All posts by Peter van Alfen

COAC 2021: The Victor David Brenner Sesquicentennial

Figure 1. Photo of the control room main monitor during one of the talks.

After a hiatus of a dozen years, this last Friday and Saturday (17–18 September) saw the resumption of the Coinage of the Americas Conference (COAC) series at the American Numismatic Society. Since the mid-1980s, COACs have been one of the leading venues for the presentation of academic research pertaining to numismatics of the Western Hemisphere. Previous conferences, and their published proceedings, have covered topics on colonial and federal coinages and medallic art in the United States.

Figures 2 and 3. Speaker Christopher Bach presenting his talk, “Victor D. Brenner and the painterly influence of Joaquín Sorolla.”

Thanks to the sponsorship of the Resolute Americana Collection and the Stack Family, ANS Assistant Curator Dr. Jesse Kraft’s efforts to revive the series this year were successful. Along with conference co-organizers Scott Miller (ANS Fellow) and Patrick McMahon (MFA Boston), Dr. Kraft decided to commemorate the sesquicentennial of Victor David Brenner’s birth with two days of papers devoted to the artist’s life and works.

Figure 4. Speaker and conference co-organizer Patrick McMahon virtually responding to questions following his talk, “Victor David Brenner’s Society of the Cincinnati Medal in Context.”

Born in 1871 in what is now Lithuania, Brenner initially followed in the family business of jewel engraving before immigrating to the United States in 1890. After studying in both the United States and, most notably, in Paris with famed French medallic artist Oscar Roty, Brenner quickly positioned himself to become one of the foremost medallists working in New York City, the center of US medallic art. Brenner’s most well-known artwork is, undoubtedly, the Lincoln Cent of 1909, which remains in production today; with over 450 billion examples produced in the 112 years since it was introduced it is the most reproduced piece of art in human history. While it is known that Brenner created a significant body of work beyond the Lincoln cent, much of his other work has been overshadowed by this single piece.

Figure 5. Speaker Taylor Hartley enjoying the exhibit of Brenner’s work organized for the conference in the ANS’s Sage Room by Jesse Kraft and Scott Miller.

Many of the papers in this year’s COAC sought to explore the full range of Brenner’s work, and these efforts were quite informative. By the end of the conference, the trajectory of Brenner’s career, before his life was cut short in 1924 by cancer, came into clearer view. Always pushing himself to obtain greater skills, Brenner explored a number of techniques and styles in medallic art production, more perhaps than many of his contemporaries, designing over 200 medallic works of art throughout his 35-year career. At the same time, towards the end of his career he seemed to have been making an attempt to move decisively away from medallic art towards larger bas-relief and sculpture in the round. His largest artwork, and one of his more successful, is the Mary Schenley Memorial Fountain in Pittsburg, PA, also known as “A Song to Nature”. Significantly, his career path was, in many ways, opposite that of his contemporaries: he began as an engraver of small objects moving towards larger sculpture while others started with larger works before attempting medallic art. Curiously, however, after his success with the 1909 Lincoln cent, Brenner’s career never really took off in the way that those associated with the doyenne of US sculpture Augustus Saint Gaudens did; indeed, Brenner was never part of the Saint Gaudens circle. To the end, Brenner remained something of a struggling artist, designing and producing a number of different sculptural objects, including bookends and wall fountains, many of which were only recently identified and attributed to Brenner by some of the conference speakers. The proceedings of the conference are expected to be published by the ANS in the coming year. In the meantime, a video recording of the conference will soon be available on our YouTube channel. A list of the speakers and their papers can be found here.

Figure 6. Alan Roche and Ben Hiibner manning the newly installed control room during the Zoom broadcast of the conference.

One final note: this year’s COAC also marked a significant change in the way that the ANS will, in the future, host and present conferences. After a substantial investment in new equipment, and thanks to the efforts of Ben Hiibner and Alan Roche, this year’s COAC was a fully hybrid event, simultaneously live and virtual. Those unable to attend in person were able to participate both as speakers and audience members via Zoom. Such hybrid events will continue to allow us to reach a greater proportion of our membership as we resume our usual schedule of events, talks, and conferences.

Coins from the Jay M. Galst Collection

Over the course of forty years of serious collecting, our friend and colleague Jay Martin Galst amassed an important collection of ancient and medieval coins, many from the Holy Land, as well as modern coins, medals, and tokens, particularly those related to his profession of ophthalmology. Over a year now since Jay died from complications of COVID-19 during the worst of the initial pandemic surge in New York City, his presence is still sorely missed here at the ANS, where he was a frequent visitor. Jay always intended that the bulk of his collection eventually be sold both to benefit his family (Fig. 1), and, as a consummate collector himself, to ensure that others might have the opportunity to collect and enjoy the items that he once owned and enjoyed. Currently, Jay’s collection is being auctioned by Classical Numismatic Group, LLC. with some of the auctions having already taken place, but with more still to come.

Figure 1. Cast bronze medal depicting Joann P. Galst and Jay M. Galst on the obverse by Mashiko, the winner of the ANS’s 2020 J. Sanford Saltus Award for Achievement in Medallic Art (ANS 2021.25.2, gift of Mashiko).

Dr. Joann Paley Galst, Jay’s wife, has in the meantime generously arranged for a number of items from his collection to be donated to various museums, including the ANS, which is the recipient of a group of twenty highly significant ancient and medieval coins helping to fill in various gaps in our own collection. In the forthcoming issue of the ANS Magazine (2021 vol. 3), Collections Manager Elena Stolyarik offers a more comprehensive overview of this donation. Here I want to highlight a couple of the coins that are of particular interest to me.

At the beginning of my numismatic career, I developed a keen interest in the phenomenon of ancient imitations, particularly Athenian imitations, publishing a number of articles on the topic, which can be found on my page. Produced at the same time as bona fide Athenian coins, these coins were often of (reasonably) good metal and weight and were not meant to deceive in the way counterfeit coins are. Many imitations, in fact, were marked with the names of those producing the coins, like those of the Persian satrap Sabakes of Egypt (Fig. 2), or with ancillary symbols or letters, often written in one of the Semitic alphabets such as Paleo-Hebrew, Aramaic, Northwest Semitic, or Sabaean indicating they were produced somewhere in the eastern Mediterranean region and making it clear to contemporary users that the coin in question was not a genuine Athenian product.

