Guises of the Tribute Penny

This last summer an email message to the ANS Curatorial Department requested that an attempt be made to use the Society’s online resources, like Pocket Change, to offer some education regarding the famous “Tribute Penny” mentioned in the King James Version of Mark 12:13–17 (thought by many New Testament source critics to have been followed by Matthew 22:16–21 and Luke 20:20–26). The sender expressed concern that coins regularly sold on the numismatic market as the “Tribute Penny” type might be wrongly described as such. This is in fact a very old concern, and one that extends almost back to the birth of modern coin collecting in the Renaissance.

Figure 1. Title page of Marquard Freher’s De Numismate census, a Pharisaeis in quaestionem vocato (Heidelberg, 1599).

Already in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the question of the coin’s identity had been discussed in print by several scholars (Fig. 1). These treatises generally preferred a silver coin of Tiberius (AD 14–37) featuring the portrait and name of the emperor on the obverse and an enthroned female figure on the reverse often thought to represent his mother Livia in the guise of Pax (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. Silver denarius of Tiberius. Lugdunum mint, AD 14–37. RIC I2, 30. ANS 1948.19.1043.

This identification seemed to tick all of the appropriate boxes: 1) The coin was struck by Tiberius who was known to have been the reigning emperor during Jesus’ ministry; 2) it featured the emperor’s “image and superscription,” both of which are explicitly mentioned in the parallel accounts of the three Synoptic Gospels; and 3) it was a denarius (Greek δηνάριον), the denomination specified by the Synoptic Gospels. This identification seemed to have it all, and thus it has tended to be the favorite down to the present, to the point that if the “Tribute Penny” is mentioned to any numismatist today, this is the type that invariably leaps to mind first. However, the identification with Tiberius’ denarius has one important difficulty that was unknown from the time that the numismatists of the early modern period first identified the “Tribute Penny” down to the last quarter of the twentieth century: There is no find evidence to suggest that the Roman denarius circulated in Judaea in any kind of quantity before AD 70.

Figure 3. Silver tetradrachm of Tiberius. Antioch mint, AD 14-37. RPC I, 4161.1. ANS 1944.100.65559.

As a possible solution to this problem it has sometimes been suggested that the “Tribute Penny” was actually a rare silver tetradrachm type (Fig. 3) struck in the name of Tiberius at Antioch on the Orontes, the capital of the Roman province of Syria. Due to the close proximity of Syria to Judaea it is assumed that such coins were more likely to have circulated in the environs of Judaea in the time of Jesus than the denarius. Unfortunately, the Syrian tetradrachm theory is bedeviled by its own complications that have tended to prevent it from gaining wide acceptance. For one thing, the tetradrachm (roughly equivalent to four denarii) was a much larger denomination than Mark’s denarius and its design featuring the heads and names of both Tiberius and the deified Augustus makes for uncomfortable ambiguity when Jesus asks his interlocutors whose “image and superscription” are on it. Also problematic is the fact that none of the few known Syrian tetradrachms of Tiberius were found in Israel. Indeed, find and hoard evidence suggests that Syrian tetradrachms really only began to circulate in Judaea under Nero, perhaps in response to the closure of the provincial silver mint at Tyre in AD 56 and/or the movement of troops at the outbreak of the Jewish Revolt (AD 66–73).     

Although proponents of the differing identities of the “Tribute Penny” have occasionally come close to blows in the past, it may be worth considering the possibility that the specific denomination was mentioned by Mark and the other Synoptic Gospels not so much with the intention of providing a precise historical detail but as a means of adding concreteness to the message of proper respect for divine and worldly authority. If the many New Testament source critics who consider the Gospel of Mark to have been written for a Christian community in Rome shortly after the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 are correct, it seems not unreasonable to wonder whether the coin is identified as a denarius not as a literal description of a coin actually handed to Jesus at the time of his questioning, but because this denomination was comprehensible in the Roman context of Mark’s primary audience. It was a coin that anyone in Rome, Italy or the western provinces would have been familiar with in the first century. This is the very same mechanism that turned Mark’s denarius into a penny (Fig. 4) in the English of the King James Version as a means of retaining intelligibility for English readers of the early seventeenth century.

Figure 4. Silver penny of James I. London Tower mint, 1603–1625. North 2106. ANS 1972.197.1.

Although the precise identity of the coin is important to those of us with a numismatic bent, it is not so clear that this was particularly important to early Christian communities. In the Gnostic-leaning Gospel of Thomas (100:1–4), an extra-canonical Coptic codex of sayings of Jesus discovered in Egypt near Nag Hammadi in 1945, the “Tribute Penny” is described as a gold coin (Coptic anoub). A Roman gold aureus (worth 25 denarii) (Fig. 5) would have been ridiculously high for the head tax (caput) in the first century—particularly considering that the punitive tax imposed on adult male Jews after the fall of Jerusalem was only two denarii (roughly equivalent to the half shekel previously paid to the Jerusalem Temple).

Figure 5. Gold aureus of Tiberius. Lugdunum mint, AD 14–37. RIC I2, 29. ANS 1957.172.1514.

However, in response to the runaway inflation and the debasement of Roman silver coinage over the course of the third century, in the 290s Diocletian instituted reforms that required the payment of the head tax in gold (Fig. 6).

Figure 6. Gold aureus of Diocletian. Antioch mint, AD 296-297. RIC VI, 13. ANS 1960.175.2.

Since the Nag Hammadi version of the Gospel of Thomas is believed to have been written down in the mid-fourth century on the basis of paleography (although it seems to include earlier material), it is tempting to suggest that here too the coin in Jesus’ hand reflects the contemporary reality of the community for which the gospel was written rather than any historical reality. In the fourth century, the head tax was regularly assessed in gold solidi (Fig. 7) and therefore Mark’s silver denarius was transformed into gold for the Late Antique audience of the Coptic Gospel of Thomas.   

Figure 7. Gold solidus of Constantius II. Antioch mint, AD 347–355. RIC VIII, 83. ANS 1956.184.9.

The apparent irrelevance of the precise identity of the coin is further implied by the extra-canonical Egerton Gospel and Tertullian’s treatise against idolatry. The Egerton Gospel is a fragmentary Greek codex obtained by the British Museum in 1934 and probably dateable to about AD 200. The recto side of Egerton Fragment 2 recounts the familiar controversy over payment of the head tax but there no coin is ever proffered to Jesus, nor is a coin even mentioned. Tertullian’s De Idolatria (15.3), probably written in the early third century, on the other hand, also retells this story, but refers to the denarius of the Synoptic Gospels only by the nondescript Latin term nummus (“coin”).

Coin identification (and argument about differing coin identifications) is the basic lifeblood of any numismatist. There is a special thrill to looking at a 2,000-year-old piece of metal and being able to say to oneself, “Aha! I know what that is.” However, in attempting to precisely identify the “Tribute Penny” as a specific coin, it may be that we are really chasing a chimera.

From Mound House to Manhattan, Part III

This is the third and final segment in the series to update ANS members and interested guests on the MACO Archives and the pending move of die shells and plasters from their present location in Mound House, Nevada to New York, New York.

I barely had time to recover from packing up the die shells and plasters in Nevada (see “From Mound House to Manhattan, Part II“) before it felt like the trucks were on their way. Back on the East Coast and less than a month to go before we hoped to have everything here, it was time to put the last piece of the puzzle in place: the trucks. In the initial stages of planning, we were told that a few months’ lead-time is far too long, and that a month or less is needed. I was to learn that even this amount of time is eonic in nature—as you, too, will learn below. After pricing out four different logistics companies, Schneider National seemed like the most competent and reasonably priced for our needs. I had initially scheduled the three tractor-trailers to be picked up in Mound House on June 21, 22, and 23, in order to arrive in succession on June 28, 29, and 30.

