Category Archives: Numismatic History

Newell and the ANS as the US Enters the Great War

Edward T. Newell
Edward T. Newell

On January 12, 1918, ANS President Edward T. Newell delivered his President’s Address at the ANS’s 60th Annual Meeting nine months after the United States entered the Great War. 100 years after that commitment, Newell’s address still resonates with hope and an eye towards a collaborative future. Reading the full text of the speech below, one is struck by “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Collecting, funding, staffing, and housing the ever-growing collection remain core issues, as does outreach and the sharing of knowledge through lectures and publications like the American Journal of Numismatics. The speech details an awakening of the Society where the world has taken note of it, marking a turn towards global citizenship and leadership in numismatics. Even in the midst of uncertain times, the future of the ANS remained bright to Newell whose confidence in the Society and its staff was unwavering in the face of financial hardship. He would be pleased at how far the Society has come in realizing his vision.

Text of the Speech

This is the sixtieth annual meeting of the American Numismatic Society, and of this fact you are doubtless all sufficiently aware. If I had little to say to you this afternoon, this would make a splendid text upon which to dwell at length to the edification of all concerned. I feel, however, that in recent years the Society has had a new birth, and it is never the fashion of youth, in its strength and enthusiasm, to look back; the goal of its desires lies ever forward.

Since the last annual meeting the entry of our country into the world war has taken place, and it is self-evident how this is bound to profoundly affect the Society’s outlook, its activities and their results. Already the effects have been felt profoundly in nearly every department of our work, but, on the whole, the impetus given by the events within our Society of the year 1916 is still carrying us along. Outwardly, therefore, you will not have noticed many changes directly due to this great war.

As you may remember, one of the most impassioned pleas made to the Society at the last annual meeting was the need of a Secretary, who must be a person of unusual attainments and ability to fill a post as important as it is difficult. Within a short time of that meeting the Governors made the happy discovery that this versatile person was actually residing in our midst. Mr. Noe was appointed to the onerous post, and, to the satisfaction of all, accepted. The fortunate results to the welfare of the Society have been patent throughout the last nine months.

The year 1917 has been one of intense activity within our building and in our particular sphere. This has undoubtedly been felt by all of you and has also reacted upon such of our members who are unable to keep in personal touch with us. The ever-increasing number of letters of inquiry, of encouragement, and also, needless to say, of protest or friendly criticism, clearly reveals this state of affairs; while the encouraging fact that the number of visitors to our building has doubled in the last twelve months shows that the outside world is beginning to take cognizance of our existence. This the staff in our building is fostering in every way possible, and it is to be hoped that our members will not fail to do their share in making us known throughout the length and breadth of the land.

The campaign which was inaugurated last year to cause to gravitate towards our building important collections of coins has brought about the highly gratifying results you all know, and which will be more fully described in the Curator’s report. In this field we can certainly point to the past year with pride, and with a feeling that the precedent thus happily set will undoubtedly make it easier for us in the future to secure important collections as may become available. The snowball has started on its way.

The Society has also been successful in commencing a policy of establishing contact with the Universities and learned institutions of the country. As a result we have had more inquiries and visitors from institutions interested in the scientific aspect of numismatics than ever before. Several of the Archaeological Societies of America have pressed us for lectures on our subject. Certain serious workers have not only directed many inquiries to our doors but have already, or are expecting in the near future, to pursue certain lines of research beneath our roof.

Another class of people the Society has established contact with in the past year are the medallists and sculptors of America. The field is large, and we have only commenced operations, but our tentative efforts are beginning to show results. Our Secretary will give you more details in his report, but let me call your attention particularly to the cordial letter just received from Mr. Paul W. Bartlett, President of the National Sculpture Society, accepting on behalf of that Society our invitation to hold a meeting in our building this coming month.

The Committee on Publication of Medals has had a most successful and important year. As you will see by their report, a precedent has now been established by which our Society may take a leading part in the publication or distribution of noteworthy civic medal issues a result which must ledound considerably to our credit and wider recognition.

