The article, authored by Peter van Alfen, Gilles Bransbourg, Ethan Gruber, and Andrew Reinhard, details all of the recent NEH-funded work being done at the ANS with a nod to the Society’s past regarding Open Access initiatives and data-sharing.
On June 5th, the 63rd Graduate Summer Seminar in Numismatics, which has been generously sponsored by Eric P. Newman, began at the ANS under the direction of Dr. Peter van Alfen. Since 1952, the Society has offered select graduate students and junior faculty the opportunity to work hands-on with its preeminent numismatic collections. The rigorous eight-week course, taught by ANS staff, guest lecturers, and a Visiting Scholar, introduces students to the methods, theories, and history of the discipline. In addition to the lecture program, students select a numismatic research topic and, utilizing ANS resources, complete a paper while in residence. The Seminar is intended to provide students of Classical Studies, History, Art History, Textual Studies, and Archeology who have little or no numismatic background with a working knowledge of a body of evidence that is often overlooked and poorly understood.
This year’s Visiting Scholar is Dr. Thomas Faucher of the Institut de recherche sur les archéomatériaux, Centre Ernest-Babelon, part of the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS) and the Université d’Orléans (Orléans, France). Dr. Faucher is, among other things, a specialist in ancient coin production and Ptolemaic coinages. In addition we welcome eight students who come to us from McMaster University, the University of Pennsylvania, Yale University, the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (NYU), the University of Delaware, the University of Houston, and Rutgers University.
A few weeks ago, quite a large number of Latin American banknotes were donated to the American Numismatic Society, largely early 20th-century issues from Bolivia. Many of these banknotes, One-Boliviano bills dated 1911 and issued by El Banco de la Nacion Boliviana, bear an imprinted overstamp that reads “Banco Central de Bolivia.” Three signatures appear at the bottom, which seem almost as if they had been processed manually because of their range of colors, irregular locations on the banknotes, and various combinations of signatories.
It would be futile to understand the context that had led to their issuance without some understanding of Bolivia’s currency history. Partially ruled by the Incas before the Spanish conquest, the territory of what would become Bolivia became part of the Viceroyalty of Peru until 1776, when it was transferred to the newly established Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata. Incorporating the Potosi Mines, the area became Spain’s main silver supplier from 1545 until its independence on August 6, 1825. The young Republic, founded by Simon Bolivar, naturally turned toward silver to create the backbone of its currency system in 1827, with the new Sol exchanged on par against the Spanish colonial Real. However, wars, internal conflicts, excessive reliance on imports, and economic growth led to a permanent lack of monetary supply. Limited use of gold, minting of debased silver coinage and of bronze small change were not sufficient to alleviate this issue, leading to the introduction of paper money in 1867. At the same time, the world was moving away from the bimetallic gold and silver standard, adopting gold as its monetary anchor. As a result, the value of silver fell and Bolivia adopted the gold standard in 1895. Minting of silver coins decreased, coming to a halt by 1909, while Peruvian and British silver coins gained legal tender status. By the early 20th century, banknotes, issued by four private banks, had grown to represent more than half of the country’s overall monetary supply. At that time, a new currency unit, the Boliviano (worth 8-Soles) had been in circulation since 1864.
On January 7, 1911, Banco de Bolivia y Londres was turned into a mixed bank with a 78.4% state participation called Banco de la Nacion Boliviana, which enjoyed exclusive privilege of printing banknotes from 1914 onward. Its first banknotes were overstamped on existing pre-1911 bills, before the regular Mercury-type new banknotes were printed shortly after a May 11, 1911 law covering a 1–100 Bolivianos range:
However, like most other countries all around the world, Bolivia’s cycles of economic boom and bursts worsened with the Great War. Currency convertibility into gold had to be suspended between 1914 and 1928. However, high demand for raw materials from the US stimulated tin production, originally only a by-product of the country’s mining sector, which brought back prosperity. After a provisional fall in 1918, tin exports surged to become 24% of world production by 1929. This amounted to 70% of Bolivia’s total exports. Logically, excessive credit expansion and unregulated speculation reached their peak.
