Category Archives: Islamic

New Years and Old Years

This essay is being written on December 31, 2021, to be posted on January 4, 2022. It seems like a suitable moment to think about calendars and years and how people define them.

The presence of year dates on coins is tremendously useful to the numismatist—probably more useful than the dates generally were to the governments that decided to put them on the coins, usually for administrative control. And numismatists are well aware that many different dating systems are found on coins from antiquity, from the Islamic world, and from Asia, ranging from regnal years to local eras to major religion-based calendric eras, with many other variations as well. There is much that could be said about these, but for now I will concentrate on a much narrower topic.

For modern people raised in cultures of European derivation, medieval and early modern Europe can be a mix of the familiar and the unfamiliar, and perhaps on the latter side is the existence of many different systems of dates on coins. Examples include the era system of medieval Spain, the regnal years on papal coins, or the occasional use of Islamic dates on coins issued by Christian rulers.

Gold maravedí of Alfonso VIII of Castile, dated Hispanic Era 1226, equivalent to 1188 CE (ANS 2014.9.2, purchase).
Silver testone of Pope Paul III, dated to year 12 of his reign, equivalent to 1545–46 CE (ANS 1937.146.304, bequest of Herbert Scoville).
Gold tarì of Roger II of Sicily, dated to Hijri year 535, equivalent to 1140–41 CE (ANS 1922.96.19, gift of Edward T. Newell).

Even the Dionysian era (the Common Era or Anno Domini dates that are now widely used around the world) presents variations that may surprise the unwary numismatist who seeks to correlate coins and historical events. Like other kinds of measures, the measurement of time varied from one locality to another. Perhaps surprisingly, there seems to have been general agreement on the days of the Julian calendar, but different places opted to start the year on different days. Thus, although everyone in medieval Europe might agree that a particular day was January 4, that day was considered to belong to different years in different places.

The Gregorian calendar adopted throughout Europe between 1582 and 1926 not only shifted the date by several days (10 days in the 1500s, 13 days in the 1900s) and adjusted the calculation of leap years; it also standardized the beginning of the year on January 1. This date was chosen in emulation of the term of office of the consuls of ancient Rome, but before the adoption of the Gregorian calendar, January 1 was a distinctly unusual starting point for the year.

The most common start of the year in medieval Europe was March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation exactly 9 months before Christmas. Thus, the day that in present-day Gregorian reckoning was January 11, 1522, was known in medieval England as January 1, 1521, because 1521 continued through March 24. However, there was some disagreement as to whether the birth of Jesus should be in 1 BC or in AD 1, and thus which year began on a given March 25. For example, Gregorian April 4, 1595, was March 25, 1595, in Florence, but March 25, 1596, in nearby Pisa. Other countries preferred to start the year on December 25 instead of March 25, such as Arezzo (near both Florence and Pisa). The French monarchy began the year on Easter Sunday, meaning that the year began on a different date from one year to the next, and years could vary in length by several weeks.

These small differences can be very important for understanding dated historical documents: for example, when compiling prices recorded by medieval Florentine and Pisan merchants, one must be aware that the same day belonged to different years in the two cities. For the most part, these differences are of less importance with regard to the coins themselves, not least because most medieval and early modern European coins are not dated in any system.

Occasionally, however, one finds dates that offer considerable potential for confusion if one is not aware of calendric differences. The so-called gun money issued in the name of James II during the war that followed the Glorious Revolution of 1688 is dated not only by year but also by month. The incautious numismatist might imagine that a coin dated February 1689 was issued seven months before a coin dated September 1689. However, England had not yet adopted the Gregorian calendar, and February 1689 was actually five months after September 1689.

A “gun money” shilling of James II of Ireland, dated September 1689 (ANS 1945.23.27, purchase).
A “gun money” shilling of James II of Ireland, dated February 1689 (ANS 0000.999.44407).

A Caffeinated Tour of the ANS Collection

In the world of humorous coffee shop signs, there is one that has always rung particularly true for this numismatic devotee: “I Don’t Drink Coffee To Wake Up, I Wake Up To Drink Coffee.”

For many, coffee and tea drinks are mere caffeine delivery systems with varying levels of real or artificial sucrose. For others, they are magical brews sent down from on high, and possess an elevated status on par with the finest Grand Crus of Burgundy and the rarest of Scottish single malts. The truth of course lies somewhere in the middle, but after coming across a coffee-themed Civil War merchant token ultimately destined for the American Numismatic Society’s eBay store, it begged the question as to what other coffee or tea-related objects reside in the Society’s vast collection. Let us embark, then, on a kind of “world tour” as it were, to sample a few of the coins, tokens, and medals linked to the consumption of coffee or tea (sometimes both on the same object). These are presented with limited commentary, to illustrate the kind of broad searches that can be performed within the American Numismatic Society’s MANTIS database.

