Conflict Antiquities Symposium

ANS, 1944.100.30790
ANS, 1944.100.30790

Dr. Ute Wartenberg Kagan, Executive Director of the American Numismatic Society, will be speaking on the subject of “Coin Collecting and the Conflict in Syria” this evening as part of a symposium co-sponsered by the U.S. Department of State and The Metropolitan Museum of Art . “Conflict Antiquities: Forging a Public/Private Response to Save the Endangered Patrimony of Iraq and Syria” features two panels of experts that will review international cooperation against looting in Iraq and Syria and discuss a new initiative to combat the trade in conflict antiquities. The event will be live-streamed starting at 4:30PM EDT:

Additional details are available from the U.S. Department of State website

*Header image is the obverse of a rare silver antoninianus of Vabalathus Augustus (266-272 CE) minted in Antioch. 

Mahlon Day's Originary Counterfeit Detecter, 1828

One of the most overlooked aspects of both numismatic and printing history in the United States is the ephemeral genre of serials known as “counterfeit detectors.” These publications flourished in the antebellum era, when a chronic lack of coinage led individual banks and businesses to issue diverse forms of paper money. A trickle of notes issued by private banks in the late eighteenth century turned into a veritable flood by the 1820s as an ever-greater number of banks issued increasingly large amounts to satisfy the needs of the growing populace and economy. These privately issued bank notes were a kind of representative money that promised the holder that the paper could be redeemed at the bank for specie, i.e. gold and silver, on demand. In practice this was not always the case as a given bank’s ability to ‘make good’ its circulating notes was often questionable.

While this newfound capital helped to fuel the United States’ runaway growth, the sheer number of different designs and varying quality of the notes created a chaotic currency situation that was ripe for abuse. Perhaps the biggest problem was the integrity of the note-issuing banks themselves, which ranged from prudent and well-capitalized institutions to unsafe and even outrightly fraudulent ones that printed notes with no intention of ever redeeming them. Rampant counterfeiting only further confounded matters, and the public was put in the essentially impossible position of attempting to assess whether or not a given note was genuine, and even if so, what it exactly it was worth for an incredible range of currencies.

The American, August 14, 1819
The American, July 14, 1819

In an attempt to bring some clarity to this confusing situation, publishers printed broadsides and circulars that listed commonly counterfeited notes. Newspapers, most notably the Baltimore-based Niles Register (1811-1836), also featured financial columns that advised readers about the soundness of various banks, reported exchange rates, and took note of counterfeiting activities around the country. Yet it was not until 1819 that The American, a New York City newspaper, began to regularly publish a table entitled “Bank Note Exchange,” which gave the going rates for assorted notes and listed known counterfeits. The table at left is reproduced from the July 14 edition and indicates that it was updated every Tuesday and Friday by Martin Lee, a broker with offices at 44 Wall Street. A rating of “par” indicated that the note was equal to its printed value, while a number followed by “do” indicated the rate at which the note was discounted, which typically was related to either the perceived soundness of the issuing bank or its distance from the city. The column shows that notes issued by banks in Baltimore, for example, were discounted 3 percent, making a ten-dollar Baltimore bank note worth $9.70 in New York. Banks further afield suffered from even steeper discounts, and the geographic disparities created opportunities for “bill brokers” and “note shavers” to acquire and transfer the notes around the country at a profit. By the early 1820s, bank note tables became increasingly common in American newspapers, and often included notices about known counterfeit and so-called “spurious” notes that were issued by fraudulent banks. These bank note tables and columns were the precursor to a genre of newspapers that emerged in the late 1820s that focused almost entirely on the legitimacy and value of paper money in circulation.

William H. Dillistin’s Bank Note Reporters and Counterfeit Detectors, 1826-1866 (1949) represents the only serious study of these popular publications to date. As delineated by Dillistin, these serials had two essential purposes: (1) “to show the rate of discount at which uncurrent notes would be purchased or exchanged for specie in the more important business centers,” and (2) “to furnish a brief description of counterfeit, spurious, altered, and raised notes.” The noted New York printer and Quaker Mahlon Day (1790-1854) was the first to publish a bank note list and record of counterfeits at regular intervals, beginning a biweekly broadsheet in 1826 called the New York Bank-Note List and Counterfeit Detecter. Because each new issue superseded prior editions with updated information, they were typically discarded and few examples have survived relative to the numbers in which they were printed. A survey of major libraries for Day’s New York Bank-Note List and Counterfeit Detecter, which was published continuously from 1826 to 1851, turns up only a few dozen extant issues. When Dillistin produced his 1949 study, the earliest that he discovered was an August 1830 edition at the Huntington Library. Looking through a sheaf of counterfeit detectors donated to the ANS the other day, I discovered an even earlier date.