Enter Princeton Professor Edwin Walter Kemmerer. Holding PhDs in Philosophy, Economics, and Finance from Wesleyan and Cornell, he witnessed the suspension of the Gold Standard in most of the world (but not the US) following 1914, followed by a period of strong monetary expansion that degenerated into high inflation and currency disorders in several countries. The breakdown of paper-money convertibility into gold, even if restored provisionally in some countries in the 1920s, had opened the doors for unlimited abuse of monetary expansion at the hands of political authorities and economic agents. A strong advocate of more independent central banks, return to gold standard, and control of monetary supply, Kemmerer was called by Guatemala in 1919, where he oversaw the creation of a central bank. This started a cycle of economic and financial reforms sweeping the continent, Kemmerer and ad-hoc teams of advisors steering a range of financial, monetary and legal reforms in Colombia (1923), Chile (1925), Ecuador (1926), Bolivia (1928), and Peru (1930). At the same time, he was involved with other countries as diverse as China, Turkey, and the Philippines.
In Bolivia, Kemmerer intended to suggest reforms of the taxation, custom, and financial systems altogether, while creating a true central bank with capacity to offer rediscount facilities to other banks. Kemmerer concluded his mission in July of 1927. A law dated July 11, 1928 and promulgated on July 20, 1928 led to the transformation of the existing Banco de la Nacion Boliviana into a central bank, initially named Banco Central de la Nacion Boliviana, operating alongside a banking regulatory and supervisory body, la Superintendencia de Bancos y Seguros, as well as a controlling authority. Regulations protecting private savings were set up as well as reserve ratios between banks’ capital and their balance sheet and limits on the banks’ ability to expand credit. The new central bank’s mandatory reserves of metal were fixed at 50%, and the Boliviano defined as a currency unit equivalent to 0.54917 g of gold. British and Peruvian Pounds were reestablished as legal tenders alongside the national currency. On April 20, 1929, the bank adopted its final name, Banco Central de Bolivia, and initiated its activity on July 1. Although the state owned 62.5% of the bank, it could appoint only 2 board members out of 9.
The central bank started to issue new banknotes bearing “Banco Central de Bolivia” and the July 20, 1928 date, displaying a portrait of Simon Bolivar, which replaced the former Mercury of the 1911 series. The law of 1928 had provided for coinage of silver for fractional denominations up to the 1-Boliviano unit. However, through amendments on February 5 and December 3, 1929, it was agreed to retain the 1-Boliviano notes. As a result, the denomination range produced by the new central bank was no different than in 1911, with banknotes of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 Bolivianos to which higher denominations of 500 and 1,000 Bolivianos were added. The date of the law that had established the new central bank replaced the previous 1911 date.
Since no real currency reform had taken place, the monetary structure that had operated since 1911 could be maintained. The law had simply provided for the replacement of the old banknotes with the new ones issued by the central bank, which paid royalties to the central treasury in exchange of this privilege. Pending the printing of the new series, it was then decided to use the older types, incorporating a “Banco Central de Bolivia” overstamp.
Interestingly, a range of overstamps were used, with four different colors—black, blue, pale blue, magenta—and four different sizes for the letters: very large, large, medium, and small. This created potentially 16 combinations for each denomination. Actually, not all these combinations were used for each denomination. As far as the 1-Boliviano banknote is concerned, neither the red overprint nor the largest letter size are to be found. The delay in getting the new series printed may be explained by the fact Bolivia, like most Latin American and many other developing countries at that time, subcontracted the printing job to corporations located in the US or in Europe. In this case, the American Banknote Company, which was responsible for printing the majority of the paper money used by the Latin American countries between ca. 1870 and 1970, was entrusted with that task.
One of the difficult parts was the fact banknotes had to carry the signatures of no less than 3 different officials. In 1911 they were the Contador (Accountant), the Delegate of the Government, and the “Gerante” Director of the issuing bank. The 1928 law had substituted them with the Accountant, the Superintendent of the Banking Authority and the “Gerente General,” the Central Bank Governor. As a result of bureaucratic and political instability, these names changed frequently. No less than 16 possible combinations of officials are encountered on the un-stamped 1-Boliviano 1911 banknotes, to which the three additional combinations displayed on the overstamped series need to be added. The plates and inks that were used for printing the signatures vary as a result, with exact location on the banknote, color, letter thickness, and shape displaying much instability. The range of colors and sizes used for the letters on the stamp added to this variety, ensuring that each banknote featured almost unique characteristics.
