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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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.
In late June 2021, Heidi Wastweet led a stellar Long Table discussionabout 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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 fountain of justice.
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).
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.
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.
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 clubknown 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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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!
There’s a fairly pervasive idea that some people are just born lucky. These people, it’s thought, luck into good schools, good jobs, and even good relationships. But the luckiest of them all seem to stumble headlong into wealth, whether that’s winning the lottery (sometimes multiple times), inheriting vast sums from a long-lost relative, or finding treasure after using a metal detector for the very first time. Although the idea that some people are born lucky certainly holds water — being born into a wealthy family living in an already wealthy country is a pretty lucky start to life, for example — with persistence, a keen eye, and a willingness to stoop down every once in a while, anybody can introduce a little luck into their own lives on a weekly, if not daily basis.
In fact, the present author was coaxed into writing this post on account of their own chance encounters with Lady Luck (or Fortuna, or Tyche). In the last 6 months, I have been lucky enough to come across such items as a large British penny, a 35% silver war nickel, a $20 bill, and numerous “pocket spills” of loose change, all on my daily commute to the American Numismatic Society; although I maintain that this has less to do with luck, and more to do with keeping my eyes glued to the ground. After coming across a monumental scattering of 59 (yes, 59) one-cent coins upon exiting a subway car last week, I knew I finally had to put pen to paper and discuss my finds.
There are some questions we should attempt to answer first, namely: how does all this money end up on the ground in the first place, and why isn’t it being picked up more quickly? A commonly suggested answer to both is that the purchasing power of a single U.S. one-cent coin (or nickel, or dime for that matter) is practically nil. Because of inflation, a single cent in 1921 is now worth about 15 cents today. But 15 cents also has little to no buying power in 2021, so inflation doesn’t account for the whole picture. Instead, the value of one cent relative to what one earns helps to explain how one cent (or 15 cents in today’s money) could purchase more 100 years ago. For example, if a painter in Brooklyn earned on average $1.25 per hour in 1921, one cent accounted for 0.8% of their hourly wage. Today’s minimum wage in Brooklyn (and all of New York City) is $15 per hour, so if that same painter were working today, you would expect 0.8% of $15 to be around 15 cents, but alas it is only 12 cents — or ~22% less than the purchasing power of that 0.8% in 1921. Another way to think about this is that if one cent in 1921 is worth 15 cents today because of inflation, then someone making $1.25 per hour in 1921 would hope to be making $18.75 today, cent-for-cent. Of course, all of this is to say that wages have not kept up with inflation, making a single cent (or nickel, or dime) on the ground worth less and less in the eye of the beholder.
Not unsurprisingly, certain goods were actually more expensive in 1921 than they are today due to vast improvements in technology (and the shifting of production to countries where labor is cheaper). For example, a 5 -pound bag of sugar averaged a whopping 97 cents in 1920. Accounting for inflation only, one would expect that same bag to cost roughly $14.55 today, but of course 5 lbs. of sugar can be purchased for less than $5 almost anywhere in the U.S. today. Conversely, an average New York City apartment rented for around $60 per month in 1920, or $910 in 2021 dollars. If any reader knows of a suitable apartment that can be rented for that price in Manhattan or Brooklyn today, they are advised to inform the author immediately so they can rent said abode!
Another potential reason why change is dropped and not quickly recovered is perhaps due to a perceived social stigma around taking ‘dirty’ money off the ground, especially when that money has no purchasing power. Loose change that winds up on the street, sidewalk, or public transit system can easily be there for anywhere from a few hours to days, and has likely seen its fair share of shoes and tires endlessly trampling over it, each person or car bringing a fresh layer of dirt and grime to its surfaces. While street money certainly isn’t clean, I would argue that it is not substantially more dirty than the money that already circulates freely, especially here in New York City. That said, there may be a general sense that it is unseemly or simply uncouth to bend over and pick change off the ground (especially change one doesn’t particularly need) which prevents many from doing so, unless that change was just dropped by said person, and they are reclaiming their own almost-lost change immediately.
The meteoric rise of credit cards, debit cards, and other digital payment solutions may also be contributing to the abandonment of change, and the reluctance to pick it up again. As card and digital payments can be used for increasingly smaller amounts, there is less and less need to carry and use small change. In theory, this should also account for less and less change being lost overall, but as there is more than enough small-denomination coinage currently in circulation to satisfy the needs of commerce for many years to come (barring any recurring small change shortages like the U.S. experienced in 2020), it seems more likely that coins will continue to be lost as users pull out their credit cards, debit cards, or phones, rather than there being not enough coins to lose in the first place, however that may change in the coming decades as small change is phased out even more in favor of digital payment methods.
