The Power of a (Roman) Name: Celtic Coins in the Name of Aulus Hirtius

Figure 1. Treveri in the name of A. Hirtius, ca. 45 BC. Bronze, 18.5 mm., 3.56 g. Elephant advancing r., trampling on horned serpent; in exergue, A HIRTIVS. / Simpulum, sprinkler, axe, and apex. Depeyrot, NC VII, 102. De la Tour 9235. Scheers 1977 no. 162. RPC 501. Ex Naville Numismatics 28 (2017), 140.
Figure 1. Treveri in the name of A. Hirtius, ca. 45 BC. Bronze, 18.5 mm., 3.56 g. Elephant advancing r., trampling on horned serpent; in exergue, A HIRTIVS. / Simpulum, sprinkler, axe, and apex. Depeyrot, NC VII, 102. De la Tour 9235. Scheers 1977 no. 162. RPC 501. Ex Naville Numismatics 28 (2017), 140.

In 45 BC Aulus Hirtius, the governor of Transalpine Gaul (modern France), issued the coin here presented in Figure 1. This coin was produced in the territory of the Treveri, a tribe dwelling in the northeast corners of modern France (Fig. 2). The mint responsible for this coinage was very likely located in the oppidum of Titelberg, in modern Luxembourg, where more than 20% of the specimens have been found (Fig. 3).

Figure 2. Gaul at the time of Julius Caesar. Courtesy of the Department of History, United States Military Academy.
Figure 2. Gaul at the time of Julius Caesar. Courtesy of the Department of History, United States Military Academy.
Figure 3. The Celtic settlement (oppidum) of Titelberg in modern Luxembourg.
Figure 3. The Celtic settlement (oppidum) of Titelberg in modern Luxembourg.

Aulus Hirtius had spent most of the previous decade in Gaul, since he had been first a legate of Julius Caesar’s starting around 54 BC and served as an envoy to Pompey in 50. A staunch Caesarian, he is said to have dined with Caesar, Sallust, Oppius, Balbus, and Sulpicius Rufus on the night after Caesar’s famous crossing over the Rubicon river into Italy on 10 January 49 BC (Fig. 4).[1]

Figure 4. Caesar crossing the Rubicon depicted in the carton for murals for the Panthéon in Paris by French academic painter Paul Chenavard (1850) on display in the Museum of Fine Arts (Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon) in Lyon, France.
Figure 4. Caesar crossing the Rubicon depicted in the carton for murals for the Panthéon in Paris by French academic painter Paul Chenavard (1850) on display in the Museum of Fine Arts (Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon) in Lyon, France.

After the beginning of the Civil War between Caesar and Pompey he served in Spain, probably as a tribune. According to Suetonius (which should not always be trusted), he had the chance to “meet” in quite an informal way the young Octavian, who was only 16 at the time.[2] In 43 BC, he died, together with his consular colleague Pansa, in the battle of Mutina in 43 BC, fought between the consular armies loyal to the Senate, which were supported by the legions of Caesar Octavian (later Augustus), and the Caesarian legions of Mark Antony.[3] The death of the two consuls of 43 BC, whose tombs were laid side-by-side in the Campus Martius marked for most contemporaries the end of the Roman Republic (Fig. 5).

Figure 5. Tombstone of the consul Aulus Hirtius from Roma, Palazzo della Cancelleria. Text: CIL 6. 40899. A(ulus) Hirtius / A(uli) f(ilius). It was found under the northwestern corner of Palazzo della Cancelleria in Rome in 1938, now in Palazzo della Cancelleria (Inv. No. 39016).
Figure 5. Tombstone of the consul Aulus Hirtius from Roma, Palazzo della Cancelleria. Text: CIL 6. 40899. A(ulus) Hirtius / A(uli) f(ilius). It was found under the northwestern corner of Palazzo della Cancelleria in Rome in 1938, now in Palazzo della Cancelleria (Inv. No. 39016).

