Public and Private in Coin Production

There is a commonly encountered conventional distinction between coins and tokens such that coins are produced and issued by governments as legal tender, whereas tokens are produced and issued by private businesses and derive their value only from their redemption by the issuer. This distinction is useful for many purposes, but like most definitions, it runs into problems in situations where the real world turns out to be more complicated than the unstated assumptions that underlie the distinction.

One of these assumptions is that official money is actually produced and issued by governments. Leaving aside the very substantial problem of banknotes and other forms of non-metallic money, this assumption fits fairly well with the experience of coinage in twentieth-century practice in major economies, which of course is the formative experience of many recent numismatic writers, but it is not universally true historically.

In late medieval and early modern Europe, the applicability of this assumption to the way minting worked is ambiguous at best. For the most part, minting operations were farmed out to entrepreneurs, much like taxation and military recruitment generally were. The persons leasing minting operations would pay part of the proceeds to the government as seigniorage and keep the rest as their own profits. Thus, even though minting was carried out in the name of the state, authorized by a government contract, and often monitored by government officials, there is room for debate as to whether the production of coins can really be said to have been done by the government.

This silver penny of Edward the Confessor of England was issued by a moneyer named Wulfric (ANS 1967.182.28, bequest of Douglas P. Dickie). Anglo-Saxon moneyers minted at their own cost and to their own profit, as long as they were officially recognized, paid certain fees to the king, and conformed to royal coinage regulations.

The issuing of coins is even more ambiguous, because coins were not necessarily produced for distribution by the government at all. For the most part, mints produced coins, for a fee, when people brought bullion to them. Coins were thus issued by the minting entrepreneur to mint customers based on demand, without any involvement of treasury officials.

This system minimized the capital requirements for the government, but inevitably the reliance on private entrepreneurs carried a large cost in terms of corruption, malfeasance, and inefficiency, in addition to the private profits taken from the minting fees. Thus, the most centralized states, such as late medieval Venice and Florence, as well as England under Henry VIII, sought to control minting directly. Nevertheless, not all kinds of coins were equally worth controlling.

In seventeenth-century England, for example, silver and gold coins were produced by the government, albeit still on the basis of customer demand. However, the need for small change was met by medieval-style farming out, in this case by granting contractors such as Lord Harington and the Duke of Lennox the right to produce and issue copper farthings in the king’s name in exchange for a hefty fee to the Crown. Although everyone agrees that the silver sixpences of Charles I are coins, writers disagree on whether to call the copper farthings coins or tokens, because they were made as official coinage by royal authority, but they were produced and issued as a private business venture.

Bimetallic (copper and brass) farthing of Charles I of England, produced and issued by Lord Maltravers under royal patent (ANS 1978.9.126, gift of Ambassador and Mrs. R. H. Norweb).

The contracting out of coin production is not limited by borders. Already in the early modern period, and increasingly in more recent times, small states do not necessarily wish to make the substantial capital investments needed for a modern mint. Instead, the production of coins is contracted out to enterprises in other states. These mints may be private or locally public, but either way they are acting as private businesses in relation to the outsourcing government.

Silver thaler of the county of Stolberg-Königstein, produced in the free imperial city of Augsburg, more than 250 kilometers distant (ANS 2012.58.6, purchase).
Silver commemorative 5 lari of the Republic of Georgia, produced by the Japan Mint as an outside contractor (ANS 2018.22.1, gift of Mary Lannin).

The lesson here is not that it is correct or incorrect to refer to certain items as coins or as tokens. Rather, it is that a sharp distinction that is clear and effective for the United States or the United Kingdom in the twentieth century is not always so clear for monetary systems that do not work exactly the same way. Definitions are tools, not facts, and like socket wrenches or screwdrivers, not all definitions are a good fit for every situation.

The Medallic Art of Katharine Lane Weems

While people today may not recognize her name, the career of Katharine Lane Weems (née Katharine Ward Lane) paralleled those of many well-known sculptors of the 20th century (Fig.1).

Figure 1. Katharine Ward Lane (Weems), ca. 1915.

Born into a well-to-do Boston family in February 1899, she enjoyed a fine education. Her exposure to art no doubt originated through her father—Gardiner Martin Lane, president of the Board of Trustees of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. She was named after her aunt, the watercolorist Katharine Ward Lane (d. 1893). In the course of training, she worked under Charles Grafly, George Demetrios, and studied at the summer studios of Anna Hyatt Huntington in Connecticut. As a sculptor, she tended to focus on animal forms. Her work won her a bronze medal at the Philadelphia Sesquicentennial Exposition in 1926, and the prestigious Widener Gold Medal from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts the following year. In 1947, she married architect Fontaine Carrington “Canny” Weems. In 1985, she published her memoirs, Odds Were Against Me. If you travel to Boston, it would be difficult not to see Weems’ work, either in public or exhibited in the MFA Boston—where she donated her entire estate after her death in 1989, and endowed the position of Senior Curator of American Decorative Arts and Sculpture.

Figure 2. The 1930 silent film, From Clay to Bronze.

An incredible video exists of Katharine’s sculpting in action (Fig. 2). Made for the MFA Boston by the Harvard Film Service in 1930, From Clay to Bronze traced the entire process used to turn her model of a greyhound into a three-dimensional bronze statue. In addition to Weems, the video also shows master mold maker, Leonello “Leo” Toschi, of Caproni and Brother of Boston; and bronze caster, Anton Kunst, of Kunst Art Foundries in New York City. Similar in nature to The Medal Maker with Laura Gardin Fraser, this silent film has since been remastered with piano accompaniments of Erik Satie and the like, as played by Pascal Rogé.