As the first day for pickup approached, however, I soon realized how the trucking industry operated. Many logistics companies, in fact, do not necessarily own their own trucks and instead act as brokers between the drivers and the customers. This is, perhaps, the main reason why they cannot plan so far in the future—it is not theirs to plan. Just like the customer (in this case, the ANS), logistics companies are largely at the whim of privately-owned trucking companies or independent drivers. If a trucker doesn’t decide to pick up the load, the load doesn’t get picked up. The 17th turned into the 18th before becoming the weekend, still without a quote. Finally, just before 11 a.m. on the morning of June 21, we received a bite from a private trucking company. I received the paperwork and everything seemed good to go. Meanwhile, Rob Vugteveen—my trusted colleague from Part II— and Josiah—our hired forklift operator—waited diligently for any sign of an 18-wheeler. They ate lunch, then waited some more. The day turned nearly into night without a trace.

Unfortunately, the driver arrived as the sun set. However, we were able to convince him to stay local for the night and pick up the material first thing in the morning. Here is a video of some of the first pallets being loaded onto the truck, shot by Rob:

In less than two hours, the first truck was loaded with 26 full pallets. Knowing that this was the heaviest of the loads that would traverse the country—and fearful that he might be over the legal weight limit—the driver immediately went to get weighed in. 65,000 pounds! (Just 15,000 pounds below the 80,000-pound maximum.)

The second truck gave us no time to regroup. Rob was barely through a celebratory snow cone when we received word that the second truck was nearly there! By 3 p.m., it had rolled into Mound House and within a few hours was also completely packed. Rob and Josiah were both home by dinner, while our two truckers began a slow and arduous journey across most of the United States.

At this point, you should be reading about the third truck picking up the last load in Mound House. However, as noted above, the trucking industry is rather unpredictable and this did not materialize in the order which we had hoped. Instead, silence. While the first two were seemingly quick and easy, no one wanted to touch the third load. Despite the nonchalance of our Schneider National representative, apparently, we were quite lucky to have found those first two trucks as easily as we had. From what I know understand, the upper Nevada area is somewhat of a desert for truck drivers (pun intended) and, of the few that are actually there, not that many want to come to Manhattan or Brooklyn. Go figure!

On the morning of Monday, July 28, at the break of dawn, I made contact with the first driver, who had been in the area since the early weekend…waiting. Much to our surprise, the first driver to arrive was the second driver to have picked up material in Mound House. Somehow, the second driver drove past the first! That, however, was not of concern (with the exception of where, exactly, was the first driver?). Our concern at that time was to get the truck into place and unload the 26 pallets in its trailer.

Getting the truck into place was my biggest worry from the start of this project. I, and I alone, knew how narrow the street was where the loading dock is located. It is very narrow—basically an alleyway. The only solace I had and kept telling myself was that there is a loading dock there, so a truck must be able to get to it. Meeting up with the driver, he requested I get into the cab with him to guide him around the block. Even these wider avenues proved difficult. With the time of reckoning literally around the corner, I knew that if the driver couldn’t get the truck into place that the day would get so much worse—essentially having to unload the truck entirely by hand.

We approached the street and the driver nearly coasted by it—true testament to the narrow nature of the street. By the time we came to a stop, we were directly adjacent to the street. The driver stared it down for what seemed like all morning, but was probably a solid minute—cigarette hanging from his lips. Plotting. Navigating in his mind where he wanted the truck to go. At one point, he literally had to jump out of the cab to yell certain expletives at the many annoyed commuters in cars that we were holding up. The driver did not care, and let them know it. In the end, he felt that he could make the turn.

He backed the truck up, to the further chagrin of those we held up. Some sped around us, but no matter. If words can explain how he maneuvered this turn: we essentially had to turn left the go right; at one point the cab was beyond the road was aimed for, but the trailer was whipping around into place; essentially converting the 90° turn into a complete 180°. The straighten out amidst a row of parked cars. By this time, John Thomassen, curatorial assistant at the ANS, had arrived to help unload. As we made the turn, I could see him near our destination, both hands on his head as he helplessly watched the driver pull off this incredible maneuver. I had respect for big-rig drivers before this, but watching it in action—literally in the passenger’s seat—brought my respect to new heights. The geometry involved in a simple turn is often counterintuitive.

That turn was only half the battle. Next, we had to back the truck up into the loading dock (Figs. 1 and 2).

Figure 1. ANS Curator, Jesse Kraft, hoping that the first truck of MACO die shells will fit into the loading dock.
Figure 2. Kraft guides the truck into place.

While the turn seemed like the hard part, perhaps the fact that it took him three attempts to pull this off—while only one to make the turn—shows how difficult this truly was. The truck was in place. Again, getting to this point, in my mind, was the hard part and gave an incredible sense of relief seeing the truck in place. More importantly, now that I knew that one driver could do it, the other two had no excuse not to pull of the same stunt.

Figure 3. Kraft unloads the very first pallets into Brooklyn.

Next was to unload several tons of numismatic material (Fig. 3). Just prior to the arrival of the material, the ANS purchased two pallet jacks and a hand truck for the occasion. I had plenty of recent experience with these whilst in Nevada, but John had never handled a pallet jack before—though he caught on quickly. Executive Director Gilles Bransbourg graciously offered his help this morning, and we quickly realized that we needed to keep him away from the pallet jacks if we wanted to unload the truck in a timely manner. Aside from minor elevator troubles—the closest freight elevator wasn’t working that day, and, at one point, the working elevator dropped a foot below the basement level and wouldn’t rise again—unloading went smoothly. About four hours later, we had the first third of the MACO die shells unloaded and in storage.

Two days later, June 30, the second truckload arrived and was nearly as eventful. The second driver, Sufyan, was an incredible help to us. Sufyan was much less sure of himself than the first driver. He didn’t think it could be done but, knowing that it was, in fact, accomplished just two days prior, I repeatedly had to remind him that it was possible. He, too, pulled off the turn with a wider-than-life turn and, more impressively, was able to back the truck up into a better position in only one attempt! In addition to Sufyan’s help and, instead of Gilles, Chief Curator Peter van Alfen offered his assistance. Furthermore, we had the luxury of using the closer elevator, which essentially opens up to the front door of the space we occupy in the building. This shaved several hundred feet of travel per pallet and, as a result, we were able to unload the truck in about three hours.

If you recall, we had three truckloads of material but only two trucks picked anything up. The first two trucks were completely picked up, delivered, and unloaded and we had yet to have heard from anyone who wanted to touch the third. Sufyan, as he was leaving, mentioned that he would be interested in going back to Nevada but he was either redirected by his dispatchers or wasn’t necessarily telling the truth. Either way, we had until July 17 to have the facilities at Mound House completely emptied.

As if out of nowhere, in the late morning of July 5, I received an email from my contact at Schneider National that a driver was, literally, on his way to pick up the material. As quickly as possible, we needed to get the contract signed and, perhaps most importantly, make sure that Rob and Josiah were available for a last-minute load (Fig. 4).

Figure 4. The last pallet being loaded onto the final truck in Mound House.

Long story, short: the third and final truck arrived on the morning of July 12. For several reasons, however, we decided to bring this load to our storage facility in Brooklyn, rather than to our headquarters in Manhattan as originally planned. That said, this series should have been titled “From Mound House to Brooklyn,” but we didn’t know—plus the alliteration of the current title is catchier. Either way….

By the end of it, we were pros at unloading tractor-trailers and whizzes with the pallet jacks. I would like to add that, since we couldn’t count on the third driver being anywhere near as much help as Sufyan was, Peter, John, and I recruited ANS Photographer Alan Roche to help as the fourth person. However, Alan didn’t show up until, most conveniently for him, mere minutes after the last pallet was put into place. His contributions for the day were to document the sweaty messes that the three of us were by the end of it all (Fig. 5).

Figure 5. Peter van Alfen, John Thomassen, and Jesse Kraft recuperating after moving the final pallets into place.

Nonetheless, the MACO die shells were officially repatriated with the ANS in New York City! Many of the die shells were, in fact, created in the Big Apple prior to MACO’s move to Danbury, Connecticut in 1973! This momentous occasion will allow the Society to begin completely cataloging the die shells, to compare them to the struck medal, and be able to build a bigger picture into the production methods of the Medallic Art Co. While this is the final segment in this series, do stay tuned for further updates from the ANS regarding the MACO Archives.

