Courtesy of the American Numismatic Society (ANS), the Newman Portal now features the Colonial Newsletter (CNL) from 1960 to 2015 (issues no. 1 to 159). Launched by Al Hoch and others, the CNL was ably managed for many years under editor Jim Spilman, until the Colonial Newsletter Foundation donated the publication to the ANS in 1996. Oliver Hoover, the current editor, does not shy away from provocative topics, and issue 159’s “Hidden Initials by Early American Engraver’s Guild,” which, per Hoover, “pushes the bounds of traditional interpretation,” is a must-read for anyone interested in George Washington Indian Peace Medals. The current CNL further features serial publication of important colonial coins in the ANS cabinet. The periodical as a whole has captured the best researchers of its time – the inaugural issue featured Ken Bressett – and is indispensible for the colonial specialist. In addition, the little known Colonial NewsletterOnline (12 issues published between 1995 and 1997) is also present here, as well as the most recent index of the CNL.
The American Numismatic Society is excited to announce its first sale of auction catalogs and fixed price lists, originating from the early 20th and late 19th centuries. Duplicate catalogs from the ANS collection are being offered through an e-auction by Classical Numismatic Group, which began on March 9, and ends on Wednesday, March 23, 2016 (e-sale 371). All proceeds will benefit the Society’s Library Acquisitions Fund.
The variety of ANS holdings being offered covers a wide-range of numismatic areas and interests, providing especially important research materials for those interested in provenance and past pricing. The Society plans to hold regular sales of its various holdings of duplicate, rare auction catalogs and numismatic literature. Support the Society while enhancing your collections with an auction purchase!
The CNG sale also contains other important numismatic libraries, including the collection of late ANS Trustee Lawrence Adams, who passed away last year.
In the last few weeks, I have been preparing a gift of my personal coin collection to the American Numismatic Society. Among the coins was a fascinating piece that is an exact twin to one of the most notorious incidences of numismatic fraud—either actual or accidental— that has occurred in the United States. This story continues to be circulated, and I receive questions about the Bar Kokhba coins found in Kentucky on a regular basis.
Here is the background: In 1952, Robert Cox, a hardware store operator from Clay City, Kentucky, found an exotic coin in a pen he was using for pigs just outside of town along Kentucky Highway 15. The pig pen was part of a field that he had plowed the summer before. It was the first time older residents of the city could remember that this land had ever been turned over. He seemed an honorable man and had nothing to do with ancient coins, and it appears that Mr. Cox legitimately found the coin just where he said he found it.
Clay City is about 40 miles east of Lexington, Kentucky. Equally fascinating is that two other Bar Kokhba coins were discovered in different Kentucky towns.
The rest of the story involves a number of well known scholars who refused to believe other expert numismatists, and has such a long history that it is often repeated as a “true story” today.
It is related quite specifically by celebrated archaeologist Dr. Cyrus Gordon (who taught at Dropsie College, Brandeis University, and New York University) in his 1971 book Before Columbus: Links Between the Old World and Ancient America:
“Other contacts with the Roman Mediterranean of the second century AD have meanwhile come to light in Kentucky, where inscribed Hebrew coins of Bar Kokhba’s rebellion against Rome were dug up in Louisville, Hopkinsville, and Clay City. The assorted coins were found at different times and in widely separated areas: at Louisville in 1932, at Clay City in 1952, and Hopkinsville in 1967. These coins have been examined and identified by Professor Israel T. Naamani of the University of Louisville. There is no difficulty in identifying these Bar Kokhba coins. The Clay City coin was sent to the late Professor Ralph Marcus of the University of Chicago who had no trouble in reading “Simon”, Bar Kokhba’s personal name, on one side, and “Year 2 of the Freedom of Israel” on the other side.”
Professor Gordon amazingly seems to have drawn his information from a number of articles in Kentucky newspapers, which reported on these rather astonishing discoveries.
In 1978 a University of Texas anthropologist named Jeremiah Epstein published a paper. In the course of his research he sent a photocopy of the Clay City coin to Prof. Ya’akov Meshorer, then curator of numismatics at The Israel Museum, Jerusalem.
One would think that the opinion about this coin by Ya’akov Meshorer, surely the world’s leading expert on ancient Jewish coins at the time) would end the discussion. And for Professor Epstein, it did. However, according to Epstein, his correspondence with Professor Naamani indicated that “Naamani continues to accept Marcus’s judgement.” In other words, he believed that Professor Marcus was correct and Professor Meshorer was incorrect.
In comments on Epstein’s article, in the journal where it was published, Professor Warren L. Cook of the Castleton State College in Vermont wrote: “Meshorer’s labeling a Kentucky Bar Kokhba coin a forgery on the basis of a photo-copied newspaper article illustration is unconvincing, yet Epstein is ready to condemn similar coins on such authority.”
Almost 15 years ago Haim Gitler, current chief curator of archaeology and curator of numismatics at The Israel Museum, and I both received communications from Dr. Fred Coy Jr., an economist at Ohio State University.
Dr. Coy sent us photographs of the actual Clay City coin discovered in 1952 by Robert Cox. He told us that a man named Ya’akov Meshorer had said it was fake back in 1978. But he wanted to check this information to make certain that Meshorer knew what he was talking about.
Gitler and I both immediately agreed with Meshorer and stated that this coin was a fake, not even a forgery, but a kind of a fantasy copy.
