All posts by The American Numismatic Society

A Penchant for Abstraction: An American Collector of African Currency

Iron-currency, Nigeria/Cameroon. Original name: Bandaka. According to Ballarini this piece of currency of forged iron resembles a stylized profile of a person: nose, a ponytail tied up in a bun behind the neck, a stylized body which ends in an umbrella handle which is finished off with some ringlets (ANS 2013.17.4, previously of Alan Helms’ collection.)

In the past decade, the American Numismatic Society has been fortunate to acquire a number of African numismatic objects from the Boston-based collector Alan Helms. These objects are mostly produced within the last two centuries and are distinguished by their large size for objects of numismatic value. Most of the objects come from modern-day Congo, Nigeria, and Cameroon. At first blush they come across as simply worked pieces of metal. The ANS caught up with Helms to find out more about his overall collecting practices and what led him to these objects, and to learn about how he grew his collection.

Q: When was the first time you bought a numismatic object from Africa? What inspired you to collect this work in particular?        

I bought my first piece of African currency from Monsieur Huguenin at Galerie Majestic on Rue Guenegaud, and in short order I started buying from most of the galleries in Paris.  Whereas a good Baule wooden standing figure in those days might sell at auction for $3,000, $4,000, or $5,000, one could find superb currency for a fraction of that cost. This work remains one of my favorites.

Q: Where were you acquiring these objects when you lived in Paris? Can you describe the market for African works in Paris at the time?

I was a visiting professor at the University of Paris (Nanterre) in 1983 when a colleague took me to several African art galleries and the African collection at the old Musée de l’Homme.  I remember being totally smitten.  Around the same time, I discovered African metal currency, which I found equally intriguing as African art, and it was more affordable.  So I began to purchase examples in Paris. This launched me into a lifetime of collecting African currency in Europe and the United States. Within a few years I had some 80 pieces.

Q: How have these objects fit within the context of your overall collecting practices? 

The two main collections of my life have been African metal currency and Chinese scholar rocks—both incidentally among the world’s most beautiful abstract arts.

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Iron hoe money, Nigeria/Cameroon. According to Ballarini, this hoe-currency is made out of heavy sheet of iron, forged into shape of fan, with the bottom part ending in a triangle. These models could have actually been used as hoes: some known specimens have a ring welded to the plate, which indeed was used to fit in the wooden stick of the hoe. (ANS 2013.17.2, previously in Alan Helms’ collection.)

Q: How did you learn more about the objects you collected? 

Visual features have been my sole guide throughout so I’ve never studied these objects in any systematic, scholarly fashion. I’m almost exclusively concerned with the forms themselves. But it’s also true that little serious work has been done to date on African metal currency.  Few catalogues exist and many of those are of doubtful value.  It’s a ripe field for art historians who specialize in African art!

Q: You have donated parts of your numismatic collection to several important institutions including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Wellesley College. Other than the study and care for your works, what relevance do you think they could carry?

 For one thing, the objects themselves are aesthetically fascinating.  Beyond that, they’re an important part of the material history of the cultures that have created them.

Free Article! “Wishes Granted: The ANS and the NEH”

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The Spring 2017 issue of ANS Magazine will be mailed to Members on June 20th, but the article “Wishes Granted: the ANS and the NEH” can be read right now for free (3 MB download).

The article, authored by Peter van Alfen, Gilles Bransbourg, Ethan Gruber, and Andrew Reinhard, details all of the recent NEH-funded work being done at the ANS with a nod to the Society’s past regarding Open Access initiatives and data-sharing.

The 63rd Eric P. Newman Graduate Summer Seminar in Numismatics

2017Seminar

On June 5th, the 63rd Graduate Summer Seminar in Numismatics, which has been generously sponsored by Eric P. Newman, began at the ANS under the direction of Dr. Peter van Alfen. Since 1952, the Society has offered select graduate students and junior faculty the opportunity to work hands-on with its preeminent numismatic collections. The rigorous eight-week course, taught by ANS staff, guest lecturers, and a Visiting Scholar, introduces students to the methods, theories, and history of the discipline. In addition to the lecture program, students select a numismatic research topic and, utilizing ANS resources, complete a paper while in residence. The Seminar is intended to provide students of Classical Studies, History, Art History, Textual Studies, and Archeology who have little or no numismatic background with a working knowledge of a body of evidence that is often overlooked and poorly understood.

