Money, Pain, and Human Sentiment

As one of the leading international centers of numismatic research, it’s no surprise that the stories coins tell about the people who came before us are daily topics of conversation at the offices of American Numismatic Society, where its staff, trustees, fellows, members, and visitors come together in a shared passion for the study of coinage and history. A weekly ritual I enjoy at the ANS is the informal social hour on late Friday afternoons, during which casual conversation often turns to numismatic topics and ideas. Some weeks ago, Chief Curator Peter van Alfen mused about how much cumulative pain the approximately 800,000 objects in the vault have caused through the centuries, a revelation on which I have ruminated since. People made, used, earned, spent, sought after, and often suffered for the objects we study and it’s important to keep the human element in numismatics at the fore of our considerations.

While “money does not buy happiness,” having it certainly makes life easier; it is essential for shelter, food, clothing, health care, transportation—basic subsistence. Financial security gives us agency and control over our lives. Conversely, the lack of it, or an insufficient amount, traps us in compounding anxieties and limits our choices and ability to direct our own destinies. Money’s ability to offer security and to provide a life of comfort, free from concern of destitution, can cause us to go to great lengths to get it, with extreme examples including corruption, theft, murder, coercion, and the exploitation of other human beings.

Our very economic system is open to criticism, as it asserts the primacy of money in our culture, making it a prerequisite for living without hardship and destitution. The growing wealth gap occupies daily news segments that discuss the inability of families across the country to live on minimum wages. Squid Game, the 2021 sensational Netflix series, presently enjoys international popularity because of its biting allegorical critique of the brutal inhumanities and abject cruelties inflicted by late-stage capitalism and the callous hierarchies it creates, a message that transcends cultural and national boundaries and that resonates with a swathe of global audiences facing increasing financial insecurity and inequities. Beyond the constructs of our economic system, countless psychological studies are devoted to the effects money has on our behaviors and the range of emotions it stokes in us. Money programs us in so many ways.

Figure 1. Allegory of Avarice, oil on canvas, by Jacopo Ligozzi, 1590. Avarice holds a money bag as her attribute. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Eric Seiler and Darcy Bradbury, and Edward A. and Karen S. W. Friedman, 1991.443.

Avarice (Fig. 1)—the emotion most associated with money—is not new, for history is rife with examples and stories of the depths to which we fall to acquire money, and the inhuman things we do to each other for it. The raw materials for a great many of the historical coins we study and collect were procured centuries ago through forced labor and slavery; examples include the Roman mines and the Spanish exploitation of the resources in the New World. Damnatio ad metallum, condemnation to the mines, was a Roman capital punishment worse than an immediate death sentence, because of the abject conditions and prolonged suffering that ultimately would lead to death under hard labor.After metal was struck into coined money and put into circulation, the pursuit of it could cause further pain and suffering.

During the reign of Trajan (98–117 CE), the satirist Juvenal wrote a fictional tale about a miserly Roman patron reluctantly doling out a pittance of 100 quadrantes to undeserving clients at the expense of those who actually needed it (1.95–146). In that anecdote, he invokes several gods with temples and altars, but tells us it is money that is worshipped supreme; greed motivates even wealthy citizens with high office to wait for the paltry payment in his story, displacing those who need it to subsist. Juvenal writes: “Of all gods it’s Wealth that compels our deepest reverence – though as yet, pernicious Cash, you lack your own temple, though we’ve raised no altars to Coins (as already to Honor and Peace, to Victory, Virtue and Concord – where storks’ wings rattle as you salute their nest)” (1.112–116). Elsewhere, I have argued that Juvenal makes subtle allusions to contemporary coin designs to heighten his satire, as people associated his theme of corruption and greed with the designs on coins in their pockets, which actually depicted Honor, Peace, Victory, Virtue, and Concord, especially as he also deploys wordplay with numen (deity) and nummus (coin). The episode concludes with the miserly patron turning away spurned clients to gorge himself on a boar, which also features on Trajan’s quadrantes, further reinforcing his theme of avarice (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. Quadrans of Trajan, struck at Rome, ca. 114–117 CE. At the end of Juvenal’s sketch about the dole of 100 quadrantes, needy clients who did not get a payment wait around for a dinner invitation that never comes; the patron, instead, goes home and dines on a whole roast boar, which I argue is a satirical allusion to the design on some Trajanic quadrantes. Obverse: Head of Hercules wearing the lion’s skin, IMP CAES TRAIAN AVG GERM. Reverse: A boar, S C. ANS 1921.100.6.

Perhaps the most famous tale in the ancient world of the suffering money can cause is Judas’s betrayal of Jesus in exchange for 30 pieces of silver (Matthew 26:15; Fig. 3).

Figure 3. Judas Being Paid the 30 Pieces of Silver, etching by Augustin Hirschvogel, 1547. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1961.544.1.