The April 14, 1828 edition of the New York Bank-Note List and Counterfeit Detecter is a four-page folio approximately 20 by 13 inches in size. Underneath the title, an inscription reads: “Published by Mahlon Day, at the New Juvenile Bookstore, No. 376, Pearl Street.” Indeed, Day is perhaps better known today for his pioneering role in publishing children’s books, but combating counterfeiting also proved to be a profitable business. A notice lists the price of a subscription to the paper as two dollars per annum, and indicates that the serial was “entered according to an Act of Congress the 30th day of October, 1826,” which raises the possibility that there might be even earlier extant issues that could come to light.

American Numismatic Society
American Numismatic Society

The first page lists the value of notes for over one hundred banks around the country in the city of New York at that time, indicating whether particular notes were circulating on par with their nominal value or at a discount. Bankrupt banks were straightforwardly labeled as “broke,” while in many cases the value of given bank’s notes were listed as “uncer,” i.e. uncertain.

The remaining three pages of the paper were taken up with what purports to be “A Complete List of Counterfeit Bills, of Altered Notes, and those with Spurious Signers, throughout the United States,” organized by geography and denomination. The list offers a window into the principal means by which counterfeiters operated. The most straightforward method was to simply reproduce a genuine note as best as possible. ANS-1828-2The Counterfeit Detecter sometimes described a bogus bill in detail, explaining for example that a twenty-dollar note attributed to the Charleston Branch of the Bank of the United States was “fainter than the genuine, particularly the eagle and work around it,” and that it was “shorter than the genuine note.” Other known counterfeits were simply listed, as in this excerpt from the section on New York City banks. Here one sees a listing for a counterfeit $2 note from the Merchant’s Bank dated March 1, 1826, The ANS actually holds an example of this particular note, which although crudely made, we did not regard as a counterfeit until reading this counterfeit detecter.

ANS, 1984.111.1
ANS, 1984.111.1

Day’s Detecter also shows that wholesale counterfeits were less common than the practice of “raising” bank notes, which involved changing the denomination of a genuine bill. The New York City excerpt above indicated $1 notes of the Manhattan Bank were being altered into $2 notes and that $1 notes of the Merchant’s Bank were being changed into $3 notes. In the specimen below, a genuine one-dollar note issued by the Northern Bank of New York has been raised to a value of ten dollars, the telltale signs being the discoloration around the engraved numbers, which were rubbed or cut out and then replaced with the higher value.

ANS, 0000.999.10146
ANS, 0000.999.10146

Note the dark spots around where the numbers have been altered. While this counterfeit was not particularly well crafted, I chose it as an example because the tampering was so easy to see. Better executed raised notes were very difficult to detect without the kind of specialized information that counterfeit detectors provided. Another technique for altering notes was to change the name on worthless paper issued by a broken bank to that of a sound institution. Day’s Counterfeit Detecter thus also lists “spurious” notes, which refers to either currency issued by plausibly-named but non-existent banks or those notes that were purely fraudulent, bearing no resemblance to any genuine notes. That notes for a completely fictional bank could and indeed did circulate suggests something of the confusion that reigned in the monetary system and the appeal of something like this serial that helped individuals and businesses navigate the bewildering mix of paper money in circulation.

The two-and-a-half pages devoted to counterfeits list over eight hundred fraudulent notes, which casts some light on the scope of the problem; and it was one that was only getting worse as banks and bank notes proliferated amidst the Market Revolution. A short notice “To our Patrons and Friends” on the back page of Day’s paper informed readers that the publication would soon be increasing in size and promised “an improved general appearance,” and asked “the community for a continuance of their favors.” By 1830, it was an eight-page publication and in 1837 Day’s Counterfeit Detecter expanded to sixteen pages. Clearly Mahlon Day had struck upon a popular and profitable idea, and it would not be long before competition in counterfeit detection began to heat up. Interestingly enough, the back page of the paper contains and advertisement for Sylvester J. Sylvester, a broker who would shortly become Day’s biggest rival and whose endeavors we will cover in part II of this series.

Matthew Wittmann

A Trade Dollar Song and Chorus, 1883

This week at the International Numismatic Congress in Taormina, I gave a presentation about the US Trade Dollar, a silver coin that was minted between 1873 and 1878 expressly to facilitate trade with East Asia.