The banking reform did not allow Bolivia to escape the consequence of the 1929 market crash and subsequent economic depression. Mining exports collapsed, and private consumption dropped 25% between 1929 and 1932. With high unemployment, capital imbalances and falling salaries, Bolivia left the gold standard for the second time in 1932 after it had defaulted on its public debt in late 1930. A military junta had taken over in July 1930, and the country went into a disastrous war with Paraguay between 1932 and 1935. In 1939, the central bank was nationalized, after its independence had been gradually reduced as a result of the economic and financial crisis.
Kemmerer’s faith into the gold standard had not helped the country: its overvalued currency exchange rate, fixed at the height of Bolivia’s mining activity, had effectively hindered its capacity to export goods in a competitive fashion, while allowing cheap imports. To some extent, Bolivia suffered the fate of those countries that did not leave the gold standard and devalue their currencies soon enough, like France, even though Bolivia left the gold standard before the US did.
Obviously, one cannot only blame Kemmerer’s inspired reforms for what was happening: the crisis was global, and it is likely that reining in excessive credit before 1929 had allowed the country to mitigate some of the economic depression’s impact. In the long run, the most striking tribute to the 1928 financial overhaul lies probably with the survival to these days of some of the institutional framework it had created: Bolivia is still enjoying a Central Bank that helped extract the country from further inflation and hyperinflation in the 1950s and early 1980s.
In any case, most economic crises find their roots outside of the realm of monetary policy, and even the most efficient central bankers have to deal with their governments’ generally sub-optimal economic policy choices.
They say that admitting that you have a problem is the first step on the road to recovery. One of my recurring problems is that when my wife asks me to get an item out of the fridge I cannot find it. When I report that the item in question is not there, nine times out of ten she will walk over and pull it out without even having to search. Usually when this happens, the item was sitting at the front of the shelf —and at eye-level to boot—hiding in plain sight.
As I continue to prepare the ANS Seleucid coin database for the Seleucid Coins Online project it has become increasingly clear that previously unpublished coins—both control varieties and types—have also been hiding in plain sight in the Society’s trays for decades, despite the close attention of many specialists over the years. It is only now that almost the entirety of the Seleucid collection has been photographed and the images associated with the MANTIS database entries that these new coins have been revealed. The new discoveries in the trays mirror the general state of Seleucid numismatics, which has seen new types and control varieties appear at a remarkable pace in commerce over the years. Since Seleucid Coins, Part 2 was published jointly by the American Numismatic Society and Classical Numismatic Group in 2008, hundreds of previously unknown coins have been recorded. The purpose of this post is to introduce a few of the interesting new Seleucid discoveries in the ANS cabinet.
Perhaps the most intriguing of the coins is the Alexandrine tetradrachm from the bequest of E. T. Newell accessioned as ANS 1944.100.77077 (Fig. 1). Based on the original database entry, Newell considered this coin to belong to an oft-discussed series of tetradrachms struck under Seleucus I Nicator (312–280 BC) frequently bearing an anchor symbol and which he attributed to the north Phoenician mint of Marathus. The Marathus anchor Alexanders were subsequently reattributed as a whole to neighboring Aradus in 1998 before closer analysis of the historical and hoard evidence permitted the identification of their true origin at a mint in Babylonia (Uncertain Mint 6A in Seleucid Coins, Part 1) in 2002. Despite the interest in sorting out this Alexandrine series, neither Martin Price, Arthur Houghton, myself (when I was reviewing the trays for SC 1 in 1999–2000), nor anyone else seems to have noticed this coin and therefore it does not appear in the pages of The Coinage in the Name of Alexander the Great and Philip Arrhidaeus (1991) or Seleucid Coins, Part 1 (2002). It continued to be overlooked as late as 2015, when the American Journal of Numismatics published a new study of Uncertain Mint 6A by Lloyd Taylor.
Artistic style and the monogram in the left field of the new coin indicate production at Uncertain Mint 6A (Newell’s Marathus). Indeed, the obverse die seems to have been cut by the same hand as a die employed for that mint’s anchor Alexanders (SC C67.5a, see CNG Electronic Auction 376, lot 237; Fig. 2). However, the wreath around the left field monogram and the bee symbol below it also suggests a degree of influence from the so-called “Imperial Workshop” of Babylon (SC 82.2b; Fig. 3)—now thought to have coined Alexander tetradrachms for Seleucus’ arch-enemy, Antigonus the One-Eyed, during his occupation of Babylonia (315-308 BC).