The Civil War merchant token that inspired this post. Note the similarity of the merchant’s name to that of the author’s, although there is no (known) familial connection to the issuer of this token.

Islamic Department

Given that both coffee and tea were not introduced to Europe until the end of the 15th century and early 16th century respectively—interestingly, both sources of caffeine made landfall in Europe just decades apart—it is not surprising that a cursory search of the Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Departments do not yield any numismatic specimens with which this blog post is concerned. Suffice it to say, we are starting our journey in the Islamic Department, fitting when considering that the first historical accounts of coffee have its origins situated in present-day Yemen. That said, there are several fascinating (if not apocryphal) stories about coffee’s birthplace belonging to Ethiopia instead, which the reader is highly encouraged to explore on their own. Tea, of course, is just as popular as coffee (perhaps more so) in many Middle Eastern countries, so it is equally fitting that the first object on our numismatic tour is actually a bronze Iranian tea house token circa 1945–1956, an interesting piece that the author is keen to learn more about.

East Asian Department

Our next stop is the East Asian Department, more specifically China, the undisputed birthplace of tea, or Camellia sinensis. Here we also have a tea house token, this time in a copper alloy, oval-shaped, and uniface, with the reverse having an incuse impression of the characters on the obverse. It was issued by the Chung Ch’eng Tea House. Also featured is a wonderful tea brick produced by the Chao Li Qiao Brick Tea Manufacturing Company, circa 1875–1925. Although they are one of the few types of edible currencies known to circulate, the tea bricks that are still produced today have lost their role as a commonly accepted medium of exchange. According to the passage on brick tea in Robert D. Leonard’s Curious Currency, tea bricks came in various sizes, and mostly served the areas of eastern Tibet, Mongolia, and Siberia throughout the 19th century, and even into the early 20th century. Additionally, some tea bricks were of better or lesser quality depending on where they were intended to circulate, and whether the bricks contained Russian Cyrillic inscriptions or Chinese ones.

South Asian Department

If the reader is noticing a trend with respect to tea dominating the tokens found in the Islamic, East Asian, and now South Asian Departments, this is a function of the importance that tea plays in this region of the world, although one should not underestimate the popularity of coffee in countries such as Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, as well as in some Pacific Island nations (e.g., Hawaii) and Australia. The following bronze token was produced by the Lungla (Sylhet) Tea Co. Ld. Lungla Division, circa 1879–1900, and likely played a similar role as the previous tokens, either as advertising pieces, or tokens that could be exchanged for goods.

Modern Department

Crossing the threshold into the Modern Department, we see a shift to coffee-themed tokens, although there is no shortage of tea-related objects in MANTIS as well. First is a copper alloy token dated 1671 featuring the bust of an Ottoman Turk and “Solyman” on the obverse, almost certainly alluding to Suleiman I ‘The Magnificent’ (1494–1566), the longest-reigning Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, despite this token being issued by “Wards Coffee House” more than 100 years after the death of Suleiman I. Next is a copper alloy token dated slightly earlier (1669) issued by Charles Kiftell to advertise their “Coffee House In Cheap Side” by displaying a hand pouring a fresh cup of coffee into an eagerly-awaiting cup. What better call-to-action could a proprietor pick to advertise a drink that was (purportedly) declared fit for Christians to drink by Pope Clement VIII (1536–1605) a mere 69 years earlier in 1600—although the reader is encouraged to take this story with a grain of salt, or perhaps a pinch of sugar in the case of coffee. Lastly we have an undated but definitely modern-era aluminum token for an aptly named “Coffee Bar” in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada—a purely utilitarian token versus one meant for advertising, as this piece was issued by the Saskatchewan Government Insurance Office.

ANS 1951.194.169
ANS 1967.159.836

United States Department

Representing the United States, highlighted here are two different tokens—although they are almost medal-like in their artistry—produced for the Union Coffee Co. Limited of New York in the 2nd half of the 19th century. One token, in white metal with proof-like surfaces, displays the head of a woman on the obverse, while the other token, in hard red rubber, boasts the bust of U.S. President John Adams. The “Alaroma” and “Bunola” on the obverse of both tokens refer to the two most popular brands of coffee that the Union Coffee Company produced. The company was a prolific issuer of tokens, and the hard rubber or vulcanite types featuring different U.S. Presidents were often released in multiple color varieties.

The final object representative of the United States is also representative of Canada, as it is a paper advertisement for a Buffalo, New York “Coffee House” pasted onto the obverse of an 1859 Canadian large cent—not wholly unsurprising given Buffalo’s proximity to the Canadian border. Also interesting is the volume of information the business chose to include; it’s evident they wanted to make the most of the large cent’s real estate by advertising the prices of no less than 10 items on this repurposed coin-token.