ANS, 1899.58.3
ANS, 1899.58.3

Its purpose was rather transparently expressed in the coin’s design, which features the figure of liberty seated upon a bounty of trade goods facing west to the ocean with an olive branch in hand. The reverse clearly delimits the national origin of the trade dollar in legend and symbolism, but more interestingly includes a precise description of its silver content: 420 GRAINS, 900 FINE. Quick math shows that it contained 378 grains of pure silver, which was more than the 371 ¼ grains of the ‘standard’ Seated Liberty dollar. This change was made to give the US trade dollar more appeal in the Chinese market, where Spanish dollars minted in the Americas and, after independence in 1821, Mexican dollars were the primary circulating medium. These had a silver content measuring between 374 and 377 grains, which meant that the new US trade dollar had a more silver and bullion value.

What the new US trade dollar lacked of course was both recognition and trust. Spanish dollars had been circulating through Asia in volume since the 17th century, and the shroffs who weighed and assayed foreign silver for Chinese merchant house were  rightly skeptical of new coins. Still, by 1876 some 12 million US trade dollars had been exported, and the large number of extant ‘chopmarked’ coins, which were struck with punches bearing Chinese characters that indicated their acceptance by merchants, attested to their successful introduction internationally.

ANS, 1937.169.669
ANS, 1937.169.669

The fatal flaw that doomed the US trade dollar was not its ability to circulate abroad, but an unfortunate provision inserted into the Coinage Act of 1873 that allowed the trade dollars, which were intended for export, to circulate domestically as “legal tender at their nominal value for any amount not exceeding $5 in payment (Sec. 15).” Exactly how this stipulation was worked into the legislation has been much debated, but the practical effect was that when the price of silver declined, it became profitable for bullion dealers to have their silver coined into trade dollars.  The new dollars were not exported, but passed domestically at their face value or at a nominal discount. When the coinage law was passed in 1873, the 378 grains of silver in the coin was worth $1.05 in gold, but by 1876 it had declined to .83¢. With the bullion value less than the stated or legal tender value that was the medium of exchange, trade dollars flooded into domestic circulation. In response, the coin was actually demonetized by an act of Congress in July 1876.

Despite the fact that it was now demonetized, the trade dollar continued to circulate domestically, alongside a restored ‘standard’ or Morgan dollar that was authorized by the Bland-Allison Act of 1878. At this point, the United States thus had two silver dollars in circulation, one with 371 ¼ of silver and a Liberty Head on its obverse that was legal tender, and the Seated Liberty trade dollar with 378 grains of silver that was not. The mints continued to manufacture trade dollars only with the assurance that the coins would be exported abroad, but controls were so lax, and the potential profits so easy, that many of the 20 million coins minted after it was demonetized made their way into domestic circulation anyways. The coinage of the trade dollar was finally discontinued in 1878, but the damage was done. Because it was not legal tender the trade dollar was in effect simply bullion and it circulated at a severe discount. It was not able to deposited at banks, nor was it accepted by many merchants. The problem was that many unscrupulous businesses continued to pay them out to unwary or unsophisticated employees and customers at face value, which the receiver was never able to get when they tried to spend them. By 1883 something of a crisis was brewing as opposition to the continued swindle mounted, and the New York Times editorialized on June 6:

It is a curious illustration of how firmly a vicious form of currency can get itself rooted in this community that, at a meeting of the produce trade yesterday, there ·was a decided difference of opinion as to the proposition to refuse trade dollars at par. These nondescript and bastard coins, which are no more a legal tender than are the Japanese yen, which, moreover, are worth less than their nominal value, still circulate in considerable quantities. The Post Office, of course, does not take them; they are refused on the railways running out of town, on the elevated roads, and on some of the horse car roads, but they still maintain their hold in the retail trade. As they were coined purely on private account, every one of them now in circulation has yielded a fraudulent profit to some swindler.

The movement against their continued circulation and pressure on the government to redeem the orphan coin at its face value increased in 1883, and it was refracted in popular culture. That summer, a new song by F. L. Martyn was published by Richard A. Saalfield. The Trade Dollar Song and Chorus was “respectfully dedicated to the United States Government,” and pithily chronicled the ongoing problem.

Levy Sheet Music Collection John Hopkins University
Levy Sheet Music Collection
John Hopkins University

Click on the cover image for the full music courtesy of the Levy Sheet Music Collection at Johns Hopkins University. The lyrics to the jaunty tune went as follows:

We all feel the need of good money

At when our business shall call,

But now, my dear friends, I must tell you

A subject that’s clear to us all

The poor working man through the country

Will work for his family’s aid,

But when the man’s day’s work is over

With what shall his wages be paid?