Figure 2. Silver tetradrachm minted in Egypt ca. 338 BCE under the authority of the Persian satrap Sabakes, whose name appears in Aramaic on the reverse (ANS 1944.100.75462, E.T. Newell bequest).

From the end of the Archaic period onward, Athenian coinage circulated in large numbers in Egypt, Arabia, the Levant, and even farther to the east, no doubt used in trade to pay for desired eastern products, like the frankincense and myrrh that were used in temple rituals. (This Aegean-Levantine trade was, in fact, the subject of my PhD dissertation.) The elevated importance of Athenian coinage in the Near East gave rise to the production of imitations, presumably at times and in places where demand for the coinage was high, but the supply low, and served also to inspire coins that while not close copies of Athenian coinage were clearly influenced by it. From the Galst collection, we have received one such unpublished marked Athenian imitation (Fig. 3).

Figure 3. Silver tetradrachm possibly minted at Ascalon ca. 400 BCE (ANS 2021.20.9, gift of Joann P. Galst in memory of Jay M. Galst).

Stylistically, there is little to differentiate this coin from the later fifth century Athenian tetradrachms that served as its model, and to the unobservant this coin no doubt would have easily passed for an Athenian coin since its weight (16.97 g) is within the ballpark of expectations. There is, however, a small Northwest Semitic aleph on the obverse right along Athena’s jawline. This aleph is probably an abbreviation for the authority responsible for the production of the coin, possibly the Philistian city of Ascalon. Other Athenian imitations or Athenian inspired coins with a similarly inscribed aleph have been attributed by Haim Gitler and Oren Tal in their book on Philistian coinage to this coastal city. If this attribution is correct, this coin is probably one of the very first issues of Ascalon. Of note, there is already in the ANS collection an Athenian imitation of a similarly good late fifth century style (Fig. 4), but one marked on the obverse with the Semitic letter shin in roughly the same position as the aleph on the Galst coin, which Ya’akov Meshorer in ANS SNG 6 suggested stands for the Samaritan city of Shomron.

Figure 4. Silver tetradrachm possibly minted at Shomron ca. 400 BCE (ANS 1971.196.2, purchase).

The second coin I wish to highlight from the Galst donation is a bona fide Athenian tetradrachm (Fig. 5), but one from the latter half of the fourth century BCE.

Figure 5. Silver tetradrachm minted at Athens ca. 350 BCE with Paleo-Hebrew graffiti on the obverse and reverse (ANS 2021.20.10, gift of Joann P. Galst in memory of Jay M. Galst).

The coin itself is not so remarkable, but the graffiti on it is. Much like users today, ancient coin users from time to time wrote on their money for a variety of purposes. In the Near East this practice was especially widespread with the numerous examples of graffiti recorded on coins found in the region filling a volume published by Josette Elayi and Andre Lemaire. Generally, the graffiti are personal names, probably of those who at one time laid claim to the coin. Such is the case with this coin, which was published by Lemaire in Israel Numismatic Journal 15 (2003–2006), pp. 24–27. Lemaire determined that the graffiti on the obverse of the coin written in Paleo-Hebrew is the name Yawysih’al, a name not attested before this coin appeared, who Lemaire argues was the final owner of the coin before its burial. Notably, too, the reverse of the coin also bears the graffito shin, but the significance of this abbreviation is unknown.

The New Navy in New York

At the end of the Civil War, the United States had the second largest navy in the world after the Royal Navy of Great Britain, a result of the Union’s attempt to blockade Southern ports. By 1880, however, the US Navy had dropped to 12th place as Congress became increasingly preoccupied with westward expansion and was unwilling to fund a navy for which it saw little need or purpose. A change of perception brought about in part by German, British, and Spanish encroachments in the Americas, a violation of our self-proclaimed Monroe Doctrine, encouraged new spending to begin to modernize the fleet, to introduce a new steel and steam navy to replace the old wooden one.

Funding for three new steel cruisers was authorized in 1883 reflecting US naval doctrine at the time: in the event of war, the primary purpose of the navy would be to protect US seaborne trade while disrupting the trade of the enemy. Cruisers were therefore the ideal type of warship: comparatively lightly armored and gunned, but able to cruise alone at long distances in search of enemy cargo ships. By the end of the 1880s, the first generation of steel cruisers were in the water (USS Atlanta, Boston, and Chicago), all of which carried a complement of auxiliary sails to extend range, followed by a second and then third generation of sail-less cruisers, USS New York and Brooklyn, and together these ships represented the US Navy’s reemergence from its decades-long slumber (Fig. 1), which soon ignited an arms race with Germany to build the second most powerful navy after the undisputed leader, the Royal Navy.

Figure 1. Lithograph by Granville Perkins depicting in the foreground (l. to r.) the torpedo boat USS Cushing, the cruisers USS Newark and USS Chicago, and battleship USS Indiana (ca. 1894).

Although Congress was now funding new ships nearly every year, including the first-generation battleships, the Indiana-class, launched in the mid-1890s, there was still considerable push-back on the expenditure, resulting in ships that were not always up to European par. By the turn of the century, however, that was to change as the US Navy became the darling of the public eye having starred in several magnificent naval parades in New York harbor.

The first took place on April 27, 1893 in conjunction with the Columbian Exposition held in Chicago. In order to show off its new ships and nascent fleet maneuvering abilities, Congress authorized funds for a naval review similar to those sometimes hosted by the Royal Navy to be held at both Hamptons Roads and in New York harbor, and sent out invitations to the world’s navies. While the response was mixed, those that truly counted, the British, the Germans, the French, and the Spanish, responded by sending their latest cruisers to parade up the Hudson River to the newly built Grant’s Tomb alongside the new cruisers of the US Navy (Fig. 2).