This was the immediate catalyst that led to Jesus’s brutal execution, and the savage and humiliating events of its prelude, which typified non-citizen executions in the Roman Empire. So great was Judas’s remorse that he attempted to return the blood money and hanged himself (Matthew 27:3–5). While highly improbable that the Tyrian shekels (Fig. 4) in the ANS cabinets were among those paid to Judas, we might wonder what they were witness to centuries ago, what they were used for, and what people did to get them (or any of the objects in collections across the globe for that matter), whether it be theft, assault, betrayal, murder, hard labor, prostitution, self-degradation, and so on.

Figure 4. Shekel of Tyre, 18-19 CE. As the primary silver coin circulating in Palestine in the early first century CE, this is the type of coin that scholars generally agree would have been used to pay Judas to betray Jesus. Obverse: Head of Melqart. Reverse: Eagle standing on prow of ship with club to its left, ΤΥΡΟΥ ΙΕΡΑΣ ΚΑΙ ΑΣΥΛΟΥ, date mark in the right field. ANS 1944.100.72863. Bequest of E. T. Newell.

In addition to the acts people commit to attain wealth, we can also discern emotional residue that people attached to coins when material contexts are preserved. Looking to developments in the field of archaeology, and specifically what is called Cognitive Archaeology, Prof. Frank Holt, an ANS member, advocates for a Cognitive Numismatics in his new book: “Numismatics therefore seems a study of elite self-absorption. For that reason, it has generally been viewed as a top-down discipline more about sovereigns than the societies they ruled . . . Cognitive numismatics firmly rejects that premise. Without abandoning all that coins can teach us as state-sponsored media, cognitive numismatics . . . seeks also in coins the lower strata of society as the next step in advancing our knowledge deeper into history’s darkest chasms” (Holt, When Money Talks: A History of Coins and Numismatics [Oxford University Press, 2021], p. 164).

Indeed, there has been a growing body of scholarship that explores the reception and use of coins by people who are anonymous in the grand narrative arc of history. By interrogating the reception and use of coins, we uncover vestiges of the way nameless people attached meaning and emotion to coins, especially in funerary contexts. For instance, late-third and fourth-century CE coins in infant burials in Roman Britain were placed consistently with the reverse side up, with images suggesting the protective roles of the parents. The grieving parents evidently chose such designs to help guide their children safely on their journeys to the afterlife.

Figure 5. Coin of Maxentius for Divus Romulus, struck at Ostia, ca. 309–312 CE. This is not the specific coin from the catacombs, but it illustrates the sort of coin used. Obverse: Head of the boy Romulus, DIVO ROMVLO N V BIS CONS. Reverse: Tomb surmounted by an eagle, AETERNAE MEMORIAE. ANS 1962.82.3.

From Rome, there is the example of a burial of a fourth-century CE Christian child from the Catacombs of Saints Peter and Marcellinus, about which Maria R.-Alföldi wrote in 1996. Around the loculus in which the child’s body was laid to rest, the family pressed ten coins of Maxentius bearing the portrait of his deceased child, Romulus, into the plaster seal (Fig. 5). One coin remains in situ, while the others have since fallen out (Figs. 6–7).

Figure 6. Coin impressions and coin embedded in the plaster around the loculus of the Christian child’s tomb in the Catacombs of Saints Peter and Marcellinus, Rome. Image from Maria R.-Alföldi, “Münze im Grab, Münze am Grab – Ein ausgefallenes Beispiel aus Rom,” Pages 33–39 in C. E. King and D. G. Wigg (eds.), Coin Finds and Coin Use in the Roman World (Berlin, 1996).

The use of the coins is witness to the parents’ sentimental adornment of their child’s grave with the likeness of a child who was about the same age when he died. That they were Christians and Maxentius was a pagan, who deified his dead son, as indicated on the coin with the phrase divo, seems to have mattered little in their choice to mark their child’s passing this way.

Figure 7. Detail of Figure 6, showing the coin with portrait of Divus Romulus embedded in the plaster. Photo credit same as Fig. 6.

Numismatists have, indeed, begun to use coins in ways that help illuminate the lives, experiences, and emotions of everyday people. To examine such questions, and to complete the potential breadth of information that can be obtained from the study of coins, numismatics needs more than just the objects themselves; the deployment of literature, texts, historical context, and the physical associations archaeology provides enrich numismatics and illuminate the people who used coins. In this way, we can help to tell a more complete story of the human experience and give voice to those that the grand political narrative overlooks.

Which Saint-Gaudens?

Louis Saint-Gaudens, by his wife Annetta (Saint-Gaudens National Historic Park).

We have over 160 years of records in the Society’s archives, including correspondence with big names inside and outside of numismatics—Victor Brenner, Hermon MacNeil, Thomas Elder, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Max Mehl, Tiffany & Co., and so on. Sometimes it’s easy to discover what we have because names that appear on folders have been listed in our archives database, ARCHER. Other times it’s not so simple. Some correspondence was placed in folders designated only by letters of the alphabet. Correspondence with Pietro Oddo, for example, might only be found in general “O” folders. Then again, even if “Oddo” folders exist you still have to check the “O” folders because in some years (or even in the same year!) his letters could have ended up there. There is great stuff in these alphabetical files, but you have to dig for it.