With eighty-five cents on the dollar

Paid out to him night and by day

What shall we do with this dollar?

Just ask what the Chinamen say.


We know a good friend ’round the corner,

Who knows that in clothing we need

A good suit to wear for the summer

And nothing but wealth shall succeed.

I go to this friend in the morning,

I say to him, in a good way,

‘Will you take these trade dollars for payment?’

He answers me, ‘No, sir! good-day.’



Americans will never be later

Than others to greet all that’s fair,

But when we are cheated on all hands

It’s time for a change to appear

We honor the flag we shall all see

At home, at abroad, or at sea,

But now it has come to a stand-point,

No more trade dollars for me.



Although the government eventually and somewhat controversially followed through with the redemption of the trade dollar in 1887, the song serves as a useful illustration of the domestic troubles that brought about its demise . My presentation, which I will be elaborating upon in a forthcoming article, focused on the largely overlooked, albeit short-lived, success that the US trade dollar had abroad. Its ultimate failure serves as a useful reminder of the efficacy of approaching American history from a broader transnational perspective that registers the dynamic interplay between domestic and international developments.

For those wishing to learn more, the best study remains John M. Willem’s The United States Trade Dollar: America’s Only Unwanted, Unhonored Coin (1959, reprinted 1965).

Matthew Wittmann

New Festschriften from the ANS

BooksThe American Numismatic Society’s reception at the International Numismatic Congress this evening is being held in honor of Basil C. Demetriadi and in memory of the late Richard B. Witschonke. Not coincidentally, the ANS has two new publications  celebrating the careers of these distinguished numismatists and collectors. The volume dedicated to Demetriadi, ΚΑΙΡΟΣ, features twenty-one new and fully illustrated articles on ancient Greek coinage. Witschonke’s volume, FIDES, brings together twenty new and fully illustrated articles on coins of the Roman world. Both are limited to 150 hand-numbered copies and were printed on heavyweight archival paper. The volumes are bound in Greek-blue and Roman imperial purple linen respectively and have the coins pictured below embossed on their covers in silver and gold. To order from our website, just click on the titles in this post. Alternatively, you can call Catherine DiTuri to place your order at 212-571-4470, ext. 117.


ANS, 1957.172.1462
ANS, 1957.172.1462

ΚΑΙΡΟΣ: Contributions to Numismatics in Honor of Basil Demetriadi, edited by Ute Wartenberg and Michel Amandry.

  • Patricia Felch–Basil C. Demetriadi
  • Friedrich Burrer–Die Hemidrachmen-Prägung von Gyrton
  • François de Callataÿ–A Long-Term View (15th–18th Centuries) on Prices Paid to Acquire Ancient Coins
  • Wolfgang Fischer-Bossert–Die Eule der Athena
  • Evangelia Georgiou–The Coinage of Orthe
  • Jonathan Kagan–Maximilian John Borrell (c. 1802–1870). Dealer, Collector, and Forgotten Scholar and the Making of the Historia Numorum
  • Sophia Kremydi and Michel Amandry–Le monnayage d’époque sévérienne frappé à Aigosthènes en Mégaride
  • John H. Kroll–Small Bronze Tokens from the Athenian Agora: Symbola or Kollyboi?
  • Catharine C. Lorber–The Beginning of the Late Facing Head Drachm Coinage of Larissa
  • Aliki Moustaka–Bendis and the Wolf: An Unpublished Numismatic Type from Thessalian Phaloria
  • Olivier Picard–Corpus et classement des émissions: les bronzes hellénistiques de Thasos
  • Selene E. Psoma–Did the So-called Thraco-Macedonian Standard Exist?
  • Pierre Requier–Une rare série de Cos sans portrait imperial du IIIème siècle
  • Kenneth A. Sheedy–The Emergency Coinage of Timotheus (364–362 B.C.)
  • Derek R. Smith–New Varieties of the Eleusinian Triptolemos/Piglet Coinage from the BCD Collection
  • Vassiliki E. Stefanaki–Corpus des monnaies aux dauphins attribuées à Potidaion/Poseidion de Carpathos
  • Peter G. van Alfen–The Chalkid(ik)ian Beginnings of Euboian Coinage
  • Hans-Christoph von Mosch and Laura-Antonia Klostermeyer–Ein Stempelschneider auf Reisen. Die Antinoosmedaillen des Hostilios Markellos und Hadrians Reise im Jahr 131/2 n. Chr.
  • Mary E. Hoskins Walbank–Prospectus for Palaimon
  • Ute Wartenberg–Thraco-Macedonian Bullion Coinage in the Fifth Century B.C.: The Case of Ichnai
  • Arnold-Peter C. Weiss–The Persic Distaters of Nikokles Revisited



ANS, 1967.153.5
ANS, 1967.153.5

FIDES: Contributions to Numismatics in Honor of Richard B. Witschonke, edited by Peter G. van Alfen, Gilles Bransbourg, and Michel Amandry.