Figure 3. Pelican friezes on the exterior of the Biological Laboratories of Harvard University.

The majority of Weems’ works are three-dimensional sculptures in bronze. Even still, she proved herself in the art of bas-relief as well. Her most well-known relief works are undoubtedly her animal friezes that decorate the exterior walls of several buildings of Harvard University from ca. 1931 (Fig. 3). Later in her career, Weems also produced three medals for the Medallic Art Company (MACO).

Figure 4. The Reginald Fincke Memorial Medal (MACO.1946-025). The obverse features the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor—the official emblem of the United States Marine Corps.—flanked by two stars. Below is the inscription, “Lt • REGINALD • FINCKE • Jr. \ MEMORIAL • MEDAL. The reverse features the heraldic shield of the Groton School with the inscription, “GROTON • SCHOOL \ AWARDED • TO,” a mentioning that the medal is “GIVEN BY • THE \ FORM OF • 1928,” and that it is awarded for “SPORTSMANSHIP \ CHARACTER.” The medal comes in bronze and measures 3 5/16” × 3”.

The first was the Reginald Fincke, Jr. Memorial Medal of 1946 (Fig. 4). Commissioned by the Groton School—a private Episcopal college-preparatory boarding school in Groton, Massachusetts—to honor 1st Lieutenant Reginald Fincke, Jr. A 1928 Sixth Form (graduate) of the school, Fincke was killed in action at the Battle of Okinawa on May 15, 1945. The example in the collection of the MFA Boston was donated by the Weems estate. To this day, the Groton School awards this medal to “a member of the Sixth Form who has shown in athletics qualities of perseverance, courage, and unselfish sportsmanship.”

Figure 5. The Goodwin Medal for Effective Teaching (MACO.1952-067). The obverse features a hand emerging from clouds while clutching three lightning bolts, clouds from above with rays of light shining through, and the inscription, “MASSACHVSETTS • INSTITVTE • OF • TECHNOLOGY.” The reverse displays an open book behind a lamp of knowledge and olive sprigs with the legend, “FOR • CONSPICVOVSLY • EFFECTIVE • TEACHING” and “GOODWIN MEDAL” in the exergue. The medal comes in bronze and measures 3”.

The second MACO medal that Weems designed was the Goodwin Medal for Effective Teaching (Fig. 5). The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) commissioned the medal in 1952 to award the graduate student who clearly demonstrated “conspicuously effective teaching.” It was established in memory of Harry Manley Goodwin, the first dean of the graduate school at MIT, through a gift from his wife and son, Mary B. Goodwin and Richard H. Goodwin. Like the Fincke Medal, the Goodwin Medal is still given up through the present day.

Figure 6. The 60th Issue for the Society of Medalists, 1959 (MACO.1930-001-060). The obverse features a puma squatting in a tree with the inscription, “GOD \ MADE THE BEAST.” The reverse features three geese flying to the left with clouds in the background, with a continuation of the obverse inscription that reads, “AND \ EVERY WINGED FOWL.” (ANS 2011.54.3)

Weems’ third and final medal is an achievement in and of itself; a reflection of her long and distinguished career (Fig. 6). In November 1959, her designs became the 60th medal struck for the famous Society of Medalists series. Co-founded in 1929 by Clyde C. Trees (the owner of MACO) and George Dupont Pratt (medal collector and philanthropist), the Society of Medalists invited artists to submit designs for a chance to have them become the next in the respected series. Struck at the rate of two per year, legends of sculpture and the medallic arts had designed medals for the Society of Medalists: Laura Gardin Fraser, Paul Manship, and R. Tait McKenzie, just to name a few. While her Society of Medalists design was just one of many exquisite pieces produced by Katharine Lane Weems, the significance and prestige of the series helps maintain her importance as a 20th-century sculptor of the United States.

ANS eBay Store Behind-the-Scenes: Coin Photography

As the ANS continues to make duplicates from its collection available on eBay, it may be of interest to Society members and eBay browsers alike to learn how our listings are photographed, as this is one of several important steps in ensuring that objects offered on eBay are described accurately. Detailed text descriptions are of course important, but in our current digital age, many buyers immediately gravitate towards listings with consistent, high-quality photos. This is true for both eBay and almost any other online auction platform.

While the photographic process associated with cataloging the American Numismatic Society’s various holdings is more rigorous and precise than what is required for eBay, the steps for both are generally similar. Once the individual objects and lots have been selected, they are taken to an area separate from the equipment used to photograph collection objects. This photography setup is comparatively low-tech, and relies on an LED light box, a larger professional studio light, a tripod, and staging platforms and props where individual objects and lots can be quickly arranged, photographed, and placed back into protective flips, archival bags, and tubes. The setup is a balance between speed and efficiency coupled with taking sharp, clear, and well-lit photos that require minimal editing.

A close-up and broader view of the ANS’ eBay photography area.

Because speed and efficiency are critical, photos are taken on an ordinary smartphone so that images can be wirelessly transferred to a computer workstation for editing immediately after photos are taken. Likewise, care is taken to ensure that each shot has the proper lighting (both intensity and color) best suited to the objects being photographed, are angled correctly to catch the light and accurately highlight the objects’ surfaces, are clear and sharp by way of a steady tripod adapted to hold a smartphone, and are photographed at a distance proportional to the size of the object. A 3-inch medal, for example, is photographed so that it takes up the majority of the real-estate of the shot, whereas a U.S. silver three-cent “trime” will be photographed close enough to capture its details, while taking up much less space in the shot, so that when the two photos are viewed together, the relative size of each object is clear.