When Homer Saint-Gaudens heard that the ANS was displaying the Franklin medal and attributing it to his father Augustus instead of his uncle Louis, he requested that the labeling be corrected.

A couple of weeks ago, ANS Fellow and numismatic author Scott Miller happened to be digging around in an “S” file when he came upon an interesting exchange of letters regarding the Benjamin Franklin 200th anniversary medal struck by Tiffany in 1906. At various times and places, this medal has been attributed to Augustus Saint-Gaudens, to his brother Louis, or to both of them together. In 1927 the Medallic Art Company (MACO) wanted to restrike the medal. Uncertain of the attribution, the company’s Clyde Trees wrote to Augustus’s son, Homer, for guidance.

Trees told Homer that according to sculptor James Earle Fraser, Louis had done the original designs, and the reverse was certainly his, but the “obverse side was entirely changed by Mr. Augustus Saint-Gaudens” and so it was “beyond question the portrait was his work.” Furthermore, Trees’s associate at MACO, Henri Weil, remembered Augustus being actively involved bringing the project to completion. He had visited MACO, where the dies were made, several times to ensure that everything was just right. Trees also noted that the ANS was displaying large casts of the medal, credited to Augustus. Trees’s solution to get around all this uncertainty was to attribute the medal simply to “Saint-Gaudens.”

Part of a letter to the ANS from Homer Saint-Gaudens.

That didn’t sit well with Homer Saint-Gaudens. “I cannot subscribe to the notion that the Franklin Medal was in any way the work of my father,” he wrote. “Even though he put a great deal of time and trouble into it, it was primarily the work of his brother, Louis.” His father, he said, always considered it to be Louis’s work. He also disapproved of Trees’s plan to credit the work simply to “Saint-Gaudens,” as this would be “equivalent to saying ‘Augustus Saint-Gaudens,’ as far as the general public is concerned,” which was as true then as it is today. As for the ANS, Homer told Trees he would write to the Society immediately, which he did, asking that the labeling be changed “in the interest of accuracy and justice.” Secretary Sydney Noe assured him the alteration would be forthcoming, but judging by the plaque seen here, now in storage at the ANS, Noe never got around to it.

UPDATE: I shouldn’t have been so quick to doubt Sydney Noe! According to my colleague, ANS U.S. curator Jesse Kraft, the attribution on this plaque is correct. He explains:

“The way I’ve understood it is that Augustus sketched the first design (with wreath on his head and the statuesque shoulder) and his assistant, Henri Hering, sculpted it in 1905. Augustus had Henri Weil make a galvano and a reduction. This was the very first reduction Weil made on the Janvier, prior to advertising it and Bela Lyon Pratt getting in touch with him. Augustus, however, didn’t like the design and said Franklin looked like “an old woman wearing a tiara.” Augustus then gave the model to brother Louis who scrapped Hering’s design and completely redid Franklin (but used the same exact lettering and flanking branches—literally the same basin). If I’m not mistaken, the finished medal wasn’t struck until 1907 because of all of this (or at least late-1906, later than had been expected). So, the galvano in the image with the Augustus Saint-Gaudens nameplate is correct (as it is the first version), while the second version (below) is the finished medal and the work of Louis Saint-Gaudens.”

The medal as issued, without the wreath (ANS 1961.137.4)

If this was the plaque being referred to at the time, it would explain why the label was never changed. For more, Jesse suggests having a look at this medal. Thanks, Jesse!

New Data Release from the RRDP Project

by Alice Sharpless and Lucia Carbone

This blog post accompanies the second release of data for the RRDP Project. You can read more about the project and the first release in Carbone and Yarrow’s July 13, 2021 blog post.

Figure 1. RRC 357/2, Münzkabinett Wien RÖ 2384.

With our second data release we are continuing with our focus on the period of 92–75 BCE (RRC types 336–392). The new release includes the following RRC types:

Some of the issues released, i.e., 357/1a, 357/1b, and 385/4 are ODEC: One Die for Each Control Mark (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. RRC 357/1b, ANS 1941.131.162.

As the name suggests, ODEC issues have a specific correspondence between dies and control marks. Usually there is a univocal correspondence between obverse and reverse dies for each of these control marks. Early on, Schaefer realized the value of these types for understanding the coin production processes used at the Roman mint and also for testing and improving statistical models for estimating the original number of dies used to strike an issue. The current release has allowed us to add a total of 3,515 specimens to CRRO, including 2,541 ODEC specimens, thus further enhancing our knowledge of ODEC issues.

Figure 3. Schaefer RRC 344/3 Reverse 67 featuring new control symbol.

344/3 was minted under L. Titurius Sabinus in 89 BCE (Fig. 3). Crawford counted 200 reverse dies, but with Schaefer’s materials this number has been raised to 224. Schaefer’s materials also reveal six new control symbols of Titurius Sabinus:

Schaefer’s materials also include a second example of a variant reverse die where Victory holds a whip rather than wreath, with no control mark. Crawford had already noted the example in the collection of the University of Oslo. Before this data release there were 283 specimens represented in CRRO. There are now 770 specimens in CRRO.