As stated before, this is a time of national stress and danger. The opportunities of a numismatic society to enter into active war service are not great or even very evident. Nevertheless, such an opportunity did present itself a short time ago, when Dr. Hornaday of the New York Zoological Park approached us with a view to our co-operating with and actively supporting the Hulbert Bill now before Congress. The purpose of this bill and the success attending our efforts to secure the necessary financial backing will be detailed in the Secretary’s report.

This very much restricted statement of a few of our activities of the past year suffices to show that the Society is progressing as well as present circumstances will allow. It has been a year of the most rigid economy, because of the times through which we are passing. It is self-evident to all that ours must now be a policy of making things tight within the Society during the present storm, and particularly of preparing ourselves, in every way possible, for the great days that are bound to come the moment the world is again at peace. With this in mind, the present seemed to offer an excellent opportunity to put our coin room in the state of greatest efficiency.

This could only be accomplished by installing a uniform system of coin cases which would embody the latest devices, and at the same time provide the greatest economy of space. After prolonged work on the part of our Curator, plans for such cases were perfected. Certain of our members who were impressed by the imperative need for this constructive policy within our building responded generously to the appeal made to them, and six and a half steel cases have been ordered, which will just fill our coin room and furnish space, roughly speaking, for well over 120,000 coins and medals.

Thus far I have touched only upon new activities and the encouraging feature of our situation. Unfortunately, as is so often the case, there is also a reverse side to our shield which calls for infinite care and foresight, as well as such suggestions and assistance as the members of our Society can give. The rigid economy of which I have just spoken has enabled us to come through this past year with a very small deficit. In previous years our deficit usually amounted to thousands of dollars, which had to be met each time by special subscriptions. In 1917 more has been accomplished in every department than ever before, with a final deficit of about two hundred dollars only; but it must be remembered that we were assisted by the liquidation of some assets stored within our building, such as old publications, past numbers of the Journal, unsold medals and the like. These have now been converted into money, but the prospect of realizing to any great extent on such as remain is practically nil. What has been rigid economy will this coming year have to become uncompromising penury. This will necessarily have a terribly retarding effect upon the progress of which we are all so proud.

The fund placed at our disposal for the publication of Volume 50 of the Journal and the 1916–17 Proceedings is now practically exhausted, and we have nothing wherewith to issue the next number of the Journal. This does not take into consideration special publications, of which we have at least two available. Such is the impossible situation of a Society which ostensibly stands for the spreading of numismatic learning at home and desires to be on, at least, an equal international standing with similar institutions abroad.

The many and varied activities which have made this past year such a successful one in the history of the American Numismatic Society have also proven how unfortunately short-handed the staff is in the presence of the many calls made upon it. This state of affairs threatens to render somewhat s perfect and less effectual the outcome of such important activities as may be undertaken in the near future. Even this past year, which can record so many things successfully accomplished, must also show many things that had to be left undone, either because of lack of funds or because of the lack of necessary time on the part of the staff. It is the things not done, or only half done, that have always been the bane of this Society.

I do not dwell here upon the reverse side to our shield in any sense as a discouragement, but that the Society as a whole may fully appreciate the conditions. If we were to contemplate only one side of a situation to the complete exclusion of the other, one’s judgment would necessarily become warped, and, therefore, as in life, there is always a certain mingling of the unpleasant with the pleasant; it is vital to take cognizance of both. The staff is indeed immensely sanguine concerning the possibilities of the immediate future, in spite of the war and the general financial situation. At the commencement of the year just past the difficulties ahead loomed up exactly as large, and yet the Society has been able not only to meet some of the most pressing needs, but has won through with the minimum of financial loss. With this in mind the future holds no terrors for those immediately responsible for the success of the Society’s activities, as they know from past experience that they can definitely rely on a whole-hearted support from the members of the American Numismatic Society.

EDWARD T. NEWELL

Maundy Money

4d silver groat, London, 1660–1662 (ANS 1963.6.3).

Today is Maundy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter), which for Christians signifies the day on which Jesus washed the feet of his disciples (John 13:1–17) while instructing them to love one another (John 13:34). It is also the day of the Last Supper.