  • A Bibliography of Richard B. Witschonke
  • Katerini Liampi — A Hoard from Thessaly Containing Aeginetan Staters and Thessalian Issues of the Taurokathapsia Type
  • Andrew Burnett and Maria Cristina Molinari — The Capitoline Hoard and the Circulation of Silver Coins in Central and Northern Italy in the Third Century BC
  • Peter van Alfen — A Late Third Century BC Hoard of Sardo-Punic Bronzes (IGCH 2290)
  • Gilles Bransbourg — Currency Debasement and Public Debt Management at the Time of the Second Punic War
  • David Vagi — Alliance and Coinage: South Italy during the Second Punic War
  • Andrew McCabe — A Hoard of Cut Roman Republican Denarii from the Second Punic War
  • François de Callataÿ — The Late Hellenistic Didrachms of Leukas: Another Case of Greek Coinage for the Roman Army
  • Andrew R. Meadows — Four Cistophoric Hoards?
  • William E. Metcalf — The Cistophori of Nysa
  • Nathan T. Elkins — “A City of Brick”: Architectural Designs on Roman Republican Coins and Second-Style Wall Painting
  • Liv Mariah Yarrow — Ulysses’s Return and Portrayals of Fides on Republican Coins
  • Clive Stannard — The Labors of Hercules on Central Italian Coins and Tesserae of the First century BC
  • Michael H. Crawford — Sextus Pompeius between Hispania and Germania
  • Philip Davis — Erato or Terpsichore: A Reassessment
  • Bernhard E. Woytek — The Aureus of Pompey the Great Revisited
  • David Hendin — Judaea and Rome: The Early Numismatic Commentary, First Century BCE
  • Patrick Villemur — De Quelques Émissions Coloniales Romaines en Sicile: Retour à Tyndaris
  • Sophia Kremydi and Athena Iakovidou — Corinth and Athens: Numismatic Circulation from the Late Republic to the High Empire
  • Jane DeRose Evans — The Third Neokorate of Sardis in Light of a New Coin Type Found in Sardis
  • Michel Amandry — Le Monnayage de la Res Publica Coloniae Philippensium: Nouvelles Données

GOP Debates the New $10

The ongoing discussion about changing the personages who grace US currency is one that we have covered before (here,  here, and here). This spring, the Women on 20s movement effectively sparked a renewed national discussion about the lack of women on US currency (beyond of course the lightly-circulated Sacagewa dollar coin). Although the goal of that campaign was to replace Andrew Jackson on the twenty-dollar bill, in June Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew made a surprise announcement that the ten-dollar bill, which was already in the process of being redesigned, would feature a woman. The rather general message was simply that a “notable woman” would feature on the bill and the American public was asked to share its ideas about who it might be here. Despite this solicitation for public feedback, the decision will ultimately be made by Jack Lew and opposition to removing Alexander Hamilton at this point seems moot.


The tremendous response to the announcement and discussions about the varied possibilities have been ongoing. The winner of the popular Women on 20’s poll was Harriet Tubman, with Eleanor Roosevelt coming in a close second. The poll we ran here on Pocket Change was won by Amelia Earhart, with Helen Keller just behind. Anecdotally, the name I have most often heard is Rosa Parks. In short, it seems like there are a number of different possibilities and it has been heartening to see this numismatic issue enliven the public interest. It was also fascinating to see it addressed at last night’s GOP debate on CNN. Although moderator Jake Tapper condescendingly introduced it is a “lighthearted” topic, he asked the Republican candidates directly: “What woman would you like to see on the $10 bill?”