Figure 4. RRC 385/4, Peacock control mark.

357/1a and 357/1b both date to 83 BCE, minted under G. Norbanus. 357/1a seems to be a small issue. Schaefer’s materials provide examples of 26 obverse dies. Crawford gave a range of numbered control marks from I to XXVI. Schaefer’s materials also include specimens with the control marks CXXXXVII and CXV (one die for each). These higher control marks might indicate that the issue was much larger than previously known, or these may be imitations. Before this data release there were 49 specimens represented in CRRO. There are now 217. 357/1b is a much larger issue. Crawford noted 156 obverse dies, but we can now raise that number to 210,with an additional 5 imitation dies. These materials do not add any new control marks to the range of I to CCXXVIIII provided by Crawford. Schaefer’s materials also show that this particular issue has a high number of brockages. This data release has added an additional 1,796 specimens to CRRO.

Figure 5. RRC 385/4 Bird r. (pea-hen?) control mark.

385/4 is another large issue minted under M. Voltei M. F. in 78 BCE which has both obverse and reverse control marks. This moneyer created a series wherein each of the five coins celebrates a different major religious festival: the ludi Romani (or plebeii, represented in RRC 385/1), Cereales (RRC 385/3), Megalenses (RRC 385/4), Apollinares (RRC 385/5), and, as it is suggested by the types on RRC 385/2,  the short-lived ludi Herculani (for a criticism to this chronology, see Keaveney 2005).The issue included in this data release thus celebrated the ludi Megalenses, which were established in 204 BCE to honor the Magna Mater, Cybele, as suggested by the reverse. Schaefer’s materials reveal 78 obverse dies (an increase from 71 noted by Crawford), although one is likely an imitation. There are 79 reverse dies (an increase from 71 noted by Crawford), three of which are probably imitations. This RRDP release has increased the specimens on CRRO from 182 to 759. Most notably, Schaefer’s materials also contribute six new obverse control marks that were not included by Crawford. They also allow for four corrections to Crawfords list (see table). Schaefer has shown that two of the reverse control marks (ΛΕ and ΜΘ) actually have two associated dies though there is no corresponding change in obverse die. This may suggest the original reverse dies broke or were damaged earlier than expected. The following table shows the updated list of control marks. New or corrected control marks are in bold. Schaefer also includes one specimen which appears to be an imitation of the Thyrsus/Θ pair. We are indebted to our volunteer David van Dyke for his work on this issue.

ObverseReverse
 Α
Winged caduceusB
CrescentΓ
Star (Obverse 1002)Δ
 Ε
ButterflyΣ
 Ζ
WreathΗ
ThyrsusΘ
StrigilΙ
TongsΙΑ
AxeΙΒ
TortoiseΙΓ
 ΙΔ
Lizard (Obverse 1010)ΙΕ
 ΙΣ
FrogΙΖ
Heron walkingΙΗ
Peacock (Fig. 4; Obverse 1012)ΙΘ
Plane (Obverse 1013)Κ
OwlΚΑ
Bird r. (pea-hen?) (Obverse 1015) [Crawford identifies as Peacock, but new control mark (above) show this cannot be a peacock; perhaps is a pea-hen, see Fig. 5]ΚΒ        
AmphoraΚΓ
AnchorΚΔ
ClubΚΕ
LecythusΚΣ
 ΚΖ
CandelabrumΚΗ
RoosterΚΘ
Palm-branchΛ
Piercer (Crawford, Pl. LXX 50)ΛΑ
SimpulumΛΒ
 ΛΓ
 ΛΔ
Stilus (Obverse 1025)ΛΕ (2 dies, Fig. 6-7)
PentagramΛΣ
Pileus with starΛΖ
Boot r. (Crawford, Pl. LXX, 51)ΛΗ
WheelΛΘ
Perfume-jar (Crawford, Pl. LXX, 52)Μ  
Staff with double hookΜΑ
PeltaΜΒ
Macedonian shieldΜΓ
Pear-shaped shieldΜΔ
Oval shieldΜΕ
Oblong shield with rounded cornersΜΣ
Oblong shield with square cornersΜΖ
Small round shieldΜΗ
Large round shieldΜΘ (2 dies)
EarΝ
Lyre-keyΝΑ
LeafΝΒ
Lighted altar (Crawford, Pl. LXX, 53)ΝΓ  
Altar (Crawford, Pl. LXX, 53)ΝΔ
Axe/Hatchet (Crawford,Pl. LXX, 54)ΝΕ  
Duck’s headΝΣ (not ΝΕ)
DolphinΝΖ
CrabΝΗ
ScorpionΝΘ
Stove (Pl. LXX, 55)Ξ
LampΞΑ
ThunderboltΞΒ
Plumb-bobΞΓ
DaggerΞΔ
DividersΞΕ
Short boot (Pl. LXX, 56)ΞΣ
Foot r.ΞΖ
Gourd? (Obverse 1059) [Crawford identifies as Knife-blade but this seems to be a mistake]ΞΗ    
 ΞΘ
Bow and quiverΟ
HoopΟΑ
FishΟΒ
Crawford, Pl. LXX, 58ΟΓ
Small plumb bob? (Obverse 1065)ΟΔ
Bunch of grapesΟΕ
PedumΟΣ
LadderΟΖ
Poppy-headΟΗ
Shovel (Crawford, Pl. LXX, 59)ΟΘ
Small broom (Crawford, Pl. LXX, 60; Obverse 1071) [Crawford identifies as “comb” but probably associated with previous as tools for clearing fire ash]Π        
Mask of Silenus (Obverse 1072) [Crawford identifies as Mask of Pan]ΠΑ  
Mask of Pan (Obverse 1073)ΠΒ
Crested helmetΠΓ
CornucopiaeΠΔ
TripodΠΕ
Figure 6. Schaefer RRC 385/4 Reverse ΛΕ1, Obverse 1025 (stylus).
Figure 7. Schaefer RRC 385/4 Reverse ΛΕ2, Obverse 1025 (stylus).