With the exception of the anchor, field symbols are otherwise unknown at Mint 6A and the mint is already known to share a wreathed monogram with the “Imperial Workshop” (SC 67.5a and SC 81–85). While the obverse die seems to belong to Taylor’s Series II, which he dates to c. 306–304 BC, the treatment of Zeus and the absence of an anchor symbol connect the new coin to Taylor’s Series III, which he dates to 304–303 BC. The possibility of influence from the “Imperial Workshop” of Babylon will require further study and may perhaps demand revisiting and revision to the Marathus/Aradus/Uncertain Mint 6A complex of Seleucus’ Alexandrine tetradrachms yet again. And to think that the coin has been sitting in the cabinet since the mid-1940s!
Somewhat less embarrassingly old is a previously unknown bronze coin of Seleucus II Callinicus (246–226 BC) accessioned as ANS 1982.175.9 (Fig. 4). It has only been overlooked in the trays since 1982. The denomination (B) and types are very similar to a series struck at a Syrian mint formerly identified as Apamea, but now known as the uncertain ΔEΛ Mint (SC 706; Fig. 5). However, while both the new coin and the ΔEΛ Mint issues feature a bull butting left on the reverse, the latter carries a depiction of Seleucid dynastic god, Apollo, on the obverse. The new coin features the diademed portrait of the king instead of Apollo, but this fact went unrecognized by the original database cataloguer and by anyone who has seen it over the last several decades. The coin is not listed in Seleucid Coins Part 1. Based on the reverse type, the coin may be a new issue of the ΔEΛ Mint, but in the absence of any visible control monograms this attribution must remain tentative. The type combination of the head of Apollo and a bull butting right also occurs on bronze denomination A at Seleucia on the Tigris (SC 773).
A third discovery is not overly embarrassing and does not really expand our knowledge of Seleucid numismatics, but it is rather fun. The cut fraction of a gold stater (Fig. 6) accessioned as ANS 1997.92.1 has been carried in the database for two decades now as a Bactrian issue of Antiochus II Theos (261–246 BC), apparently based only on the limited remains of the portrait. Only the royal title BAΣΙΛΕΩΣ remains on the reverse. However, close analysis of the reverse shows the small tip of a thunderbolt above the legend, which can only mean that the coin was struck under the rogue Seleucid satraps of Bactria, Diodotus I and Diodotus II. Although early Diodotid staters struck at a facility designated “Mint A” did include a legend naming their distant monarch, Antiochus II, the positioning of the thunderbolt here points to production at “Mint B,” which did not employ a legend naming the Seleucid king on staters (Fig. 7). Therefore, the cut stater given to Antiochus II is not a proper Seleucid coin at all, but rather an issue struck by the Diodoti after they claimed full autonomy from the Seleucid Empire in c. 255 or c. 246 BC.
These three discoveries are not the only ones made while working through the database, but are among the most interesting to date. They are exciting because they show that there are still new things lurking in the ANS Seleucid trays waiting to be revealed. The long time that some of these coins have lain in the cabinet unrecognized for what they are despite the number of eyes that must have fallen upon them is also comforting. Clearly I am not the only one who cannot see what is in plain view at the front of the fridge.
The American Numismatic Society (ANS) welcomes the Director and CEO of the Salzburg Museum, Direktor Hon.-Prof. Mag. Dr. Martin Hochleitner, and Dr. Peter Lechenauer, an attorney representing the Salzburg Museum, to New York for the repatriation of a group of 94 coins stolen from the Museum Carolino-Augusteum of Salzburg in 1945. The coins will be turned over to Dr. Hochleitner and Dr. Lechenauer by Mr. Kenneth L. Edlow, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the ANS, and Dr. Ute Wartenberg Kagan, Executive Director of the ANS, on Friday, May 26, 2017.
This group of coins came to the ANS in 1995 after our late Benefactor, Mr. Chester L. Krause, brought them to the attention of the curators. Mr. Krause had learned that these coins were rumored to have come from a museum in Austria in 1945 and donated to the ANS the funds to purchase them, so as to ensure that they could be returned to any rightful owner rather than being dispersed on the market. The ANS accepted the gift and acquired the coins in order to preserve the group intact, while curators Alan Stahl and William Metcalf immediately began inquiries with colleagues in Austria to determine whether a legitimate owner could be identified so that the coins could be repatriated.