This year’s Visiting Scholar is Dr. Thomas Faucher of the Institut de recherche sur les archéomatériaux, Centre Ernest-Babelon, part of the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS) and the Université d’Orléans (Orléans, France). Dr. Faucher is, among other things, a specialist in ancient coin production and Ptolemaic coinages. In addition we welcome eight students who come to us from McMaster University, the University of Pennsylvania, Yale University, the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (NYU), the University of Delaware, the University of Houston, and Rutgers University.

Learn more about the Seminar.

 

 

ANS to Repatriate 94 War-Looted Coins to the Salzburg Museum

 

Salzburg Museum. Photo: Karl Gruber, CC-BY SA 4.0.
Salzburg Museum. Photo: Karl Gruber, CC-BY SA 4.0.

The American Numismatic Society (ANS) welcomes the Director and CEO of the Salzburg Museum, Direktor Hon.-Prof. Mag. Dr. Martin Hochleitner, and Dr. Peter Lechenauer, an attorney representing the Salzburg Museum, to New York for the repatriation of a group of 94 coins stolen from the Museum Carolino-Augusteum of Salzburg in 1945. The coins will be turned over to Dr. Hochleitner and Dr. Lechenauer by Mr. Kenneth L. Edlow, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the ANS, and Dr. Ute Wartenberg Kagan, Executive Director of the ANS, on Friday, May 26, 2017.

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ANS benefactor, Chester L. Krause.

This group of coins came to the ANS in 1995 after our late Benefactor, Mr. Chester L. Krause, brought them to the attention of the curators. Mr. Krause had learned that these coins were rumored to have come from a museum in Austria in 1945 and donated to the ANS the funds to purchase them, so as to ensure that they could be returned to any rightful owner rather than being dispersed on the market. The ANS accepted the gift and acquired the coins in order to preserve the group intact, while curators Alan Stahl and William Metcalf immediately began inquiries with colleagues in Austria to determine whether a legitimate owner could be identified so that the coins could be repatriated.

Gold florin, Salzburg (Austria), 1365–1396. (ANS 1996.3.1).
Gold florin, Salzburg (Austria), 1365–1396. (ANS 1996.3.1).

The details of the story, as known at the time, were also published in the 1996 ANS Annual Report. In the last year of World War II, the coins from the Salzburger Museum Carolino-Augusteum were moved to underground storage for protection. After the end of the war, the American occupation authorities took custody of those coins; when they were returned to the museum in 1946, over 2,000 coins were missing. Publications from before and after the war made it clear that the coins the ANS had acquired closely matched some of the missing coins from the Salzburger Museum, but no clear proof was available at that time.

Silver denar of CIO, Salzburg (Austria), 991–1023. (ANS 1996.3.18).
Silver denar of CIO, Salzburg (Austria), 991–1023. (ANS 1996.3.18).

Open-access publication of old ANS annual reports has made them much more widely available, and this brought the story to the attention of more numismatists in Austria. As a result, recent work has been able to match a few coins with earlier photographs and many others, which have inventory numbers written in ink on the surface of the coin, with an old card file in the Salzburg Museum bearing similar numbers. This work has demonstrated that the group of coins can in fact be identified as a small but valuable portion of the coins stolen from the Salzburger Museum over 70 years ago.

Silver groschen, Bohemia, 1378–1419. (ANS 1996.3.62).
Silver groschen, Bohemia, 1378–1419. (ANS 1996.3.62).

These coins represent an important body of material for the study of the history of Salzburg and Austria. Highlights include a gold florin of Archbishop Pilgrim II of Salzburg (1365–1396), a silver pfennig of the same archbishop, a silver pfennig of Archbishop Hartwig of Salzburg (991–1023), and a Bohemian groschen of the years around 1400 that was counter-stamped for validation by three different cities, Nördlingen, Ulm, and Salzburg. The ANS is pleased to have assisted with their return home.