An interesting explanation as to why street money is not picked up is the Efficient Sidewalk Theory. This economic idea suggests that real, bonafide money would have surely been picked up by someone else already, therefore any money spotted in the street, on the sidewalk, etc. must not be money (i.e., it is trash or another object that looks like real money at first glance), and therefore these items do not warrant a closer inspection, especially one that requires the passer-by to stop and bend down. As such, bonafide money does go unnoticed—or at minimum, is perceived to be something else and ignored. Does Efficient Sidewalk Theory explain why a $20 bill sat on the ground during morning rush-hour in front of a busy subway station before the author scooped it up in a flash? Perhaps. With respect to small change (one-cent coins, nickels, dimes) Efficient Sidewalk Theory could maybe be expanded to include the idea that, because real money would have surely been picked up by someone else already, small change is not considered real money (or useful money) by the majority of individuals who pass by such change. In other words, the one-cent coin that sits for days on end on a sidewalk is absolutely seen as genuine (unlike the $20 bill, which could not reasonably be an authentic $20 bill according to the principles of Efficient Sidewalk Theory) but not perceived as real money of any value. In even simpler terms, if others don’t consider it useful money because they are walking past it, why should I behave any differently?
The final explanation for why change is lost and subsequently not picked up is that people are just not paying attention. If one has loose change and a phone in the same pocket, it is easy to imagine the change falling out unnoticed when the phone is taken out, simply because the attention is on the phone, which typically has far greater value to the owner. Likewise, it is easy to miss coins on the ground when one’s attention is constantly pulled elsewhere, especially in a large and hectic city environment. Even the author has almost missed a stray cent on the ground while sending a text message or making sure there is no oncoming traffic, only to look more closely and find several more cents in the same vicinity.
This brings us to the final point, which is what can all this lost money teach us? In a loose sense, even recently abandoned coins are in situ archaeological artifacts representative of what is valued or not valued in modern culture. Some have even taken to cataloging every coin and bill they have found over the course of several decades, which may prove useful to future historians and numismatists. In the 2004–2005 American Journal of Numismatics 16–17, there is a wonderful analysis of money found in West Lafayette, Indiana during a ten-year period between 1993 and 2003 (AJN Second Series 16–17, pp. 259–267). This study (titled Street Money: Distribution and Analysis) explores many of the same themes found in this blog post, along with a regression analysis of the objects found to determine if any distribution patterns could be discovered (outliers such as quarters, half dollars, and bills were discounted in this analysis). The key takeaway from this study was that the age of the coins (chiefly one-cent coins) suggested that these street finds represented a random selection of coins found in circulation when compared to ten rolls of one-cent coins withdrawn from a local bank. Also noted was the disproportionately high number of newly minted coins that were found (2003 in the case of this study) despite their sheen and luster, which made them more obvious to the casual passer-by, and therefore more likely to have been found by someone else, which of course they had not. The final takeaway was that these coins appear to be carelessly handled by the American public at large, a point which is not lost on the author.
There are other stories of individuals who have amassed large amounts of lost change through diligent (and sometimes not-so-diligent) searching, but it is mostly the case that these finds go unrecorded and unreported. Even the author has not made it a point to faithfully record every find (except major ones), but to help correct that, I decided to make a brief record of the aforementioned ‘subway spill’ to see how this cache visually compares to the data in the West Lafayette, Indiana study:
Additional data-gathering and analysis would have to be performed to learn just how representative this spill is compared to one-cent coins in circulation in the area, but on the surface, the selection of dates appear to be random, with a disproportionate number being newly minted (10 coins from 2021 alone), coinciding with the key takeaways of the West Lafayette, Indiana study, which is enough to encourage this seeker of street money to keep hunting and recording lost coins “So the Small May Not Perish.”
Over the course of forty years of serious collecting, our friend and colleague Jay Martin Galst amassed an important collection of ancient and medieval coins, many from the Holy Land, as well as modern coins, medals, and tokens, particularly those related to his profession of ophthalmology. Over a year now since Jay died from complications of COVID-19 during the worst of the initial pandemic surge in New York City, his presence is still sorely missed here at the ANS, where he was a frequent visitor. Jay always intended that the bulk of his collection eventually be sold both to benefit his family (Fig. 1), and, as a consummate collector himself, to ensure that others might have the opportunity to collect and enjoy the items that he once owned and enjoyed. Currently, Jay’s collection is being auctioned by Classical Numismatic Group, LLC. with some of the auctions having already taken place, but with more still to come.