ANS 1936.18.10
ANS 1934.42.1

Latin America Department

Latin America is of course very well-known for their coffee production, so it should come as no great shock that several paper notes from Latin American countries contain printed engravings detailing various facets of coffee farming and production. On the reverse of this 1965 paper 5-Colon note of Costa Rica, a figure is seen drying unroasted “green” coffee beans in the sun, one of many steps required to get coffee from a farm to a consumer’s cup, a process wherein the final product often ends up many thousands of miles away from where it began.

Medals Department

Rounding out our “world tour” is another object from Latin America, but more specifically from the Medals Department. It is a simple but elegant medal featuring a coffee leaf, coffee flower, and coffee “cherry” (the fruit that encapsulates the two “beans” found in each cherry) along with the inscription “Uruguay-Brazil 1903” on the obverse, and three flowers and a cherry on the reverse.

Treasure (Rhode) Island? Henry Every and Yemeni Coins found in New England

1837 woodcut depicting Henry Every receiving the treasure from the Ganj-i-Sawai onto his ship, the Fancy.

In a remarkable shift away from the incessant drum-beat coverage of COVID-19 developments,  on 1 April 2021, the Associated Press ran a story about a handful of small silver coins from seventeenth-century Yemen found by metal detectorists in New England and the theory advanced by Jim Bailey that these coins actually represent pirate plunder. In fact, he argues that they are the remains of plunder taken by Henry Every (also written as “Avery”) in one of the most famous pirate actions of the seventeenth century—the taking of the Mughal ship Ganj-i-Sawai (“Exceeding Treasure”) while returning from Mecca to Surat in 1695. The story was quickly seized upon and embroidered by online news outlets over the week that followed. This is perhaps not overly surprising. The readiness with which the Associated Press has picked it up and other news outlets have run with it is clear testimony to the story’s popular exciting qualities. Indeed, if one listens carefully one can almost hear Johnny Depp somewhere in the distance asking us if we are “savvy” to the whole thing. However, as with most astounding discoveries and anything even remotely endorsed by Capt. Jack Sparrow, it is usually a good policy first to sit down, take a deep breath, and then take stock of the actual evidence to determine whether it can really support the weight of the claims piled on top of it. 

Qasimid silver khamsiya of al-Hadi Muhammad III dated AH 1105 (AD 1693/4) similar to coins found in New England. ANS 1971.229.3.

But first, a little background that seems to have been missed. Although the Associated Press piece reports that Bailey “found the first intact 17th-century Arabian coin in a meadow in Middletown [in 2014],” he was actually preceded by the hosts of the National Geographic Channel’s Diggers, who discovered one in 2013 and sought the assistance of the ANS in identifying it. The identity of the coin was subsequently published and it appeared in the Diggers episode “Mystery Coin,” which aired on 4 March 2014. Bailey’s find coin as well as several others were published in the August 2017 issue of the Colonial Newsletter along with his theory associating them with Every and the plunder of the Ganj-i-Sawai. Inexplicably, the Colonial Newsletter as the original publication is not mentioned in the Associated Press item, but is bizarrely misidentified in many of the secondary media reports as “the American Numismatic Society’s research journal” or the nonexistent Journal of the American Numismatic Society, etc.). The American Numismatic Society’s research journal is actually the American Journal of Numismatics (AJN)  but Bailey has never published there.

Although the case for associating finds of coins in New England with Every and the Ganj-i-Sawai can be read in full online thanks to the availability of the full run of the Colonial Newsletter on the Newman Numismatic Portal, his argument rests primarily on three main pieces of evidence:

1. In 1695, when the Ganj-i-Sawai was seized by Every and his piratical colleagues after departing from the Yemeni port of al-Makha (Mocha), the ship is known to have contained thousands of silver coins.

2. After political and economic fallout from the plunder of the Ganj-i-Sawai caused King William III to issue a proclamation calling for the capture of the pirates responsible, some (Bailey suggests 72) of Every’s associates made their way to the American colonies (especially Rhode Island and Carolina) with their loot in the hope of evading the long arm of the law.  

3. Of four Yemeni coins found in Rhode Island and Massachusetts that can be dated with any accuracy, none post-date the capture of the Ganj-i-Sawai.