Curiosities of the United States Paper Money Cabinet, Part I

For numismatists and collectors alike, there’s nothing quite like exploring an area of numismatics that one knows little about, or hardly knew existed at all until being exposed to it. After changing my mind several times regarding the topic for this week’s Pocket Change blog post, I accidentally hit upon an area of paper money that I had not really traversed before: miscellaneous paper issues from the United States. This broad (and somewhat vague) title of my own designation brings to mind everything from postal drafts and money orders, to checks, coupons, food stamps, company and community scrip, toy money, play and movie notes, and of course, biting (and sometimes salacious) satirical notes.

In fact, the area of the U.S. paper money collection at the American Numismatic Society that houses all of the above (and more) sits at the very end of the U.S. paper money universe, where federal and state issues end, and everything else begins. Despite it’s catch-all nature, this small section of the U.S. paper money cabinet is neither exhaustive nor intimidating. Rather, it is a tidy little outpost, and casually combing through it will yield a variety of interesting, colorful paper (and occasionally cloth) notes of all kinds. Here, then, is Part I of a two-part series showcasing the items I found captivating enough at first glance to warrant further investigation. Several issues also needed digital accessioning, and all of them lacked photographs, meaning this blog post was as good an opportunity as any to have them properly photographed and digitally recorded.

Obverse and reverse of a Post Office Department Draft dated March 5, 1840 for $96.73. ANS 0000.999.57568

The Post Office Department — the original precursor to today’s United States Postal Service — was born in 1792, it’s creation fueled both by the Postal Service Act of 1792, and the powers granted to Congress by the United States Constitution to establish throughout the land “Post Offices and Post Roads.” The above Post Office Department Draft was issued several decades before the Post Office Department began offering money orders in 1864 (originally a British invention), and by the early 1860s, the idea of postal money orders was already being bandied about in newspapers such as the New York Times, who on March 17, 1862 argued that “The English system has been brought to that state of perfection that we feel satisfied that we had far better copy, it in all its entirety and with all its simplicity, than attempt any mere adaptation thereof.” As such, this transfer draft is more akin to a bank check than a money order, in that the amount of $96.73 was already on deposit with this Hartford, CT Post Office, and could therefore be transferred to the payee “At sight” as noted on the document.

Obverse and reverse of a redeemed $10 San Francisco Clearing House Certificate. ANS 0000.999.57569

Although the aforementioned Post Office Department Draft suggests that the early Post Office Department offered at least some banking-adjacent services, a true postal banking system did not exist until the United States Postal Savings System of 1911, itself spurred by the Panic of 1907, which the above San Francisco Clearing House Certificate is related to. Small denomination scrip of $1, $2, $5, $10, and $20 notes were issued in late 1907 and early 1908, circulated during the worst of the panic, and when tensions eased, were quickly redeemed in those same years. These small denomination scrip were part of a much larger “Loan Certificate” scheme to mitigate the detrimental effects of the Panic of 1907, and the whole program — especially the low value scrip — was an overall success, despite the “general aversion of the public in California to [accept] any kind of paper money.”

Obverse and reverse of a Klaw and Erlanger Stage Money Note produced by the Standard Engraving Company. ANS 0000.999.57570

For stage productions that required actors to use money during their performances, the decision to use prop money instead of real paper currency was likely predicated on the notion that it was impractical to use real money that could be lost or damaged on stage; furthermore, the question of who exactly would supply said currency (the production company? The theatre? The actors?) for use on stage probably added to the impracticality of going this route, when prop money would function just as well. Additionally, any prop money used on stage would be hard to see in any real detail by the audience, even by those in the first few rows, and given that prop money (when needed at all) was likely only required for a few select (and probably short) scenes, it stands to reason that the notes did not need to be highly detailed either, as evidenced by the above note.

Klaw and Erlanger as a management and production company existed from 1888 until 1919, starting in New Orleans, and finally making their way to New York City, where in 1903 they opened the New Amsterdam Theatre (home of the Ziegfeld Follies from 1913 to 1927). Klaw and Erlanger were also members of the somewhat infamous Theatrical Syndicate, which controlled bookings for most of the top theatres in the United States for over a decade.

Obverse and reverse of a U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Coupon valued at 50 Cents. ANS 1985.135.1

In 1964, the Food Stamp Act was passed by Congress at the behest of President Lyndon B. Johnson. Over the years, participation in the program expanded at a steady clip, with more rapid growth occurring during the 1960s and 70s as the program spread across the United States, as it was overseen by individual states during this time. In 1974, the program became national, and overall participation has grown as the general population of the United States has increased, hitting a peak of 47.6 million people in 2013, although that number has since come down and now sits around 43 million people as of June, 2021.

During this time, the nationwide program has undergone many legislative changes, both major and minor, and is often a hotly debated topic among politicians and political parties. One major change was the development — first piloted in 1984 — of the Electronic Benefit Transfer system, or EBT for short, that allowed participants to pay retailers directly from their federally-managed balance using a specially-issued debit card. This spelled the end of paper notes such as the above 50 Cents Coupon, and as of 2004, all 50 states, D.C., the Virgin Islands, and Guam, were using the EBT system to issue benefits.

The above note displays the directives Do Not Fold and Do Not Spindle, ‘spindle’ in this case meaning to impale or spear onto a metal spindle for filing.

Stay tuned for the 2nd and final installment of this blog post in the coming months!

COAC 2021: The Victor David Brenner Sesquicentennial

Figure 1. Photo of the control room main monitor during one of the talks.

After a hiatus of a dozen years, this last Friday and Saturday (17–18 September) saw the resumption of the Coinage of the Americas Conference (COAC) series at the American Numismatic Society. Since the mid-1980s, COACs have been one of the leading venues for the presentation of academic research pertaining to numismatics of the Western Hemisphere. Previous conferences, and their published proceedings, have covered topics on colonial and federal coinages and medallic art in the United States.

Figures 2 and 3. Speaker Christopher Bach presenting his talk, “Victor D. Brenner and the painterly influence of Joaquín Sorolla.”

Thanks to the sponsorship of the Resolute Americana Collection and the Stack Family, ANS Assistant Curator Dr. Jesse Kraft’s efforts to revive the series this year were successful. Along with conference co-organizers Scott Miller (ANS Fellow) and Patrick McMahon (MFA Boston), Dr. Kraft decided to commemorate the sesquicentennial of Victor David Brenner’s birth with two days of papers devoted to the artist’s life and works.

Figure 4. Speaker and conference co-organizer Patrick McMahon virtually responding to questions following his talk, “Victor David Brenner’s Society of the Cincinnati Medal in Context.”

Born in 1871 in what is now Lithuania, Brenner initially followed in the family business of jewel engraving before immigrating to the United States in 1890. After studying in both the United States and, most notably, in Paris with famed French medallic artist Oscar Roty, Brenner quickly positioned himself to become one of the foremost medallists working in New York City, the center of US medallic art. Brenner’s most well-known artwork is, undoubtedly, the Lincoln Cent of 1909, which remains in production today; with over 450 billion examples produced in the 112 years since it was introduced it is the most reproduced piece of art in human history. While it is known that Brenner created a significant body of work beyond the Lincoln cent, much of his other work has been overshadowed by this single piece.

Figure 5. Speaker Taylor Hartley enjoying the exhibit of Brenner’s work organized for the conference in the ANS’s Sage Room by Jesse Kraft and Scott Miller.

Many of the papers in this year’s COAC sought to explore the full range of Brenner’s work, and these efforts were quite informative. By the end of the conference, the trajectory of Brenner’s career, before his life was cut short in 1924 by cancer, came into clearer view. Always pushing himself to obtain greater skills, Brenner explored a number of techniques and styles in medallic art production, more perhaps than many of his contemporaries, designing over 200 medallic works of art throughout his 35-year career. At the same time, towards the end of his career he seemed to have been making an attempt to move decisively away from medallic art towards larger bas-relief and sculpture in the round. His largest artwork, and one of his more successful, is the Mary Schenley Memorial Fountain in Pittsburg, PA, also known as “A Song to Nature”. Significantly, his career path was, in many ways, opposite that of his contemporaries: he began as an engraver of small objects moving towards larger sculpture while others started with larger works before attempting medallic art. Curiously, however, after his success with the 1909 Lincoln cent, Brenner’s career never really took off in the way that those associated with the doyenne of US sculpture Augustus Saint Gaudens did; indeed, Brenner was never part of the Saint Gaudens circle. To the end, Brenner remained something of a struggling artist, designing and producing a number of different sculptural objects, including bookends and wall fountains, many of which were only recently identified and attributed to Brenner by some of the conference speakers. The proceedings of the conference are expected to be published by the ANS in the coming year. In the meantime, a video recording of the conference will soon be available on our YouTube channel. A list of the speakers and their papers can be found here.