A second group of issues included in this release is instrumental in illustrating the financing of Sulla’s campaign in Italy in 84-82 BCE. 359/1 (aureus) and 359/2 (denarius) are issues of L. Cornelius Sulla. For 359/1, Schaefer’s materials add five new specimens to CRRO, with the result that CRRO now includes all ten known specimens. Crawford recorded 6 obverse and 6 reverse dies for 359/1. Schaefer’s materials reveal another two for each, for a total of 8 reverse and 8 obverse dies. For 359/2, Schaefer’s materials provide 187 reverse dies—a significant increase from the 36 reverse dies Crawford recorded—and add 277 specimens to CRRO. There is a high number of singleton reverse dies, an element that could hint at an Eastern mint for these issues. An Eastern production is also suggested by the die-axis, which present a strong tendency toward 12:00, a common practice for Greek coinage, but almost unattested in Roman Republican coinage The Eastern minting techniques, together with the iconographical similarities between the reverse of these RRC issues and the so-called Athenian ‘trophies’ tetradrachms, strongly connect  RRC 359 issues to the early phases of Sulla’s reconquest of Italy (Figs. 8–9). 

Figure 8. Reverse of RRC 359/2, Berlin MünzKabinett 18206086.

The anonymous issues 375/1 (aureus) and 375/2 (denarius, Fig. 1) were recently published by Alberto Campana (“L’Emissione con “Q” di Silla (RRC 375/1–2, 82 a.C.)” Monete Antiche 118 (2021): 3–30). The aureus 357/1 is known from only a single specimen in the BnF (REP-21376). For 357/2, Campana includes more specimens than Schaefer and identifies 40 obverse and 111 reverse dies plus two plated obverse and reverse dies. Schaefer’s materials include 98 reverse dies and add 205 specimens to CRRO. On the basis of hoard evidence, Campana convincingly argues that these issues should also be included among the ones financing Sulla’s campaigns and possibly dated to the same years as RRC 359 issues. The contribution of RRDP to our knowledge of Sullan campaign financing strategies will be presented by Lucia Carbone on November 10 at the University of Virginia.

Figure 9. Reverse of New Style Silver tetradrachm, Athens, 86–84 BCE, ANS 2015.20.881.

The next RRDP release, tentatively scheduled for January 2022, will include all of the RRC 367 types, also related to the Sullan campaigns of 84–82 BCE. Crawford identifies five types (three denarii, two aurei) of this joint issue of Sulla and L. Manlius Torquatus. But it seems this issue can actually be broken down into more than five types, some of which were marked with control symbols. By focusing on 367 we aim to disentangle and revise Crawford’s typologies.

Guises of the Tribute Penny

This last summer an email message to the ANS Curatorial Department requested that an attempt be made to use the Society’s online resources, like Pocket Change, to offer some education regarding the famous “Tribute Penny” mentioned in the King James Version of Mark 12:13–17 (thought by many New Testament source critics to have been followed by Matthew 22:16–21 and Luke 20:20–26). The sender expressed concern that coins regularly sold on the numismatic market as the “Tribute Penny” type might be wrongly described as such. This is in fact a very old concern, and one that extends almost back to the birth of modern coin collecting in the Renaissance.

Figure 1. Title page of Marquard Freher’s De Numismate census, a Pharisaeis in quaestionem vocato (Heidelberg, 1599).

Already in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the question of the coin’s identity had been discussed in print by several scholars (Fig. 1). These treatises generally preferred a silver coin of Tiberius (AD 14–37) featuring the portrait and name of the emperor on the obverse and an enthroned female figure on the reverse often thought to represent his mother Livia in the guise of Pax (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. Silver denarius of Tiberius. Lugdunum mint, AD 14–37. RIC I2, 30. ANS 1948.19.1043.