To illustrate the above as well as subsequent steps, we will use two objects as our example pieces: a 32 mm gilt bronze George Washington bicentennial medal, and a 19 mm copper Civil War store card token. In the below photos, we see the obverse and reverse of each object side-by-side, both propped on a clear acrylic stand and angled to capture the light based on the reflectiveness of each object, and taken at a distance relative to their size.

Original obverse and reverse photos of a George Washington medal and Civil War store card token.

Once photos have been taken and all objects are safely stored away, the files can be wirelessly transferred to a computer workstation, where they are edited in a computer program to be more presentable on eBay. Editing is a crucial step, but also one where overzealous editing is discouraged. Photos destined for eBay undergo two steps: rotating the object to ensure correct orientation, and replacing the background with a neutral gradient. You may have noticed that in the above photos, the obverse of the George Washington medal was completely upside down; this was not a mistake, but rather a move to ensure that any shadows appeared at the rear of Washington’s head, and not along his face. After the objects have been rotated, the background is removed, and a neutral gradient is added to avoid the stark contrast of a pure white background.

Rotated obverse and reverse photos of a George Washington medal (background removed) and Civil War store card token (neutral gradient background).

The coins are now ready to be uploaded to eBay. The process is designed so that if only a single object needed to be photographed, the total time required to take and edit the photo should be less than 5 minutes. Regarding the angle of the object, it should be impressed upon the budding photographer that it truly is important to experiment and adjust as necessary to ensure that the object’s surfaces and luster (if present) are accurately captured, providing that the degree of the angle is not so extreme that the object appears stretched or distorted. As an example, the below image highlights how the same George Washington medal appears when photographed head-on versus the soft angle that reveals the true beauty of this medal as if viewed in-hand and rotated around in the light. The light source itself can be adjusted, but generally it is easier to move the object relative to the light source and not the other way around.

George Washington medal photographed head-on compared to a soft angle.

We hope this behind-the-scenes blog post sheds some light on one facet of listing ANS objects on eBay. Perhaps it will inspire others to try their hand at photographing numismatic objects; all it takes is a few pieces of equipment, some basic knowledge, and a willingness to experiment and learn.

In Memory of Pyotr Osipovich Karishkovskiy, a Teacher and Scholar

March 12, 2021, marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of the outstanding historian, epigrapher, and specialist in northern Black Sea numismatics, Pyotr Osipovich Karishkovskiy, who was a corresponding member of the German Archaeological Institute and the American Numismatic Society.

Figure 1. Pyotr Osipovich Karishkovskiy (March 12, 1921–March 6, 1988).

Karyshkovskiy was born in Odessa (Ukraine) on March 12, 1921, in the family of a professional military man, who had participated in the Russo-Japanese War, World War I, and the Russian Civil War, and who retired in 1923. His mother, from a Russian-Polish high-ranking clergy family, was an elementary school teacher. In 1939, after graduation from high school, Pyotr Karishkovskiy began studying in the history department of Odessa State University.

At the beginning of the German invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, he was a second-year student. Due to vision problems he was not recruited into the Red Army; however, during the defense of Odessa in June–September 1941, Karyshkovskiy worked on the construction of the city’s defensive line, digging anti-tank trenches. Unfortunately, his family could not evacuate, due to a serious illness of his mother, who died in 1942, so they remained in Odessa while it was occupied by the Germans and Romanians. During that time, he continued to study at the University, re-opened by the Romanian occupation authorities, and worked at the University’s library. In 1945, after the liberation of Odessa, Karyshkovskiy graduated from Odessa State University, and in 1946 he became a postgraduate student. However, his stay in Odessa during the occupation haunted his career. His teacher in classical philology at the university, Prof. Boris Varneke (1874–1944), was arrested on a charge of high treason and died in the prison hospital (though he was rehabilitated posthumously in 1955). Karyshkovskiy was arrested at the same time and only released through the intercession of the dean of the history faculty at the university, Prof. Konstantin Pavlovich Dobrolyubskiy (1885–1953).

Even in this difficult and gloomy atmosphere, Karyshkovskiy continued to work on his master’s thesis—“Political Relations between the Byzantine Empire, Bulgaria, and Russia, 967–971”—which he completed in 1951. His study of the sources on this topic is relevant to this day and is constantly cited by modern researchers. At the same time he began to publish articles in prestigious Soviet academic journals such as Bizantiyskiy Bremennik (Byzantine Chronicle) and Vestnik Drevhey Istorii (Journal of Ancient History).  However, the problems due to his stay in Odessa during the occupation period continued almost until the end of his life. He was not allowed to travel abroad to visit museums, attend conferences, or participate in any other international scholarly events.

Beginning during his postgraduate studies, Karyshkovskiy was actively engaged in teaching at the university. He soon showed himself to be a talented teacher. His lectures on the history of Ancient Greece and Rome, the Byzantine Empire, and history of the Middle Ages, as well as special courses including an introduction to numismatics, impressed due to his breadth of knowledge. He was fluent in German and French and could read and translate English, Romanian, Polish, Czech, Bulgarian, and Serbian, in addition to his professional knowledge of Ancient Greek and Latin. Even students from  outside the humanities (such as physics and mathematics) were interested in attending his lectures. From 1963 until his last days, Karishkovskiy headed the Department of the History of Ancient World and Middle Ages at Odessa State University. Many of his former university students are still proud that they had an opportunity to listen the legendary “Professor P. O.” (as many of his students refer to him, with respect and admiration) and that they prepared their master’s and doctoral theses under his supervision.

