I was working on an article about George Kunz and the redesign of United States Coinage (ANS Magazine, 2017/1) when I came upon an interesting coin design in the ANS vault. It was an electrotype model of a U.S. dollar by Victor David Brenner, made about fourteen years before his actual contribution to the redesign of U.S. coinage, the iconic and ubiquitous Lincoln cent (1909). His was one of twenty-five dollar designs submitted for a competition in 1895, part of an organized effort at improving the nation’s much maligned coinage that was ostensibly carried out by several private art groups but was in reality undertaken mostly by two: the National Sculpture Society (NSS) and the ANS. The NSS showed real commitment to the cause, putting up all of the prize money: $300 for first place and either $100 or $200 for second (accounts vary). This was big money in 1895; first prize would be comparable to about $8,000 today.
Given that coins are small sculpted pieces used by nearly everyone, the promotion of high quality coinage was a natural undertaking for the NSS. The group was founded in 1893 to promote quality sculpted art to the masses. To help fulfill its civic-minded goals, it opened its membership to non-sculptors—administrators, businessmen, and others that might help the cause. Kunz, Tiffany’s resident gem expert, joined the group in its first year. He also joined the ANS in 1893, and it appears that he was the primary agent at both groups promoting coinage redesign, apparently with the backing of an influential party in Washington.
The dollar designs that were submitted for the competition were displayed at an exhibition of ancient and world coins and medals at the American Fine Arts Building on 57th Street in New York City. The show was curated by the ANS and was intended to show historical examples of quality artistic coinage. Brenner did not win. First prize went to Albert Jaegers, specifically for the eagle on his reverse. Albert Randolph Ross came in second, for his obverse showing Liberty and a turkey. The prizes had no official standing and the two artists would play no role in the actual coinage redesign that began a decade later.
An electrotype of Jaegers’s design sits next to Brenner’s on a tray in the ANS vault. Unfortunately, though a letter from Ross and an entry in the Society’s proceedings say that he also donated his model to the ANS, a search for Ross’s turkey design was unsuccessful.
Incidentally, it is great to learn of the close relationship between the ANS and the NSS during the latter’s first years because the two organizations have been happily reunited in modern times. The ANS and NSS have shared office space at 75 Varick Street since 2009.
For more on the founding of the National Sculpture Society and its early history, see Michele Bogart’s Public Sculpture and the Civic Ideal in New York City, 1890-1930 (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1989).
One of the ways that the ANS teaches students about numismatics is through student internships, where a student gets to learn about our work by participating in it. This semester, we have been lucky to have Kara Woodley from Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York, working with our curatorial department.
Kara is a senior completing a double major in art history and history. For her two senior theses she is writing about Ireland during the struggle for independence in the early twentieth century. As part of her art history degree, she was required to complete an internship to gain practical experience. Prof. Megan Cifarelli suggested the ANS as a possibility that might be a good choice for a student with more interest in history than in the contemporary art scene.
Kara has worked on a few different tasks at the ANS, but the majority of her time has been devoted to entering our nineteenth-century Irish tokens into our curatorial database. Although these tokens have been acquired since the founding of the Society (some of them were donated in our first year, 1858!), hardly any of them had been entered into the computer yet.
Armed with the standard references on the topic, Kara has been going through the tokens one by one, creating full database records for them. One of the tokens that she found interesting in relation to her academic research is a token or medalet commemorating Daniel O’Connell, an early nineteenth-century campaigner for Catholic Emancipation and repeal of the 1801 Act of Union. This piece is pierced for suspension, and the box has a note on the back saying that it was worn at an election meeting in 1865.
Another piece she found interesting is a token issued by the banker William Hodgins in Cloughjordan, Co. Tipperary. This token is typically catalogued among Australian tokens, despite its reference to Ireland. Although originally produced for use in Ireland, large quantities of this token were apparently shipped to Australia, where they helped make up for a scarcity of official coinage.
During her internship Kara has been learning how museums work behind the scenes; in particular, about the processes involved in how a small staff manages a very large collection. She hopes this will be useful in her future career as an art historian, especially if she ends up working in a museum setting.
Next year Kara will be going to graduate school at Trinity College, Dublin, where she plans to specialize in Irish art of late antiquity and the early Middle Ages.
Coins first appeared in the western world some 2,700 years ago. During most of this long history, coins were entirely handmade. The metals were excavated and smelted by hand; the coin blanks were manufactured by hand; the dies were engraved by hand; and the coins were struck by hand. Their use as monetary instruments required that coins be standardized, but because coins were handmade each individual coin differed in some way from all the others produced at roughly the same time: the alloys would differ from batch to batch depending on the metal sources; individual weights within a single batch would vary; dies would wear and be recut; or different obverse and reverse die combinations would be used. Of the billions of handmade coins produced over the centuries, only a very small proportion of them remain today. The detailed study of every existing coin thus helps us to piece together the bigger picture of a state’s fiscal and monetary policies, particularly the decisions made about how many coins to strike in a given year, in which denominations, and in which alloys. Detailed study also helps us to understand how mints operated as both government institutions and factories, how they developed organizational structures and production processes to meet demand.