Figure 2: Lithograph published by Kurz & Allison depicting the Columbian Naval Parade, April 27, 1893. The HMS Blake leads the line of foreign ships (black hulls), while the USS Baltimore leads the US line (white hulls).

No such international parade of ships had ever taken place in the US before and this certainly caught the eye of many illustrators and artists. Fred Cozzens, for example, a Staten Island-based artist, produced chromolithographic views of the naval review that were part of a larger set that appear in 1893 featuring nearly two dozen new US ships, including many still under construction (Figs. 3–4).

Figure 3. Lithograph by Fred Cozzens depicting the Columbian Naval Parade, the HMS Blake leads the line of foreign ships (black hulls), while the USS Baltimore leads the US line (white hulls) (1893).
Figure 4. Lithograph by Fred Cozzens depicting the USS Atlanta and Yorktown in parade dress (1893).

Cozzens’ set of 24 high quality prints were issued in a volume entitled Our Navy: Its Growth and Achievements, with commentary by a Lt. J. D. Jerrold Kelly, clearly meant to drum up support for naval expansion. In a similar vein, the US Navy sponsored the construction of the faux battleship USS Illinois, a full-sized replica made of staff, not steel, of one of the Indiana-class ships then under construction that was set alongside a pier at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago (Fig. 5). It proved to be a popular exhibit.

Figure 5: Postcard depicting the faux battleship USS Illinois (1893).

Not long after the closing of the Exposition, growing tensions between the US and Spain over Cuban independence finally erupted in the spring of 1898 when the USS Maine, an armored cruiser reclassified as a 2nd class battleship soon after launching, blew up in Havana harbor with great loss of life, where it had gone to show the flag for American business interests in Cuba (Figs. 6–7).

Figure 6. Token depicting the USS Maine (ANS 0000.999.38891).
Figure 7. Token depicting the USS Maine (ANS 1967.225.597).

At the time the cause of the explosion was determined to be a Spanish mine, just cause for Congress to declare war, although it may well have been an internal explosion as later naval historians have suggested. By the end of the summer, the New Navy had scored two remarkable and crushing victories over the Spanish navy, one under Commodore George Dewey leading the Asiatic Squadron in Manila harbor in the Philippines (May 1, 1898), and the other under Commodore William T. Sampson leading the North Atlantic Squadron near Santiago in Cuba (July 3, 1898). Both naval battles set the United States on its course to become an 20th century imperial power. At the Treaty of Paris (December 10, 1898), Spain ceded the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico to the US; both warring parties agreed to let the Cubans have their independence.

In August 1898, the squadron under Sampson aboard his flagship USS New York with his second in command Commodore Winifred Scott Schley aboard USS Brooklyn returned to New York harbor, home to the Brooklyn Naval Yard and the Tompkinsville Naval Station (Staten Island). Still in their wartime grey paint, the ships paraded up the Hudson again as far as Grant’s Tomb to the cheers of great crowds in boats and along the waterfront (August 26, 1898) (Fig. 8).

Figure 8. Lithograph by Fred Pansing depicting the USS New York and USS Brooklyn leading the naval parade past Grant’s Tomb, August 26, 1898.

An even bigger turnout, however, came little over a year later (September 29–30, 1899), when Dewey returned to New York from the Philippines aboard his flagship, the cruiser USS Olympia (today a museum ship at the Independence Seaport in Philadelphia), where he led both squadrons, now in peacetime white paint, in a momentous naval parade again to Grant’s Tomb (Figs. 9–11), an event that was also recorded in moving pictures by Thomas Edison.

Figure 9. Souvenir object from the naval parade on September 29–30, 1899 (ANS 1939.144.1).
Figure 10. Souvenir decoration from the naval parade on September 29–30, 1899 (ANS 0000.999.38764).
Figure 11. Victory float anchored near Grant’s Tomb, September 1899.

Dewey had already become the hero of the war, completely eclipsing Sampson and Schley, who were involved in a bitter, public dispute over which of the two had actually won the Battle of Santiago (Figs. 12–13).

Figure 12. Souvenir decoration from the naval parade on September 29–30, 1899 depicting Dewey and Schley as the victors over the Spanish navy (ANS 0000.999.38790).
Figure 13. The Sampson Medal (West Indies campaign medal) by Charles Barber (obv.) and George T. Morgan (rev.) depicting Sampson as victor (1901). Unissued production sample (ANS 0000.999.38837)

In Dewey’s honor, a temporary triumphal arch was also erected near Madison Square Park (Fig. 14).

Figure 14. Souvenir decoration from the naval parade on September 29–30, 1899 depicting the temporary triumphal arch for Admiral Dewey (ANS 0000.999.38746).

Such naval parades in New York harbor became more commonplace in the decades to follow and have continued to the present day with New York Fleet Week coinciding with Memorial Day, although this year, sadly, the events, like so much else, will be virtual.

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.

Numismatic Musing on the Staten Island Ferry

The half-hour that I spend every workday morning and evening on the ferry traversing the five miles of the Upper Bay of New York harbor from my home in Staten Island to Manhattan and back again affords plenty of time to enjoy the views, catch up on reading, or simply ponder the history of the City and its port. The Staten Island Ferry remains the best public transportation option around: free to all passengers and plenty of space to socially distance on the 300 foot-long, multi-decked vessels (fig. 1).

Figure 1. ANS Chief Curator Peter van Alfen on his way into Manhattan onboard his favorite Staten Island ferryboat, John F. Kennedy, launched in 1965.

Long before the consolidation of Greater New York City in 1898, Richmond County, as Staten Island is officially named, was home to farmers, oystermen, and wealthy Manhattanites who built hill-top estates as getaways. John Anthon bought such an estate in 1838 atop Grymes Hill. There he entertained friends and family including former New York mayor Philip Hone, who recounted in his famed diary an enjoyable day (July 8, 1839) spent with the Anthons. John’s son Charles (fig. 2), who was ANS President 1867–1870 and 1873–1883, also became enamored with Staten Island spending a great deal of his time exploring its hills, valleys, shores, and villages compiling notes for a history he intended to publish. He never did, but even after his father sold the estate, he still regularly took a ferry back to the island to continue his historical research. Charles Anthon’s historical notes now are in the collection of the Staten Island Museum.