Over the course of time, Karyshkovskiy’s research interests evolved. He explored various aspects of the ancient history, epigraphy, and numismatics of the northern Black Sea region, and especially of the ancient Greek colony of Olbia, established by the Ionian city of Miletus on the shore of the Dnieper-Bug estuary.

Figure 2. Archaeological excavation at Olbia.

In 1969, Karishkovskiy successfully defended his doctoral dissertation, “Coins and Monetary Circulation in Olbia (6th century BC–4th century AD)”. This fundamental work examined Olbian coins as one of the most important sources for the history of this ancient polis. Hestudied the technical features and weights of Olbian monetary systems, and described in detail the coin types and inscriptions. He also classified Olbian coin issues, attributing them to specific periods and establishing their absolute chronology. He reviewed evidence for monetary circulation at all stages of the city’s history between the sixth century BC and the fourth century AD. Based on die analysis, coin finds, and metrological and iconographic studies, he reconstructed the essential economic characteristics and development of the Olbian monetary system against the background of the general trends of the ancient economy.

Unfortunately, this dissertation was not published during Karishkovskiy’s lifetime. The specialized scientific publishing houses in the Soviet Union did not dare to print it, citing the pretext that it was too large. After Karishkovskiy’s death, the dissertation was prepared for publication by his colleagues and apprentices, and issued only in 2003 as a separate monograph.

Figure 3. The publication of Karishkovskiy’s dissertation, Coins and Monetary Circulation in Olbia (6th century BC–4th century AD) (in Russian; summary in English).

Certain portions of his dissertation, with some newer observations and additions, were included in the small monograph Olbian Coins, which he prepared shortly before his death and which was published soon after his death in 1988.

Figure 4. Olbian Coins by P. O. Karishkovskiy (Kiev: Odessa Archaeological Museum of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, 1988) (in Russian).

Over the years Karishkovskiy also became an authority of the history, archaeology, and monetary system of another ancient Greek colony of the North Pontus: ancient Tyras, which like Olbia was founded by Ionian Greek colonists from Miletus, on the right bank of the Dniester estuary.

Figure 5. Archaeological excavations at ancient Tyras.

In 1985 Karishkovskiy and a co-author, Isaak Benzionovich Kleiman (an archeologist who was head of the Classical Department of the Odessa Archaeological Museum), published the monograph The Ancient City of Tyras: A Historical and Archaeological Essay.

Figure 6. P. O. Karishkovskiy and I. B. Kleiman, The Ancient City of Tyras: A Historical and Archaeological Essay (Kiev: Odessa Archaeological Museum of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, 1985) (in Russian).

This monograph, on the basis of archaeological and written evidence, reconstructs the history of Tyras, as well as the social structure and culture of the city, its place among other ancient poleis, and the role of other peoples surrounding the northwestern Black Sea region from the founding of Tyras in the sixth century BC to its demise in the fourth century AD. It makes a number of important observations on the chronology of the coin emissions of Tyras. The book also clearly demonstrates the effectiveness of a close and comprehensive interaction of numismatic and archeological finds as historical evidence.

In 1994 this important monograph was translated into English and published by a private publishing house in Odessa, making this significant study of Tyras more accessible for foreign historians, archaeologists, and numismatists.

Figure 7. P. O. Karishkovskiy and I. B. Kleiman, The Ancient City of Tyras (Odessa, 1994) (in English).

Karishkovskiy’s monographs, like various of his scholarly articles, were published by the Odessa Archaeological Museum (OAM) of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences.

Figure 8. The Odessa Archaeological Museum building.

For many years Karishkovskiy was closely connected with the OAM, which was founded in 1825, making it one of the oldest archaeological research institutes in what was then the Russian Empire. Karishkovskiy followed in the best traditions of the great archaeologists and numismatists associated with the OAM, including its founder I. P. Blaremberg (1772–1831), as well as A. L. Bertier de la Garde (1842–1920), E. R. von Stern (1859–1924), and the widely known scholars A. V. Oreshnikov (1855–1933) and A. N. Zograf (1889–1942). He even stood at the origins of the revival of the Odessa Archaeological Society in 1959, which was the successor of the famous Odessa Society of History and Antiquities (1839–1922). From 1968 he became its permanent chairman.

While continuing to teach at the University, Karishkovskiy maintained a close connection with the work of the Odessa Archaeological Museum. Under his guidance, the museum organized research conferences as well as archaeological and numismatic publications. He participated directly in the creation of a numismatic department separate from the main archaeological storage of the museum, and also created the numismatic portion of the exhibition.

Figure 9. Part of the numismatic exhibit at the Odessa Archaeological Museum.

Karishkovsky’s academic heritage consists of over 180 articles and monographs, based on complex historical, archaeological, epigraphic, and numismatic sources. He sent some of his publications to the library of the American Numismatic Society. Many are accompanied by English translations done by H. Bartlett Wells (1908–1988), an ANS Fellow and Foreign Service officer who translated from French and Russian and was also a devoted collector of Greek and Roman coins.

Figure 10. Signed offprint of an article of Karishkovskiy to the library of the American Numismatic Society, along with the translation by H. Bartlett Wells.