Dr. Joann Paley Galst, Jay’s wife, has in the meantime generously arranged for a number of items from his collection to be donated to various museums, including the ANS, which is the recipient of a group of twenty highly significant ancient and medieval coins helping to fill in various gaps in our own collection. In the forthcoming issue of the ANS Magazine (2021 vol. 3), Collections Manager Elena Stolyarik offers a more comprehensive overview of this donation. Here I want to highlight a couple of the coins that are of particular interest to me.
At the beginning of my numismatic career, I developed a keen interest in the phenomenon of ancient imitations, particularly Athenian imitations, publishing a number of articles on the topic, which can be found on my academia.edu page. Produced at the same time as bona fide Athenian coins, these coins were often of (reasonably) good metal and weight and were not meant to deceive in the way counterfeit coins are. Many imitations, in fact, were marked with the names of those producing the coins, like those of the Persian satrap Sabakes of Egypt (Fig. 2), or with ancillary symbols or letters, often written in one of the Semitic alphabets such as Paleo-Hebrew, Aramaic, Northwest Semitic, or Sabaean indicating they were produced somewhere in the eastern Mediterranean region and making it clear to contemporary users that the coin in question was not a genuine Athenian product.
From the end of the Archaic period onward, Athenian coinage circulated in large numbers in Egypt, Arabia, the Levant, and even farther to the east, no doubt used in trade to pay for desired eastern products, like the frankincense and myrrh that were used in temple rituals. (This Aegean-Levantine trade was, in fact, the subject of my PhD dissertation.) The elevated importance of Athenian coinage in the Near East gave rise to the production of imitations, presumably at times and in places where demand for the coinage was high, but the supply low, and served also to inspire coins that while not close copies of Athenian coinage were clearly influenced by it. From the Galst collection, we have received one such unpublished marked Athenian imitation (Fig. 3).
Stylistically, there is little to differentiate this coin from the later fifth century Athenian tetradrachms that served as its model, and to the unobservant this coin no doubt would have easily passed for an Athenian coin since its weight (16.97 g) is within the ballpark of expectations. There is, however, a small Northwest Semitic aleph on the obverse right along Athena’s jawline. This aleph is probably an abbreviation for the authority responsible for the production of the coin, possibly the Philistian city of Ascalon. Other Athenian imitations or Athenian inspired coins with a similarly inscribed aleph have been attributed by Haim Gitler and Oren Tal in their book on Philistian coinage to this coastal city. If this attribution is correct, this coin is probably one of the very first issues of Ascalon. Of note, there is already in the ANS collection an Athenian imitation of a similarly good late fifth century style (Fig. 4), but one marked on the obverse with the Semitic letter shin in roughly the same position as the aleph on the Galst coin, which Ya’akov Meshorer in ANS SNG 6 suggested stands for the Samaritan city of Shomron.
The second coin I wish to highlight from the Galst donation is a bona fide Athenian tetradrachm (Fig. 5), but one from the latter half of the fourth century BCE.
The coin itself is not so remarkable, but the graffiti on it is. Much like users today, ancient coin users from time to time wrote on their money for a variety of purposes. In the Near East this practice was especially widespread with the numerous examples of graffiti recorded on coins found in the region filling a volume published by Josette Elayi and Andre Lemaire. Generally, the graffiti are personal names, probably of those who at one time laid claim to the coin. Such is the case with this coin, which was published by Lemaire in Israel Numismatic Journal 15 (2003–2006), pp. 24–27. Lemaire determined that the graffiti on the obverse of the coin written in Paleo-Hebrew is the name Yawysih’al, a name not attested before this coin appeared, who Lemaire argues was the final owner of the coin before its burial. Notably, too, the reverse of the coin also bears the graffito shin, but the significance of this abbreviation is unknown.
The following post is a precursor to a Long Table discussion scheduled for Friday, July 16, 1 pm. Please join us then for an open Q&A following the presentation. If you are unable to do so, please feel free to send along any questions or comments to Lucia Carbone and Liv Mariah Yarrow.
Nearly three decades ago Richard Schaefer began collecting images of Roman Republican coins and organizing these images by one die, either obverse or reverse based on which was most distinctive for each type (Figs. 1 and 2).
