figure 4:
Figure 4: Unpublished bronze coin of Seleucus II Callinicus (246–226 BC) from an uncertain mint (ANS 1982.175.9).

Somewhat less embarrassingly old is a previously unknown bronze coin of Seleucus II Callinicus (246–226 BC) accessioned as ANS 1982.175.9 (Fig. 4). It has only been overlooked in the trays since 1982. The denomination (B) and types are very similar to a series struck at a Syrian mint formerly identified as Apamea, but now known as the uncertain ΔEΛ Mint (SC 706; Fig. 5). However, while both the new coin and the ΔEΛ Mint issues feature a bull butting left on the reverse, the latter carries a depiction of Seleucid dynastic god, Apollo, on the obverse. The new coin features the diademed portrait of the king instead of Apollo, but this fact went unrecognized by the original database cataloguer and by anyone who has seen it over the last several decades. The coin is not listed in Seleucid Coins Part 1. Based on the reverse type, the coin may be a new issue of the ΔEΛ Mint, but in the absence of any visible control monograms this attribution must remain tentative. The type combination of the head of Apollo and a bull butting right also occurs on bronze denomination A at Seleucia on the Tigris (SC 773).

Figure 5: Cut fraction of a gold stater (ANS 1997.92.1).
Figure 5: Bronze denomination B of Seleucus II Callinicus (246–226 BC) struck at the ΔEΛ Mint (ANS 1944.100.77000).

A third discovery is not overly embarrassing and does not really expand our knowledge of Seleucid numismatics, but it is rather fun. The cut fraction of a gold stater (Fig. 6) accessioned as ANS 1997.92.1 has been carried in the database for two decades now as a Bactrian issue of Antiochus II Theos (261–246 BC), apparently based only on the limited remains of the portrait. Only the royal title BAΣΙΛΕΩΣ remains on the reverse. However, close analysis of the reverse shows the small tip of a thunderbolt above the legend, which can only mean that the coin was struck under the rogue Seleucid satraps of Bactria, Diodotus I and Diodotus II. Although early Diodotid staters struck at a facility designated “Mint A” did include a legend naming their distant monarch, Antiochus II, the positioning of the thunderbolt here points to production at “Mint B,” which did not employ a legend naming the Seleucid king on staters (Fig. 7). Therefore, the cut stater given to Antiochus II is not a proper Seleucid coin at all, but rather an issue struck by the Diodoti after they claimed full autonomy from the Seleucid Empire in c. 255 or c. 246 BC.

Figure 6: Cut fraction of a gold stater originally attributed to Antiochus II (ANS 1997.92.1).

These three discoveries are not the only ones made while working through the database, but are among the most interesting to date. They are exciting because they show that there are still new things lurking in the ANS Seleucid trays waiting to be revealed. The long time that some of these coins have lain in the cabinet unrecognized for what they are despite the number of eyes that must have fallen upon them is also comforting. Clearly I am not the only one who cannot see what is in plain view at the front of the fridge.

Figure 7: Diodotid gold stater of "Mint B" (ANS 1980.109.108).
Figure 7: Diodotid gold stater of “Mint B” (ANS 1980.109.108).

ANS to Repatriate 94 War-Looted Coins to the Salzburg Museum


Salzburg Museum. Photo: Karl Gruber, CC-BY SA 4.0.
Salzburg Museum. Photo: Karl Gruber, CC-BY SA 4.0.

The American Numismatic Society (ANS) welcomes the Director and CEO of the Salzburg Museum, Direktor Hon.-Prof. Mag. Dr. Martin Hochleitner, and Dr. Peter Lechenauer, an attorney representing the Salzburg Museum, to New York for the repatriation of a group of 94 coins stolen from the Museum Carolino-Augusteum of Salzburg in 1945. The coins will be turned over to Dr. Hochleitner and Dr. Lechenauer by Mr. Kenneth L. Edlow, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the ANS, and Dr. Ute Wartenberg Kagan, Executive Director of the ANS, on Friday, May 26, 2017.

ANS benefactor, Chester L. Krause.

This group of coins came to the ANS in 1995 after our late Benefactor, Mr. Chester L. Krause, brought them to the attention of the curators. Mr. Krause had learned that these coins were rumored to have come from a museum in Austria in 1945 and donated to the ANS the funds to purchase them, so as to ensure that they could be returned to any rightful owner rather than being dispersed on the market. The ANS accepted the gift and acquired the coins in order to preserve the group intact, while curators Alan Stahl and William Metcalf immediately began inquiries with colleagues in Austria to determine whether a legitimate owner could be identified so that the coins could be repatriated.

Gold florin, Salzburg (Austria), 1365–1396. (ANS 1996.3.1).
Gold florin, Salzburg (Austria), 1365–1396. (ANS 1996.3.1).

The details of the story, as known at the time, were also published in the 1996 ANS Annual Report. In the last year of World War II, the coins from the Salzburger Museum Carolino-Augusteum were moved to underground storage for protection. After the end of the war, the American occupation authorities took custody of those coins; when they were returned to the museum in 1946, over 2,000 coins were missing. Publications from before and after the war made it clear that the coins the ANS had acquired closely matched some of the missing coins from the Salzburger Museum, but no clear proof was available at that time.

Silver denar of CIO, Salzburg (Austria), 991–1023. (ANS 1996.3.18).
Silver denar of CIO, Salzburg (Austria), 991–1023. (ANS 1996.3.18).

Open-access publication of old ANS annual reports has made them much more widely available, and this brought the story to the attention of more numismatists in Austria. As a result, recent work has been able to match a few coins with earlier photographs and many others, which have inventory numbers written in ink on the surface of the coin, with an old card file in the Salzburg Museum bearing similar numbers. This work has demonstrated that the group of coins can in fact be identified as a small but valuable portion of the coins stolen from the Salzburger Museum over 70 years ago.

Silver groschen, Bohemia, 1378–1419. (ANS 1996.3.62).
Silver groschen, Bohemia, 1378–1419. (ANS 1996.3.62).

These coins represent an important body of material for the study of the history of Salzburg and Austria. Highlights include a gold florin of Archbishop Pilgrim II of Salzburg (1365–1396), a silver pfennig of the same archbishop, a silver pfennig of Archbishop Hartwig of Salzburg (991–1023), and a Bohemian groschen of the years around 1400 that was counter-stamped for validation by three different cities, Nördlingen, Ulm, and Salzburg. The ANS is pleased to have assisted with their return home.

Silver pfennig, Salzburg (Austria), 1365–1396. (ANS 1996.3.45).
Silver pfennig, Salzburg (Austria), 1365–1396. (ANS 1996.3.45).

Executive Director Dr. Ute Wartenberg commented on the return of the coins to Austria: “We are delighted that these interesting coins will be returned to the museum where they belong and where people will view and study them. I am also so grateful to the late Chet Krause for his extraordinary initiative in trying to preserve Austrian heritage. A case like this one illustrates that even today museums in the US should be acting perhaps as safe havens for looted objects and be more proactive in acquiring looted objects with the specific purpose to eventually repatriate them.”

The American Numismatic Society, organized in 1858 and incorporated in 1865 in New York State, operates as a research museum under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and is recognized as a publicly supported organization under section 170(b)(1)(A)(vi) as confirmed on November 1, 1970.

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.

A blog of the American Numismatic Society