Karishkovskiy never had the opportunity to visit the major numismatic collections outside the Soviet Union, or to see the ancient monuments and excavations in Greece and Rome. The Soviet system held him behind the “iron curtain.” This is probably why he was so appreciative of his time at the archaeological excavations of Tyras, Olbia, and Berezan, where he could “touch the mystery and breathe freedom”, as he wrote. These mysteries of past centuries could be revealed only by talented, persistent, and hard-working scholars and one of them was Pyotr Osipovich Karyshkovskiy. His work provides a valuable base for future generations in the study of the ancient history of the Pontus Euxinus.

Figure 11. Medal in honor of the 60th birthday of P. O. Karishkovskiy, Designed by I. T. Chernyakov, 1981.

The Making of a Numismatic Short Film

At our 2021 Gala, the American Numismatic Society premiered a new short film by Pascal Perich, The ANS: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. In just under seven minutes, the film traces 162 years of notable people and pivotal moments in the Society’s history, as narrated by the first curator in its professional staff, Agnes Baldwin Brett (1876–1955). Throughout the film, Baldwin Brett wanders around our contemporary headquarters as a sort of benevolent ghost.

She reflects on the origins of the ANS as a small group of enthusiasts, its expansion during her life in the early twentieth century, and our development into the renowned collection, library, publisher, and member organization that we are today.

Pascal Perich—the photographer-videographer who created the film—brought unique vision and perspective to the project. He was, in fact, tasked with the concept on wildly short notice. After several successive plans fell through unexpectedly, the team responsible for producing entertainment for the gala and a new video introducing the ANS was at a loss. A month before the scheduled premiere, our Executive Director, Dr. Gilles Bransbourg, went home, desperate, and mentioned our troubles to his wife. Olivia Bransbourg, an entrepreneur well-connected to a network of creatives across the globe, immediately thought of a solution. One can imagine Olivia calmly shrugging and saying, certainly this is a job for Pascal, the artist. Olivia saved the day and Pascal delivered, even beyond what we expected.

Examples of Pascal’s creative work can be viewed on his website and, as can be seen from this selection, his typical photography and film projects focus primarily on portraiture. In my view, Pascal accomplished a vivid double portrait with The ANS: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, of Agnes Baldwin Brett as an individual and of the Society as an organization. Arriving at the ANS with fresh eyes and an insatiable curiosity, Pascal was clearly in awe of the range of material he encountered as he toured the facilities. Seeing the library, archives, and collection for the first time, like many of us, he was drawn into the people and stories behind each object. 

What struck me in the process of the production of the film was how each person involved found personal connection in the stories being told. Emily Eagen—the voice actress who narrates as Baldwin Brett—is a noted whistler and expressed wonder at the depths of seemingly niche communities. “Somehow,” she told me, “We manage to find each other.” Pascal and Arina Voronova, the actress who portrays Baldwin Brett, are both photographers and loved seeing Baldwin Brett’s fascinating archival photographs. Many of these have been digitized and are available online. One particularly salient image of Baldwin Brett features in the film. She poses, shawled, with her camera on the deck of the S.S. Palatia, a rare moment of the photographer captured on the other side of the lens.  

I also noticed a parallel between Baldwin Brett and our chief curator, Dr. Peter van Alfen, as he showed our guests around the ANS. Dr. van Alfen is not only Baldwin Brett’s direct successor as the primary caretaker of the ANS’s Greek collection, but they share other similarities. Like Baldwin Brett, who most famously published The Catalogue of Greek Coins for the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Dr. van Alfen is a scholar of ancient Greek coinages. Along with his extensive research in ancient numismatics, Dr. van Alfen writes actively on more recent medallic art and, also like Baldwin Brett, has published the catalogues of medallic art exhibitions.

Another parallel is a bit more buried but bears mentioning. Baldwin Brett narrates in the film that “while women have long played an important role in our organization, I am proud to know that we have recently elected our very first woman President.” Baldwin Brett and Dr. Ute Wartenberg, the former Executive Director and current President of the ANS, also have important commonalities beyond that they represent important firsts in the organization’s history. In fact, in White Gold: Studies in Early Electrum Coinage, Dr. Wartenberg draws directly on Baldwin Brett’s publications for her article “Was there an Ionian Revolt Coinage? Monetary Patterns in the Late Archaic Periods.” Notably, Dr. Wartenberg cites The Electrum Coinage of Lampsakos and “The Electrum and Silver Coinage of Chios” in her die study to corroborate and correct Baldwin Brett’s claims with a more robust set of data.

Image result for agnes baldwin and ernst babelon

Beyond these plutarchan parallels, there are a few fantastic but subtle artistic choices folded into the film worth highlighting. At its start and close, Baldwin Brett is surrounded with genuine realia and relevant objects from her life. “The more authentic, the better,” Pascal gleefully insisted. The books on her desk are Baldwin Brett’s own publications and books from her personal library—as well as photographs, correspondence, and other ephemera now housed in the John W. Adams Rare Book Room of the ANS Archives. Above her right shoulder is a painting of a very mustached Ernest Babelon, the noted French numismatist and honorary member of the Society who regularly visited the old ANS New York headquarters at Audubon Terrace. To put his status in context, he was listed in Society proceedings in 1917 alongside the Director of the US Mint and several kings and princes as one of only eighteen honorary members of the ANS.  Ultimately, the whole set was designed in homage to a photo of Babelon and Baldwin Brett, the painting of Babelon standing in for his somber visage. 