While being a political figure of a certain magnitude, he also completed Caesar’s narrative on his wars in Gaul, the Commentarii De Bello Gallico. Specifically, Aulus wrote about Caesar’s Gallic campaigns in 51–50 BC, the momentous years between the final submission of the Gallic League and of its general Vercingetorix in the battle of Alesia (52 BC) and the beginning of the Civil Wars in January 49 BC (Figs. 6–7).[4]

Figure 6. Lionel Royer, Vercingetorix throwing down his weapons at the feet of Julius Caesar (1899).
Figure 6. Lionel Royer, Vercingetorix throwing down his weapons at the feet of Julius Caesar (1899).
Figure 7. R. Goscinny – A. Uderzo, Vercingetorix after the Battle of Alesia in Asterix and the Chieftain's Shield (1967). Original French title: Le bouclier arverne, "The Arvernian Shield."
Figure 7. R. Goscinny – A. Uderzo, Vercingetorix after the Battle of Alesia in Asterix and the Chieftain’s Shield (1967). Original French title: Le bouclier arverne, “The Arvernian Shield.”

The coin in Figure 1 is extremely significant because it presents the same imagery of a coin issued by Julius Caesar. In 49 BC, right at the beginning of the Civil War, Caesar struck a coin series in his name showing an elephant trampling a snake on one side, and the emblems of his position as chief priest of Rome on the other (Fig. 8).

Figure 8. Mint moving with Caesar, Julius Caesar (49–48 BC). Silver denarius. 3.85 g. CAESAR - Elephant right, trampling dragon. Border of dots. / Pontifical emblems - culullus, aspergillum, axe, and apex. Border of dots. RRC 443/1. ANS 2004.14.71.
Figure 8. Mint moving with Caesar, Julius Caesar (49–48 BC). Silver denarius. 3.85 g. CAESAR – Elephant right, trampling dragon. Border of dots. / Pontifical emblems—culullus, aspergillum, axe, and apex. Border of dots. RRC 443/1. ANS 2004.14.71.

While there is no general scholarly agreement on the meaning of the elephant and snake on the obverse of Caesar’s coin, it is certain that the coin was produced in unprecedented volumes in order to finance Caesar’s war effort. The coin issued for Hirtius four years later in Transalpine Gaul, the province conquered by Caesar’s legions one decade before, shows that the Caesarian types used in RRC 443/1 were remembered and thus could be used by Hirtius to underline his personal allegiance to Caesar and the legitimacy of Roman power over the province. This coin is all the more significant because its style shows that the die-cutters were certainly Celtic. The assimilation of Caesar’s imagery four years after the original Caesarian denarius issue was such, that the types elephant/ sacerdotal emblems could be used (and recognized) on the local production of bronze coins. As perfectly exemplified by Aulus Hirtius’ coin of 45 BC, Roman coins were intended as “monuments in miniature”, a privileged means to transmit ideology, not only paying devices.

Moreover, the name of Aulus Hirtius is also present on the coinage issued by another Gallic tribe, the Remi (Figs. 9–11). While scholars still disagree on the exact date of production of these coins, they could be safely dated to the years 45–25 BC. This means that Aulus Hirtius was not propraetor of the Gallic province anymore, so these coins were not issued under his authority, but only bore his name. On these coins, the names of the local chieftains ΑΘΙΙDIAC (ATESIOS on previous coins), INIICRITVRIX and CORIARCOS are paired to the name of A.HIRTIUS IMP(erator). Tellingly, the coins bear on the obverse the names of the local chieftains and on the reverse, the name of the Roman title closest to the chieftain authority, the IMPERATOR (the commander-in-chief). Local and Roman authorities were thus at the same level, deriving their power one from the other. Or at least this is what these coins are aiming to show. Years after the end of Aulus Hirtius’s propraetorship on Gallia, his name was still used to legitimate local power.

Figure 9. Remi in the name of A. Hirtius, ca. 50–30 BC. Bronze, 14.7 mm, 3.04 g. ΑΘΙΙDIAC, draped male bust right wearing torques/ A • HIR • IMP, lion standing right on ground line. De la Tour 8086. RPC I 503a. Scheers 1977, no.153, class I. ANS 2015.20.401 ex R. B. Witschonke Collection.
Figure 9. Remi in the name of A. Hirtius, ca. 50–30 BC. Bronze, 14.7 mm, 3.04 g. ΑΘΙΙDIAC, draped male bust right wearing torques/ A • HIR • IMP, lion standing right on ground line. De la Tour 8086. RPC I 503a. Scheers 1977, no.153, class I. ANS 2015.20.401 ex R. B. Witschonke Collection.
Figure 10. Remi in the name of A. Hirtius, ca. 50–30 BC. Bronze, 16 mm, 3.23 g. INIICRITVRIX, draped male bust right wearing torques/ A • HIR • IMP, lion standing right on ground line. De la Tour 8092. RPC I 503b. Scheers 1977 no. 153 Class II. Ex Künker 312(2018), 1865.
Figure 10. Remi in the name of A. Hirtius, ca. 50–30 BC. Bronze, 16 mm, 3.23 g. INIICRITVRIX, draped male bust right wearing torques/ A • HIR • IMP, lion standing right on ground line. De la Tour 8092. RPC I 503b. Scheers 1977 no. 153 Class II. Ex Künker 312(2018), 1865.