The first two facts indicate how coins plundered from the Ganj-i-Sawai could have come to New England, but do not prove that they did, or that if they did, the coins in question must have been Yemeni khamsiyat (corrupted in contemporary seventeenth-century English as comassees). The case is very problematic because it begins with the assumption that the coins had to have come from the Mughal ship and pays little serious attention to the possibility that they could have been brought back by American merchants involved in the East African slave trade, the Yemen coffee trade, or by pirates other than Every and his accomplices. Bailey argues in the Associated Press piece that “there’s no evidence that American colonists…traveled to anywhere in the Middle East to trade until decades later” (i.e., after the plunder of the Ganj-i-Sawai) and yet in his Colonial Newsletter article the “overlapping business interests of piracy and the East African slave trade” (p. 4607) are noted with respect to the New York ships Margaret and Nassau in 1699 (only four years after the Ganj-i-Sawai incident) and Every and his colleagues are suspected to have come to Newport, Rhode Island, under the guise of East African slave dealers (pp. 4601–4605)—an odd thing to do if this trade did not yet really exist. Even if we set all of this aside, whatever contextual evidence there may be for any of the found Yemeni coins cannot tell us precisely when they arrived in New England or in whose pockets.

Ottoman silver kuruş of Mustafa II dated AH 1106 (AD 1694/5). ANS 1993.11.12.

As much of the silver on the Ganj-i-Sawai was said to have been that of “Turkish merchants,” one might have expected it to have included many Ottoman kuruşlar—large silver coins introduced in in 1688 that were roughly equivalent to European thalers—that would have been far more appropriate for large-scale trade with Mughal India than low-denomination comassees. And even if large quantities of khamsiyat were taken by the pirates, as Bailey himself notes, they were at pains right away to convert as many of the silver coins as possible into more easily transportable gold. John Dann, one of Every’s accomplices, was later arrested in Ireland, given away by the large numbers of gold chequins (perhaps Ottoman sultanis, Safavid Persian ashrafis, or Mughal mohurs) sewn into the lining of his coat! There also may have been some conversion into Spanish silver, judging from the bags of reales that another of the pirates had in his possession when apprehended in Ireland.

Ottoman gold sultani of Mehmed IV dated AH 1078 (AD 1667/8). ANS 1997.65.4870.

The third fact presented by Bailey is of extremely dubious value, not only because the sample size is much too small to be meaningful, but because it may not be truly factual. With one exception, all of the khamsiyat listed by Bailey are issues of the Qasimid imam Muhammad III ibn Ahmad (1686–1717). When dates are not visible (or present), the coins of this Yemeni ruler can be dated to three chronological periods based on his titulature. Issues naming him as “an-Nasir” were struck in the period 1687–1693, those naming him as “al-Hadi” in 1693–1697, and those naming him as “al-Mahdi” in 1697-1718. Therefore, if all the Yemeni coins found in New England were struck prior to the plunder of the Ganj-i-Sawai, there should only be issues in the name of “al-Nasir” and “al-Hadi.” However, Bailey includes two coins of “al-Mahdi” (one of which is his discovery coin) in his list of New England finds (p. 4582, Table 2). These are almost certainly errors for “al-Hadi” which is very clear on the discovery coin (p. 4582, Table 2, no. 1), but illegible on the second specimen (p. 4582, Table 2, no. 7). However, the close similarity of the latter’s reverse legend to a third coin, clearly struck in the name of “al-Hadi” (p. 4582, Table 2, no. 3), suggests that Bailey’s No. 7 is also an “al-Hadi” issue.  

Qasimid silver khamsiya of al-Hadi Muhammad III found by Jim Bailey. As published in the Colonial Newsletter 164 (August 2017), p. 4575, Fig. 1.

Bailey’s discovery coin is critically important for the question of potential connection to Henry Every and the Ganj-i-Sawai because it is the only coin recovered with a visible date. In his article, this date is interpreted as AD 1693, which fell in January–August AH 1104 and September-December AH 1105, but he does not indicate which Hijri year was actually read on the coin. The year AH 1104 is normally written ١١٠٤ in Arabic while 1105 is written ١١٠٥ (see the ANS specimen above for this date and note the difference between the final numeral there and that on Bailey’s coin). Neither of these forms seem to closely match the numbers that appear on the coin. Upon close inspection, the date on Bailey’s coin appears to read ١١٠٨ or AH 1108, the Hijri year that extended from 31 July AD 1696 to 20 June AD 1697 (I am grateful to Dr. Jere Bacharach for confirming the AH 1108 reading of the date). If the date is correctly read here as AH 1108, the coin was struck too late to have been carried off from the Ganj-i-Sawai. Every and his pirates captured and plundered the Mughal ship on 7 September 1695 (i.e., at the beginning of AH 1107) whereas if the coin bears an AH 1108 date, as seems to be the case, at the very earliest it could have been struck only shortly before the proclamation of 8 August 1696 that began the manhunt for Every and his associates. It should go without saying that an AH 1108 date is an insurmountable problem for Bailey’s popular theory.