This identification seemed to tick all of the appropriate boxes: 1) The coin was struck by Tiberius who was known to have been the reigning emperor during Jesus’ ministry; 2) it featured the emperor’s “image and superscription,” both of which are explicitly mentioned in the parallel accounts of the three Synoptic Gospels; and 3) it was a denarius (Greek δηνάριον), the denomination specified by the Synoptic Gospels. This identification seemed to have it all, and thus it has tended to be the favorite down to the present, to the point that if the “Tribute Penny” is mentioned to any numismatist today, this is the type that invariably leaps to mind first. However, the identification with Tiberius’ denarius has one important difficulty that was unknown from the time that the numismatists of the early modern period first identified the “Tribute Penny” down to the last quarter of the twentieth century: There is no find evidence to suggest that the Roman denarius circulated in Judaea in any kind of quantity before AD 70.

Figure 3. Silver tetradrachm of Tiberius. Antioch mint, AD 14-37. RPC I, 4161.1. ANS 1944.100.65559.

As a possible solution to this problem it has sometimes been suggested that the “Tribute Penny” was actually a rare silver tetradrachm type (Fig. 3) struck in the name of Tiberius at Antioch on the Orontes, the capital of the Roman province of Syria. Due to the close proximity of Syria to Judaea it is assumed that such coins were more likely to have circulated in the environs of Judaea in the time of Jesus than the denarius. Unfortunately, the Syrian tetradrachm theory is bedeviled by its own complications that have tended to prevent it from gaining wide acceptance. For one thing, the tetradrachm (roughly equivalent to four denarii) was a much larger denomination than Mark’s denarius and its design featuring the heads and names of both Tiberius and the deified Augustus makes for uncomfortable ambiguity when Jesus asks his interlocutors whose “image and superscription” are on it. Also problematic is the fact that none of the few known Syrian tetradrachms of Tiberius were found in Israel. Indeed, find and hoard evidence suggests that Syrian tetradrachms really only began to circulate in Judaea under Nero, perhaps in response to the closure of the provincial silver mint at Tyre in AD 56 and/or the movement of troops at the outbreak of the Jewish Revolt (AD 66–73).     

Although proponents of the differing identities of the “Tribute Penny” have occasionally come close to blows in the past, it may be worth considering the possibility that the specific denomination was mentioned by Mark and the other Synoptic Gospels not so much with the intention of providing a precise historical detail but as a means of adding concreteness to the message of proper respect for divine and worldly authority. If the many New Testament source critics who consider the Gospel of Mark to have been written for a Christian community in Rome shortly after the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 are correct, it seems not unreasonable to wonder whether the coin is identified as a denarius not as a literal description of a coin actually handed to Jesus at the time of his questioning, but because this denomination was comprehensible in the Roman context of Mark’s primary audience. It was a coin that anyone in Rome, Italy or the western provinces would have been familiar with in the first century. This is the very same mechanism that turned Mark’s denarius into a penny (Fig. 4) in the English of the King James Version as a means of retaining intelligibility for English readers of the early seventeenth century.

Figure 4. Silver penny of James I. London Tower mint, 1603–1625. North 2106. ANS 1972.197.1.

Although the precise identity of the coin is important to those of us with a numismatic bent, it is not so clear that this was particularly important to early Christian communities. In the Gnostic-leaning Gospel of Thomas (100:1–4), an extra-canonical Coptic codex of sayings of Jesus discovered in Egypt near Nag Hammadi in 1945, the “Tribute Penny” is described as a gold coin (Coptic anoub). A Roman gold aureus (worth 25 denarii) (Fig. 5) would have been ridiculously high for the head tax (caput) in the first century—particularly considering that the punitive tax imposed on adult male Jews after the fall of Jerusalem was only two denarii (roughly equivalent to the half shekel previously paid to the Jerusalem Temple).

Figure 5. Gold aureus of Tiberius. Lugdunum mint, AD 14–37. RIC I2, 29. ANS 1957.172.1514.

However, in response to the runaway inflation and the debasement of Roman silver coinage over the course of the third century, in the 290s Diocletian instituted reforms that required the payment of the head tax in gold (Fig. 6).

Figure 6. Gold aureus of Diocletian. Antioch mint, AD 296-297. RIC VI, 13. ANS 1960.175.2.

Since the Nag Hammadi version of the Gospel of Thomas is believed to have been written down in the mid-fourth century on the basis of paleography (although it seems to include earlier material), it is tempting to suggest that here too the coin in Jesus’ hand reflects the contemporary reality of the community for which the gospel was written rather than any historical reality. In the fourth century, the head tax was regularly assessed in gold solidi (Fig. 7) and therefore Mark’s silver denarius was transformed into gold for the Late Antique audience of the Coptic Gospel of Thomas.   

Figure 7. Gold solidus of Constantius II. Antioch mint, AD 347–355. RIC VIII, 83. ANS 1956.184.9.