Figure 11. Remi in the name of A. Hirtius, ca. 50–30 BC. Bronze, 16.2 mm, 3.33 g. CORIΛ[RCOS], draped male bust right wearing torques / A • HIR • IMP, lion standing right on ground line. De la Tour 8094. RPC I 503c. Scheers 1977, no.153, class III. ANS 2015.20.404 ex R. B. Witschonke Collection.
Figure 11. Remi in the name of A. Hirtius, ca. 50–30 BC. Bronze, 16.2 mm, 3.33 g. CORIΛ[RCOS], draped male bust right wearing torques / A • HIR • IMP, lion standing right on ground line. De la Tour 8094. RPC I 503c. Scheers 1977, no.153, class III. ANS 2015.20.404 ex R. B. Witschonke Collection.
This is not the only instance of a name of a Roman magistrate “frozen in time” on coins issued in Roman provinces. A few years earlier (90–65 BC), the province of Macedonia (now modern Greece) had issued for almost forty years tetradrachms in the name of Aesillas, a Roman quaestor who governed the province in the 90s BC (Fig. 12). While so completely different in style and provenience, the coins issued in the name of Aulus Hirtius in Gaul and the ones issued in the name of Aesillas in Macedonia show that Roman power, even in the form of a governor’s name frozen in time, was perceived as a way to legitimize local coinage already in the mid-first century BC, well before the appearance of the effigy of the Emperors on local coinage.

Figure 12. Coinage in the name of Aesillas, ca. 70–65 BC. Silver tetradrachm. 27 mm, 16.47 g. CÆ. PR. ΜΑΚΕΔΟΝΩΝ, diademed head of Alexander; Θ. / AESILLAS; below, Q . Money chest, club, and chair; all within wreath. AMNG III, p. 69, n. 214. Fisher 1985, p.82 (O3). de Callataÿ 1996, p. 136, D93. Bauslaugh 2000, p. 63, Group VII (O86/R310, this coin). HGC 1112. ANS 2015.20. 2178 ex R. B. Witschonke Collection.
Figure 12. Coinage in the name of Aesillas, ca. 70–65 BC. Silver tetradrachm. 27 mm, 16.47 g.
CÆ. PR. ΜΑΚΕΔΟΝΩΝ, diademed head of Alexander; Θ. / AESILLAS; below, Q . Money chest, club, and chair; all within wreath. AMNG III, p. 69, n. 214. Fisher 1985, p.82 (O3). de Callataÿ 1996, p. 136, D93. Bauslaugh 2000, p. 63, Group VII (O86/R310, this coin). HGC 1112. ANS 2015.20. 2178 ex R. B. Witschonke Collection.

[1] Dando-Collins 2002: 65–76, esp. 67 (with bibliography). Crossing of the Rubicon: Caesar, Civil War 7; Suetonius, Life of Caesar 31–32; Lucan, Pharsalia 1.185–205.

[2] Augustus, The Deeds of the Divine Augustus 5. Aulus Hirtius in Spain: Suetonius, Augustus 68 (on the alleged relationship between the young Octavian and A. Hirtius): After sacrificing his honour to Caesar, he (Octavian) gave himself to Aulus Hirtius in Spain for 300,000 sesterces. Trans. J. C. Rolfe.

[3] Res Gestae Divi Augustus 5. Velleius 2.61. Ovid, Tristia 4.10.6. Tacitus, Annals 1.10 (with the possible allegation that Hirtius and Pansa did not simply fall in battle, but were cut down (caesis), with Octavian the main beneficiary). Tacitus, Dialogus 17 (dating the death of Cicero on the basis of the year of their consulate). Suetonius, De Rhetoribus 1 (reporting the mistaken tradition that Cicero was responsible for the rhetoric instruction of Hirtius and Pansa).