Their responses were interesting and the video below is cued to the segment if you would like to watch:

Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, and Donald Trump rather lamely suggest their wife, mother, and daughter respectively. Jeb Bush looks to conservative icon Margaret Thatcher while John Kasich sees Mother Theresa as an inspiration, though neither would seem to be appropriate for US currency. Of the more considered responses, Mario Rubio advocates for Rosa Parks as “an everyday American that changed the course of history.” Citing his own work with the Red Cross, which she of course helped found, Scott Walker puts forward Clara Barton. Chris Christie observes that “our country wouldn’t be here without John Adams, and he would not have been able to do it without Abigail Adams.” It was somewhat surprising to me that the only candidate who did not accept a change as a fait accompli (perhaps because of the way the question was framed) was Carly Fiorina. Fiorina seems to think the proposed change is a meaningless “gesture” and does not “think it helps to change our history,” linking her opposition to her feeling that “women are not a special interest group.” 

The range of responses show just how compelling and open the question of whose portrait will feature on the new ten-dollar bill is at present. And it is a discussion that we will continue to follow with interest here on Pocket Change.

Matthew Wittmann

Excerpt from the full transcript (via Time) is below the fold:

Continue reading GOP Debates the New $10

ANS at the International Numismatic Congress

Screen Shot 2015-09-04 at 9.44.12 AMThe American Numismatic Society will be at the International Numismatic Congress next week in Taormina, Sicily. Indeed, we are one of the sponsoring organizations and we are looking forward to a week full of scholarship and amiable association.

What follows is a rundown of ANS-related events at the Congress, perhaps the most notable of which is the cocktail reception that we are hosting in the picturesque gardens of the Villa Communale on Tuesday, September 22. taorminaThe reception begins at  8:30pm and is being held in honor of Basil C. Demetriadi and in memory of the late Richard B. Witschonke. This event is also being sponsored by the Comune di Taormina and with the generous support of Numismatica Ars Classica AG, the Classical Numismatic Group, Inc., and Harlan J. Berk Ltd.

Here is a chronological list of papers and panels with ANS-affiliated scholars, which includes the work of two graduate students whom the ANS sponsored, Jane Sancinito and Katherine Van Schaik. Although they are not making formal presentations, ANS librarian David Hill and adjunct curatorial associates Peter Donovan and David Hendin will also be in attendance. We hope to see you there.


Monday, September 21

  • 12.00 pm — Palazzo dei Congressi, Auditorium — Gilles Bransbourg – The Currency Rates of the Roman Republic
  • 4.00 pm — Palazzo dei Congressi, Theatre — Robert Hoge – The Dispersion and Denouement of the Archer Milton Huntington Collection
  • 4.00 pm — NH Hotel, Room C — Jane Sancinito – Parthian Circulation: a Study of the Wilson Hoard


Tuesday, September 22

  • 9.00 am — NH Hotel, Room C — Matthew Wittmann – Empire of Coins: US Trade Dollars in the Late Nineteenth-Century Pacific
  • 9.00 am — Palazzo dei Congressi, Green Room — Katherine Van Schaik – The Currency of Medicine: Healing Imagery on the Coins of Kos, Epidauros, and Pergamon, from the 4th century BCE to the 4th century CE
  • 11.40 am — Palazzo dei Congressi, Auditorium —Andrew Burnett (trustee) – Victorious Emperors and a Happy World: a new coin of Zela
  • 3.00 – 6.30 pm — Palazzo dei Congressi, Auditorium —“Networking Roman coin data repositories” routable with contributions from curator Gilles Bransbourg and trustee Andrew Meadows.
  • 8.30 pm — Villa CommunaleAmerican Numismatic Society Cocktail Reception


Wednesday, September 23

  • 11.40 am — Palazzo dei Congressi, Green Room — Elena Stolyarik – The Coinage of the Scythian Kingdom in the Dobrudja: The Evidence of Coin Finds and Monetary Circulation
  • 12:20 pm — Palazzo dei Congressi, Auditorium — David Yoon – Evolution of Stylistic Patterns in Pre-Visigothic Tremisses


Thursday, September 24

  • 9.00 am – 1.30 pm — Palazzo dei Congressi, Green Room —“The new LANDscape of Greek numismatics” rountable with contributions from Ute Wartenberg, Andrew MeadowsPeter van Alfen, Ethan Gruber, and Andrew Reinhard.


Buon viaggio!

Ask a Curator: Object Numbers

This is part an ongoing series that answers your questions about our collections. If there’s something you would like to know about, please use the ‘Contact’ form or email us directly here.

A reader asked:

“In a blog post a few weeks back, you demonstrated how object numbers were created when coins were accessioned into the collection using a combination of date, lot, and item numbers. So why do so many of the objects in the database have numbers that begin with 0000.999.####?” 