The apparent irrelevance of the precise identity of the coin is further implied by the extra-canonical Egerton Gospel and Tertullian’s treatise against idolatry. The Egerton Gospel is a fragmentary Greek codex obtained by the British Museum in 1934 and probably dateable to about AD 200. The recto side of Egerton Fragment 2 recounts the familiar controversy over payment of the head tax but there no coin is ever proffered to Jesus, nor is a coin even mentioned. Tertullian’s De Idolatria (15.3), probably written in the early third century, on the other hand, also retells this story, but refers to the denarius of the Synoptic Gospels only by the nondescript Latin term nummus (“coin”).

Coin identification (and argument about differing coin identifications) is the basic lifeblood of any numismatist. There is a special thrill to looking at a 2,000-year-old piece of metal and being able to say to oneself, “Aha! I know what that is.” However, in attempting to precisely identify the “Tribute Penny” as a specific coin, it may be that we are really chasing a chimera.

From Mound House to Manhattan, Part III

This is the third and final segment in the series to update ANS members and interested guests on the MACO Archives and the pending move of die shells and plasters from their present location in Mound House, Nevada to New York, New York.

I barely had time to recover from packing up the die shells and plasters in Nevada (see “From Mound House to Manhattan, Part II“) before it felt like the trucks were on their way. Back on the East Coast and less than a month to go before we hoped to have everything here, it was time to put the last piece of the puzzle in place: the trucks. In the initial stages of planning, we were told that a few months’ lead-time is far too long, and that a month or less is needed. I was to learn that even this amount of time is eonic in nature—as you, too, will learn below. After pricing out four different logistics companies, Schneider National seemed like the most competent and reasonably priced for our needs. I had initially scheduled the three tractor-trailers to be picked up in Mound House on June 21, 22, and 23, in order to arrive in succession on June 28, 29, and 30.

As the first day for pickup approached, however, I soon realized how the trucking industry operated. Many logistics companies, in fact, do not necessarily own their own trucks and instead act as brokers between the drivers and the customers. This is, perhaps, the main reason why they cannot plan so far in the future—it is not theirs to plan. Just like the customer (in this case, the ANS), logistics companies are largely at the whim of privately-owned trucking companies or independent drivers. If a trucker doesn’t decide to pick up the load, the load doesn’t get picked up. The 17th turned into the 18th before becoming the weekend, still without a quote. Finally, just before 11 a.m. on the morning of June 21, we received a bite from a private trucking company. I received the paperwork and everything seemed good to go. Meanwhile, Rob Vugteveen—my trusted colleague from Part II— and Josiah—our hired forklift operator—waited diligently for any sign of an 18-wheeler. They ate lunch, then waited some more. The day turned nearly into night without a trace.

Unfortunately, the driver arrived as the sun set. However, we were able to convince him to stay local for the night and pick up the material first thing in the morning. Here is a video of some of the first pallets being loaded onto the truck, shot by Rob:

In less than two hours, the first truck was loaded with 26 full pallets. Knowing that this was the heaviest of the loads that would traverse the country—and fearful that he might be over the legal weight limit—the driver immediately went to get weighed in. 65,000 pounds! (Just 15,000 pounds below the 80,000-pound maximum.)

The second truck gave us no time to regroup. Rob was barely through a celebratory snow cone when we received word that the second truck was nearly there! By 3 p.m., it had rolled into Mound House and within a few hours was also completely packed. Rob and Josiah were both home by dinner, while our two truckers began a slow and arduous journey across most of the United States.

At this point, you should be reading about the third truck picking up the last load in Mound House. However, as noted above, the trucking industry is rather unpredictable and this did not materialize in the order which we had hoped. Instead, silence. While the first two were seemingly quick and easy, no one wanted to touch the third load. Despite the nonchalance of our Schneider National representative, apparently, we were quite lucky to have found those first two trucks as easily as we had. From what I know understand, the upper Nevada area is somewhat of a desert for truck drivers (pun intended) and, of the few that are actually there, not that many want to come to Manhattan or Brooklyn. Go figure!

On the morning of Monday, July 28, at the break of dawn, I made contact with the first driver, who had been in the area since the early weekend…waiting. Much to our surprise, the first driver to arrive was the second driver to have picked up material in Mound House. Somehow, the second driver drove past the first! That, however, was not of concern (with the exception of where, exactly, was the first driver?). Our concern at that time was to get the truck into place and unload the 26 pallets in its trailer.

Getting the truck into place was my biggest worry from the start of this project. I, and I alone, knew how narrow the street was where the loading dock is located. It is very narrow—basically an alleyway. The only solace I had and kept telling myself was that there is a loading dock there, so a truck must be able to get to it. Meeting up with the driver, he requested I get into the cab with him to guide him around the block. Even these wider avenues proved difficult. With the time of reckoning literally around the corner, I knew that if the driver couldn’t get the truck into place that the day would get so much worse—essentially having to unload the truck entirely by hand.

We approached the street and the driver nearly coasted by it—true testament to the narrow nature of the street. By the time we came to a stop, we were directly adjacent to the street. The driver stared it down for what seemed like all morning, but was probably a solid minute—cigarette hanging from his lips. Plotting. Navigating in his mind where he wanted the truck to go. At one point, he literally had to jump out of the cab to yell certain expletives at the many annoyed commuters in cars that we were holding up. The driver did not care, and let them know it. In the end, he felt that he could make the turn.