The details of the story, as known at the time, were also published in the 1996 ANS Annual Report. In the last year of World War II, the coins from the Salzburger Museum Carolino-Augusteum were moved to underground storage for protection. After the end of the war, the American occupation authorities took custody of those coins; when they were returned to the museum in 1946, over 2,000 coins were missing. Publications from before and after the war made it clear that the coins the ANS had acquired closely matched some of the missing coins from the Salzburger Museum, but no clear proof was available at that time.
Open-access publication of old ANS annual reports has made them much more widely available, and this brought the story to the attention of more numismatists in Austria. As a result, recent work has been able to match a few coins with earlier photographs and many others, which have inventory numbers written in ink on the surface of the coin, with an old card file in the Salzburg Museum bearing similar numbers. This work has demonstrated that the group of coins can in fact be identified as a small but valuable portion of the coins stolen from the Salzburger Museum over 70 years ago.
These coins represent an important body of material for the study of the history of Salzburg and Austria. Highlights include a gold florin of Archbishop Pilgrim II of Salzburg (1365–1396), a silver pfennig of the same archbishop, a silver pfennig of Archbishop Hartwig of Salzburg (991–1023), and a Bohemian groschen of the years around 1400 that was counter-stamped for validation by three different cities, Nördlingen, Ulm, and Salzburg. The ANS is pleased to have assisted with their return home.
Executive Director Dr. Ute Wartenberg commented on the return of the coins to Austria: “We are delighted that these interesting coins will be returned to the museum where they belong and where people will view and study them. I am also so grateful to the late Chet Krause for his extraordinary initiative in trying to preserve Austrian heritage. A case like this one illustrates that even today museums in the US should be acting perhaps as safe havens for looted objects and be more proactive in acquiring looted objects with the specific purpose to eventually repatriate them.”
The American Numismatic Society, organized in 1858 and incorporated in 1865 in New York State, operates as a research museum under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and is recognized as a publicly supported organization under section 170(b)(1)(A)(vi) as confirmed on November 1, 1970.
The dating, function, and iconography of Roman lead tokens from Spain have been objects of speculation among scholars for decades. Several of these tokens, with weights ranging from 4–400 grams, have been found in the Spanish region of Cordova, once part of the Hispania Baetica, an area known in Roman times for silver mines. Spanish silver mines were one of the most important sources of silver bullion for Rome, and the connected smelting activities took place on such a huge scale that the lead pollution generated by them is still traceable in the Greenland ice core. At the same time, Baetica was also an important producer of olive oil, traded all over the Mediterranean Sea. Spanish lead tokens then, made out of a by-product of silver smelting but possibly also connected to agriculture, represent a useful yet poorly understood tool to understand the economic organization of this province.
The Richard B. Witschonke Collection at the ANS includes 16 specimens of these tokens, nine of which remain unpublished. One of them (fig. 1) is a unique piece, part of lot of 10 Spanish lead tokens offered for sale in CNG MBS 67 on September 22, 2004 (lot nos. 1070–1079). The CNG catalogue offers the following description:
Obv. Nude male walking left, carrying bell(?) and shovel over his shoulder; P · S across field; all within wreath. Rev. Harrow (or miner’s axe?). Weight: 166.78 g
The identity of the man represented on the obverse, together with the function of the objects he is carrying, is a mystery. Is he a miner, carrying a shovel? This is the interpretation offered by F. Casariego, G. Cores, and F. Pliego, who first published this piece in their catalogue of Iberian lead tokens from Roman times. They classified this piece as part of the series de las minas (“mines series”), conventionally related to the Roman mining operations in Baetica. These mine tokens (figs. 2, 3, 4) are usually characterized by the presence of a man with a “shovel” (a conventional term; it is unclear what this is).
This representation closely resembles the miners portrayed on the Linares bas-relief (fig. 5). Moreover, some tokens of the series de las minas were found in the Roman mines of El Maderero (fig. 6) and of Posadas (fig. 7), both in the Baetican district of Cordova. The archaeological context suggests a dating in the first century BC for these tokens. According to this interpretation, these tokens may have served as a ‘company coinage’ for these mines, a practice well attested in modern times. This token and the others of the “mines series” would therefore be one of the first instances of this use of tokens.
However, some elements in the iconography of the token represented in fig. 1 do not seem to match this interpretation. The bell carried by the man with the “shovel” and the arrow on the reverse need to find an explanation. A possible solution for this enigma does not come from Spain, but from Central Italy.