Maundy Thursday also has numismatic significance by way of the Royal Maundy, a religious service in the Church of England. Current practice holds that the Queen (or a royal official) gives out two purses of coins to elderly recipients as symbolic alms. A red purse holds money for the poor to buy food and clothing, while a white purse contains the special Maundy money. Recipients in the contemporary service are chosen based on their service to their communities around England. This tradition of the distribution of alms in England by a monarch dates back to the reign of King John (r. 1199–1216) who in 1213 gave 13 pence each to 13 poor men in Rochester, Kent in a Maundy ceremony.

In the early tradition of Maundy money, the coins used were circulated and not marked as Maundy alms. This changed in 1752 when the Royal Mint began to produce specialized sets of Maundy money based on coins not struck for circulation. These sets included one silver coin each in denominations of 1d, 2d, 3d, and 4d. The obverses sport the bust of the reigning monarch, and the reverses (since 1822) feature the denomination topped by a crown and encircled by an oak wreath.

There are 430 specimens of Maundy money in the ANS’s collection, one of which is illustrated in MANTIS (pictured above). This 4d silver groat, minted in London between 1660 and 1662 under the authority of Charles II, was traditionally called a “Maundy piece,” this coin exemplifying the Simon issue of 1660–1662. In actuality, this coin was part of a mintage for circulation.

According to the Royal Mint, “Maundy money as such started in the reign of Charles II with an undated issue of hammered coins in 1662. The coins were a four penny, three penny, two penny and one penny piece but it was not until 1670 that a dated set of all four coins appeared. Prior to this, ordinary coinage was used for Maundy gifts, silver pennies alone being used by the Tudors and Stuarts for the ceremony.”

The ANS library holds 94 publications on the Maundy tradition.

The distribution of Maundy money changes each year. In 2017, Queen Elizabeth II will give away the coins in Leicester Cathedral.

 

 

Happy Birthday John Reilly!

Frances Reilly card front sm
Homemade birthday card from John Reilly’s daughter

A while back I stumbled onto this great homemade card in the John Reilly, Jr. papers and have been waiting for February 3 to wish Mr. Reilly a happy 141st birthday. It was made by his daughter Frances (born in 1912), sometime in the late 1910s. Two decades later, in 1937, she would formally donate his Far Eastern collections to the ANS. During World War II, Frances was living in Hong Kong with her husband when the city fell to the Japanese. She was imprisoned there for nearly a year, finally coming home in late 1942. She died in 2001.

Frances Reilly card back sm
The back of the card

Remembered warmly as “Long John” by his Princeton classmates, the six-foot-four John Reilly once lent “his lanky southern paw to the varsity pitching staff” of the college. The result was one long inning, with 17 bases on balls and 23 hits—and a game that had to be called when they ran out of daylight (according to his class’s 50th anniversary reunion book, anyway). He was only associated with the ANS for twenty years or so (1910-1931), serving as treasurer and governor, but his contributions were enormous, and his presence can certainly be felt today, not only in the ANS’s prized collection of Far Eastern coins, but also in his personal papers and library of books that reside in the ANS Rare Book Room.

John Reilly, Jr.

In the ANS Library, we have begun to catalog his mostly nineteenth-century books, producing records with titles and authors in both Roman and Chinese characters, and noting various forms, including English and pinyin. This work is being done by ANS member and volunteer Christopher (Zhengcheng) Li, a recent graduate of Sotheby’s Institute of Art. Christopher is making many interesting discoveries along the way, including some that update the findings of Arthur Braddan Coole, published in The Encyclopedia of Chinese Coins, 1967 (an updated version of his Bibliography on Far Eastern Numismatics, 1940), the standard bibliographical reference for Far Eastern numismatics.

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Books in the Reilly library

It seems that Reilly’s library and papers never stop yielding treasures. I’ve written about his photographs of the World’s Columbian Exhibition of 1893, taken when he was seventeen years old. More on Reilly and his Far Eastern coin collection can be found here.