As we catalogue our collection, we try to identify how each object came to the ANS, but we don’t always have enough information. There are two main clues we use; one is the notes written on the back of the box and the other is the set of ledger books in which accessions have been recorded since 1858.


These three boxes, from a group of French jetons that have not yet been catalogued, show the range of possibilities. The one on the left identifies the accession as 1940.176 and adds that it was a gift of Alexandre Orlowski in November 1940. The one in the center says only that it was purchased in May 1934, but it is usually possible to identify the specific accession by looking in the accession ledger book for purchases during that month. The box on the right says nothing at all about the origin of the object.

ANS 1933.126.9
ANS 1933.126.9

Earlier this year I had occasion to catalogue the Society’s holdings of Swedish plate money. Because these cumbersome slabs of copper are mostly too large to fit in our boxes, most of them had no indication at all of their origin. Thus, they presented the same problem as the blank box.

By searching our accession database (a digital version of the ledger books, painstakingly typed into a computer by George Cuhaj in 1981), I was able to identify accession records for plate money, and in many cases I was able to match up the examples in our trays with particular accession records. However, not all accession listings in the ledger book describe the objects in enough detail to identify them. For the plate money, I had three such accessions: 1916.192, “Sweden, 4 plate money” (among other things); 1923.150, “8 Sweden plate money” (among many other things); and 1929.103, “2256 Swedish coins”.

Thus, I was left with a residue of 22 pieces of plate money that had no attached notes and could have come from any of these three accessions. In this situation, our practice is to assign an accession number beginning “0000.999” to indicate that we do not know when or from whom it came into our collection.

ANS 0000.999.56881
ANS 0000.999.56881

—David Yoon

Bryant Park Fountain 'Hoard'

For the Summer issue of the ANS Magazine, curator Gilles Bransbourg contributed a story that explored an interesting numismatic dimension of New York City’s Bryant Park. At the center of this leafy refuge stands an elegant black granite fountain designed by Charles A. Platt, noted architect of the American Renaissance movement.

© Alan Roche
© Alan Roche

Like many fountains around the world, it is a magnet for people seeking good fortune, and these wishes are often attended by tossing a coin into its waters. This act is the legacy of ancient traditions observed by many different cultures around the world that center on making offerings at wells, springs, and other sources of water. Bransbourg, who specializes in Roman economic history, points to Coventina’s Well as a good example of this longer history. This shrine adjacent to Hadrian’s Wall collected the waters of a local spring, and to date over sixteen thousand coins, most presumed to have been offerings from Roman soldiers stationed nearby, have been recovered from the site.

© Alan Roche

Closer to home, the not-for-profit Bryant Park Corporation collects somewhere in the neighborhood of $3,000 worth of US coins each year out of its fountain. The resulting funds are used to support park operations. The foreign coins fished out of the fountain are much less numerous and difficult to profitably exchange. The staff were thus kind enough to share the ‘hoard’ of foreign coins that had been collected over a yearlong period for analysis. This consisted of 732 coins that originated from 76 different countries–86 if the Euro coins, which have a common reverse and a country-specific obverse, are counted separately. The overall distribution of the set organized by the total number of coins and place of origin is shown in the table below (click to enlarge).

Chart 1

Perhaps unsurprisingly the Eurozone (141) and the United Kingdom (123) were best represented in the hoard, but the relatively large number of coins from Russia (51) and Argentina (28) is also interesting to note. The two oldest coins found were a 1936 US cent that had somehow slipped by park staff and, more unusually, a 1936 50-centimes silver coin from French Indochina. But I don’t want to recapitulate everything for this post, and there are many more facts, figures, and suggestions about how and why these particular coins ended up in the fountain in the article, which you can read in full here.

ANS-water coins
© Alan Roche

Bickford's International Pattern Coin, 1874

This past week I have been working on my presentation for the upcoming International Numismatic Congress, which concerns U.S. trade dollars, the ill-fated silver coin issued in the 1870s for trans-Pacific commerce.

New York Public Library
New York Public Library

Although the trade dollar was the only one struck for international circulation, there were some interesting patterns dating to this period of expanding global commerce, perhaps most notably the 1874 ‘Bickford’ $10 coin. Pattern coins are produced for evaluative purposes, but are not approved for circulation. They are usually minted in small quantities to model proposed designs for the mint and government officials. This particular $10 pattern coin was suggested by the seemingly indefatigable Dana Bickford (1834-1909), a businessman and inventor who had the ear of Henry R. Linderman, the superintendent of the United States Mint.