Figure 2. The Charles Edward Anthon medal (1884) struck by the ANS in honor of its former President. ANS 0000.999.3361.

A mile or so to the north of Anthon’s place, but down on the waterfront, was the estate of John Quentin Jones, president of The Chemical Bank from 1844 to 1878, who wiled away a good number of hours in his Manhattan office signing bank notes (fig. 3). His Staten Island garden received praise in the September 1856 issue (p. 402) of the influential Horticulturist, a journal of rural art and taste founded by the father of American landscape design, Alexander Jackson Downing.

Figure 3. Fig. 3: 1859 dollar bank note issued by The Chemical Bank signed by John Quentin Jones. ANS 0000.999.12795.

Throughout the 19th century, the ferry service between Staten Island and lower Manhattan that Anthon and Jones regularly used lay in the hands of private companies, each of which generally serviced just one part of Staten Island. Before Robert Fulton’s launch of the steamboat Clermont in 1807, ferry service around the harbor moved at a snail’s pace entirely at the whim of wind and current, or the endurance of men rowing or poling the boats. In the best of circumstances a trip from Manhattan to Staten Island might have taken an hour or two; in the worst the better part of a day. Staten Islander Cornelius Vanderbilt (fig. 4) initiated his sailing ferry service on the east shore facing Manhattan in 1810 at the age of sixteen, but as quickly as his fortunes and the Robert Fulton-Robert Livingston monopolies on steam ferry service would allow, he switched over to paddlewheel ferries that could reliably make the trip in 30 minutes. The origins of Vanderbilt’s enormous fortune lay in this ferry service, which was lucrative enough to attract competition. Former New York governor and US Vice President Daniel D. Tompkins (d. 1825) was one such competitor; he owned a great deal of land in Staten Island including what is today Tompkinsville where he built a ferry landing a mile or two from Vanderbilt’s for the paddlewheel ferryboat Nautilus he partially owned. 

Figure 4. 1865 medal issued by the US Congress to honor Cornelius Vanderbilt for his 1862 gift of the steamship Vanderbilt to the Union Navy. ANS 0000.999.18300.

By the 1850s, as Vanderbilt moved on to other pursuits, George Law became a central figure offering an east shore ferry service using both Vanderbilt’s and Tompkins’ old landings through his New York and Staten Island Steam Ferry Co. (fig. 5), and was also buying up tracts of land formerly owned by Tompkins elsewhere along the eastern waterfront.

Figure 5. The Josephine launched in 1852 for service with the New York and Staten Island Steam Ferry Co. Drawing by Samuel Ward Stanton, a Staten Island-based marine artist, who lost his life in the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912.

Law had other interests as well that lay well beyond Staten Island. With two other financiers he founded the U.S. Mail Steamship Co. in 1848, which transported passengers and cargo from New York to Aspinwall (today Colón), Panama, where they crossed the isthmus to board the San Francisco-bound ships of the Pacific Mail Steamship Co., founded by William Henry Aspinwall, who incidentally also owned an estate on Staten Island. In 1852, U.S. Mail launched the sidewheel steamship S.S. George Law, which five years later was renamed the S.S. Central America. On a return trip to New York in 1857, S.S. Central America foundered in a hurricane off the coast of North Carolina. The loss of the ship and its cargo of tons of Californian gold spurred the financial Panic of 1857. Since the shipwreck’s discovery in 1988 the legal battles over the recovery of the gold, including coins, have been endless (fig. 6).

Figure 6. 1852 gold 5-dollar coin recovered from the wreck of the S.S. Central America. ANS 2000.1.3.4.

Yet another maritime tragedy haunted George Law. In 1871, his company’s ferryboat Westfield suffered a catastrophic boiler explosion that killed scores and injured hundreds as the boat was docking in Manhattan. This event dramatically underscored just how awful the service had become after the Civil War with its decrepit and unreliable boats, something Staten Islanders had already been grumbling about for years. Law sold his interest in the ferry in 1873.

Salvation for ferry costumers eventually came some years later, or so it seemed, with a Canadian named Erastus Wiman, who settled on Staten Island in a house a short distance from John Q. Jones’s old estate. Wiman sought his own fortune in a scheme to combine the east and north shore ferry services under the banner of the newly formed Staten Island Rapid Transit Co. (SIRT) and build a new landing half way between the east shore Tompkins and north shore New Brighton landings, which would also serve as a railroad terminal. The key to Wiman’s scheme was connecting SIRT’s terminal to a major railroad by bridging Arthur Kill, the narrow waterway between Staten Island and New Jersey, thus providing an alternative train-ferry service for travel between Manhattan and Philadelphia, which at the time the Pennsylvania Railroad all but monopolized. Wiman knew the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad was looking for a toehold in New York and so formulated a plan to realize his scheme with the help of two major players: George Law and Robert Garrett.

Law still owned the waterfront land that Wiman needed for his new ferry landing. He eventually convinced Law to sell by promising, among other things, to name the area, tucked in between Tompkinsville and New Brighton, St. George, the name it still has today. Garrett, on the other hand, was the new president of B&O, a position he held for only a few years after the death of his father in 1884. Robert’s brother Thomas Harrison was the well-known Baltimore-based collector. After T. Harrison’s untimely death in a boating accident in 1888, his coin collection, one of the largest and most significant of the time, was inherited by his teenage sons Robert (an 1896 Olympian) and John, a future U.S. ambassador and Trustee of the ANS. Most, but not all of this collection was serendipitously saved from the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904 since Robert the Olympian had previously arranged for its temporary loan to Princeton University (fig. 7). Following his brother John’s death in 1942, the collection was bequeathed to Johns Hopkins University, which eventually sold it in a series of noted auctions in the 1970s and 1980s, while many of John’s papers along with those of his father T. Harrison came to the ANS’s archives.

Figure 7. Peace Medals from the Garrett collection partially melted and fused in the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904. ANS 1923.154.1.