Professor Coy, who is not a numismatist, kept asking me WHY this coin was not a genuine ancient coin. I’m afraid that I did not have much patience, and I kept saying, “it is FAKE because it is NOT GENUINE. It is NOT even close and therefore does not justify further discussion.” But he was insistent and went to other sources and concluded, finally, and correctly that the coin is not genuine because:
There can be a cross or a rosette over the Temple on the obverse, but not a 6-pointed Star of David. The latter is strictly for the tourist trade.
The shin and mem from the beginning of Simon’s name are entirely missing from the obverse side, even though the adjacent dots are present, indicating that the missing letters could not have been just worn off. This looks like someone copied from a worn coin that was missing these letters, but then added the dots to make the replica look more complete.
Likewise, a stroke is missing from the bet, and the het is made as if it were a B.
A tetradrachm of this type should be silver, but this coin is bronze.
The lulav is badly made. Also, the etrog has been reduced to a mere blob to the right of the lulav.
There is no sign of an obliterated Roman coin under the image, even though this should be evident.
He forgot to mention that by no stretch of anyone’s imagination could this be an ancient coin!
These observations are second nature to anybody who has ever seriously studied Bar Kokhba coins. But here I have discussed a parade of esteemed University Professors who have been bickering back and forth about this coin since it was discovered in 1952. And we have also learned that the other two so-called Bar Kokhba coins from Kentucky are of the exact type as this one. A photograph accompanying this article depicts an exact duplicate of the coin found in Louisville in 1967. The same Professor Israel T. Naamani of the University of Louisville examined this coin. Astoundingly, he pronounced it similar to the Clay City coin, “But this one is much more genuine. The Jews were not strong after the rebellion; so what did they do? They took Roman coins and re-minted them. Underneath if you scratch them there are Roman inscriptions.” (Scratching a coin is certainly NOT the way to observe any overstruck coin….)
He added that farmer Coy’s Clay City coin was a “Roman re-mint, but Bray’s was newly minted 1,832 years ago.”
Oh, dear. Maybe college professors ought to be forced to get licenses before commenting on subjects about which they are completely in the dark.
My research at the British Museum has uncovered a lead cast of this very type of Bar Kokhba fake, which was presented to The British Museum in 1922 by Spink and Sons as a replica. Therefore, the original must be somewhat older than that.
My best bet is that this was a souvenir given away by a Bible marketing company in the early 1900s and hundreds or even thousands were passed through the American South. I have personally seen more than 50 of them.
The stories around these coins represent wishful thinking by American Bible Belt scholars. Wouldn’t it just be so interesting if the people in the United States were directly descended from Jews who came to our shores not long after the time of Jesus….sigh.
But it isn’t so and I am glad to report this story over and over to remind collectors that the authenticity of a coin that has not been found in a licensed archaeological excavation is only as good as the expert who is evaluating it!
(This blog is adapted from my book NOT KOSHER, Forgeries of Ancient Jewish and Biblical Coins, New York, 2005.)
The Newman Numismatic Portal (NNP) is now live and open to the general public at NewmanPortal.org. Funded by the Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society (EPNNES), NNP is administered through Washington University in St. Louis, and aims to provide the most comprehensive numismatic resources available on the Internet. “I have long wanted to make the literature and images of numismatics, particularly American numismatics, available to everyone on a free and forever basis,” said Eric P. Newman, president of EPNNES. “Today’s digital technologies, combined with the funds recently assembled from auctions of some of our foundation’s holdings, now make this possible.”
The Newman Portal project launched scanning operations at Washington University Libraries in July, 2015, and at the American Numismatic Society in November, 2015. Both locations are equipped with scanning equipment supplied in partnership with Internet Archive, as well as personnel to perform scanning on a full-time basis. Over 3,000 documents, representing more than 100,000 pages, have been completed to date. The documents represent a mix of auction catalogs, periodicals, reference books, and archival material. Most of this material is unique to the Newman Portal and has not been previously scanned.
In addition to the libraries of Eric P. Newman and the American Numismatic Society, a number of contributors including private collectors Dan Hamelberg, Bill Burd, and Joel Orosz have loaned material to the Newman Portal for scanning. The Newman Portal has further partnered with over a dozen specialty and regional organizations to provide access to back issues of club journals. A full list of available publications may be found in the periodical section of the Newman Portal.
The Portal further includes reference content structured for optimal usage within the context of online access. Resources such as Pete Smith American Numismatic Biographies and Albert Frey’s dictionary from the American Journal of Numismatics have been broken down into separate entries and appear individually in search results. The U.S. coin encyclopedia contains over 2 million auctions prices realized. A Lucene-based search engine allows users to search across all content, from the scans hosted by Internet Archive to the reference material within the site itself.
While ongoing scanning operations continue to build the “virtual library” of the Newman Portal, the long term goal of NNP is to increase collector collaboration and foster knowledge sharing through crowdsourcing and other initiatives. The Smithsonian Institute has recently demonstrated the promise of crowdsourcing in cataloging thousands of national bank currency proofs. The Newman Portal has announced its first such project, creating a transcription of Franklin Peale’s Report (1835), a fundamental document related to 19th century American coining technology. With today’s electronic resources, the power of the community can accomplish tasks beyond individuals or small teams, and the Newman Portal will enable this within the numismatic research space.
[Press release provided by the Newman Numismatic Portal]