In her review of significant scholars and donors associated with the ANS, Baldwin Brett remarks that Edward Newell’s “diligent scholarship transformed our Society” as she displays his book, The Coinages of Demetrius Poliorcetes, with her own ex-libris pasted in the front cover. This reminds me of her own diligent and transformative scholarship. Baldwin Brett was the second individual to ever receive the prestigious Archer M. Huntington Medal Award for numismatic research; she was also the second American to receive the Medal of the Royal Numismatic Society—Newell being the first in both cases. You can learn more about Agnes Baldwin Brett in her entry in ARCHER, the online archives of the ANS, and in this wonderful Spring 2005 article from the ANS Magazine, written by Aviva Gray. 

The past is caught up in the present in delicate and direct ways. Forgive me if I veer too far into the poetic, but, watching the film, I never imagined Agnes Baldwin Brett as haunting the space, but instead as more of a visitation—or bibliographic citation, even—as a blur of memory and presence, knowledge and acknowledgement. In the film’s conclusion, Pascal used an image of Baldwin Brett sitting in a votive niche above the sanctuary of Aphrodite near Eleusis. Her eyes are closed and it’s hard to not think of her as looking transcendent, fixed in a locus of margin-less time.

You can watch the full film, The ANS: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, above or directly on the ANS YouTube channel.

World War II Barter Kits

A researcher’s inquiry recently got me thinking about an interesting item I’d once found in a pile of unprocessed materials in the ANS Library. It was an auction catalog put out by a division of the U.S. Department of Defense to sell World War II escape & evasion kits, also called barter kits. 

Auction catalog cover

These kits, each containing a handful of gold objects, including coins, were, according to the catalog, “issued to pilots and paratroopers to barter their way out of difficult situations if they were downed in unfriendly territory.” Reportedly, none were ever used for this purpose, so the kits were gathered and shipped off to the New York Assay Office, where they sat until 1979, when they were offered for sale in this auction. 

Contents of the Atlantic barter kit as shown in the auction catalog

Two kinds of kits were issued, one for the Atlantic region, containing gold rings, half- and one-pound gold sovereigns, and twenty- and ten-franc gold coins, and one for Southeast Asia, containing gold rings, a gold embossed pendant, a gold four-linked chain, and a 21-jewel Swiss calendar watch. The Asia kit was housed in a plastic container which could easily be opened. The Atlantic kit presented a bit more of a challenge, requiring, it was reported, “cryogenics (freezing) or industrial acetone” to get at its contents. Winning bidders were assured that they’d be furnished with “comprehensive opening information.”

Contents of the Southeast Asia barter kit

Three initial sales were held in 1979 and 1980, and they generated quite a bit of interest, including in the numismatic world, with Coin World providing extensive coverage. In fact, the government’s run of 12,000 catalogs for the second sale quickly ran out. Part of the excitement came from volatile swings in the price of gold, which stood at $256.50 an ounce when the first sale was announced, then climbed to $900, before falling to $508 by the time of the third sale in 1980. Luckily for the government, minimum bids had been keyed to the price of gold, leading to many bid disqualifications as they were unsealed.  

Three hundred and fifty kits, about ten percent of the total number, were offered for the first sale, which drew 1,450 bidders. For the second auction, nearly three thousand kits were sold. The three big sales generated $2.6 million for the government. The top bid was $4,000, and the average was about $900 per kit. The kits originally cost an estimated $30 each. A fourth and final sale of the remaining 325 kits was announced in the pages of Coin World in 1981. Many of the kits remain intact today and they are still prized as collectibles.

For more, see Coin World, January 2, 1980 (p.10); June 20, 1979 (p.1); January 23, 1980 (p.14); February 20, 1980 (p.3); January 28, 1981 (p.3); March 15, 1989 (p.14).

Virtual Conference on the Witschonke Collection

The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire. Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851).

Coinage of the Roman Provinces before Provincial Coinage: The Richard B. Witschonke Collection

March 23–25, 2021

Co-sponsored by the American Numismatic Society and the Ph.D. Program in History at the Graduate Center, CUNY

Register by March 22

This three-day conference, co-sponsored by the ANS and the Ph.D. Program in History at the Graduate Center, CUNY, will feature contributions by the foremost scholars in the field. The papers will offer a numismatic and historical overview of each region represented by the coins in the R. B. Witschonke Collection.

It may come as a surprise to learn that as the Romans came to dominate the Mediterranean world, they ruled most of it without imposing their own coinage. Yet this was typical of the Romans’ pragmatic attitude to imperialism, and their tendency to retain any existing forms of effective organization in newly conquered territories. Indeed, it is now generally recognized that we should not talk of “the Roman economy” as a single phenomenon. Instead we should conceive of it as a group of substantially separate regional economies that were yet strongly interconnected through tribute payments and the movements of armies and goods. Although payment in kind played an important role in the Roman world, coinage was still paramount in transactions between the provinces and Rome. To understand those interactions, it is thus important to research the manifold ways in which local coinages converged, at least partly, to create compatible monetary systems across the Roman Empire. 