[4] Suetonius, The Deified Caesar 56: He (Caesar) left memoirs too of his deeds in the Gallic war and in the civil strife with Pompey; for the author of the Alexandrian, African, and Spanish Wars is unknown; some think it was Oppius, others Hirtius, who also supplied the final book of the Gallic War, which Caesar left unwritten. Trans. J. C. Rolfe.

The Coinage of Philip II now in PELLA

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 Back in 2015, the ANS launched PELLA (numismatics.org/pella) as our first foray into creating dedicated online tools with a focus on ancient Greek numismatics, modeled on those we had already created for Roman coinage such as Online Coins of the Roman Empire. More recently, after we were awarded a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities in 2017 for the Hellenistic Royal Coinages (HRC) project. PELLA was incorporated into HRC as one of its several components. Even as we’ve continued to build out the other components of HRC, including Seleucid Coins Online and Ptolemaic Coins Online, we’ve been working on adding new features to PELLA as well. Just this week, in fact, we finished adding to PELLA a catalogue and typology for the gold and silver coinage of Philip II.

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From the beginning our intention has been to make PELLA an innovative research tool aiming, among other things, to provide a comprehensive typology and catalog of the coinages struck by the Macedonian kings of the Argead dynasty (c. 700–310 BCE), arguably the most influential coinages of the ancient Greek world. Fueled first by indigenous precious metal mines in their native Macedonia, and later by the spoils of their conquests, including the rich treasures of the Persian Empire, the Argeads’ numismatic output was monumental. For centuries after their deaths, coins in the name of Philip II (ruled 359–336 BCE) and Alexander the Great (ruled 336–323 BCE) continued to be produced by successor kings, civic mints, and imitators from Central Asia to Central Europe. The coinage of the Argeads themselves and that produced in their names has been extensively studied, but to date no comprehensive, easily accessible catalog of all their coinages exists. We’ve designed PELLA to fill that gap. Our goal has been to catalogue the individual coin types of the Argead kings from Alexander I (ruled 498–454 BCE), the first of the Macedonian kings to strike coins, down to Philip III Arrhidaeus (ruled 323–317 BCE), the last of the titular kings to do so, including as well the numerous posthumous civic and successor coinages struck in the names of the kings.

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The updated version of PELLA we launched this week now includes the coinage (in the name of) Philip II organized using George Le Rider’s Le monnayage d’argent et d’or de Philippe II frappé en Macédoine de 359 a 294, 1977. This material joins the existing catalogue and typology of the coinage (in the name) of Alexander III and Philip III, which is organized using reference numbers from Martin Price’s The Coinage in the Name of Alexander the Great and Philip Arrhidaeus, London 1991. The updated version of PELLA now provides 4,995 individual coin type pages with links to over 20,000 examples of the coinage (in the name) of Philip II, the coinage (in the name) of Alexander the Great, and the coinage of Philip III Arrhidaeus that are present in 19 collections located in the United States and Europe.

For those interested in some of the more technical aspects of how we build out these sites, and more specifically on the addition of the Philip II material to PELLA, check out the blog of our Director of Data Science, Ethan Gruber.

 

White Gold: Studies in Early Electrum Coinage

WhiteGold

The White Gold volume is finally in-hand, all 707 pages and eight pounds (4 kg) of it. Just a little over a month ago, Ute Wartenberg, Andrew Reinhard, and I made the final corrections, took one long, last look, and sent the typeset manuscript to our printer in Canada. We celebrated a bit, but frankly were too exhausted by the final push to celebrate much more than that. The book launch at the ANS we had scheduled for April 23 has, of course, been cancelled because of the current pandemic. We hope we can reschedule it for some time later this year. And we hope when we do, we’ll see you there.

The genesis of this volume took place nearly a decade ago, in 2011, when then Numismatic Curator (now Chief Curator) of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, Haim Gitler, conceived of a unique exhibition to be held there that would showcase the earliest coins in the Western tradition, those struck in electrum. Five hundred coins, all from the collections of Dr. Thomas S. Kaplan, Baron Lorne Thyssen-Bornemisza, and several from the Israel Museum, were displayed in a spectacular exhibition, the first of its kind anywhere that looked at electrum coinage from the seventh to the fourth centuries BCE. Catharine Lorber soon joined Gitler in curating the exhibition, White Gold: Revealing the World’s Earliest Coins a name suggested by Lorber, which opened in June 2012, with an exhibition catalogue of the same name written by Koray Konuk, Lorber, and edited by Gitler.