Lesser known collector and dealer H. A. Ramsden left his mark at the ANS

Certificate
John Reilly’s membership certificate for the Yokohama Numismatic Society, signed by Ramsden

There are certain numismatic personalities I expect to encounter over and over again as I work with the historical collections at the ANS—Howland Wood, Sydney Noe, Thomas Elder, Henry Chapman. But there is a more obscure figure I sometimes find myself running into. This would be H. A. (Henry Alexander) Ramsden, a collector and dealer who exhibited an boundless enthusiasm for his area of expertise, Far Eastern numismatics, passionately working at it right up until his untimely death at the age of 43 in 1915.

Postcard
Postcard of the Kobayagawa Company of Yokohama (ANS Archives)

Throughout the Society’s library and archives are pockets of materials associated with Ramsden. There are  his numerous letters in the Howland Wood, John Reilly, and Bauman Belden papers, for example. There are his publications—books, but also periodicals like The Numismatic and Philatelic Journal of Japan, which he founded and edited. Rummaging around in the library’s pamphlet files recently, I happened upon what turned out to be an uncataloged item. It was ANS treasurer John Reilly’s membership certificate for the Yokohama Numismatic Society, which included the stamped signature of Ramsden.

Season's_greetings_card
Holiday greeting card from the Kobayagawa Company (ANS Archives)

Many ANS members will recall the Reilly Room at the ANS building on Audubon Terrace where the Far Eastern numismatic collections were kept and displayed. Reilly obtained much of what would become the ANS’s premiere collection in that area from Ramsden. Though his influence still strongly reverberates, Ramsden remains a somewhat mysterious figure. There are no known photographs of him. Howland Wood supplied the ANA with what little he had on him for Ramsden’s obituary in the Numismatist, information Wood had gleaned from a biographical letter Ramsden had sent him in 1914. Not too much has been added to what we know about him since. His father was a British diplomat. The younger Ramsden followed in his father’s footsteps and came to be stationed in Japan as a representative of Cuba. He married a Japanese woman and went into business with her brother, stamp collector and

Coin_in_box
A spade coin from the ANS collection. Like many of those acquired from Ramsden, it is held in a board that has been specially cut to conform to the coin’s unique contours. 1937.179.17030.

dealer Jun Kobayahawa, in Yokohama. He built up an enormous numismatic collection, over 15,000 specimens, including Chinese, Japanese, and Korean coins, as well as an impressive library. His unexpected death threw the future of these collections into question, and after some back and forth with the executor of his will, they were purchased by Reilly, who retained ownership, though they were housed at the ANS. Reilly’s daughter Frances formally donated the materials in 1938.

Illustrated_catalog
Part of a page from a catalog of coin rubbings distributed by Ramsden for the Yokohama Coin Club

Ramsden may not be as familiar a name as some, but his legacy lives on in the ANS’s outstanding Far Eastern numismatic collections. In 2009, a student in the Society’s Eric P. Newman Graduate Seminar in Numismatics, Lyce Jankowski, produced an extremely useful research paper on the Society’s Chinese collection, documenting what she had uncovered on the subject. One interesting fact was that, had Ramsden lived longer, he might have left an even bigger impression on the ANS. Just a few months before Ramsden’s death, Wood had suggested that he might come to New York to be the curator of what Wood was already calling “the best collection of Far Eastern coins known.”

Lindbergh Kidnapping Ransom Money

Poking around in the ANS’s Farran Zerbe correspondence last week, I stumbled onto a couple of letters on a topic that should interest collectors of paper currency, relating to one of the most sensational crimes of the 20th century.

PosterOn March 1, 1932, the toddler son of pilot and national hero Charles Lindbergh was kidnapped from his New Jersey home. A ransom note demanding $50,000, which included instructions regarding the denominations of the bills, was left at the scene, and though larger sums were discussed in later notes, this was the amount that was ultimately given to a mysterious man identifying himself as “John” about a month later. Ransom_note_cropThough the cash failed to secure the return of the boy—his decomposed body was discovered about a month later—it would ultimately lead to the apprehension of “John,” Bronx carpenter Bruno Richard Hauptmann, who was executed for the crime in 1936.