Silver pfennig, Salzburg (Austria), 1365–1396. (ANS 1996.3.45).
Silver pfennig, Salzburg (Austria), 1365–1396. (ANS 1996.3.45).

Executive Director Dr. Ute Wartenberg commented on the return of the coins to Austria: “We are delighted that these interesting coins will be returned to the museum where they belong and where people will view and study them. I am also so grateful to the late Chet Krause for his extraordinary initiative in trying to preserve Austrian heritage. A case like this one illustrates that even today museums in the US should be acting perhaps as safe havens for looted objects and be more proactive in acquiring looted objects with the specific purpose to eventually repatriate them.”

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.

ANS Receives Grant to Clean U.S. Large Cent Collection

(Please note: the announcement below was an April fool’s prank. Enjoy!)

The ANS is pleased to announce today that it has received a Rockefeller-Noggin grant that will be used to conserve its important collection of early U.S. large cents.

After decades of neglect, dust dirt and grime have taken their toll on this part of our collection. This results in a a layer of corrosion, tarnish and oils that cause the once brilliant gleaming coin to have a dull dark brown appearance making photography of these items very difficult. The ANS photographer, Alan Roche, took the initiative to apply for a grant from the prestigious Rockefeller-Noggin Institute to restore the coins to their original lustre. The successful application means the Society will receive $20,000 in funding to hire personnel and purchase conservation materials, including 50 gallons of Brasso™, to conserve approximately 10,000 coins. The work is to commence immediately.

Mysteries from the Vault: Ancient Amulet

With close to a million objects in the American Numismatic Society’s collections, the curatorial team occasionally comes across items that are mysteries to us. This series will feature some of these objects in the hopes that the collective wisdom of our readers can help us to identify and learn more about them.

With one of our older mysteries recently solved, it seemed to be a good time for a new one!

This is a one-millimeter thin and roughly square piece of metal that features an intricate design. It has been pierced so we presume it was used as some sort of amulet. The pictorial elements and glyphs (and/or writing) are incised on both sides. It weighs 15.31 grams and its dimensions are 49 mm in height and 46 mm in width. We do not have a provenance for the item beyond the fact that it was discovered in one of our ancient cabinets.

Who or what are those little figures at bottom right?

ANS, 0000.999.56759
ANS, 0000.999.56759

 

0000.999.56759.web

Have an idea about what this might be? Let us know in the comments or drop us a line here.

Update:

Some more photos to try and bring out the design (click to enlarge)

 

NEH-Mellon Foundation Humanities Open Book Project

The American Numismatic Society has been chosen as one of ten publishers to participate in the Humanities Open Book project, a joint NEH-Mellon Foundation grant program to convert out-of-print books of enduring scholarship into EPUB e-books, which will be licensed so as to allow readers to search and download these books freely, and to read them on any type of e-reader.

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ANS publications date back to 1866 and include over 500 volumes of numismatic scholarship. Thanks to the funding received from the Mellon Foundation, nearly 100 of its rarest out-of-print books will be converted into free EPUB digital editions. The ANS will go one step further by TEI-encoding these editions for online viewing, searching, and linking. Following best-practices of Linked Open Data (LOD), these XML files will link to (and will be able to be linked from) other Open Access (OA) resources like the Virtual International Authority File, the Pleiades Gazetteer of Ancient Places, and ANS digital projects like OCRE and PELLA.

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Pictured above are just a few of the some one hundred works that will be processed. The assorted works digitized through this generous Humanities Open Book grant will be available via the ANS Digital Library by the end of 2016.

Read the full press release here.

2016 Summer Seminar Announcement

62nd Annual Eric P. Newman Graduate Summer Seminar in Numismatics

June 6 through July 29, 2016

For over half a century, The American Numismatic Society, a scholarly organization and museum of coins, money, and economic history, has offered select graduate students and junior faculty the opportunity to work hands-on with its preeminent numismatic collections. With over three-quarters of a million objects, the collection is particularly strong in Greek, Roman, Islamic, Far Eastern, and US and Colonial coinages, as well as Medallic Art. Located in New York City’s SoHo district, the Society also houses the world’s most complete numismatic library.