Meanwhile, Gitler organized a conference on electrum coinage that was held at the Israel Museum the week the exhibit opened. Tom Kaplan and Lorne Thyssen-Bornemisza, both keenly interested in this area of numismatic research, actively participated in the conference. We are most grateful for their generous support, which funded not just the exhibition and conference, but also the White Gold volume with its many full-color plates, maps, and figures. Initially, Gitler, Lorber, and Konuk planned to publish the conference proceedings with the Israel Museum’s imprimatur, but as many of the conference participants felt a follow-up meeting would be beneficial to address some of the outstanding problematic aspects of early electrum raised in Jerusalem, a second White Gold conference was held in November 2013 at the American Numismatic Society’s headquarters in New York City. In 2016, it was decided that publication of the proceedings of the two conferences would be undertaken by the ANS with Ute Wartenberg and myself serving as the volume’s editors, who received considerable editorial and other assistance on several of the chapters from Wolfgang Fischer-Bossert. Since 2013, the scope of the volume grew. Other scholars, notably Kristin Kleber and Donald Jones, who had not participated in the two original conferences were invited to contribute chapters, and others who had participated offered additional contributions, such as Michael Kerschner’s monumental chapter on the archaeology and our current understanding of the successive temples of Artemis (Artemision) at Ephesus, where some of the most important concentrations of early electrum coinage have been found. While the expanded scope of the volume delayed publication, nonetheless we can now offer a fuller and more detailed picture of the evidence at hand for understanding the various contexts in which early electrum coins were produced and used.

But, even after two conferences and 707 pages of printed text, there are still many questions that perplex us about early electrum coinage. As François de Callataÿ summed it up at the end of our initial conference in Jerusalem, “We are still confused, but at a higher level.” Much of this, in fact, has to do with the two very basic questions: 1) why coinage?, and 2) why electrum? In other words, why at that particular moment (ca. 650 BCE) in that particular place (western Asia Minor) did a group of people decide to strike coins for the first time? What do coins do that other types of monetary instruments don’t? Most perplexing of all, however, is the choice to strike the first coins in electrum, which we now know was an entirely invented alloy of gold and silver. Alloying two precious metals of very different values into a single monetary object was something that later coin producers avoided since it was subsequently hard to maintain stable exchange and value rates for the alloyed coins in circulation. So, why did these same early producers opt for electrum, and continued to do so for generations until the first separate silver and gold coins (the croesids) were introduced around 550 BCE?

In coming weeks Ute Wartenberg and I will be discussing some of these issues in the ANS’s newly launched podcast, The Planchet. So, as we all hunker down, stay tuned! And should you need some light reading (!) in the meantime, have a copy of White Gold delivered to your doorstep. The volume can be ordered here.

Coin Predictions in the Balkans

Austin Goodwin Andrews is a curatorial assistant in the Ancient Greek Coins Department of the American Numismatic Society. Before joining the ANS, he taught in the Republic of Macedonia through the US Peace Corps. With a background in classical archaeology, Austin is currently supporting the NEH-funded Hellenistic Royal Coinages project. 

For two years, I lived in what’s now North Macedonia. While teaching English in a rural village, I took part in a few traditions that included coins baked in bread as a method of folk divination.

Living with a host family, I had the unique opportunity to celebrate holidays domestically. My favorite among them was Christmas Eve, observed by Orthodox Christians on January 6, with a large meatless dinner at home, the last meal of the pre-Christmas fasting period (Fig. 1). A sort of feast within a fast, the table is set with rice-packed cabbage rolls, elaborate pastries, stew, and a loaf of bread, the pogača.

Figure 1. My hosts—Baba Limonka and Dedo Stojan—on Badnik, Macedonian Christmas Eve.
Figure 1. My hosts—Baba Limonka and Dedo Stojan—on Badnik, Macedonian Christmas Eve.