The preceding discussion seems to scuttle the idea of closely pinning seventeenth-century Yemeni coins found in New England on the fallout from one of the most famous acts of piracy of the period. The celebrity status that Bailey’s theory would lend to the coins must walk the plank, but perhaps casting the infamous glory of Henry Every and the Ganj-i-Sawai into Davey Jones’ locker should not be cause for disappointment. The stardom that Bailey has attached to Yemeni coins with New England find contexts actually obscures the real importance of the coins, which should be linked to other reported finds of Mughal and related Islamic coins in North America. They all serve to underline the fact that the early American colonies did not exist in a vacuum, but rather belonged to global networks of trade and cultural interaction (and piracy), and that enterprising individuals could and did profit from these networks if they were willing to undertake the great dangers of sailing half a world away.

Mahmoud Mukhtar’s Egypt’s Reawakening As Seen on a Banknote

Egyptian banknote, 25 piastres, 1978
Egyptian banknote, 25 piastres, 1978

The history of images depicted on Arab banknotes is a study of visualizing modern nationalism. Egypt, for instance, issued its first banknotes on April 3, 1899 while it was still under British occupation (1882–1952). Over the course of the twentieth century to date, Egyptian banknotes showed images either of famous Egyptian mosques or of Pharaonic sculptures. The 2010 Egyptian Banknote is emblematic of this combination of a religious landmark and antiquity. On one side, the note depicts the mosque complex of Sultan Hasan, and on the other it shows Great Sphinx of Giza built during the Old Kingdom. The ANS also has several earlier examples of related paper currency (2011.47.6). While Egypt continued to modernize, its Islamic and Pharaonic histories not only animated the nation’s landscapes, but also defined its identity.

Egyptian banknote, 100 pound, 2010
Egyptian banknote, 100 pound, 2010


Egyptian banknote, 1 pound, 1960 (ANS 2011.47.6).

Mahmoud Mukhtar’s Egypt’s Reawakening (Nahḍat Miṣr) is an especially rare image of a work of art found on a modern Arab banknote. According to art historian Alex Dika Seggerman’s research, Mukhtar (1891–1934) first sculpted a model of Egypt’s Reawakening in 1920 as a commemorative work for the landmark 1919 revolution of Egypt. Mukhtar made the model in Paris for the 1920 Salon of French Artists. Egyptian students visiting Paris were moved by its symbolism and came back to Cairo to campaign for its large-scale public commission. The sculpture made of locally sourced granite was eventually installed outside of Cairo’s main train station in 1928, and subsequently moved outside of Cairo University in 1955.

Mahmoud Mukhtar, Egypt’s Reawakening (Nahḍat Miṣr), granite

In Egypt’s Reawakening a strong Egyptian peasant woman (fallāḥa) opens her veil to listen to the cries and hopes of the Egyptian public.[1] With her steady hand she—the woman as nation—is connected to the symbolic historical artifact. This uplifting image of strength appeared on the 25-piastre (qirsh) banknote that had a short-lived issue from 1967 to 1976. The first issue of this currency (1967–1969) also featured a 50-piastres note with the al-Azhar mosque on one side and a statue of Ramses II on the other, consistent with the mosque/Pharaonic combination that dominates most of Egyptian currency.

While the gesture to Mukhtar’s nationalist sculpture on an Egyptian banknote may be seen as remarkable, its Pharaonic imagery assimilates it into the broader canon of designs for paper money. Although the depictions of Ramses II or the Great Sphinx are of great ancient sculptures, they are mediated through their modern designs appearing on paper money codifying them as part of a nationalist vocabulary. Mukhtar’s sculpture materializes these forms with another layer of mediation by adding a reminder of the present, the peasant woman, and demonstrates how powerful imaginings can become a poignant national symbol when evoking the past as a vision for the future.

[1] For an erudite analysis of this sculpture see Seggerman 2014.

For further reading on Mukhtar see:

Seggerman, Alexandra Dika. 2014. “Mahmoud Mukhtar: ‘The first sculptor from the land of sculpture.” World Art 4:1, 27–46.

ibid. “Mahmoud Mokhtar.” Mathaf Encyclopedia of Modern Art and the Arab World.

Cash and Carry

Figure 1. Chinese spade money, c. 770–475 BC.
Figure 1. Chinese spade money, c. 770–475 BC (ANS 1937.179.14763).

The American Numismatic Society cabinet contains a remarkable collection of Chinese coins and currency ranging from early bronze spade money (Fig. 1) and so-called “ant-nose” coins derived from cowrie shells down to more recent issues of the People’s Republic of China. Within this long parade of money, a watershed moment took place in the late third century BC when Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of a unified China (220–210 BC), introduced a new cast bronze coinage to be used throughout his empire. The coins, known in Chinese by their denomination ban liang (“half tael”), were circular in shape, like the contemporary coins of Greece and Rome, but included a square central hole that permitted them to be strung on cords for easy storage and transportation in an age before pockets (Fig. 2). Over the centuries the basic form of the ban liang was used and reused for new imperial coinages of different names and denominations like the wu zhu (“five-zhu”) and tong bao (“circulating currency”). As European trade with China expanded in the Far East in the seventeenth century, such coins came to be known in English as cash—a term derived from kaasu or kasa, South Indian (Dravidian) words for “money” often referring to a coin of small denomination.