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The rigorous eight-week course, taught by ANS staff, guest lecturers, and a Visiting Scholar, introduces students to the methods, theories, and history of the discipline. In addition to the lecture program, students will select a numismatic research topic and, utilizing ANS resources, complete a paper or digital project while in residence. The Seminar is intended to provide students of History, Art History, Textual Studies, and Archeology who have little or no numismatic background with a working knowledge of a body of evidence that is often overlooked and poorly understood. Successful applicants are typically doctoral candidates or junior faculty in a related discipline, but masters candidates are admitted as well.

This year’s Visiting Scholar will be Dr. Klaus Vondrovec, Curator of Ancient Coins at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, who also teaches at the University of Vienna. Dr. Vondrovec is, among other things, a specialist in late Roman and ancient coinages of Central Asia.

Applications are due no later than February 12, 2016. A limited number of stipends of up to $4000 are available to US citizens, and non-US citizens studying at US institutions under certain visas.

For application forms and further information, please see the seminar page on our website: www.numismatics.org/Seminar

Please address inquiries to the Seminar Director, Dr. Peter van Alfen at vanalfen@numismatics.org

Mysteries from the Vault: H.R.C. Clock Token

With close to a million objects in the American Numismatic Society’s collections, the curatorial team occasionally comes across items that are mysteries to us. This series will feature some of these objects in the hopes that the collective wisdom of our readers can help us to identify and learn more about them.

With one of our older mysteries recently solved, it seemed to be time for a new one!

This token is 26 mm in diameter and weighs 4.19 grams, with a die axis of 12. One side has a  table top still-life scene wreathed by Roman clock numbers; the other is embossed with the initials H.R.C. and the number 99. It was purchased by the American Numismatic Society as part of a lot of 200 tokens from Schindler’s Antique Shop of Charleston, South Carolina. Click to enlarge the images if you need a closer look.

ANS, 1952.110.51
ANS, 1952.110.51
ANS, 1952.110.51
ANS, 1952.110.51

Have an idea about what this might be? Let us know in the comments or send us an email.

Dar al-Kutub: Collection of the Egyptian National Library

dar_al-kutubThe American Numismatic Society is pleased to announce, in collaboration with Dr. Jere Bacharach of the University of Washington and Dr. Sherif Anwar of Cairo University, the debut of Dar al-Kutub, a digital publication and database of the non-hoard numismatic collection of the Egyptian National Library.

The catalog consists of more than 6,500 objects, ranging from late Roman glassware and pre-Islamic Sasanian coinage to the modern Egyptian coinage of Anwar Sadat. The collection is particularly strong in Medieval Islamic coinage across all major dynasties. The catalog differs from its predecessors in a number of ways. Most notably, the collection has been photographed in color, with inscriptions read and transcribed from these images. The database includes references to the 1982 catalog of the collection undertaken by Dr. Norman D. Nicol.

Barquq, AH 784 / CE 1382-1383 Egyptian National Library, 2830
Barquq, Burji Mamluks, AH 784 / CE 1382-1383
Egyptian National Library, 2830

The interface is available in both English and Arabic, owing to translations provided by Dr. Sherif Anwar. The multilingual interface is driven by numismatic concepts defined by Nomisma.org. Over the course of this project, more than 700 Islamic entities—people, dynasties, corporate entities, mints, etc.—were created in Nomisma, with labels in English, Arabic, and other languages, forming the technical foundation for the aggregation of other Islamic numismatic collections. Geographic coordinates have been included for the majority of Islamic mints, permitting the mapping of the Egyptian National Library collection.

Mint Map

According to Ethan Gruber, the ANS Director of Data Science, “the effort undertaken in defining Islamic entities in a Linked Open Data environment will make it possible to improve the Islamic department in the ANS database, and may make Islamic type corpora similar to Online Coins of the Roman Empire possible in the future.” Like other ANS digital projects, the data are freely available with an Open Database License, and are published in the Numishare framework.

The team wishes to thank the American Research Center in Egypt for their funding of this project, and acknowledge the contributions of all of the individuals named here.