The eldest man initiates the meal, breaking the bread and offering a hunk for everyone in the household, listing each member. Whoever discovers a coin in their piece is blessed with wealth, health, and happiness for the year. Comparable customs play out around the Balkans and elsewhere. A well-known tradition, analogous and related to the Christmas Eve pogača, is that of king cake in French- and Spanish-speaking regions on Catholic Epiphany—also on January 6. King cakes, however, have infant figurines baked into them instead of coins.

In a town near where I lived, another American I knew who was staying with a host family was the luckiest at their table. The retiree she lived with would always put old Yugoslav coins in their pogača. The coin she found was much like the 1988 Yugoslav Dinara in the ANS collection. My host grandma used what was on hand from general circulation, such as a Macedonian 50 denari coin with the iconic face of St. Michael or a 10 denari with the peacock mosaic from Stobi.

Originally, the coin itself was both prize and predictor of future prosperity. Now, the coin is usually a low denomination and the lucky person is gifted a more substantial present, often cash. A student of mine even received one hundred euros one year, an enormously handsome sum for a seven-year-old. A point of conversation for weeks later among friends and colleagues is “to whom the coin fell” in your given household.

In another coin-related tradition, I took a more active role. On the Thursday before a wedding, it’s common for the respective families of the bride and groom to host celebrations to begin the matrimonial festivities. While attending one such bridal celebration, I engaged in a fertility ritual.

Kneeling to a low wooden table, I poured in the wet ingredients for soda bread while two friends of the bride poured in the flour and other dry ingredients. We took turns kneading the dough—as representative male and female actors—and added a coin to the mix. The friends whitened the face of the bride with flour and then washed their hands into a basin. The bride drank three times from the starchy water and, while the bread baked, beans were served so that she might bear as many children as the beans (!).

When the circular loaf cooled after baking, I stood on one side of the doorway and the young women stood on the other, while the bride squatted between us. We broke the bread in half over her head and everyone gathered to receive a piece, noting if it came from my side or the women’s side of the doorway. After an attendee found the coin, it was announced that the bride would have a baby boy, the coin foretelling the gender of the couple’s first child. A single brass denar with a sheep dog had been on my side of the bread.

Figure 2. 1 Macedonian denar with Šarplaninac dog on the reverse.
Figure 2. 1 Macedonian denar with Šarplaninac dog on the reverse.

In these traditions, coins prophesy good luck as symbols of abundance. Similar traditions around the globe showcase points of commonality and particularity in cultures across time and place. For both the Christmas Eve and prenuptial celebrations, coins have personal and cultural significance far beyond just their political and economic implications. Although I never had a coin in my piece of the pogača, I was all the richer not only learning about the traditions, but also getting the chance to participate in them as well.

COVID-19 and the ANS

Friends of the ANS:

As you know, we are facing a challenging public health situation. On behalf of the American Numismatic Society and its staff, I am reaching out to assure you that we are committed to continuing our work, and are holding you in our thoughts. I’d like to to update you briefly on some of the measures the ANS is taking in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

First, please know the ANS’s work is continuing uninterrupted, as we have instituted contingency plans that were worked out a few weeks ago when the potential extent of the current crisis became clear. While most of ANS’s staff will be working remotely for as long as is prudent, we expect to be available to you, as always. We have no intention of closing our facilities, but if you are planning to visit, it is important that you check with our staff regarding actual accessibility, which may change based on how the next weeks unfold. If you have questions or concerns, please let us know.

At the same time, our online presence will continue to improve and expand unabated. The ANS has been at the forefront of digital numismatics for many years now, as can be seen by MANTIS, DONUM, ARCHER, and our successful collaborative platforms, including OCRE, HRC, and CHRR. Beyond our blog, Pocket Change, we are planning to launch a new podcast, The Planchet, covering various numismatic topics. Expect some announcements soon via our e-news and usual social media posts.

Finally, we have launched our first GoFundMe campaign ever, to support a critical update of OCRE.

On behalf of everyone at the American Numismatic Society, I wish to thank you for your support of the ANS and for your membership.

We hope you are taking care of yourselves and seeking support from your partners and communities. Working together, we will get through the next few weeks and months.

Gilles Bransbourg, Executive Director

Judging the Gloucester 400 Medallion Competition

Figure 1. The winning design for the Gloucester 400 medal design competition: "Out at Sea" by Beth Swan. This will be struck in bronze and become the official Gloucester 400 medal.
Figure 1. The winning design for the Gloucester 400 medal design competition: “Out at Sea” by Beth Swan. This will be struck in bronze and become the official Gloucester 400 medal.