On December 16, 1885, Erastus Wiman feted T. Harrison’s brother Robert at a special dinner at the Pavillion Hotel, Staten Island’s finest located near the future ferry landing, to celebrate their partnership (fig. 8).

Figure 8. Menu cover from the dinner Erastus Wiman hosted for Robert Garrett on December 16, 1885 (New York Public Library).

By the time Robert stepped down as B&O president less than two years later, things were well underway: B&O held a majority stake in the SIRT, two new sophisticated steel-hulled ferry boats were being built in Baltimore, one named Robert Garrett (fig. 9), the other Erastus Wiman, and the Arthur Kill bridge was nearing completion.

Figure 9. Drawing by Samuel Ward Stanton of the ferryboat Robert Garrett, launched in 1888.

The success of the plan, however, lay in Wiman’s ability to generate passenger ticket sales. In order to attract riders to Staten Island he launched a new venture, the Staten Island Amusement Co., that built a large waterfront stadium in St. George next to the ferry landing for baseball games and large-scale spectacles. Imre Kiralfy’s spectacular The Fall of Babylon was presented there with over 1,000 performers.  Wiman also came to an agreement with William F. Cody (fig. 10) to set up his Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show farther up the rail line closer to the Arthur Kill bridge at a spot that came to be known as Erastina, named after Wiman. Between 1886 and 1888 nearly two million people took the ferry to Staten Island to see the shows.

Figure 10. 1892 medal depicting William F. Cody (“Buffalo Bill”). ANS 0000.999.32332.

For a while Wiman’s plan was such a success that it drove off some of the wealthy Manhattanites who had long sought refuge on the island. Anson Phelps-Stokes, for example, whose family had since 1868 enjoyed their hilltop estate in New Brighton soon sought new refuge in tony Newport, Rhode Island. As Anson noted in his autobiographical Stokes Record (p. 240):

I found my wife had been disgusted with some conditions at Staten Island, where the opening of the Fall of Babylon show and cheap excursion places had caused the ferry-boats to be overcrowded and had brought a rough element…we never returned to live at Staten Island.

Once re-settled, Phelps-Stokes, in the wake of the financial panic of 1893, wrote a popular book, Joint Metallism, the first edition appearing in 1894, that offered a solution to the gold vs. silver monetary standard problems then plaguing the economy and politics in the US, which came to a head in the 1896 Presidential elections.

By that time Wiman had been disgraced. The 1893 panic helped bankrupt him, but soon he was also charged with forgery; in October 1894 his namesake ferryboat was renamed Castleton as a damnatio memoriae. In 1899, B&O bought out the faltering SIRT, including its ferry operations. Sadly, however, B&O’s management also left a lot to be desired. When two B&O operated ferries collided during the evening rush of June 14, 1901, resulting in the Civil War-era ferryboat Northfield sinking with over 1,000 passengers on board, nearly all of whom were saved, Staten Islanders demanded change.

The solution ultimately was for the City to completely take over B&O’s ferry operations, instituting the City’s first, but not last, publicly owned and operated mass transit service. By 1905, the City had launched five new ferryboats, each named after the five boroughs of the recently consolidated Greater New York. The ferryboat Richmond was the only one of the five to be built in New York. Appropriately enough its keel was laid down on Staten Island at the Burlee Dry Dock Co., where it was launched on May 20, 1905 (fig. 11).

Figure 11. Souvenir medal commemorating the launch of the ferryboat Richmond, May 20, 1905. ANS 000.999.8240.

By October 25th all the new boats were ready and a celebration was held to officially initiate the new service, which was attended by Alderman Reginald S. Doull, a Tammany stalwart. Doull later donated the decoration he wore that day to the ANS (fig. 12).

Figure 12. Decoration worn by Reginald S. Doull for the October 25, 1905 celebration of the City’s new Staten Island ferry service. ANS 0000.999.8251.

The Collier Prize in Ancient Numismatics

Self-Portrait after Hans Memling (2006)

The American Numismatic Society, with the support of Carole Anne Menzi Collier, is pleased to announce The Collier Prize in Ancient Numismatics, a new award that will be offered for the first time in 2021. This substantial monetary prize will be awarded biennially to the best single or multi-authored book, catalogue, or online digital work in the field of ancient numismatics (650 BCE–300 CE). The winner(s) will receive prize money of $20,000, to be split equally in the event of a multi-authored work. For the initial prize eligible publications will be limited to those works published in 2019 or 2020. A jury of five senior numismatists will be appointed biennially by the President of the American Numismatic Society, which will include a senior ANS curator. For the initial Prize the jury is expected to announce its selection in late 2021. The winner(s) will be invited to an award ceremony to be held—we hope—in person at the ANS’s headquarters in New York City. To apply for the Collier Prize, please fill out the application form, which can be found on this webpage and forwarded it to the Prize secretary, Dr. Peter van Alfen. The deadline for applications is January 15, 2021.

The artist in his studio in 2012. Image: Magpeye Photography.

Prof. James M. Collier

The Prize is named after the late Professor James M. Collier and commemorates the life of a remarkable man, an ardent lover of the history and culture of Europe and the Ancient world, and a passionate collector of ancient Greek and Roman coins. Prof. Collier was born on Halloween in 1943 in Bellingham, Washington, in the Pacific Northwest, where he pursued his early academic training, graduating from Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) (Tacoma, Washington) with a Bachelor of Arts in History in 1965. After graduating from PLU he worked for the Boeing Corporation as an engineer. He was seconded to Washington D.C. on the Minuteman project, where his office was located across from The National Gallery. For two years he spent every lunch hour at the Gallery and came to realize his real love for art and art history. Returning to Pacific Northwest he attended the University of Oregon and graduated with a Master of Arts in Art History in 1970. Thereafter, he moved to the Midwest to pursue a PhD in Art History at the University of Michigan, which he completed in 1975. He was appointed an Assistant Professor in the Art History Department at Auburn University (Auburn, Alabama), where he eventually was tenured and became department chair. Over the course of his academic career, he lectured widely and published on the Italian Renaissance and Early Netherlandish perspective, which had been the subject of his doctoral dissertation, entitled Linear Perspective in Flemish Painting and the Art of Petrus Christus and Dirk Bouts.