Internet Archive
Internet Archive

Bickford was perhaps best known for having invented a knitting machine for home use that made it much easier to do circular work, i.e. socks, leggings, and the like. The set up also allowed for the automation of many different kinds of stitches, and it was powered by a simple hand crank. ‘Bickford’s Family Knitting Machine’ was rather expensive but seemingly successful and working devices can still be found in the present day. Unfortunately, the company lost a federal lawsuit for patent infringements in 1879 and he seems to have lost whatever fortune was made from it.

Chronicling America
Chronicling America

Bickford next tried to market a garden and fire pump while also continuing to create new inventions, but none of these seem to have found much success.  An article in The American Machinist from 1902 described him as a “well-known inventor” who was working to secure support for a retirement home for indigent inventors in West Medford, Massachusetts. It remains unclear whether he was himself destitute or if this was just philanthropy on his part, but the home was supposed to have a laboratory where its residents could continue their work. Whatever the case, nothing seems to have come of the venture and Bickford passed away in Epping, New Hampshire on October 15, 1909.

Dana Bickford’s most notable legacy, at least for numismatists, was the idea for a coin that he proposed to Henry Linderman for the US Mint in 1874. The genesis of the pattern was detailed in the February 1876 edition of the Coin & Stamp Journal, which reprinted an article that originally appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on January 31 (click to enlarge).

American Numismatic Society
American Numismatic Society

The summary version is that Bickford was traveling through Europe in 1873 and experienced all the “difficulties and inconveniences” that accompanied exchanging for and understanding the “money current” in each of the countries that he visited. (That part of the story checks out as Bickford lodged an application with the Department of State for a passport in February 1873). The idea he hit upon while traveling was for a coin that would have its exact composition on its face, as well as its value in terms of each of the major commercial currencies. Bickford called at the mint in Philadelphia when he returned, and Linderman thought enough of the idea that dies were prepared and a pattern was struck. The ANS holds a copper specimen (Judd-1374), but it was also struck in aluminum, nickel, and gold.

ANS, 1960.166.42
ANS, 1960.166.42

Bickford’s proposed system of international coinage would allow countries to display their own particular design on the obverse (hence the Liberty Head), but required that the fineness, weight, and exchange value of the coin be expressed on the reverse. Although struck in copper, this was supposed to be a $10 gold coin or Eagle with a weight of 16.72 grams. The indication that it was .900 fine meant that it contained 15.046 grams or .48375 troy ounces of pure gold. Six cartouches circle the reverse with the value of the coin in US dollars ($10), British pounds (£2.1.1), German marks (41.99), Danish kroner (37.31), Dutch gulden (20.73), and French francs (51.81). The UBIQUE inscription stands for ‘ubiquitous,’ implying that the coin was good everywhere.

Although this was likely an impossible scheme to implement in practical terms, the coin was an intriguing idea in theory. Beginning with the formation of the Latin Monetary Union in 1865, there were a series of international monetary conferences and related efforts to create a more uniform and stable global currency system. The big problem for Bickford’s proposed coinage was that although the price of gold was relatively steady, not all nations were on a gold standard. A drop in the price of silver during the 1870s destabilized the currencies of those countries on a silver or bimetallic standard by dramatically shifting the gold price of silver. This in turn led to fluctuations in exchange rates that would have been impossible to keep up with in terms of minting and circulating coins.

Bickford-half dollar reverse-1876
Reverse of silver half dollar pattern

The article, though, rather optimistically expressed the hope that the coin would be adopted by Congress and issued prior to the opening of the Centennial Exposition in May 1876, but of course this never happened despite the wide support that was implied. Perhaps the most interesting part of the article was its ending, which praised Linderman’s “superior judgement” for “ordering the sample coins.” The illustrations show a 1876 $10 coin modeled after the earlier 1874 pattern, and a silver half dollar with an 1876 date and an interesting new scalloped design for its reverse. Neither of these coins is known to exist but it seems likely that they were struck.

Despite the fact that Bickford’s patterns were never put into production, he could not seem to let the idea go. In 1897, he issued a series of bimetallic “Republican International Dollars” in the same vein as the earlier pattern coins, with exchange rates for the Russian rouble and Japanese Yen helpfully added. Although this particular specimen was a model made with brass and aluminum, the intention was that the actual dollars would contain gold and silver.

bickford international

Bickford rather optimistically expressed the hope, which is inscribed on the obverse, that “This Combination Coin Will When Adopted be Good in All Nations / Heal All Differences Between Gold & Silver Men / and Fully Settle All Financial Questions.”

Matthew Wittmann