On Wednesday, February 12, 2020, I ventured to Gloucester, Massachusetts to participate as a judge in the Gloucester 400 project—a year-long celebration of city-wide event and festivities commemorating Gloucester’s founding in 1623. As a part of the celebrations, the Gloucester Celebrations Corporation held a two-phase competition to design a commemorative medal. Phase I of the competition allowed anyone over the age of 18 to submit an original sketch of the design that met multiple guidelines, including the inscription “Gloucester” and “400,” the dates “1623–2023,” and design elements appropriate for high-relief striking. Initial entries were due by August 31, 2019, from which three semi-finalists were picked on October 1. Semi-finalists included Alexis Chipperini, Beth Swan, and Shannon Wilkins, each of whom won a $3,000 prize.

Phase II had the three semi-finalists submit a plaster model of their design by December 1, 2019. To complete the process, medals-expert, Alexander Krapf, and I met at Cape Ann Savings Bank to judge the final phase of the competition (Fig. 2). After about 30 minutes of deliberation, Krapf and I decided on a winner: Beth Swan, a graphic/web media artist from Gloucester. Both of us decided that her design, entitled “Out at Sea,” best encapsulated the different aspects of Gloucester, met all of the guidelines outlined by the Gloucester Celebrations Corporation, and formed a completed and well-rounded design (Fig. 1). The obverse depicts the Gloucester skyline as seen from the harbor, a stylized codfish in the exergue below, and the inscriptions GLOUCESTER 400 and 1623–2023 above. The reverse shows the iconic Gloucester Fisherman’s Memorial, known as the “Man at the Wheel,” against a rising sun and three stylized ships.

Figure 2. Alexander Krapf and Jesse Kraft just after picking the winner for the Gloucester 400 medal design contest.
Figure 2. Alexander Krapf and Jesse Kraft just after picking the winner for the Gloucester 400 medal design contest.

At a Gloucester City Council meeting on February 25, the Gloucester Celebrations Corporation announced Swan as the winner, for which she won a $10,000 prize. Robert Gillis and Bruce Tobey gave background information about the competition before Ruth Pino had the honor to open the sealed envelope, which both Krapf and I signed the seal flap to ensure nobody opened it before the official unveiling. At this time, it was further announced that all three of the semi-finalist designs would be cast into the medallic form. The other two designs included “Call of the Storm,” by Alexis Chipperini, and “Gloucester: America’s Oldest Seaport,” by Shannon Wilkins (Fig. 3).

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Figure 3. The two semi-finalists from the Gloucester 400 design contest. Top: "Call of the Storm" by Alexis Chipperini. Bottom: "Gloucester: America's Oldest Seaport" by Shannon Wilkins. These will also be struck into medallic form.
Figure 3. The two semi-finalists from the Gloucester 400 design contest. Top: “Call of the Storm” by Alexis Chipperini. Bottom: “Gloucester: America’s Oldest Seaport” by Shannon Wilkins. These will also be struck into medallic form.

After the judging, I was given the opportunity to spend the evening at the Manship Artists Residency + Studios (MARS), known as Starfield, the former home and studio of sculptor Paul Manship, as well as artists John and Margaret Manship—located in Cape Ann just a few miles from where the judging took place (Fig. 4). This site once served as an important art colony for some of the greatest mid-century sculptors. This turned into a surreal experience for me. After a short tour of the residence, I was (quite literally) left alone in the house and was simply told to lock the door on the way out. Unfortunately, after a day of travelling and judging, there was only about an hour to explore the house before falling asleep to travel back to New York City early the next morning. I, however, look forward to when he can travel back to Gloucester and Cape Ann to better see the city and have a longer stay at MARS and highly recommends both to whomever has the opportunity to make the journey.

Figure 4. Aerial view of Manship Artists Residency + Studios (MARS).
Figure 4. Aerial view of Manship Artists Residency + Studios (MARS).

I would like to thank Robert Gillis and Ruth Pino for organizing the night of judging and Gloucester 400, as well as for hosting both Krapf and me; Bruce Tobey for further organization of the Gloucester 400 celebrations; Rebecca Reynolds, President of MARS, for graciously offering the Manship residence as accommodations after the event; and Alexander Krapf for also participating in judging the design competition.