Figure 6. Alan Roche and Ben Hiibner manning the newly installed control room during the Zoom broadcast of the conference.

One final note: this year’s COAC also marked a significant change in the way that the ANS will, in the future, host and present conferences. After a substantial investment in new equipment, and thanks to the efforts of Ben Hiibner and Alan Roche, this year’s COAC was a fully hybrid event, simultaneously live and virtual. Those unable to attend in person were able to participate both as speakers and audience members via Zoom. Such hybrid events will continue to allow us to reach a greater proportion of our membership as we resume our usual schedule of events, talks, and conferences.

Were Eraviscan imitative denarii a prestige coinage?

The Latin legend RAVIS which occurs on the reverse of this imitative denarius (Fig. 1) has long been associated with the Latin name of a Germanic tribe, the Eravisci or Aravisci. Other legends that appear on imitative denarii that have been associated with this tribe are RAVIZ, RAVISCI, or IRAVISCI (Fig. 2). These coins present several similarities to the Geto-Dacian imitations of Roman currencies, which I have already addressed here.  

Figure 1. ANS 2015.20.2362. Bequest of R. B.Witschonke.
Figure 2. Pannonia, Eravisci. Silver Denarius, after 76 BC. Imitating 393/1. Davis B.II. Freeman 1/A, pl. 29, 1 (same dies). 17 mm. 3.30 g. Nomos AG obolos 17, 20 December 2020, lot 14.

The Eravisci were a Celtic tribe living in the northeastern part of Transdanubia, i.e., the part of Hungary lying west of the Danube (Pliny, Natural History 3.148) (Fig. 3).

Figure 3. Ruins of Gellért Hill, one of the most important Eraviscan fortifications.

In the last decade of Augustus’s reign, this region became part of the Roman province of Pannonia with the name of Pannonia Inferior (Fig. 4).

Figure 4. The Roman province of Pannonia Inferior.

There are only guesses as to when and from where the Eravisci arrived in that region, but their presence in the area was known to the Roman historian Tacitus (Germania 28). He writes that the Eravisci moved to the right banks of the Danube from the territory of the Germanic tribe of the Osi, in the area of the Rába River (Tacitus, Germania 43) (Fig. 5).

Figure 5. The Rába River in Hungary (ancient Pannonia), a tributary of the Danube. The region encircled by this river represented the first settlement area of the Eravisci.

Their move to the area of Transdanubia was probably related to the collapse of the hegemony of the Boii in the region. According to the Greek historian Strabo (Geography 7.3.11), this happened as a result of a great defeat of the confederation of the Boii and the Taurisci tribes at the hands of the Dacian king Burebista, whose quasi-legendary rule has been connected to the existence of a pre-Roman Dacian state (Fig. 6).

Figure 6. Map of the Dacian Kingdom at around the height of Burebista’s reign, in the second half of the first century BC.

This event might be dated to around 45–44 BC and might represent a terminus post quem for the beginning of the coinage issued in the name of the Eravisci.

Eraviscan coins are all imitations of Roman coinage, mostly Republican denarii struck in the 80s and 70s BC, but also some Augustan denarii. For what concerns Roman Republican denarii, the four main reverse types imitated the issues of L. Papius (RRC 384/1, 79 BC), Cn.Cornelius Lentulus (RRC 393/1a, 76-75 BC), C. Postumius (RRC 394/1a, 74 BC), and L. Roscius Fabatus (RRC 412/1, 64 BC) (Figs. 7–10).

Figure 7. Eraviscan denarius imitating the types of L. Papius (RRC 384/1). ANS 2015.20.2520. Bequest of R. B.Witschonke.
Figure 8. Eraviscan denarius imitating the types of Cn. Cornelius Lentulus (RRC 393/1). ANS 2015.20.2293. Bequest of R. B.Witschonke.
Figure 9. Eraviscan denarius imitating the types of C. Postumius (RRC 394/1a). ANS 2015.20.2524. Bequest of R. B.Witschonke.
Figure 10. Eraviscan denarius imitating the types of L. Roscius Fabatus (RRC 412/1). ANS 2015.20.2375. Bequest of R. B.Witschonke.

Also, the denarii issued by P. Crepusius (RRC 361/1a, 82 BC) and by L. Manlius Torquatus (RRC 295/1, 113–112 BC) were used as prototypes to the so‑called DOMISA, DVTETI and ANSALI issues, possibly featuring the names of local chieftains (Figs. 11–13).

Figure 11. Eraviscan denarius imitating the reverse type of P. Crepusius (RRC 361/1) with the name of the chieftain DOMISA. ANS 2015.20.2361. Bequest of R. B.Witschonke.
Figure 12. Eraviscan denarius imitating the reverse type of P. Crepusius (RRC 361/1) with the name of the chieftain DVTETI. Freeman 8 (5/B). 17 mm. 3.26 g. Rauch Summer Auction 2012, 20 September 2012, lot 75.
Figure 13. Eraviscan denarius imitating the reverse type of L. Manlius Torquatus (RRC 295/1) with the name of the chieftain ANSALI. ANS 2015.20.2532. Bequest of R. B.Witschonke.

As a consequence of this wide range of prototypes, the chronology of these issues has until recently been determined very broadly from c. 80 BC to the end of the first century BC.  However, fairly recent studies based on hoard circulation suggests that they were issued from about 40/30 BC to 12/9 BC, with production ending in correspondence with the Augustan conquest of Pannonia or shortly thereafter.

The largest number of finds was recorded within the primary settlement zone of the Eravisci, which according to written and archaeological evidence may be placed within the modern counties of Pest, Fejér and Tolna in modern Hungary (Fig. 14).  

Figure 14. Finds of Eraviscan coins. A: hoard; B: stray find. Dulęba and Wysocki 2017, p. 57, fig. 4.

However, the recent discovery of a hoard of 14 Eraviscan imitative denarii in the Polish village of Czechy, in the region of Cracow, might suggest that the circulation radius of these coins could have been much wider than previously thought (Fig. 15).

Figure 15. Location of the site of Czechy and the cultural situation at the end of the pre-Roman period on a map of modern Poland. A: Przeworsk culture; B: Oksywie culture; C: Baltic circle; D: Púchov culture; E: Tyniec group. Dulęba and Wysocki 2017, p. 52, fig. 1.

As in the case of Geto-Dacian imitations, the function of this coinage has been hugely debated, with foremost scholars in the field arguing for a very limited use, restricted to prestige-related contexts, as suggested by the very limited finds in situ. This might find comparanda in the other coinages issued in the so-called barbaricum, especially in the early production stages of Celtic coinages in northern Gaul.

However, die-links between different issues (most notably the ones bearing the names of DOMISA, DVTETII and ANSALI ) were noted for the first time by Robert Freeman. This element hints at a very coordinated production for these imitative coinages. Moreover, the different degree of wear evident in die-linked specimens suggests an effective circulation (Figs. 16–17).

Figure 16. Eraviscan denarius imitating the reverse type of P. Crepusius (RRC 361/1) with the name of the chieftain DVTETI. Same reverse die as the following specimen, but with different level of wear. ANS 2015.20.2517. Bequest of R. B. Witschonke.
Figure 17. Eraviscan denarius imitating the reverse type of P. Crepusius (RRC 361/1) with the name of the chieftain DVTETI. Same reverse die as the previous specimen, but with different level of wear. ANS 2015.20.2519. Bequest of R. B.Witschonke.

The R. B. Witschonke Collection at ANS provides further examples of die-linked specimens, which which also show different degrees of wear (Figs. 18–20).