He backed the truck up, to the further chagrin of those we held up. Some sped around us, but no matter. If words can explain how he maneuvered this turn: we essentially had to turn left the go right; at one point the cab was beyond the road was aimed for, but the trailer was whipping around into place; essentially converting the 90° turn into a complete 180°. The straighten out amidst a row of parked cars. By this time, John Thomassen, curatorial assistant at the ANS, had arrived to help unload. As we made the turn, I could see him near our destination, both hands on his head as he helplessly watched the driver pull off this incredible maneuver. I had respect for big-rig drivers before this, but watching it in action—literally in the passenger’s seat—brought my respect to new heights. The geometry involved in a simple turn is often counterintuitive.

That turn was only half the battle. Next, we had to back the truck up into the loading dock (Figs. 1 and 2).

Figure 1. ANS Curator, Jesse Kraft, hoping that the first truck of MACO die shells will fit into the loading dock.
Figure 2. Kraft guides the truck into place.

While the turn seemed like the hard part, perhaps the fact that it took him three attempts to pull this off—while only one to make the turn—shows how difficult this truly was. The truck was in place. Again, getting to this point, in my mind, was the hard part and gave an incredible sense of relief seeing the truck in place. More importantly, now that I knew that one driver could do it, the other two had no excuse not to pull of the same stunt.

Figure 3. Kraft unloads the very first pallets into Brooklyn.

Next was to unload several tons of numismatic material (Fig. 3). Just prior to the arrival of the material, the ANS purchased two pallet jacks and a hand truck for the occasion. I had plenty of recent experience with these whilst in Nevada, but John had never handled a pallet jack before—though he caught on quickly. Executive Director Gilles Bransbourg graciously offered his help this morning, and we quickly realized that we needed to keep him away from the pallet jacks if we wanted to unload the truck in a timely manner. Aside from minor elevator troubles—the closest freight elevator wasn’t working that day, and, at one point, the working elevator dropped a foot below the basement level and wouldn’t rise again—unloading went smoothly. About four hours later, we had the first third of the MACO die shells unloaded and in storage.

Two days later, June 30, the second truckload arrived and was nearly as eventful. The second driver, Sufyan, was an incredible help to us. Sufyan was much less sure of himself than the first driver. He didn’t think it could be done but, knowing that it was, in fact, accomplished just two days prior, I repeatedly had to remind him that it was possible. He, too, pulled off the turn with a wider-than-life turn and, more impressively, was able to back the truck up into a better position in only one attempt! In addition to Sufyan’s help and, instead of Gilles, Chief Curator Peter van Alfen offered his assistance. Furthermore, we had the luxury of using the closer elevator, which essentially opens up to the front door of the space we occupy in the building. This shaved several hundred feet of travel per pallet and, as a result, we were able to unload the truck in about three hours.

If you recall, we had three truckloads of material but only two trucks picked anything up. The first two trucks were completely picked up, delivered, and unloaded and we had yet to have heard from anyone who wanted to touch the third. Sufyan, as he was leaving, mentioned that he would be interested in going back to Nevada but he was either redirected by his dispatchers or wasn’t necessarily telling the truth. Either way, we had until July 17 to have the facilities at Mound House completely emptied.

As if out of nowhere, in the late morning of July 5, I received an email from my contact at Schneider National that a driver was, literally, on his way to pick up the material. As quickly as possible, we needed to get the contract signed and, perhaps most importantly, make sure that Rob and Josiah were available for a last-minute load (Fig. 4).

Figure 4. The last pallet being loaded onto the final truck in Mound House.

Long story, short: the third and final truck arrived on the morning of July 12. For several reasons, however, we decided to bring this load to our storage facility in Brooklyn, rather than to our headquarters in Manhattan as originally planned. That said, this series should have been titled “From Mound House to Brooklyn,” but we didn’t know—plus the alliteration of the current title is catchier. Either way….

By the end of it, we were pros at unloading tractor-trailers and whizzes with the pallet jacks. I would like to add that, since we couldn’t count on the third driver being anywhere near as much help as Sufyan was, Peter, John, and I recruited ANS Photographer Alan Roche to help as the fourth person. However, Alan didn’t show up until, most conveniently for him, mere minutes after the last pallet was put into place. His contributions for the day were to document the sweaty messes that the three of us were by the end of it all (Fig. 5).

Figure 5. Peter van Alfen, John Thomassen, and Jesse Kraft recuperating after moving the final pallets into place.

Nonetheless, the MACO die shells were officially repatriated with the ANS in New York City! Many of the die shells were, in fact, created in the Big Apple prior to MACO’s move to Danbury, Connecticut in 1973! This momentous occasion will allow the Society to begin completely cataloging the die shells, to compare them to the struck medal, and be able to build a bigger picture into the production methods of the Medallic Art Co. While this is the final segment in this series, do stay tuned for further updates from the ANS regarding the MACO Archives.