Zerbe_letterThe money paid in ransom was regarded early on as key to cracking the case, and investigators were greatly aided by President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 6102 of 1933 outlawing the private ownership of gold certificates, which had been used to pay the bulk of the ransom money. Lists of the notes’ serial numbers were distributed, mostly to banks in the New York City area, and this is where Zerbe enters the picture. An ANS council member had suggested that the Society should have a copy of the published list, and secretary Sydney Noe knew just who to ask for one. Zerbe at the time worked for a New York City 20160429113039_00001bank, as curator of the Chase Manhattan Money Museum, and was happy to supply the most recently updated booklet from the U.S. Division of Investigation, led by J. Edgar Hoover. (The ANS library also has a copy of an earlier booklet distributed to banks on April 6, 1932, around the time of the ransom payment.)

In 1933, immediately following the president’s executive order outlawing gold certificates, a large number of them were discovered at the Federal Reserve Bank of First_pageNew York. This exciting lead turned out to be a dead end. Then, in the summer of 1934, numerous gold certificates from the ransom  began appearing in New York and Westchester County. Finally, a gas station attendant in Harlem, suspicious of a gold certificate he had received in payment, jotted down the license plate number of the car belonging to the man who had given it to him: Bruno Richard Hauptmann.

Serial_pageSo what became of the rest of the ransom money? There has been much speculation and discussion, but unlike some notes that were positively identified as being from the 1971 D.B. Cooper skyjacking using a similar F.B.I. serial number list, none of the Lindbergh notes have surfaced since the conclusion of the case.

Yet.

Did Any Reprints of Zerbe’s Lesher Article Survive?

George Kolbe of Kolbe & Fanning Numismatic Booksellers had an interesting question regarding my most recent column in ANS Magazine  (“Bumps in the Road as ‘Coin Zerbe’ became the Dean of Coin Collectors,” 2016:1).

Zerbe
Farran Zerbe

It relates to some correspondence in the ANS Archives documenting a dustup between coin dealer B. Max Mehl and legendary numismatic evangelist Farran Zerbe. Zerbe had become quite perturbed upon learning that Mehl had, without permission, reproduced Zerbe’s article on Lesher Referendum Dollars in Mehl’s own Numismatic Monthly.

The article had first appeared in the 1917 volume of the American Journal of Numismatics. In those days, the ANS routinely supplied its authors with fifty offprints of articles published in the AJN, and Zerbe apparently had big plans for his—namely, selling them. But when the article appeared in Mehl’s publication—“killing whatever market or appreciation there may have been”—his enthusiasm evaporated, and he never bothered obtaining them. Years later, he asked Howland Wood if they were still available.

ZerbetoWood

That is what prompted George to write. “I could not recall ever having seen or handled a copy of the AJN reprint of Zerbe’s Lesher article,” he says. “Were the Zerbe Lesher reprints ever produced and, if so, did Zerbe take possession?”

Good question! And, though it’s not often the case, this is one time when it was pretty easily and conclusively answered with a quick dive back into the correspondence. It turns out the reprints were indeed printed. In fact, Zerbe writes of having received two when the article was published. As for the others? Wood went poking around in the basement of the old building at Audubon Terrace and also wrote to the printer. But no luck. “They must have gotten lost or been destroyed,” he told Zerbe. “Such is the way of things.”

WoodtoZerbe

Were Zerbe’s two copies the only ones to survive? And what became of those? I know that George spent some time looking around, consulting his and other sales of the remnants of Zerbe’s library (e.g., Katen’s sale of Chase’s World Money Museum numismatic library in 1986 and 1987) but he found no clues. The ANS Library does not have any of the reprints in its catalog, so there are no “official” copies on our shelves. But I will be keeping an eye out!

Has anyone encountered reprints of Zerbe’s article? It originally appeared in the 1917 American Journal of Numismatics, volume 51, with the title, “Private Silver Coins Issued in the United States”? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

FINDING BAR KOKHBA COINS IN KENTUCKY (or NOT)

In the last few weeks, I have been preparing a gift of my personal coin collection to the American Numismatic Society. Among the coins was a fascinating piece that is an exact twin to one of the most notorious incidences of numismatic fraud—either actual or accidental— that has occurred in the United States. This story continues to be circulated, and I receive questions about the Bar Kokhba coins found in Kentucky on a regular basis.