Figure 18. Eraviscan denarius imitating the reverse type of Cn.Cornelius Lentulus (RRC 393/1). This specimen shares an obverse die with the specimen in Fig. 19 and a reverse die with the specimen in Fig. 20. ANS 2015.20.2514. Bequest of R. B.Witschonke.
Figure 19. Eraviscan denarius imitating the reverse type of Cn.Cornelius Lentulus (RRC 393/1). This specimen shares an obverse die with the specimen in Fig. 18. ANS 2015.20.2512. Bequest of R. B.Witschonke.
Figure 20. Eraviscan denarius imitating the obverse type of L. Papius (RRC 384/1) and the reverse type of Cn. Lentulus (RRC 393/1). Same reverse die as Fig. 18. ANS 2015.20.2363. Bequest of R. B.Witschonke.

Finally, an element that seems to be common to all the known Eraviscan specimens is the fact of being consistently lightweight compared to official Roman denominations. For example, the Eraviscan denarii included in the R. B. Witschonke collection have an average weight of 3.27 g. This is a differentiating element in comparison to the Daco-Getan imitations, where several specimens are overweight.  

In sum, it seems very likely that the Eraviscan imitative coinage was a) produced in a somewhat coordinated fashion, as suggested by the numerous die-links; b) a relatively limited phenomenon in terms of chronology and volume of issues, since so many die-links are discovered in a limited sample; c) not (only) a prestige coinage since several specimen appear considerably worn.

The production and circulation of imitations of Roman Republican denarii among the Eravisci thus suggest the existence of an (at least partly) monetized economy, which probably came into existence in the decades leading to the creation of the Pannonian province in the late Augustan Age. Eraviscan imitative denarii are therefore part of a tale of partial cultural and economic convergence toward the Roman world that took place in the course of the second and first century BC in the Mediterranean world at large as a consequence of the Roman expansion. This very topic has been addressed in a three-day international conference held in March 2021 and the coins just presented add further nuances to this fascinating process.

A Sketch of A Sketch

In late June 2021, Heidi Wastweet led a stellar Long Table discussion about her work as a medallic artist and sculptor. She drew her material primarily from a popular lecture she delivered in 2019 at the Shanghai Coin Design Forum, but adapted the program to the conversational nature of the Long Table. One of her slides led me on a pleasant jaunt of numismatic research, following a line of inquiry about a particular medal’s design. 

After Wastweet’s presentation on the art and processes behind medal design and production, she facilitated a thought-provoking conversation for more than half of our numismatic lunch hour. She covered the unique parameters necessitated by the medallic form, reflecting on how artists navigate the tensions between intuition and intention when incorporating elements of design. The whole conversation was a lively one and, for me, one of the most resonant moments was when Dr. Ira Rezak reflected on how harmonious design is often a product of cultural context as much as anything else: beauty is in the eye of the beholder, yes, but the beholder has eyes and tastes derived from broader cultural expectations and aesthetic environments. 

When reviewing other artists’ use of some of the design elements she discussed, Wastweet presented some interesting examples of various medals and medallic designs. Among these included a sketch of an unrealized medal by the American medalist Donald De Lue. This sketch features a male nude squatting low above the capital of an Ionic column. His left fingers clutch a thin pillar while he works with a stylus in his right hand. The prominent arc of the figure’s back and his general titanic proportions take up much of the medal’s foreground. Above, four horses gallop through the heavens towards a radiate sun. In the design’s exergue, three acorns on an oak branch settle under the lettering: PARVA NE PEREANT. Many of us in attendance at the Long Table immediately recognized the Latin phrase, acorns, and oak leaves from the motto and seal of the American Numismatic Society. The image came from a 2020 Doyle auction listed as the third item in lot 30, along with four other Donald De Lue sketches. The description included the motto and its translation, “Let Not the Little Things Perish”, without noting any association with the ANS. 

I was curious to know if this sketch was a proposition for a new membership medal or if it might have been conceived as one of the several award medals given by the ANS, such as the obverse of the J. Sanford Saltus Award seen above. The latter came to mind because the Saltus Award bears thematic resemblance to the sketch. Both feature a nearly-seated nude holding a stylus and both incorporate the Society’s motto and the oak leaves of the ANS seal under a groundline. The ANS has bestowed this medal on artists since 1919 in recognition of “signal achievement” in medallic art and the ANS honored De Lue himself with the Award in 1967.

After inspecting the Doyle auction, I found the above De Lue sketch of the same design from a 2018 Jackson’s International Auction. This Modern & Vintage Masters auction lists Lot 57 as “Three Preparatory Drawings / Donald De Lue”. There are some subtle differences in this sketch from the previous one: the lack of the Ionic capital, the inclusion of an extra toe in the balancing left foot, and the awkward left hand which grips the pillar as if with a broken wrist of a too-long arm. These factors and the overall sketched quality of the drawing indicate it as an obvious earlier version of the design. The auction house described the sketch as an “Art Deco circular drawing inscribed PARVA NE PEREANT, […] 12 inches in diameter,” again, without any reference information indicating that this was a design for the ANS or naming its purpose. It was gifted “To Karen Tortorella / My Friend and Fellow-Artist / With Warmest regards / From Donald De Lue / Sculptor / 1978″. The year listed, 1978, gave me somewhere to start. 

Now that I had a rough date for the design—or, at least, a terminus post quem—I went to Scott Miller’s Medallic Art of the American Numismatic Society. Here, Miller notes that the “need for a new member’s medal became apparent by the 1960s as existing stocks of the [Gutzon] Borglum Medal were exhausted” (Miller 2015.27, above). He further explains that, a “competition was held, with Frank Eliscu declared the winner.” The winning Eliscu design would become the third membership medal of the Society (Miller 2015.53, below; Miller, p. 138), after the Borglum and earlier George Hampden Lovett designs. Miller, unsurprisingly, was also in attendance at the Long Table. 

There was no doubt that the De Lue sketches were from a submission proposed for this contest. I turned to the ANS Archives to learn more. The files of ANS curator Jeremiah D. Brady in the ANS Archives include the related material for the competition commissioned by the ANS Council, including notes and correspondence of the artists, judges, and other related parties. Corresponding with Director Leslie Elam, De Lue accepted an invitation in a letter dated Feb. 22, 1977, writing:

Dear Mr. Elam, 

Thank you for the invitation to compete for the Societies [sic] Members Medal. As per my telephone conversation with you, I will enter the competition. When you have the information I would be interested in knowing who the other competitors are. 


Donald De Lue

In addition to De Lue and Eliscu, artists Karen Worth, Gifford Proctor, and Thomas Lo Medico competed. Among T. James Luce, Julius Lauth, Thomas Wilfred, Robert Weinman, Marc Salton, and Jeremiah Brady, Dr. Ira Rezak also served on the jury for the medal competition.

These ANS Archive files also confirmed that the design from the De Lue sketch was, in fact, a medalist making a medal, a particularly fitting image for the topic of Wastweet’s Long Table. In a 1977 COINage article, “Contest for a Medal: Five Top Sculptors and Their Designs for a Major Numismatic Showpiece”, David L. Ganz explained the background for the competition and enumerated the designs these five artists submitted. Included was a final rendering of the De Lue design in the top left, as well as four additional De Lue proposals. In total, he offered two space-age designs as obverses and three ancient medalists as reverses. The article even describes his artistic vision for the reverse that initially piqued my interest. De Lue envisioned the ancient medalist moved to creation after attending a horse race, pausing to sculpt at a Greek temple undergoing construction. Seeing these alternative reverse designs reminded me of another Due Lue design from the 2018 Jackson International auction gifted to Karen Tortorella, a sketch of a medal for Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina. 

While the curvature of the central seated figure’s spine and the shading of the musculature of the abdomen closely resemble the sketch for the ANS medal, the modeling of the seated figure clearly derives from one of the other submissions for the ANS medal competition. Note the submission on the upper right of the COINage scan. The figure was kept more or less the same, given a fuller beard, and his stylus and medal reimagined as a contemplative pose. The winged spirit of medallic inspiration crowning the medalist with a laurel became a spangled muse inspiring the pensive sculptor-philosopher. Unlike the ANS design; however, an altered version of this design did come to fruition. With a few adjustments between sketch and final form, such as the removal of the winged horse in the muse’s left hand and the leaf from the exergue, an example of this Brookgreen Garden medal is housed in the Society’s collection, ANS 1980.157.1.