Figure 2. Han Dynasty bronze ban liang, 206–126 BC.
Figure 2. Han Dynasty bronze ban liang, 206–126 BC (ANS 1937.179.30060).

While cash coins are interesting in their own right, not only in their role as currency, but also in Chinese tradition as talismans for the living, medicine for the sick, and assistance for the spirits of the dead. They are also remarkable as part of a growing corpus of Eastern coins brought to the shores of the United States and Canada early in the histories of these countries, largely unnoticed by the numismatic community. There is always something exciting about a coin discovered in a wrong or unexpected place. When this happens there is almost invariably a good story that goes with it.

Chinese cash coins have been recovered from Indigenous archaeological sites of the maritime fur trade period (1778–1850) along the northwestern coast of North America stretching from Alaska through British Columbia and into the contiguous states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. The coins were already being traded to Indigenous peoples of British Columbia by the late 18th century, as indicated by a meeting between the Spanish explorer Jacinto Camaño Moraleja and the important Nuu-chah-nulth (Nootka) chief Taglas Cania in 1792. On this occasion, Taglas Cania is reported to have arrived at the meeting wearing his finest apparel, which included a coat and trousers adorned with cash coins similar to the Qing (Manchu) Dynasty tong bao depicted below (Fig. 3). These were attached to his clothing like buttons, but seem to have been intended to announce the presence of their wearer by the pleasant tinkling sound they made when they struck against each other as he moved. The coins and their sound enhanced the status of the wearer, visually illustrating the chief’s important trade connections and providing him with his own theme music on occasions of significance. It has been claimed that the Tlingit peoples of Alaska sewed numerous cash coins to leather coats and vests not only as status symbols, but to serve as body armor in their conflicts with other tribes and Russian traders in 1802 and 1804. However, the military aspect of such clothing has been disputed, with some recent commentators arguing that it was primarily used as ceremonial garb. A number of Tlingit cash-encrusted jackets and vests can still be seen in public collections such as those of the American Museum of Natural History and the Canadian War Museum.

Figure 3. Qing Dynasty bronze tong bao. Tainan mint, 1736–1796.
Figure 3. Qing Dynasty bronze tong bao. Tainan mint, 1736–1796 (ANS 1986.40.503).

It is unclear exactly how long before the arrival of Caamaño the Indigenous peoples of the north west coast of North America developed their taste for Chinese cash, but 1788 seems most likely. In the spring of this year, the English captain John Meares sailed from the Chinese port of Guangzhou (Canton) with a complement of Chinese crewmen, and reached Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island. There he established a post for trade with the indigenous Nuu-chah-nulth peoples despite lacking permission from the East India Company to do so. It has been suggested that Meares’ Chinese crewmen may have begun trading cash coins to the Nuu-chah-nulth when they discovered the attraction of Indigenous peoples to articles made from copper—copper and brass pots had long been staples of European trade with the First Nations of North America—and that this chance trade became regularized in subsequent visits by English traders. On the other hand, it is just as possible that Meares purposely included cash coins in his cargo when he sailed out of Guangzhou in 1788 with the intention of trading them to Aboriginal peoples as trinkets in return for much more valuable seal skins.

Figure 4. Portrait of a Wishram (a Columbia River people of Oregon) bride wearing headdress decorated with Qing Dynasty tong bao. Photographed by Edward Curtis, c. 1910.
Figure 4. Portrait of a Wishram (a Columbia River people of Oregon) bride wearing headdress decorated with Qing Dynasty tong bao. Photographed by Edward Curtis, c. 1910.

Chinese cash coins remained a popular item of clothing decoration among the Indigenous peoples of the north western North America into the 20th century (Fig. 4), although by this time the supply brought by maritime fur traders was supplemented by coins carried by the large numbers of Chinese immigrants who came to work on the great transcontinental railways built in the United States and Canada in the 1860s and 1880s, respectively. Cash coins seem to have been preferred for adornment in part because they came ready for stringing and because they were obtained fairly easily. With a value equal to about one tenth of a U.S. cent, Chinese cash had virtually no use as money in North America. Nevertheless, when cash coins were not available, other coins, like U.S. dimes and half dimes (Fig. 5), were pierced by for the same decorative purpose.

Figure 5. United States silver half dime. Philadelphia mint, 1838.
Figure 5. United States silver half dime. Philadelphia mint, 1838 (ANS 1931.109.26).