In a series of articles, C. Stannard showed the certain iconographical relationship between lead tokens from Baetica and local bronzes from Central Italy. The motif of the man with the “shovel” is attested in the area of Minturnae, Naples, and Pompeii, where no connection to mining activities can be made (fig. 8). The man with the “shovel” was probably not a miner, after all. As represented in fig. 4, the most frequent iconography of this figure is a walking man, either naked or wearing a short tunic, carrying the “shovel.” In the Italian material, he often also carries an askos, an oil or wine jar; in the Baetican, a bell (as in the case of the token in fig. 1). Could the man with the “shovel” be a farmer? The farming context could help explaining the presence of a harrow on the reverse of our token. Moreover, M. P. García-Bellido argues that the letters P · S, appearing on the token at ANS and on other ones of the same series, could be interpreted as P(ublica) S(ocietas), a State-owned enterprise exploiting oil-production in Baetica. According to this second interpretation then, the tokens of the series de las minas were used as a “company coinage” in an agricultural context, not in a mining one.
The iconographical similarities between Baetican tokens and Italian bronzes bear testimony to the active commercial relationships between Italy and Baetica in the Age of High Empire (first–second centuries AD), especially wine and oil trade. Mount Testaccio in Rome, an artificial mound composed almost entirely of testae, fragments of broken oil and wine amphorae dating from the first– third centuries AD (figs. 10, 11) bears testimony to the enormous scale of this trade. While researching Mount Testaccio’s amphora stamps, B. Mora Serrano (fig. 9) noticed the correspondence between the names appearing on some tokens of the series de las minas and the ones on amphora stamps from Testaccio. He therefore argued that at least some of the Iberian lead tokens of the series de las minas are connected to the transport of the Spanish olive oil to Rome. It follows that the man with the “shovel” on the unique piece of the Richard Witschonke Collection would not be an Iberian miner, but rather an Italo-Baetican farmer, probably occupied in producing wine and oil to export to Italy.
However, neither the presence of a bell nor the generously ithyphallic representations (cf. fig. 4) of the man with the “shovel” are addressed by this interpretation. C. Stannard argues that these elements could be explained if these figures were mimes. The Roman mime differed from Greek Comedy in that actors did not wear masks, as in the images on the Iberian lead. According to Stannard’s hypothesis, the man with the “shovel” represents a mime, a decorative element on tokens that were used as a “company coinage” in the context of an Italo-Baetican oil-trade enterprise.
In sum, the identity of the man with the “shovel” on the token presented in fig. 1 raises historical and iconographic questions that show the strength of the commercial and cultural interconnections within the Roman world. Were the tokens of the series de las minas really connected to mining activities, as their findspots seem to suggest? Or were they connected to the trade of Spanish oil, as B. Mora Serrano posits? The debate is still open.
Two elements still need further interpretation:
- Even if not univocally linked to mines, some tokens of the series de las minas did circulate in mining areas. It is therefore not possible to entirely dismiss the “mining” interpretation.
- The findspots of some tokens of the series de las minas show that these kind of tokens were already circulating during the first century BC, so they could not be directly linked to the Spanish oil trade of the first and second centuries AD.
Not all the questions are solved, then. The mystery of “our” man with the “shovel” is still intact.
New hypotheses on the iconography and the function of the man with the “shovel” and the function of the fascinating Spanish lead tokens will be formulated at the interdisciplinary conference “Tokens: Culture, Connections, Communities” at Warwick University (June 8–10, 2017), where all the published and unpublished lead tokens from the Richard W. Collection will be presented.
Age of Empires: Chinese Art of the Qin and Han Dynasties (221 B.C.–A.D. 220) on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (April 3–July 16, 2017) shows how art was pivotal in the formation of a Chinese identity. Too small to fully appreciate without holding, coins often go unnoticed in major exhibitions. They remain reminders of monetized economies, the flow of goods, and regnal shifts. In addition to commissioning China’s Great Wall, the Qin ruler, Ying Zheng (r. 247–220 BC), unified the empire’s monetary system increasing the circulation of copper coinage. He also introduced standards of universal weights and measures. Such policies made money a cosmopolitan language of exchange across vast territories.