The reason for prioritizing these decades lies in the fact that in these years Rome found herself battling at the same time with her Italian allies (socii)—the backbone of her fighting force for her conquest and control of the Mediterranean—and with the formidable king of Pontus, Mithridates VI. While Rome’s war with the socii threatened Rome’s own existence in the Italian peninsula, the war against Mithridates promised to annihilate the Roman conquests in the East. These are also the years when historical figures of the caliber of Marius, Sulla, and Pompey rose to prominence. In spite of the crucial importance of this historical period, no contemporary, continuous narrative of this period survives as a whole. Being able to quantify the coinage for this period would provide new historical insights into the funding of different military and domestic projects and allow for a comparison of relative expenditure based on threat or need.
Within this period, we are prioritizing the transcription of a part of Schaefer’s Archive known as ODEC: One Die for Each Control Mark (Fig. 3).
As the name suggests, ODEC issues have a specific correspondence between dies and control marks. Usually there is a univocal correspondence between obverse and reverse dies for each of these control marks. Early on, Schaefer realized the value of these types for understanding the coin production processes used at the Roman mint and also for testing and improving statistical models for estimating the original number of dies used to strike an issue.
The funding first enabled Ethan Gruber, the ANS Director of Data Science, to adapt Numishare software to create both a die database and specimen database for coins known only from images, rather than those in collections already connected to nomisma.org and thus represented in CRRO. He then connected the die database (RRDP) and the specimen database (SITNAM) to CRRO. For most users these new developments are best seen as extensions of CRRO itself: under each type you will see a total of 5,000 more specimens and also information about known dies. How CRRO displays this still being developed (Figs. 4–6).
Gruber also adapted an existing, open-source tool, SimpleAnnotationServer, for the RRDP team to work simultaneously on transcribing different parts of Schaefer’s archive and annotating images in Archer (Fig. 7).
Thanks to Gruber’s innovation, the RRDP team is gradually understanding the challenges of the material and how to make the transcription process as smooth and as accurate as possible. What we are sharing now is the results of this early learning process.
These preliminary technical tools have enabled us to begin the laborious transcription process. This release includes the following Crawford types:
While we aimed to accurately reflect Schaefer’s analyses for all these issues, we also know that the very process of making them available is likely to generate feedback for improvement. Throughout the transcription process we have regularly consulted Schaefer on his notations and where we had questions regarding his analyses, but mistakes are inevitable and regular updates are a key goal of the RRDP project. In this we take our lead from Schaefer himself who always welcomes new observations to revise and improve the quality of the die analyses.
Many individuals have been involved thus far on the transcription project, but perhaps the most important team member is Alice Sharpless. Sharpless is currently employed part-time on RRDP, but will work full time from October onwards following the defense of her PhD thesis, “The Value of Luxury: Precious Metal Tableware in the Roman Empire.” Sharpless brings to the team a wealth of experience digitizing the finds from the excavations at Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli, as well as her on-going work cataloguing the imperial coins in Columbia Library’s Olcott Collection in advance of the collection’s digital publication.
We are also indebted to a number of volunteers including Miriam Bernstein, a class of 2021 Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Brooklyn College (dual major in Classics and Religion). Bernstein’s work on RRDP was initially funded by a Kurz Undergraduate Research Assistantship, but even after completing this initial commitment, Bernstein has continued to work in a voluntary capacity. She’ll be leaving the project in autumn to begin a year in the AmeriCorps’ Literacy Program in Palm Beach, Florida. However, we hope to welcome her back to the ANS and RRDP in future.
This release has also benefited from the keen eye and interest of Jeremy Haag. He and Liv Yarrow discovered they were both working on RRC 378 and decided to team up. Haag has a PhD in Plant Biology and works for Bayer Crop Science as a research scientist, but in his spare time is an avid numismatist with a deep interest in the Roman Republican series. He will co-present at the Long Table on how RRDP has been forwarding his research. Similar updates on other volunteers and collaborators will be included in each new release.
Our biggest goals are to continue to transcribe ODEC issues, but we also want to refine the transcription process to make it more user friendly and thus enable more and faster transcription. We’ll also be reviewing community feedback and adjusting and refining the display of information.
If this pilot project is successful, we hope to develop a means by which new materials can be directly incorporated into RRDP through a web interface, so that it can be a living die study that is constantly improving in accuracy rather than a static archive. We also hope to collaborate with other die study initiatives to ensure the RRDP data is fully integrated into those projects.
At the upcoming Long Table on Friday, July 16th, titled Digitized die-studies: an update on RRDP and SILVER, this possibility will be discussed in detail by Caroline Carrier. Caroline is the lead post-doctoral researcher on the SILVER project, which is building a database of all known ancient world silver die studies.