It is worth noting that the custom of wearing coins as clothing adornment connects the Indigenous peoples of northwestern Canada and the United States not only to the Far East through their use of Chinese cash, but indirectly also to the Middle East. There many Islamic cultures had a tradition of piercing coins to be worn as part of a bride’s costume (most typically her headdress) on her wedding day. The ANS collection includes hundreds of examples of coins that have been pierced, some of which almost certainly received their holes in this wedding context (Fig. 6). It is from this custom that the term sequin (an English corruption of zecchino, the Italian name for the famous Venetian gold ducat and its imitations) enters modern parlance as the small, shiny disk-like decorations most frequently found sewn on to certain kinds of glamorous women’s apparel.

Figure 6. Pierced Safavid gold ashrafi of Shah ‘Abbas III. Mashhad mint, 1735/6.
Figure 6. Pierced Safavid gold ashrafi of Shah ‘Abbas III. Mashhad mint, 1735/6 (ANS 1922.216.979).

Coins found outside of their expected areas of circulation and put to unexpected uses are always a source of great interest. The case of Chinese cash in northwestern coastal North America is no exception, as the coins document the long-distance maritime trade between European traders operating from Chinese ports and Indigenous peoples and highlight the cross-cultural uses of coins as part of clothing. The modern states of Canada and the United States have prided themselves on being cultural mosaics and melting pots, respectively. The more attention paid to foreign money found in North America reveals these terms to be relevant just as much to coins as to people.


A New Lecture Series: “Money Talks: Numismatic Conversations”


The ANS curators and fellows are pleased to announce a new lecture series, “Money Talks: Numismatic Conversations.” In this monthly interactive lecture series, appropriate for all levels of coin collectors and enthusiasts, attendees will view relevant coins, banknotes, or medals while learning about the broader world of numismatics. Light meals will be served, and Q&A sessions will follow. To ensure these events are as accessible as possible to all, most will take place on Saturdays at the ANS headquarters in New York City. On a few occasions, these Numismatic Conversations will take place at other venues.

During Saturday Numismatic Conversations at the ANS, the Society will be open from 12:00 noon to 4:00 pm, so you have the opportunity to view items in our collections or library.

When taking place at the ANS, the fee will be $20 for ANS members, $50 for non-members. Pricing for other venues will be determined.

The series kicked off at the ANS on February 11 with lectures by Peter van Alfen, Gilles Bransbourg, and Ute Wartenberg on “The Origins of Money.” This lecture  considered the beginnings of money and its various guises including cut silver in the ancient Near East, early electrum coinage of Asia Minor, early bronze objects, bars and heavy coins in Italy and the spread of cowries in the Indian Ocean area, Eastern Africa and South Asia, including China.

Next Lecture: March 11

The next lecture in the series will be on Saturday, March 11, at the ANS at 1:00 pm, by Vivek Gupta, “The Beginnings of Islamic Coinage.” This talk will introduce members to the beginnings of Islamic coinage in the seventh century and its vast trajectories within the Arab lands and beyond. It will begin with an in-depth survey of its Byzantine and Sasanian precedents and will provide a basic outline of “Arab-Sasanian” and “Arab-Byzantine” types. Members will also learn about the styles of Arabic calligraphy that were used on early Islamic coins. Members will be able to view and handle fine examples of the ANS’s Islamic holdings with Assistant Curator, Vivek Gupta.

Lunch will be served at 1:00 pm, followed by the lecture at 2:00 pm, and Q&A at 3:00 pm. The ANS will remain open from 12 noon until 4:00 pm. RSVPCatherine DiTuri, (212) 571-4470 #117

Highlights of upcoming lectures (full brochure to follow):

Saturday, May 6

Gilles Bransbourg, “Signs of Inflation.”

Dr. Bransbourg will look at how inflation translates into coinage debasement and banknotes bearing large denominations, from ancient Rome to modern Zimbabwe.

Saturday, May 6, 2017, at 1:00 pm. American Numismatic Society. Lunch served at 1:00 pm, followed by the lecture at 2:00 pm, Q&A at 3:00 pm. The ANS will remain open from 12 noon until 4:00 pm.

David Hendin, “Ancient Jewish Coinage.”

Mr. Hendin will discuss the origins and production of ancient Jewish Coinage from the Persian era until the time of the revolts against Rome.

Date: TBA. Venue: American Numismatic Society.

Alan Roche, “The Art of Photographing Coins.”

Mr. Roche will consider the various aspects involved in the production of high resolution images of coins and banknotes. A hands-on photographic demonstration will be included.

Date: TBA. American Numismatic Society.

Mark Tomasko, “Representations on US Banknotes.”

Date: TBA. American Numismatic Society.