An impulse to standardize Chinese knowledge is a phenomenon apparent through several non-monetary objects showcased in the exhibition. A bronze waterclock from the Western Han dynasty (206 B.C.–A.D. 9) embodies this characteristic. A piece of wood or bamboo was likely fed through a small hole in the lid of this container. As water drained out of a tube at its bottom at a steady rate, the wood would sink and mark time. It was the norm for these clocks to be kept in all Qin and Han administrative offices. This simple technological solution brings to mind a number of waterclocks throughout art history. On the opposite side in the spectrum of simplicity, the design for a waterclock of al-Jazari in twelfth-century northeastern Syria/Iraq, a manuscript of which is in the Met’s Islamic holdings, would be a much more fanciful and multipurpose innovation.
The exhibition also features gold ingots (metal exchanged for its value) in the shape of horse-hooves of the Western Han dynasty (206 BC–AD 9). These objects show how certain standards change with the reigns of new emperors. Because of an auspicious vision, the Han Emperor Wu (r. 141–87 BC) transformed the shape of gold ingots from the hooves of qilins (mythical creatures) to horses. A bronze mold for half-ounce coins (banliang) from the Qin or early Han dynasty, ten bronze half-ounce Qin banliangs, and five Han dynasty imitations of Ancient Persian (Parthian) coins are other examples.
Instead of directly showing coins, some of the most iconographically complex objects in the exhibition imply the importance of a monetary economy. The lids of two bronze cowry containers are comprised of sculpted figures, one even displaying a sacrifice scene.
According to the exhibition curators, cowry containers such as these could have been adapted from bronze drums. In ancient times, cowry shells were utilized as currency, particularly in coastal regions, before copper became more accessible. The American Numismatic Society’s collection features cowry that are attributed to China, Africa, and India, and perhaps these would be the kind of objects that would fill these sumptuous containers.
One of the most elegant objects in the show is known as a “money tree” (qian shu) or “money-shaking tree” (yao qian shu). The exhibition label reports that approximately 200 of these are known and they were functioned as funerary goods. The example in the exhibition made of bronze is attributed to the Eastern Han Dynasty (AD 25–200). From afar, the six layers of branches of the tree look highly ornamented, yet coming close one notices that the leaves of the tree are formed of bronze square-hole coins. How were these money trees produced? Did the same artisans responsible for minting money cast them?
While numismatic evidence may pose many difficulties in museum exhibitions—their scale, legibility, and overall impact on a viewer—being a few, Age of Empires demonstrates how coins were inherent to the process of imperial standardization. Highly ornamented and much larger scale objects potentially imply the power of numismatics.
I was working on an article about George Kunz and the redesign of United States Coinage (ANS Magazine, 2017/1) when I came upon an interesting coin design in the ANS vault. It was an electrotype model of a U.S. dollar by Victor David Brenner, made about fourteen years before his actual contribution to the redesign of U.S. coinage, the iconic and ubiquitous Lincoln cent (1909). His was one of twenty-five dollar designs submitted for a competition in 1895, part of an organized effort at improving the nation’s much maligned coinage that was ostensibly carried out by several private art groups but was in reality undertaken mostly by two: the National Sculpture Society (NSS) and the ANS. The NSS showed real commitment to the cause, putting up all of the prize money: $300 for first place and either $100 or $200 for second (accounts vary). This was big money in 1895; first prize would be comparable to about $8,000 today.
Given that coins are small sculpted pieces used by nearly everyone, the promotion of high quality coinage was a natural undertaking for the NSS. The group was founded in 1893 to promote quality sculpted art to the masses. To help fulfill its civic-minded goals, it opened its membership to non-sculptors—administrators, businessmen, and others that might help the cause. Kunz, Tiffany’s resident gem expert, joined the group in its first year. He also joined the ANS in 1893, and it appears that he was the primary agent at both groups promoting coinage redesign, apparently with the backing of an influential party in Washington.
The dollar designs that were submitted for the competition were displayed at an exhibition of ancient and world coins and medals at the American Fine Arts Building on 57th Street in New York City. The show was curated by the ANS and was intended to show historical examples of quality artistic coinage. Brenner did not win. First prize went to Albert Jaegers, specifically for the eagle on his reverse. Albert Randolph Ross came in second, for his obverse showing Liberty and a turkey. The prizes had no official standing and the two artists would play no role in the actual coinage redesign that began a decade later.