Giacomo (1999) and Carolina (1999)

While a PhD student he assisted Professor Marvin Eisenberg with the University of Michigan’s Sarah Lawrence Summer Program in Italy. It was in Florence that summer that he met his wife Carole Anne in the Sacristy of Sta Croce. Traveling the world was to remain an important part of his life. He visited over 84 countries. In 2012 he sailed with a crew of three on a 50-foot sailboat from Capetown, South Africa to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, covering over 4,000 nautical miles across the South Atlantic. A motor racing enthusiast, his travels also included frequent trips to the Indy 500 and following the Formula One circuit.

Galleon (1995)

It was also during his time as a graduate student in Italy that his interest in ancient coins was fully reignited, as well as his love for Rome and the Classical World. His interest in coins had started when he was seven years old when his father returned from a business trip to New York City with six ancient coins that awaited him under the Christmas tree. He collected for the next 65 years; the last coin, an aureus of Nero, was logged into the collection a week before his death in 2015. Collecting ancient coins became the foundation of his broad fascination with art, history, and culture. His collection of almost 1,000 Greek and Roman coins gave him immense pleasure, continually inspiring him by their beauty and depictions of famous monuments and portraits of Hellenistic and Roman rulers. While the Collier Prize at the ANS commemorates his love of ancient coins, his love for Rome and the Classical World has also been commemorated by the Collier Scholarships at the American Academy in Rome, which allow students from Oregon, Michigan, and Alabama to attend the Classical Summer School thereby extending his passion for the Ancient World to future generations. He was a greatly admired and beloved teacher who brought dozens of students to Rome to share with them the wonders of the ancient world.

Reconstruction of Brunelleschi’s Baptistry Experiment (1980). Image: Museo Opera Del Duomo Florence.

Essentially a self-taught painter, Prof. Collier took up painting full time in 1987, when he joined Carole Anne in New York City to improve his skills at the National Academy of Design, where he attended the Program in Painting from 1988 to 1989. Already by that point he had published and exhibited his work in a number of venues. His interest in perspective and its application in the visual arts has deep roots. Even as a child in kindergarten his teacher noted that he had “an unusual awareness of perspective compared to his peers.” In 1980, for example, he began to combine his academic interest in perspective with painting by reconstructing the first painting in single point perspective: Filippo Brunelleschi’s lost painting of the Florentine Baptistry. The painting was exhibited in the Biennale in Venice in 1986 in the Italian pavilion and now is in the permanent collection of the Museo del Opera del Duomo in Florence where the original experiment was conducted in 1425. His series of paintings “Eccentric Views of Italian Architecture” reflect that lifelong interest in perspective.

Florence Cathedral (2008)

In 1990, Prof. Collier and Carole Anne moved to the Netherlands, where he had been an American Field Service exchange student, eventually taking up residence and establishing a studio in a seventeenth-century canal house on Amsterdam’s famous Keizergracht. Although Prof. Collier continued on occasion to lecture on art history and to work as an academic, including a stint in 1993 as a Smithsonian Institution Art Historian in Florence, he was until the end of life a self-sufficient artist. His work was shown in solo and group exhibits in various parts of the U.S., the Netherlands, and Italy, and is represented in private collections in the U.S., as well as in the Netherlands, Italy, England, Norway, and Thailand.

Twelve Houses (2008)

His paintings, a selection of which are illustrated here, cover a range of topics, including portraits, dogs, views of Amsterdam, Italian architecture, ships, and fantasies (more of his paintings can be seen on a website devoted to his work). Prof. Collier was inspired by the world of visual reality. He strove to reflect a selective view of things based upon careful empirical observation, which was never the result of artificial non-observational means such as photographic projection. As Prof. Eisenberg noted on Collier’s solo exhibition of Italian architectural paintings at the Italian Cultural Institute in Amsterdam in 1992, “James Collier’s eye is both lens and filter. He grasps both the large and the small, the essential shape and the minute inflection of light, color, and texture. His power to see is what the American poetess Marianne Moore calls ‘piercing glances into the life of things.’” His work displays not just his acute attention to detail and the play of light and shadow, but also the joy he took in the medium of painting and its long history, most apparent in the portraits he did of himself and Carole Anne.  

The British Art Medal Society Confers its President’s Medal to the ANS

The work of Danuta Solowiej, the President’s Medal was commissioned by the British Art Medal Society as part of its 25th anniversary celebrations in 2007, and first awarded in 2009.

Founded in 1982 by then British Museum curator Mark Jones and ANS Saltus Medal awardee Ron Sutton among others, the British Art Medal Society (BAMS) has for nearly four decades been one of the strongest and most highly regarded proponents of the art medal. Since the demise of the US-based Society of Medallists in 1995 after a 65-year run, BAMS is currently the only existing Society to commission art medals, which are made available to its membership, on a regular and on-going basis. The model for this type of art medal Society, in fact, stretches back to the 19th century, when the Société des amis de la médaille française (1899–1920) was founded in Paris by art critic Roger Marx, a tirelessly vocal champion of the medal as a stand-alone art form. Marx’s  Société subsequently inspired similar Societies around the globe, including the New York City-based Circles of Friends of the Medallion (1908–1916) and Society of Medallists (1930–1995). Since 1982, BAMS has issued nearly 250 individual medals produced by some of the finest contemporary sculptors, engravers, and medallists today, including many Saltus Award winners.

BAMS does a great deal more than issue medals, however. Its annual publication, The Medal, is a model for high quality research on and illustration of medallic art from its genesis in 15th-century Italy to the present day, while its Student Medal Project, New Medallist Scheme, and Marsh Award for the Encouragement of Medallic Art, have continued to encourage artists and others from around the world to engage with this rather unique art form.