The Roman Provincial Coinage series offers an incomparable tool for the study of the coinages issued in the Roman provinces and client kingdoms from the age of the Civil Wars onward, but does not include the local production in those regions in the preceding decades. The 4,000 coins included in the R. B. Witschonke Collection at the ANS, mainly dating from the second and the first century BCE, provide the prologue to the study of Roman Provincial coinage. Most of the specimens are of great historical and numismatic value, as they illustrate the gradual transition from distinct to compatible monetary systems in the Mediterranean basin. While exhibiting an extraordinary variety in appearance and weight, the coins of the collection tell the tale of a partial convergence toward the Roman monetary system before the inception of the so-called Roman Provincial coinage in the second half of the first century BCE. The ways in which this convergence took place are manifold, spanning from imitations of Roman Republican denarii from Romania and Gaul to the lead tokens of Spain, from Aesillas’ tetradrachms in Macedonia to the Romano-Sicilian coins in Sicily, local coinages and pseudo-mints in Central and Southern Italy. The collection thus offers a unique overview of the diverse ways in which the monetary systems of the Mediterranean basin responded to the Roman conquest in the second and early first century BCE and to the related necessity of interconnectivity. 


March 23

Chair: Andrew Meadows

Coinage in the Roman Provinces before RPC: introductory remarks

8:15–8:45 am EST Welcome and opening remarks

8:45–9:30 am EST Hidden power indeed: the surrogate coinages used by the Romans in Greece and Asia Minor (François de Callataÿ)

Roman influence on late Hellenistic coinages in the East

9:45–10:30 am EST Cistophoric Mysteries (Lucia F. Carbone)

10:30–11:15 am EST Ghosts of the Seleucid Empire in the RBW Collection (Oliver D. Hoover)

11:30 am–12:15 pm EST Some Cilician coins from R.B. Witschonke Collection at the ANS (Annalisa Polosa)

12:45–1:30 pm EST Coins of Samaria and the Decapolis (David Hendin)

March 24

Chair: Pere Pau Ripollès

Roman Magistrates on coinages issued in the Provinces of the Roman Empire

8:15–9:00 amEST Some remarks on the Roman monetary economy in Bithynia in the light of new evidence from R. B Witschonke Collection (Hale Güney)

9:00–9:45 am EST A Proconsular Bronze and the End of Atarneus (Claude Eilers)

10:00–10:45 amEST Macedonia and Thrace from the Roman invasion to the time of Augustus: the contribution of the RBW coin collection (Sophia Kremydi)

10:45–11:30 am EST Romano-Sicilian coins and other coinages of Sicily issued under Roman rule, a mirror of the formation and transformation of Rome’s first province: RBW’s legacy (Suzanne Frey-Kupper)

11:30 am–12:15 pm EST The Coinage of Copia in the RBW Collection (Euan Wall)

12:45–1:30 pm EST Mark Antony’s ‘Fleet coinage’: a survey of research (Michel Amandry)

March 25

Chair: Michel Amandry

Coinages issued under the Romans in the Western Provinces

8:15–9:00 am EST The Roman Struck Bronze Coinage of Luceria and Canusium (Andrew McCabe)

9:00–9:45 am EST Small Change in Roman Republican Coinage (Liv M. Yarrow)

10:00–10:45 am EST The impact of Roman Republican Coinage on Spanish local issues. The unofficial imitations (Pere Pau Ripollès)

10:45–11:30 am EST Two Denarius Imitations in the the RBW Collection (Phil Davis)

11:30 am–12:15 pm EST Magistrates and citizens: the coinage of Paestum in  the RBW Collection (Federico Carbone)

12:45–1:30 pm EST Non-state coinages of Republican Italy (Clive Stannard)

1:30–2:00 pm EST Final Remarks and Comments

Hiring: ANS Deputy Director


The Deputy Director is a senior member of the management team of the American Numismatic Society. S/he directly reports to the Executive Director and attends all meetings of the Board of Trustees as well as meetings of the Executive Committee. S/he represents the Society in the absence of the Executive Director. S/he is responsible for directly supervising the financial, administrative, technology, library, and publication matters of the American Numismatic Society. 

The Deputy Director is expected to acquire a solid knowledge of all aspects of the Society. 

The Deputy Director shall be prepared to represent the American Numismatic Society at public events, and support the Executive Director in promoting the mission of the Society. 


The position requires a proven and significant track record of dealing with all aspects of finance, accounting, budgeting, and administration acquired in an academic, education, or museum context. Prior experience in managing a team of people is essential. The Deputy Director should have excellent communication skills and be able to speak in public to larger audiences, in-person, and digitally. S/he will have published, researched, and/or taught in the field of numismatics. A graduate degree in a relevant field is a requirement, PhD preferred. 


New York City, New York. Some travel required.


This is a full-time exempt position. The ANS offers generous healthcare, vacation, retirement, and fringe benefits.  Salary is in line with similar positions of the Society. 

To Apply

Please send your resume with a letter describing your interest and qualifications for this position, as well as the names and contact information for three references. 

Send applications to

Application Deadline: March 10, 2021

The ANS is not able to sponsor visas for this position.

Employment at the American Numismatic Society is dependent on a successful background check.

About the ANS

The American Numismatic Society is dedicated to the study and public appreciation of coins, currencies, medals, and other related objects. Since its founding in 1858, the ANS has assembled a permanent collection with over 800,000 objects dating from 650 BCE to the present and a numismatic library, which houses approximately 100,000 books, documents, and artifacts. These resources are used to support publications of books and periodicals, lectures, academic seminars, and exhibitions.

The American Numismatic Society is an equal-opportunity employer.

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 First Athenian Owls: Symbols of What Exactly?

On the bills and coins that we use today, we recognize the link between the words and images that appear on the objects and the powers that issued them. Images of dead presidents and inscriptions like “United States of America”, point to the authority of the federal government. We also recognize that ancillary images, such as the Lincoln Memorial, serve to define our shared heritage as the nation of We the People.