Jonathan Kagan, “Numismatic Book Collecting.”

Mr. Kagan will talk on collecting early books, particularly those with a focus on numismatics.

Date: TBA. Venue: American Numismatic Society.

Speakers: TBA “Wine and Money.”

In this lecture we will consider the strong relationships between coinage, banknotes, and wine throughout history and cultures.

Date and Venue: TBA.

Please mark your calendars and plan on joining us for these informal programs in a relaxed and social environment.

Reserve your spot!

For further information, please contact:

Catherine DiTuri, (212) 571-4470 #117

Gilles Bransbourg, (212) 571-4470 #156


Husam al-Din Timurtash. ANS 1917.215.1394

One of the really wonderful things about numismatic study is the way that coin types frequently look back to what came before. People are naturally conservative about the appearance of their money and find it easier to put faith in the value of coins that have the backing of tradition and public sentiment as well as of the issuing authority. Thus throughout the history of coinage, old typological friends, some of whom may have seemed long lost have had an uncanny way of coming back, sometimes even after very long intervals.

ANS 1967.143.1
Najam al-Din Alpi. ANS 1967.143.1

For centuries after the death of Alexander the Great, kings and cities copied his widely circulating tetradrachms with the types of Herakles’s head and seated Zeus. So closely were the types associated with Alexander, that the image of Herakles soon became treated as his portrait in the guise of Herakles and continued in use long into the time of the Roman Empire. From time to time Roman emperors explicitly restored old and trusted denarius types while some of the towers depicted on Medieval deniers may ultimately take their inspiration from the ubiquitous “camp gate” types of the late Roman Empire. Somewhat more recently, the laureate head and seated female figure on the state coppers of Connecticut struck from 1786 to 1788 are suspiciously similar to the portraits of King George II and III and seated Britannia reverse of the well-recognized British halfpenny.

Antiochus VII Sidetes. ANS 1944.100.76618
Antiochus VII Sidetes. ANS 1944.100.76618

Perhaps to be counted among the most remarkable of these reuses and resurrections of earlier types are the copper dirhams struck by the Turkoman rulers of northern Mesopotamia in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries AD. Despite the general tendency to avoid figural types on Islamic coins for reasons of religion, the Turkoman coins are rife with images—many of which seem to be modeled on ancient coin types.

ANS 1917.215.968
Nur al-Din Muhammad. ANS 1917.215.968

One might argue (and I would) that two of the most interesting Turkoman types based on ancient models are the bronze dirhams struck by the Artuqid Turkoman dynasties of Mardin and Hisn Khayfa which take the royal portraits of Seleucid tetradrachms as their prototypes. At Mardin, the coins of Husam al-Din Timurtash (AH 516–547/AD 1122–1152) and his son Najam al-Din Alpi (AH 547–572/AD 1152–1176) take the portrait issues of Antiochus VII Sidetes (138–129 BC) as their model while at Hisn Khayfa, the coins of Nur al-Din Muhammad (AH 571–581/AD 1175–1185) seem to look to tetradrachms of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (176–165 BC) or Antiochus V Eupator (164–162 BC).

Antiochus IV Epiphanes. ANS 1944.100.75243

Exactly why these Seleucid types (and other ancient types) were resurrected under these Artuqid Turkoman rulers remains rather mysterious. As the Seleucid presence had disappeared from Mesopotamia already in 130 BC (coincidentally with the death of Antiochus VII) and the Turkomans employed a wide variety of ancient coin motifs, the answer cannot have been to illustrate continuity with the past (except in the very broadest of terms) and thereby express legitimacy. Indeed, the portrait of Antiochus VII was doubled for another issue of Najam al-Din Alpi. This double portrait has been interpreted as a representation of the astrological sign Gemini, which would then clearly indicate that the image of Antiochus VII was not used by the die engravers under Alpi and Timurtash because they knew who he was or the ancient kingdom that he represented, but merely because his appearance was suitable to their own numismatic purposes and they had one of his coins ready at hand as a model. The coins of antiquity came out of the ground in the farmers’ fields and building projects of the Middle East just as easily in the 12th century AD as they do today.

ANS 1961.179.86
Antiochus V Eupator. ANS 1961.179.86

The Artuqid coins with Seleucid prototypes are an interesting example of the direct impact that ancient coins could have on much later coinages—even those of rulers who were not direct heirs of the Greco-Roman cultural tradition. At the same time, they are also a remarkable footnote in the early history of Seleucid numismatic study. As late as the 1790s the Antiochus VII type of Husam al-Din Timurtash was still occasionally included in European collections and antiquarian numismatic works dealing with the Seleucids out of ignorance that the reverse legend was Arabic and significantly postdated the end of the Seleucid dynasty in 63 BC, let alone the reign of the king depicted on the obverse.