Since 2009, BAMS has also conferred on an annual basis its highest honor, the President’s Medal, to individuals and organizations that have demonstrated a longstanding commitment to the study of historical medals and/or the production of contemporary medals. Previous recipients include the British Museum, Saltus Medal awardee Bogomil Nikolov, ANS benefactor Stephen K. Scher, and The Simmons Gallery, which over the years has helped the ANS acquire a full set of BAMS medals. The 2020 President’s Medal has been awarded to the ANS. The citation reads:

The Society has been the foremost supporter of the study of medals in America since its formation in 1858. Its activities embrace many aspects of numismatics but one of its outstanding promotions has been the presentation of the J Sanford Saltus Award for distinguished achievement in the field of the art of the medal, created in 1913. This was initially awarded to American based artists but, in 1983, was extended to include artists from other countries. Since then it has honoured some of the most outstanding practitioners of the art of the medal in many countries, thus increasing the attention and prestige of this art form. Alongside its extensive educational and profile-raising activities, ranging from regular seminars, lectures and podcasts alongside publications and exhibitions, the Society makes regular purchases of BAMS medals to enhance its collections and recently purchased the significant archives of the Medallic Art Company to preserve them for posterity.

We are truly honored to receive the President’s Medal. Although we were not able to attend the award ceremony held in London on October 11, 2020, because of the ongoing pandemic, we were able to attend virtually, where Executive Director Gilles Bransbourg offered a few remarks of gratitude. In addition, we recorded a short video to express our deep appreciation for this award, which can viewed here.

The Atlantic International Club, 1864

ANS 1967.225.23
ANS 1967.225.23

Among the more unusual and curious objects in the ANS’s collection is a silver medal (ANS 1967.225.23) 56.8 mm in diameter that was donated to the Society, along with ca. 3,000 other medals, in 1967 by the Wadsworth Athenaeum, which had received the medals as a bequest from J. Coolidge Hills in the 1920s. The obverse of the medal depicts the paddlewheel steamship RMS Persia and is inscribed “The Atlantic International Club” along with the dates of a voyage from New York City to Liverpool between April 20th and 30th, 1864. The reverse of the medal lists the “Members” of the Club including A.H. Schultz, Pres., Robt. Nicol, Treas., C.L. Derby, Theodore C. Weeks, Lt. Col. W.S. O’Connor, J.W. Bates, and the “Honorary Member,” Henry D. Cooke. There is no record of such a Club existing in either the US or England so it is probable that this medal commemorates an ephemeral association of a half dozen or so gentlemen who perhaps met for the first time and formed friendships during their ten-day Atlantic crossing in April 1864.

RMS Persia
RMS Persia

For roughly twenty years between the end of the 1830s and the end of the 1850s, paddlewheel steamships had superseded sailing packets as the fastest and most luxurious means of crossing the Atlantic, before they in turn were replaced by propeller driven steamships. Launched in 1856, RMS Persia was, for a brief period, the Cunard line’s flagship and held between 1856 and 1863 the Blue Riband, top honors for the fastest east bound and west bound Atlantic crossings. By 1864, Persia’s glory days were waning and it would be just a few more years before she was taken out of service. Nevertheless, Persia was still an impressive ship and offered passengers exceptional service on a preeminent trans-Atlantic line. Presumably, the members of the Club were reasonably prominent and well-to-do (club-)men, who arguably were not traveling in steerage but rather paid the full $80 first class fare on Cunard (ca. $1,400 today) and could afford to commission and strike such a medal afterwards. But who were they?

To date, I have been able to find few clues in various sources like British and American directories about Theodore C. Weeks, Robert Nicol, or Lt. Col. O’Connor, or indeed which military–US, British, or Irish?–he might have served. With the Civil War raging at the time of this crossing, it is unlikely that a Confederate Lieutenant Colonel would board a ship in New York City! The New York City Directory for 1864 provides clues about the identity of some of the others. The Club’s president might have been Alexander H. Schultz, who lived on West 25th Street, and perhaps the namesake of a steam tugboat launched in New York City in 1850 that was later converted into the warship USS Columbine as part of the effort to blockade the Confederates. Justus W. Bates was a broker with offices on Hudson Street and a home on Spring Street. It is unclear if the honorary member of the Club, Henry D. Cooke, is the same fellow of that name who was based in Washington, D.C. (later he was the first Governor of the District of Columbia) co-running a financial operation with his brother Jay that was profiteering off of the War. Chauncey L. Derby, with an office on lower Broadway, was an art dealer, who had been instrumental ten years earlier in acquiring the third version of Hiram Powers enormously popular statue “The Greek Slave” for the Cosmopolitan Art Association.

Hiram Powers, The Greek Slave
Hiram Powers, The Greek Slave

In other words, few, if any of these men left a significant mark aside from this token presumably made to commemorate a memorable voyage they took together on RMS Persia in the spring of 1864 and gave their small group the grand name of the “Atlantic International Club”, perhaps a bit tongue-in-cheek.

Antigonid Coins Online

Ruling over parts of Asia Minor and Macedonia starting with Antigonus I Monophthalmus (the “One-Eyed”, r. 306­–301 BC), the Antigonid dynasty of Hellenistic kings produced some of the most attractive and important coinages of the late 4th through 2nd centuries BC. Curiously, however, Antigonid coinage has not attracted a great deal of concentrated scholarly attention since Edward T. Newell’s work on it roughly a century ago. That situation now is rapidly changing as a number of Greek scholars, notably Sophia Kremydi, ANS Visiting Scholar in 2009, and Katerina Panagopoulou, have offered recent monographs on the coinages of selected Antigonid dynasts. Kremydi’s 2018 volume, ‘Autonomous’ Coinage under the Late Antigonids (Melethmata 79) provides up-to-date overviews of the coinages of Philip V (r. 221–179 BC) and Perseus (r. 179–168 BC), while Panagopoulou’s about-to-be-published volume, The Early Antigonids: Coinage, Money and the Economy (ANS 2020), looks closely at the coinages from Antigonus II Gonatas (r. 277–274; 272–239 BC) down to Antigonus Doson (r. 229–221 BC).