An electrotype of Jaegers’s design sits next to Brenner’s on a tray in the ANS vault. Unfortunately, though a letter from Ross and an entry in the Society’s proceedings say that he also donated his model to the ANS, a search for Ross’s turkey design was unsuccessful.
Incidentally, it is great to learn of the close relationship between the ANS and the NSS during the latter’s first years because the two organizations have been happily reunited in modern times. The ANS and NSS have shared office space at 75 Varick Street since 2009.
For more on the founding of the National Sculpture Society and its early history, see Michele Bogart’s Public Sculpture and the Civic Ideal in New York City, 1890-1930 (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1989).
The ANS is pleased to announce a new interface for Online Coins of the Roman Empire (OCRE), which allows non-specialists, hobbyists, collectors, archaeologists, and others to browse Roman Imperial coins by image for free online. People can compare the coins in their collections or those coins recovered from archaeological excavations against diagnostic specimens in OCRE. The OCRE project received $300,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) in 2014.
The “Identify a Coin” interface works on any device, from computers to tablets to smart phones. Users can begin browsing Roman Imperial coinage right away, or can filter search criteria by portrait, material, and even legends, which includes the ability to enter all or part of a legend as well as marking illegible characters. The portraits are listed chronologically, first by dynasty, and then by personage within the dynasty (including empresses and children). In many cases, examples of portrait images are available in gold, silver, and bronze varieties, as well as worn examples that one may encounter with stray finds or excavation. More than one material may be chosen, which is useful for later Roman coinage, when severe wear makes it difficult to distinguish between what Roman Imperial Coinage has designated as “silver,” “bronze,” or “billon.” By clicking the left and right arrows below the image, it is possible to scroll through available portraits, which may show several phases of portraiture, such as Nero, who grew from a teenager into adulthood over the course of his reign.
OCRE’s “Identify a Coin” tool offers an easy way in to one of the most complete depictions of numismatic Imperial portraiture online, and the ANS hopes that it will also prove itself a useful art historical tool to trace the development of Roman portraiture from the Augustan period through the Soldier Emperors to the Tetrarchy until the end of the Roman Empire.
Ethan Gruber, the ANS’s Director of Data Science, created the interface, and ANS Curatorial Assistant Disnarda Pinilla identified all of the portraits used in the tool. The ANS’s Associate Curator, Gilles Bransbourg, has overseen the OCRE project from its inception. Although primarily drawn from the ANS’s permanent collection of Roman Imperial coins, other specimens are included from the Münzkabinetts in both Berlin and Vienna, as well as from the Fralin Museum at the University of Virginia.
One of the ways that the ANS teaches students about numismatics is through student internships, where a student gets to learn about our work by participating in it. This semester, we have been lucky to have Kara Woodley from Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York, working with our curatorial department.
Kara is a senior completing a double major in art history and history. For her two senior theses she is writing about Ireland during the struggle for independence in the early twentieth century. As part of her art history degree, she was required to complete an internship to gain practical experience. Prof. Megan Cifarelli suggested the ANS as a possibility that might be a good choice for a student with more interest in history than in the contemporary art scene.
Kara has worked on a few different tasks at the ANS, but the majority of her time has been devoted to entering our nineteenth-century Irish tokens into our curatorial database. Although these tokens have been acquired since the founding of the Society (some of them were donated in our first year, 1858!), hardly any of them had been entered into the computer yet.
Armed with the standard references on the topic, Kara has been going through the tokens one by one, creating full database records for them. One of the tokens that she found interesting in relation to her academic research is a token or medalet commemorating Daniel O’Connell, an early nineteenth-century campaigner for Catholic Emancipation and repeal of the 1801 Act of Union. This piece is pierced for suspension, and the box has a note on the back saying that it was worn at an election meeting in 1865.
Another piece she found interesting is a token issued by the banker William Hodgins in Cloughjordan, Co. Tipperary. This token is typically catalogued among Australian tokens, despite its reference to Ireland. Although originally produced for use in Ireland, large quantities of this token were apparently shipped to Australia, where they helped make up for a scarcity of official coinage.
During her internship Kara has been learning how museums work behind the scenes; in particular, about the processes involved in how a small staff manages a very large collection. She hopes this will be useful in her future career as an art historian, especially if she ends up working in a museum setting.
Next year Kara will be going to graduate school at Trinity College, Dublin, where she plans to specialize in Irish art of late antiquity and the early Middle Ages.