Seeing this medal in the ANS collection brought the story around full-circle. A nature haven for sculptures and sculptors alike, Brookgreen Gardens was founded by early twentieth century benefactors of the ANS, Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington. Not only that, but Heidi Wastweet herself has trained medalists as a teaching artist at Brookgreen Gardens for years—and also produced a medal for the institution in 2017, one which she showcased during her Long Table (2017 Brookgreen Medal)

During this jaunt, I learned more about some of the processes that went into producing these medals, as well as how different institutions like the ANS and Brookgreen Gardens have gone about commissioning works through the years. Heidi Wastweet’s Long Table discussion, along with those recently hosted by Eugene Daub and Mashiko, was a fantastic glimpse into artistic perspectives on numismatic topics and I’m looking forward to more to come. For me, the best sorts of programs are ones like these, where further inquiry emerges and the conversation continues. 

Where Is It From?

There are many ways to describe where a coin is from. One by reference to the place of minting (e.g., Kese). If this is known, it offers a specific, relatively unambiguous location that allows a dot to be placed on a map without too much thought. This option is often favored in ancient numismatics.

Another way is to refer to the political entity by whose authority the coin was produced (e.g., the French Territory of Afars and Issas). This tends to be the favored way of describing modern coinages. It is more easily known than place of minting, and often more specific in a modern context, but not always unambiguous.

However, both of these methods sometimes result in highly specific references to historical geography that can be obscure to the nonspecialist. Thus, a third way of referring to places is very often combined with either of the first two, which is to use terms that group-specific locations into wider regional terms (e.g., Hispania Citerior or East Africa). Unlike the first two kinds of locational references, which are relatively objective if sometimes debatable or uncertain, these regional groupings are purely subjective. In ancient numismatics, the subjectivity tends to be shared among researchers due to the cultural homogeneity of the field—so much so that the subjectivity is sometimes forgotten—but for later time periods there are many different traditions of thinking about numismatic geography.

Consider, for example, a coin minted at Ensisheim for the Landgraviate of Upper Alsace, in the name of Ferdinand II, Archduke of Further Austria.

Silver quarter thaler of Upper Alsace, Ferdinand II, 1564–1595.ANS 1918.999.243

The minting location (Ensisheim) and the political entity (Landgraviate of Upper Alsace) are both clear enough, but for larger groupings some scholars would call it a French local coin, others would call it a coin of the pre-Unification German states, and still others would call it an Austrian coin. Upper Alsace, including the town of Ensisheim, is presently within France, but in the 1500s it was considered part of Germany, and it was ruled by a branch of the Habsburg family that considered it to be a distant part of their Austrian-centered domains (i.e., Further Austria). So all of these larger groupings are true descriptions, but different intellectual traditions emphasize one choice over others within the universe of possibilities.

Historical inertia can have the same effect as cultural difference. At the ANS, some of the arrangement of the collection goes back to the period from 1913 to 1919, when Howland Wood devised a system of storing the coins in steel cabinets. At that time, mostly before the Treaty of Versailles, Wood thought of Austria-Hungary as a coherent region of Europe, and the various territories of then-Austria were all stored together. And when the ANS collection was originally entered into a database in the 1980s, this Austria block was mostly catalogued as belonging to the general region of Austria.

The effects of this can be seen in another coin, minted at Jáchymov (formerly Sankt Joachimsthal) for the Count of Schlick.

Silver thaler of Stephen, Count of Schlick, and his brothers, 1525. ANS 1960.111.172, purchase.

Again, the minting location and the political authority are unambiguous, but there are many ways to group them regionally. One could refer to Bohemia, since the lands of the Counts of Schlick were within the kingdom of Bohemia. The modern country is the Czech Republic, which would be another way to describe it. And from 1526 to 1918, Bohemia was ruled by the Habsburgs, and it was considered a part of Austria from 1804 to 1918. Although Bohemia was not yet part of the Habsburg lands in 1525, this coin was described as Austrian in the ANS database, simply because the arrangement of the collection goes back in part to the time when Bohemia was in Austria.

Howland Wood’s subjective geography of the past was different from the mental maps most people use today, and French numismatists may have a different mental map of the past from German numismatists. We can safely assume that the subjective perception of geography will continue to evolve, as interests and priorities and mental associations change, and therefore the terminology for geographic descriptions in numismatics will also continue to evolve.

Representations of Justice in Numismatics

Since ancient times, justice has been one of the fundamental concepts of civilized society. Through the centuries its allegorical personification has often been represented in art, including in the iconography of coins and medals.

The Roman legal system is historically renowned. Even before the Roman Republic was established in 509 BCE, the Romans had a judicial system based on customary law. However, the Twelve Tables, written in 449 BCE, became the foundation of Roman law. As the Roman Republic grew into an empire, its rulers faced the increasing challenge of governing of populations with diverse laws. This led to the development of the concept of ius gentium (“law of nations”), which was the body of legal customs shared by peoples throughout the empire, considered by the Romans to be based on the principles of ius naturale (“natural law”), which were the basic natural rules governing living beings such as self-preservation.

Worship of Justice as a goddess of the Roman pantheon was introduced under Augustus, and that veneration was continued by other emperors in the following centuries. In January of 13 CE, Tiberius dedicated a statue of Iustitia in Rome. A beautiful bust of Iustitia also was represented on bronze coins issued under Tiberius.

Fig. 1. Roman Empire. Dupondius of Tiberius (14–37 CE), Rome, 22–23 CE. ANS 1944.100.39280

The coins of Nerva, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, Pescennius Niger, Septimius Severus, Caracalla, and Severus Alexander also depicted Justitia, showing her as a goddess with a patera, scepter, or rudder in her hands.

Fig. 2. Roman Empire. Denarius of Nerva (96–98 CE), 96 CE. ANS 1905.57.330
Fig. 3. Roman Empire. Denarius of Hadrian (117–138 CE), 128–132 CE. ANS 1948.19.1209
Fig. 4. Roman Empire. Denarius of Septimius Severus (193–211 CE), 198–202 CE. ANS 1944.100.50262

The Roman personification of Justice was connected with another personification, Aequitas, the goddess of the virtues of equity and fairness. She represents fair trade and honesty and especially the fairness and impartiality of the emperor (Aequitas Augusti). She is usually shown with a balance and holding a cornucopiaor hasta pura (a kind of ceremonial spear).

Fig. 5. Roman Empire. As of Vespasian (69–79 CE), 73 CE. ANS 1951.61.44
Fig. 6. Roman Empire. Aureus of Antoninus Pius (138–161 CE), 148–149 CE. ANS 1972.62.5
Fig. 7. Roman Empire. Aureus of Lucius Verus (161–169 CE), 168 CE. ANS 1959.228.21

Despite the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Roman law continued in use in the Byzantine Empire, experiencing a great systematization under Justinian I (527–565). He formed a commission of jurists to compile all existing Roman law into one body. Their work, known as the Corpus Juris Civilis, collected and summarized all of the classical jurists’ writings on law as well as the edicts of previous emperors. This work was updated with new laws issued by Justinian. Christian traditions were deeply connected with legal thought in the life of the Byzantine Empire; Christ was often portrayed as a divine judge, and in terms of legal theory, the emperor was regarded as God’s representative on earth and was held to be the fount of justice.

Fig. 8. Solidus of the first reign of Justinian II (685–695). ANS 1944.100.14572

An important contribution to the development of the modern judicial system was made by one of the greatest rulers of medieval England, King Henry II (1154–1189). His reforms imposed a standardization of procedures throughout the kingdom, at a time when local customs governed justice in most places. His courts, applying uniform rules and following the guide of recorded precedent, formed the basis for the English common law. Soon the law had become even higher than the king himself, as was made manifest when his son King John was forced by rebel lords to sign the Magna Carta in 1215. This document provided protections for individual rights in jurisprudence and declared the liberties held by “free men” (mainly the aristocracy).

Fig. 9. England. Penny of Henry II (1154–1189). ANS 1967.182.35
Fig. 10. England. Penny of John (1199–1216). ANS 1967.182.36
Fig. 11. One of the four existing medieval copies of the Magna Carta

Through the centuries, monarchs have represented themselves as protectors of their people through fair judgment, military prowess, and protection of basic human needs. These principles were often reflected allegorically through representations of Justice, Peace, and Prosperity along with images of the rulers.