As part of this broader push to re-evaluate Antigonid coinage, we are pleased to announce the launch of Antigonid Coinage Online (AGCO). As part of the National Endowment of the Humanities funded Hellenistic Royal Coinages project, AGCO is a new research tool that will provide wide access to the coins listed in various print typologies of the coinages produced by the Antigonid dynasts who ruled Macedonia from 306 to 168 BC, including eventually the current work by Kremydi and Panagopoulou. In the meantime, however, the first version of AGCO, launched in mid-July 2020, features only the coinage of Demetrius I Poliorcetes (r. 294–287 BC) based on the typology published in Edward T. Newell’s 1927 volume, The Coinages of Demetrius Poliorcetes with cross-references as well to those types in the name of Alexander III of Macedon catalogued by Martin Price in his 1991 volume The Coinage in the Name of Alexander the Great and Philip Arrhidaeus. While the coins of Demetrius in the ANS collection serve as the core of the current searchable catalogue, links to coins (many of which are unique) in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the British Museum, the Munzkabinett der Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, and other public and private collections, are also available.

As always, a number of people have been involved behind the scenes in the production of AGCO besides myself and Ethan Gruber, our Director of Data Science. Andrew Meadows, former Deputy Director of the ANS and current Professor of History at Oxford University, did much of the heavy lifting in converting Newell’s 1927 typology into a digital format, while Lauren Tomanelli, a PhD candidate in archaeology at the University of Arizona, was instrumental in helping with numerous other tasks as well. Our thanks to them both. We would also like to thank our colleagues at the Münzkabinett in Berlin, Dr. Karsten Dahmen, and at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Dr. Julien Olivier, for their cataloguing work that has allowed us to link up examples of coins from the collections they oversee.

For those interested in the technical details of creating this and other ANS online resources, please see Ethan’s Numishare blog.

A New Monograms Function in Hellenistic Royal Coinages

One of the more enigmatic aspects of ancient Greek coinage, and Hellenistic coinage in particular, are the many symbols and monograms that appear on them. Already in the early fifth century BC, some coin producers, such as the exiled Samians in Zancle in Sicily, began to put letters and symbols on their coins that served functions beyond just identifying the political authority, like the abbreviated ethnic, ΑΘΕ, that appeared on early Athenian coinage identifying the Athenians as the producers of the new owl coinage.

ANS 1944.100.24122

In the case of the Samians at Zancle, the sequence of letters on different issues, Α, Β, Γ, etc., clearly were not ethnics, but probably meant to distinguish the individual issues.

ANS 1963.106.1

The most convincing arguments to date suggest that these letters represent the sequential years of production, e.g., Year 1, Year 2, Year 3, etc.

Over time Greek coins became increasingly “chatty” with more letters and symbols appearing on them, usually on the reverse alongside the ethnic or name of a king or magistrate.

ANS 1944.100.41905

While many of these letters are clearly era dates, some of them, especially the combined letters we call monograms, are not. Their function along with the multitude of additional symbols—everything from representations of animals to cups to weapons to plants, and so on—are far more perplexing. Some symbols we believe are “mint marks” serving much the same function as ethnics, identifying the authority or place of production, such as a rose on some posthumous Alexander types indicating that they were produced on the island of Rhodes under the authority of the Rhodians.

ANS 1944.100.32241

Some of the symbols that we cannot so easily link to a specific political authority or place of production may have served other functions, identifying, for example, a lower-level authority responsible for the production of the that specific batch of coinage, or the source of the metal, for example. Similar arguments are made for many of the monograms.

In order to truly understand the function of these symbols and monograms, we need a comprehensive electronic database of all of them, something which would include the estimated 10,000 separate monograms and thousands of additional symbols that appear on Greek coinage from early 5th century down to the end of the Hellenistic period. Such a comprehensive database would allow us to observe with greater accuracy where and for how long specific monograms and symbols were used, which in turn might offer some insight into their specific function. A number of researchers independently have been toiling away on monograms and symbol databases for specific subsets of coinage. For example, our colleagues in Berlin, led by Ulrike Peter, working the Coprus Nummorum have been building an important database of monograms and symbols appears on coins produced in ancient Moesia Inferior, Thrace, Mysia, and Troas. Dr. Peter along with other members of the Greek steering committee of, who have been working on other databases, have been holding discussions on how to combine all efforts into a larger universal database.

At the ANS, our efforts towards this larger goal have, for the moment, focused on the coins covered by our Hellenistic Royal Coinages project: the coinages (in the name) of Philip II of Macedonia; the coinages (in the name) of Alexander III the Great; Ptolemaic coinages; and Seleucid coinages. With the help of Mark Pyzyk, Lauren Tomanelli, and Oliver Hoover, we have been systematically digitizing all of the monograms appearing on these coins—nearly 5,000 individual monograms—creating scalable and printable svg files for each one. Individual IDs are then created for each monogram, which is then linked to the type record in HRC for the coin type on which the monogram appears, whether in PELLA, Seleucid Coins Online, or Ptolemaic Coins Online.  In the meantime, I have been identifying the Greek letters that to my eye at least appear in these monograms trying to be as inclusive as possible. All of our work now has added a new dimension of functionality to HRC.

When users select the “Symbols” tab at the top of the PELLA landing page, for example, they are presented with images of the first 24 of the 1,207 monograms appearing on the coinages (in the name) of Alexander. Users can continue to search visually for the monograms that interests them, or can parse by selecting constituent letters. Once the desired monogram has been located, clicking on the image of the monogram takes them to a separate page that includes metadata information, a map of where coins produced with that monogram were struck, and links to examples of coins in PELLA with that monogram. For the symbols that appear on the coins, such as a rose, users can employ the symbol search function locating on the left-hand side of the browse screen, specifying where on the coin the symbol appears.

Currently, the monogram functionality is limited to just PELLA and PCO, but soon it will be added to SCO as well. Our ultimate goal remains to combine these three separate monogram and symbol tools into one that is much larger including not just our work on the monograms and symbols appearing on Hellenistic Royal coinages, but the work of others on different groups of Greek coinage as well.

For more information on this new monogram functionality please see the blog of our Director of Data Science, Ethan Gruber.