Here is the background: In 1952, Robert Cox, a hardware store operator from Clay City, Kentucky, found an exotic coin in a pen he was using for pigs just outside of town along Kentucky Highway 15. The pig pen was part of a field that he had plowed the summer before. It was the first time older residents of the city could remember that this land had ever been turned over. He seemed an honorable man and had nothing to do with ancient coins, and it appears that Mr. Cox legitimately found the coin just where he said he found it.

Clay City is about 40 miles east of Lexington, Kentucky. Equally fascinating is that two other Bar Kokhba coins were discovered in different Kentucky towns.

The rest of the story involves a number of well known scholars who refused to believe other expert numismatists, and has such a long history that it is often repeated as a “true story” today.

It is related quite specifically by celebrated archaeologist Dr. Cyrus Gordon (who taught at Dropsie College, Brandeis University, and New York University) in his 1971 book Before Columbus: Links Between the Old World and Ancient America:

“Other contacts with the Roman Mediterranean of the second century AD have meanwhile come to light in Kentucky, where inscribed Hebrew coins of Bar Kokhba’s rebellion against Rome were dug up in Louisville, Hopkinsville, and Clay City. The assorted coins were found at different times and in widely separated areas: at Louisville in 1932, at Clay City in 1952, and Hopkinsville in 1967. These coins have been examined and identified by Professor Israel T. Naamani of the University of Louisville. There is no difficulty in identifying these Bar Kokhba coins. The Clay City coin was sent to the late Professor Ralph Marcus of the University of Chicago who had no trouble in reading “Simon”, Bar Kokhba’s personal name, on one side, and “Year 2 of the Freedom of Israel” on the other side.”

Copy of misleading page from Cyrus Gordon’s book Before Columbus, suggesting that these are genuine Bar Kokhba coins that had been found in Kentucky when in fact only fantasy replicas were found. Also note that Prof. Gordon incorrectly identifies a shekel of the Jewish War (first and second row left) as a Bar Kokhba coin! (photo from Not Kosher by David Hendin).
Copy of misleading page from Cyrus Gordon’s book Before Columbus, suggesting that these are genuine Bar Kokhba coins that had been found in Kentucky when in fact only fantasy replicas were found. Also note that Prof. Gordon incorrectly identifies a shekel of the Jewish War (first and second row left) as a Bar Kokhba coin! (photo from Not Kosher by David Hendin).

Professor Gordon amazingly seems to have drawn his information from a number of articles in Kentucky newspapers, which reported on these rather astonishing discoveries.

Opening of article published in the Louisville, KY, Courier-Journal, July 12, 1953. It is quite simple for even a beginner to identify this as a “fantasy replica” of a Bar Kokhba coin (from NOT KOSHER by David Hendin).
Opening of article published in the Louisville, KY, Courier-Journal, July 12, 1953. It is quite simple for even a beginner to identify this as a “fantasy replica” of a Bar Kokhba coin (from NOT KOSHER by David Hendin).

In 1978 a University of Texas anthropologist named Jeremiah Epstein published a paper. In the course of his research he sent a photocopy of the Clay City coin to Prof. Ya’akov Meshorer, then curator of numismatics at The Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

One would think that the opinion about this coin by Ya’akov Meshorer, surely the world’s leading expert on ancient Jewish coins at the time) would end the discussion. And for Professor Epstein, it did. However, according to Epstein, his correspondence with Professor Naamani indicated that “Naamani continues to accept Marcus’s judgement.” In other words, he believed that Professor Marcus was correct and Professor Meshorer was incorrect.

In comments on Epstein’s article, in the journal where it was published, Professor Warren L. Cook of the Castleton State College in Vermont wrote: “Meshorer’s labeling a Kentucky Bar Kokhba coin a forgery on the basis of a photo-copied newspaper article illustration is unconvincing, yet Epstein is ready to condemn similar coins on such authority.”

Almost 15 years ago Haim Gitler, current chief curator of archaeology and curator of numismatics at The Israel Museum, and I both received communications from Dr. Fred Coy Jr., an economist at Ohio State University.