Fig. 12. France. Bronze restrike of medal of Louis XIV (1643–1715), showing Justice and the king with sword and balance, by Jean Mauger, 1667. ANS 0000.999.44232
Fig. 13. France. Bronze medal of Louis XIV (1643–1715), showing the king directing Justice, by Jean Mauger, 1688. ANS 1981.57.29
Fig. 14. France. Bronze medal of Louis XV (1715–1774), depicting the king with Peace and Justice standing beside him, by J. Duvivier (obv.) and J. Le Blanc (rev.), 1723. ANS 1984.30.13
Fig. 15. England. Lead cast of medal of Charles II, showing Britannia welcoming Athena, Justice, and Hercules, by John Roettier, 1660. ANS 1914.47.2

However, when people felt that bad leadership was depriving people of the basic necessities and the rights that were promised to them, a different idea of social justice could emerge. In France this led to the idea that justice should be applied without regard to wealth, power, or other status, which helped bring about the famous French Revolution in 1789.

Fig. 16. France. Electrotype of bronze medal depicting the storming of the Bastille, by B. Andrieu, 1789. ANS 0000.999.44687

The motto of the Revolution—Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité (“liberty, equality, fraternity”)—is still cherished in France to this day. But despite these idealistic slogans, the revolution involved massive loss of life. King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette were beheaded in 1793, as were more than 10,000 other people during the Reign of Terror of 1793–1794. The radical politicians who led the Terror were connected with the influential political club known as the Jacobins. But factional divisions among the Jacobins brought an end to the Terror when twenty-one of the most radical Jacobins, including Maximilien Robespierre, were sent to the guillotine. All of these public executions were meant to symbolize the ideals of revolutionary equality before the law and revolutionary justice.

Fig. 17. France. Silver medal commemorating Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette after their execution, by C. H. Kuchler, 1793. ANS 1920.147.708
Fig. 18. France. Bronze medal in honor of the Jacobins, by P.-F. Palloy, 1791. ANS 1920.147.651

The slogans of the French Revolution reappeared when the Russian Revolution began in February 1917, with the overthrow of Tsar Nicholas II. The Provisional Government, led by liberals and socialists, attempted to establish widely recognized liberal values such as freedom of speech, democratic voting for representatives, and equality before the law. However, the Bolshevik party, headed by Vladimir Lenin, organized a coup, taking over the government buildings on November 7, 1917 (October 25 in the old Russian calendar). The next day they seized the Winter Palace, where the Provisional government was based.

Fig. 19. The storming of the Winter Palace, St. Petersburg, during the October Revolution in Russia, 1917
Fig. 20. Soviet Union. Bronze medal commemorating the 40th anniversary of the October Revolution of 1917, by N. A. Sokolov, 1957. ANS 2000.16.128 (Obv.)

In the election of the Constituent Assembly soon afterward, the Bolsheviks won only about 24% of the seats in this body. As soon as it convened, they forcibly dissolved it and replaced it with the Bolshevik-controlled Congress of Soviets.

Fig. 21. Soviet Union. Silver medal commemorating the 60th anniversary of the October Revolution of 1917, by A. V. Kozlov and S. A. Barulin, 1977. ANS 2019.33.1 (Rev.)

The October Revolution was not universally recognized in the country, and it was followed by the struggles of the Russian Civil War (1918–1921) and the Red Terror that accompanied it. During that time, many aristocrats and supporters of the imperial government were killed. Nicholas II and Alexandra and their children—four Grand Duchesses and Tsarevich Alexei—were shot and bayoneted to death on the night of July 16–17, 1918.

Fig. 22. Russian Empire. Silver medal commemorating the marriage of Emperor Nicholas II (1868–1918) and Princess Alix of Hesse (1872–1918), by Anton Vasyutinsky, 1894. ANS 1925.146.12

The Russian Civil War was not simply a conflict between communists and monarchists. Both sides were involved in massacres of the civilian population, when considered to be potential “enemies.” The Bolsheviks even theorized violence as “mass terror”, which they considered to be an instrument for achieving social justice by eliminating groups they considered to be enemies of the new communist regime. Most crucial for them was to put this violence under Party control, in order to direct it at “class enemies,” who were classified as “enemies of the people”.

Fig. 23. Soviet Union. Bronze medal commemorating battles of the Russian Civil War (1918–1921), by M. G. Manizer, 1963. ANS 2000.16.205 (Obv.)

However, further repressions in Soviet Russia during Joseph Stalin’s regime were directed at the Bolsheviks themselves, and many devoted revolutionaries were executed. As in France, the generalization that “the Revolution devours its children” held true.

Fig. 24. Germany. Bronze medal depicting Bolshevism as a demon, by Elisabeth Esseö, 1919. ANS 1919.6.8

History demonstrates that in the quest for justice of any kind, emotions are bad advisers. They lead to violence and instability, threatening rather than building a civilized society. Equal justice must be impartial for everyone and should be based on rule of law. As the Romans said, dura lex sed lex: “the law is harsh but it is the law”.

Fig. 25. United States. Bronze medal in honor of Chief Justice John Marshall, proclaiming “Equal Justice under Law,” by K. Gruppe, issued by the Hall of Fame for Great Americans at New York University, 1965. ANS 2001.11.31 (Rev.)

He Owned a Fort

Steven Pell, painting by DeWitt M. Lockman

I don’t mean to turn this blog into my own personal travelogue, but I happened to be at Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York this summer, and I remembered its connection to the ANS. One of the Society’s presidents used to own it.

Fort Ticonderoga

The fort, at the south end of Lake Champlain, was built in the 1750s by the French. It was later held by both the British and the Americans, but after the War of Independence it crumbled into ruins, stripped of anything useful by scavenging sightseers. In 1820, William Ferris Pell bought the fort and surrounding land from a couple of colleges that had acquired it from the State of New York. He built a home on the property and expanded it into a hotel to capitalize on the tourist trade that had been coming to the site since its abandonment.

It was Pell’s great-grandson Stephen Pell (1874–1950) who became president of the ANS, and he did so at a dire moment, stepping “into the breach” (in the words of the Society’s council) to take the position after the death in 1941 of Edward Newell, who had been president since 1916. 

The ANS’s great benefactor Archer Huntington funded some of the renovations at the fort.

Pell had joined the Society back in 1907 and had served on its council since 1916. He didn’t have much formal schooling—and was “rather proud of the fact that he had little more than an eighth-grade education,” his great-grandson said in a 2005 email—but he had no problem mingling with the upper echelon. In fact, when the ANS and its neighboring institutions at Audubon Terrace were skittish about approaching the imposing benefactor Archer Huntington with a plan to erect a fence there, it was Pell they chose as their emissary. Huntington also funded some of the work at the fort.

ANS librarian and archivist David Hill admires the view from the fort (photograph courtesy of Sadie Hill).

William Ferris Pell’s original property at the fort was divided among his descendants. Stephen Pell bought them all out, and, according to an exhibit label at the fort, came up with a plan to restore and open it to the public while chatting with an architect at a clambake in 1908. The fort formally opened to the public the following year. Much of it has been rebuilt over the years as part of the restoration.

Pell’s book of poetry

Pell served in both the Spanish-American War and World War I, and he expressed his experiences in a book of poetry, Hélène and Other War Verses, which he self-published in 1920. It’s not bad, but it’s not cheerful reading either. Here’s a taste:

Out of the night came the German plane,
Scattering death as it went its way,
Leaving a trail of horror and pain,
Of burned and mangled and crushed and slain,
And there in the wreckage I found Hélène—
Calm and still she lay.
Indian peace medal donated by Stephen Pell, 1915.138.4

In addition to his years of service to the ANS, Pell is remembered for arranging to have his collection of over 30 Indian peace medals be purchased and donated to the Society by various individuals in 1915. He donated five of them himself.

Stephen Pell is buried in the family grave at the fort.

Often we can’t even find photographs, let alone videos, of the historical characters associated with the ANS, but Pell can be seen interacting with visitors at Fort Ticonderoga in a 16 mm film from 1942 here.