Every design element and inscription on modern US coinage is the result of a multilateral process, involving artists, members of Congress, the Commission of Fine Arts, the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee, and the Secretary of the Treasury to find the ideal means of expressing the entwined concepts of authority and nationhood. Using coin imagery, or types in numismatic parlance, to convey these concepts seems as old as coinage itself. We don’t have to search far among Roman or Greek coins to find coin types expressly linked to the powers that issued them. It would seem a fair assumption then that coin types served these purposes from the very beginning, explicitly linking coins to political powers. This assumption is seriously challenged, however, by a number of archaic coinages including those struck in Athens.

Wappenmünze with wheel, ca. 530 BC (ANS 1944.100.24095)

The production of Athenian coinage probably started around the time that Peisistratus consolidated his tyranny in 546 BC. On the earliest series of coins are 14 different types including an amphora, triskeles, astragal, scarab, horse, horse protome, and the corresponding horse’s rear end, owl, bull, head of bull, and a wheel. An earlier generation of scholars saw in these changing types the heraldic devices of the individuals or powerful families responsible for their issue, and to this day the series is known as the Wappenmünzen (“heraldic coins”). In his elaborate schema for the Wappenmünzen published in 1924, Charles Seltman argued that the coins were produced in different parts of Attica and Euboia by various elites, including those in direct political competition with the Peisistratids. This theory receives no support today. Instead, most scholars—such as John Kroll, a specialist on Athenian coinage—have argued that the changing types are the devices of individual magistrates, notably coopted elites, working in conjunction with the Peisistratids to oversee the production of coinage.

Wappenmünze with horse’s rear end, ca. 530 BC (ANS 1944.100.24093)

Around 525 BC, Athenian coinage underwent significant changes with the introduction of the second series of coinage, the so-called gorgoniea. For the first time anywhere, it would seem, a fully developed reverse type was added to a coin; it was there where the purported devices of the individual magistrates could now be found. This innovation was accompanied by a static type on the obverse: the head of the Gorgon Medusa, a symbol associated with the Athenians’ patron deity Athena. In addition to these features, a new denomination was introduced, the tetradrachm weighing c. 17.2 g, a comparatively large coin that was twice the weight of the heaviest of the Wappenmünzen. This new denomination would serve as the corner stone of Athenian minting for the next five centuries. These rather dramatic changes have generally been explained by a reorientation of Athenian monetary policy to focus more on economic activity beyond the borders of Attica, rather than within. The Pesistratids, the explanation goes, sought to introduce a readily recognizable type for their coinage, something akin to a brand, in order to create a value-added version of one of their primary exports, silver from their mines at Laurion. Thus the commodification of their silver influenced the choice of types.

Gorgoneion, ca. 525 BC (ANS 1944.100.24115)

Apparently, the Peisistratids were not completely satisfied with the design of the gorgoneia. Within only a few years it was overhauled completely with the introduction of a third series, dropping all reference—if there had been any—to individual magistrates and enhancing significantly the civic character of the coinage. The oblique reference to Athena, the gorgoneion, was replaced on the obverse by Athena herself, helmeted and in profile. Any question regarding the identity of the deity was answered by thematic continuation onto the reverse, where we find Athena’s bird, the owl at rest. Lest there still be questions of the coin’s origins, it was spelled out next to the bird: ΑΘΕ(ΝΑΙΩΝ), “of the Athenians”. There is no other Archaic coin that so completely drives home the point of its origins; and evidently it worked so well that the Athenians saw little need to change the basic design until they ceased minting tetradrachms completely in the first century BC.

“Owl” tetradrachm, ca. 510 BC (ANS 1957.172.1038)

Because the beginning of the owl coinage can be roughly dated by hoard evidence to a period that saw both the end of the Peisistratid tyranny in 510 BC and the democratic reforms in 508/7 BC, there have been several attempts to link the coinage to the political expressions of a new government and to explain the longevity of the owl coinage as a political symbol of the later Athenians’ quest to preserve freedom from tyranny. However, there is as yet no conclusive evidence to lock in the dates for the first owls. Arguments presented by John Kroll strongly suggest a starting date under the last Peisistratid tyrant Hippias; the owl coinage, and its explicit civic types, was then the result of Pesistratid economic foresight rather than a political gesture of the new democracy. Kenneth Sheedy, Gil Davis, and Damian Gore’s ongoing Archaic Coinage of Athens project at McQaurie University in Australia will no doubt shed further light on the dating problem.

In the meantime, if as seems likely the three archaic series produced in Athens—the Wappenmünzen, the gorgoneia, and the owls—were all initiated while the Peisistratids held soveriegn power, we are faced with no easy task in trying to relate the many types that appear on early Athenian coins to this singular power. Current explanations favor an evolution, at least as it appears on the coins, from allowing the use of the personal emblems of magistrates working under the Peisistratids to adorn the coins, to an attempt by the tyrants to develop a conspicuous Athenian brand for their silver exports. The evolution of the types then reflects an evolution in the way the tyrants themselves percieved the function of coin types. This evolutionary schema itself, however, begs several questions: was there also an evolution in the administration of the coinage, for example, with the role of magistrates being reduced or eliminated? And why in this Athenian context of evolving coin types did the newly established democracy not discard the newly introduced owl types of the tyrants and introduce their own types celebrating their release from tyranny?

To learn more about the Athenian owl check out our YouTube channel.