Dr. Coy sent us photographs of the actual Clay City coin discovered in 1952 by Robert Cox. He told us that a man named Ya’akov Meshorer had said it was fake back in 1978. But he wanted to check this information to make certain that Meshorer knew what he was talking about.

Coin exactly identical to the Clay City coin found by Robert Cox (“authenticated” by professors at the University of Louisville and the University of Chicago). It is part of the collection I will be donating to the American Numismatic Society later this year (photo: David Hendin).
Coin exactly identical to the Clay City coin found by Robert Cox (“authenticated” by professors at the University of Louisville and the University of Chicago). It is part of the collection I will be donating to the American Numismatic Society later this year (photo: David Hendin).

Gitler and I both immediately agreed with Meshorer and stated that this coin was a fake, not even a forgery, but a kind of a fantasy copy.

Professor Coy, who is not a numismatist, kept asking me WHY this coin was not a genuine ancient coin. I’m afraid that I did not have much patience, and I kept saying, “it is FAKE because it is NOT GENUINE. It is NOT even close and therefore does not justify further discussion.” But he was insistent and went to other sources and concluded, finally, and correctly that the coin is not genuine because:

  • There can be a cross or a rosette over the Temple on the obverse, but not a 6-pointed Star of David. The latter is strictly for the tourist trade.
  • The shin and mem from the beginning of Simon’s name are entirely missing from the obverse side, even though the adjacent dots are present, indicating that the missing letters could not have been just worn off. This looks like someone copied from a worn coin that was missing these letters, but then added the dots to make the replica look more complete.
  • Likewise, a stroke is missing from the bet, and the het is made as if it were a B.
  • A tetradrachm of this type should be silver, but this coin is bronze.
  • The lulav is badly made. Also, the etrog has been reduced to a mere blob to the right of the lulav.
  • There is no sign of an obliterated Roman coin under the image, even though this should be evident.
  • He forgot to mention that by no stretch of anyone’s imagination could this be an ancient coin!
An authentic sela or tetradrachm of Bar Kokhba struck in the second year of the revolt, 133/134 AD.
An authentic sela or tetradrachm of Bar Kokhba struck in the second year of the revolt, 133/134 AD.

These observations are second nature to anybody who has ever seriously studied Bar Kokhba coins. But here I have discussed a parade of esteemed University Professors who have been bickering back and forth about this coin since it was discovered in 1952. And we have also learned that the other two so-called Bar Kokhba coins from Kentucky are of the exact type as this one. A photograph accompanying this article depicts an exact duplicate of the coin found in Louisville in 1967. The same Professor Israel T. Naamani of the University of Louisville examined this coin. Astoundingly, he pronounced it similar to the Clay City coin, “But this one is much more genuine. The Jews were not strong after the rebellion; so what did they do? They took Roman coins and re-minted them. Underneath if you scratch them there are Roman inscriptions.” (Scratching a coin is certainly NOT the way to observe any overstruck coin….)

He added that farmer Coy’s Clay City coin was a “Roman re-mint, but Bray’s was newly minted 1,832 years ago.”

Oh, dear. Maybe college professors ought to be forced to get licenses before commenting on subjects about which they are completely in the dark.

My research at the British Museum has uncovered a lead cast of this very type of Bar Kokhba fake, which was presented to The British Museum in 1922 by Spink and Sons as a replica. Therefore, the original must be somewhat older than that.

My best bet is that this was a souvenir given away by a Bible marketing company in the early 1900s and hundreds or even thousands were passed through the American South. I have personally seen more than 50 of them.

The stories around these coins represent wishful thinking by American Bible Belt scholars. Wouldn’t it just be so interesting if the people in the United States were directly descended from Jews who came to our shores not long after the time of Jesus….sigh.

But it isn’t so and I am glad to report this story over and over to remind collectors that the authenticity of a coin that has not been found in a licensed archaeological excavation is only as good as the expert who is evaluating it!

(This blog is adapted from my book NOT KOSHER, Forgeries of Ancient Jewish and Biblical Coins, New York, 2005.)