From Mound House to Manhattan, Part II

This is the second segment of a three-part series to update ANS members and interested guests on the MACO Archives and the pending move of die shells and plasters from their present location in Mound House, Nevada to New York, New York.

After the immense amount of preparation that took place during “Mound House to Manhattan, Part I,” the time had come to put the plan into action. On May 22, with laptop, overly-detailed excel spreadsheet, and solid strategy in mind, I boarded a plane destined for Reno, Nevada. My fine Hyundai Santa Fe rental then took me half-an-hour south to Carson City (just 6.5 miles east of Mound House), to the hotel I would call home for the next 13 nights.

That first evening, I had the pleasure of meeting Rob Vugteveen, self-proclaimed “creative problem solver” and former Northwest Territorial Mint employee, and his family. Rob graciously offered his services to the project. Over dinner, we discussed the goals I had set for the following two weeks: (1) to prepare nearly 20,000 die shells for absorption by the ANS upon their arrival in New York City, and (2) to better pack the 5,000 of the more delicate pieces in order to survive the 2,700-mile journey. However, the magnitude of the collection (both in the vastness of the archive itself as well as the diameter of the individual pieces), proved challenging to these lofty goals.

The necessity of this trip to Nevada was evident early on. While compiling spreadsheets and estimating spatial requirements back in NYC, I had been under the impression that the boxes housing these die shells were all the same size: 24” x 24” x 18”. This was largely due to the lack of calibration target in the images or ability to compare box sizes to surrounding points of reference. In reality, five (5) different-sized boxes were used, and none of them were the aforementioned measurements. Fortunately, the adjusted space requirements were minimal, but this game of theoretical Tetris proved a point: that the ANS was not ready to simply ship this material to its new home without (at the very least) a basic visual inspection to fully prepare ourselves for what we were about to undertake.

If you recall from “Mound House to Manhattan, Part I,” I had gone through many, many images in order to make preliminary decisions of the die shells, entering my thoughts into an Excel spreadsheet by highlighting the cells either red or green. With this document, Rob and I began to go through the collection (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Jesse Kraft (r.) and Rob Vugteveen (l.) in Mound House, NV, beginning to prepare the MACO die shells for their journey across the country.

Pallet-by-pallet, we compared them to the MACO Spreadsheet and used red and green Sharpies to mark the individual item labels with their respective color. From there, we were essentially able to ditch the spreadsheet and work directly from the boxes. We now began on an item-by-item level—opening each box and separating the “reds” and the “greens” from one another—placing each category into a new box and sealing it when it reached its max weight (ca. 50 pounds), which left most boxes grossly (but necessarily) under-packed.

We had gone through 12 pallets (192 boxes) before suddenly realizing that, at this rate, we would run out of time without even starting on our second task. One achievement from the process, however, was that by the time we were through those 192 boxes, there were only 182 boxes left on the pallets, as we were able to condense those initial boxes by about 5%. Even greater efficiency was found in the fact that we were able to stack the boxes 5-high (as opposed to 4-high, as they previously were) due to information garnered from the shipping companies. This simple change saved an astounding 25% of space.

Though it was now clear that we could not work on an item-by-item basis, the savings we found by working on a box-by-box level proved significant. Perhaps if we worked with that in mind, we would be able to save time, but also continue to condense the material enough to be worthwhile. Instead of having pallets that contained all “greens” and others with all “reds,” we knew that some boxes would be what we called “orange”—those with both red and green pieces (art teachers need not comment).

With efficiency still in mind, the plan shifted to include a gradient of “oranges.” Essentially, we set up all the “reds” on one side of the room and all of the “greens” on the other then filled in the gap. Just after the “pure reds,” we began to place boxes that had all “reds” and only one “green.” Once we found all of those, we began to pallet boxes with all “reds” and two “greens,” followed by those with three “greens,” and so on. Eventually, the last remaining boxes were those which were all “green” but only had a single “red” piece. By the time we were through, we had an order of “red,” mostly-red “orange,” mostly-green “orange,” and “green” (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. Pallets separated into their prospective groups.

Getting through this arduous task was a relief as, not only was this dusty and backbreaking labor, but in the end, it had also provided me with the order for which everything will be brought back to New York: as many “reds” as possible destined for our storage facility in Brooklyn and the “greens” to our headquarters in Manhattan. As I mentioned my relief of knowing this order, Rob joked, “Jesse can sleep easy tonight,” as if the grueling work we just completed wasn’t enough to knock a man out in its own right.

But I’m happy to report that it wasn’t all work and no play. Fortunately, halfway through this business trip, I was able to take a day off to explore…and what better way to spend the day in Carson City than at the Historic Carson City Mint and Nevada State Museum! Friend and ANS Member, Rob Rodriguez treated me to a tour of the facility and exhibits, followed by an afternoon in Virginia City. Rodriguez’s knowledge and love for the area is apparent. At the Mint, we were able to see “Coin Press No. 1” in action (Fig. 3).

Figure 3. Jesse Kraft with Woodrow Davis, Coiner of Press No. 1 at the Carson City Mint. Jesse is holding the Nevada State Capitol Sesquicentennial Medallion, which was struck just moments before the photograph was taken.

This press was built in 1869 by Morgan & Orr and was the original press used at the Mint to strike many of the Carson City rarities; pieces that numismatists from all over now cherish. Still in operation today, the press strikes half-dollar-sized medals for visitors—currently in the process of creating the Nevada State Capitol Sesquicentennial Medallion. Virginia City is known as the epicenter of the Comstock Lode, where Samuel Clemens failed as a miner, began work with the Territorial Enterprise newspaper, and changed his name to Mark Twain. It was because of the Comstock Lode that the Carson City Mint existed. Seeing the geographic connections between the Lode, Carson, and even Reno and San Francisco was a very nice numismatic sidebar to the entire Nevada work-trip.

Other highlights included dinner at the fabulous Mangia Tutto Restaurante in Carson City with friends and ANS Members Howard and Kregg Herz, and a 0.6-mile hike up to the Kings Canyon Falls, one of the natural springs that regulates the height of nearby Lake Tahoe. Lastly, I acquired some authentic western attire from historic Virginia City (our office’s “Western Wear Wednesday” will never have looked so good) (Fig. 4). Refreshed, I was back to work.

Figure 4. Jesse Kraft with some authentic Virginia City Western wear, which he proudly wore for his homecoming that coincidentally fell on the weekly “Western Wear Wednesday” at the ANS Headquarters.

The next day’s focus was on task number two: repacking what truly needed to be repacked. Due to time constraints in 2018, only about 15,000 of 20,000-odd die shells were photographed, individually wrapped, and safely packed into boxes. At that time, the crew was unable to complete the final 5,000 objects of the collection, so (out of necessity) they were hastily stacked into boxes directly on the pallet. Packed for a quick 6-mile jaunt from Dayton to Mound House, they would not likely survive the 2,500-mile journey they are about to make. Sadly, even now, we found pieces that were clearly broken in their prior transit, not before.

Figure 5. Epoxy die shells for the 1986 ANS medal to commemorate the centennial of the Statue of Liberty.

Most of these objects are epoxy die shells (Figs. 5 & 6). Epoxy die shells were introduced in 1975 as a cheaper and quicker alternative to copper galvano die shells. Unlike the hardy copper die shells made by MACO, the epoxy die shells are quite fragile and if one were dropped on the floor, it could easily shatter on impact. Not only were these most-fragile die shells in direct contact with each other, but each box weighed far beyond their intended capacity.

Figure 6. A box of epoxy die shells waiting to be packed up and shipped to New York City.

While I have gone through the MACO material numerous times on paper, digitally, and with the finished medals, the physical die shells are an entirely different beast. Navigating the added weight and cumbersome size and shape of each piece added an unexpected amount of time to the process and, in the end, the clock ran out. I am happy to report that Rob Vugteveen and I achieved 95% of what we had hoped to before the time came for me to leave. Thankfully, Rob lives nearby and is able to wrap everything up before the trucks arrive. All in all, the second phase of getting the MACO die shells from Mound House to Manhattan was a success.

Please stay tuned for “From Mound House to Manhattan Part III,” which will focus on the actual move of the die shells across the country! It will be an exciting few days!

A blog of the American Numismatic Society