For numismatists working on ancient Greek coinage particularly die studies of individual series remain the hallmark of our contributions to our overall understanding of ancient monetary systems. But to complete a die study, especially on larger issues, is a mind-numbingly difficult task, requiring not just the laborious and time-consuming gathering from a multitude of sources of images or casts of all known specimens, which can number in the thousands, but also the tedious and arduous task of comparing the images to find examples struck from the same die(s). The largest die study of ancient Greek coinage completed to date, Wolfgang Fischer-Bossert’s study of the didrachms of Tarentum included roughly 8,000 coins. This monumental undertaking cost Fischer-Bossert nearly a decade of his life and a good deal of his eyesight to complete. To try to tackle a die study the size of the late 5th c. Athenian “owl” coinage, of which ca. 60,000 coins probably exist today, would undoubtedly take a lifetime.
It has long been recognized that developing a computer program to do much of the heavy lifting for die studies is something we all would readily welcome to help us speed smaller die studies along and to allow enormous die studies projects like that for late 5th c. Athenian owls to have a shot of actually being completed. The technology for such a program certainly exists today and a number of individuals in the numismatic community have been attempting to develop such a tool. At the ANS, our late colleague Richard (Rick) Witschonke took it upon himself to privately fund the development of what he called CADS: Computer Aided Die Study Program. During the last three years of his life (2013–2015), he worked closely with Huapeng Su to develop CADS, which he hoped to make a freely available, open source program to aid numismatic research. By the time Rick died in early 2015, CADS was functioning well with certain types of coinage, but still required further work to make it fully operational across a broad spectrum of numismatic material. It was Rick’s hope that the ANS would be able to find the funding to complete the work on CADS.
Happily, Prof. Josiah Ober of Stanford University has now stepped up, generously donating $10,000 of his research funds to the ANS to see a beta version of CADS released by the end of this year. Ober’s interest in this project stems from his attempts to find ways to quantify economic performance in the ancient Greek world, demonstrated, for example, in his most recent book The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece (Princeton 2015) and in the launch of the POLIS website. What we can learn about the production and consumption of coinage has the potential to play a key role in gauging ancient economic performance, but only if we can generate quantifiable data through die studies and hoard studies. Currently, only about 15–20% of all possible die studies for ancient Greek coinage have been completed, meaning we still have a long way to go before we have significant and comparable data sets. It is our hope that with the launch of CADS, we can initiate a new era of numismatic studies, in which other digital tools like OCRE and PELLA can provide the assemblage of raw numismatic material for a series or type that a program like CADS will then use to produce die studies in a matter of hours rather than weeks, months, or even years.
The digitization of the American Numismatic Society’s backlist of monographs has been funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation as part of the joint NEH-Mellon Humanities Open Book Program. All of the ANS’s book-length publications through 2010 will be made available for free online for anyone to use. The ANS is one of the United States’ oldest academic publishers, producing printed scholarship since 1866, pre-dating storied university presses such as Johns Hopkins University (1878), the University of Pennsylvania (1890), and the University of Chicago (1891). The ANS continues to lead the way with digital scholarly publications, something it could not have done without the support of the Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
This is the second year the ANS has received Mellon funding for the project, and will conclude the work begun in 2016. In 2016, the Humanities Open Book Program selected 10 academic publishers to convert their out-of-print books of enduring scholarship into EPUB e-books licensed to allow readers to search and download these books freely, and to read them on any type of e-reader. In 2017, eight grants were awarded.
As in 2016, the ANS will convert its remaining scanned books into TEI XML, which will allow for instant generation of e-books as well as internet-friendly text that both contains and encourages links to other content online: related people, places, and events.
“Numismatics is uniquely placed in between history, archaeology, economics, art history, geography, and other disciplines,” Andrew Reinhard, Director of Publications for the ANS said. “By encoding these books and making them available as Open Access, scholars and hobbyists alike can exploit the true interdisciplinary nature of numismatic data for their own work, finding content and making connections that would otherwise be hidden.”
“Academic and non-academic researchers increasingly use the Internet as a source of information and a vehicle for disseminating the results of their work,” said Earl Lewis, President of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. “Today, more than ever, scholars, teachers, students, and members of the public need access on the Internet to reliable and authoritative works that were previously published but are now out-of-print. The Humanities Open Book initiative seeks to help provide that much-needed access.”
The grant covers the encoding and tagging of the remaining 127 ANS monographs from three series: Numismatic Studies (3 titles), Coinage of the Americas (3 titles), and Numismatic Notes and Monographs (121 titles). At the conclusion of the grant period, the ANS will continue to make its TEI XML-encoded books available for free online one year after publication of new scholarship.
The second batch of Mellon-funded EPUB and TEI-encoded publications will be available by June 2018. The ANS thanks the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for its continued support, and the Mellon Foundation and NEH for their enthusiasm and commitment to making the Humanities available to everyone. With the NEH’s funding and very mandate under threat, the ANS encourages its US-based members and researchers to contact their elected senators and representatives to remind them that the Humanities are what makes us human.
It is that time of year. The holidays have come and long gone, leaving nothing but the bills. Here in Canada it is the time of year when the days are cold and dreary. It is the time of year when the polar bears and dire wolves stalk the land while the minds of writers turn to excessive hyperbole. It is the dead of winter. The fortunate have all escaped to warmer and more pleasant climates, usually Florida. For the unfortunate, the briefest thought of the beaches, the sun, and the palm trees can provide that fraction of a difference in making it through the day (Fig. 1).
If you were to show someone around these parts a picture of a palm tree with no other surrounding geographical features, the first association is likely to be with Florida. After all, Florida is probably the most frequently visited palm-treed destination for individuals from this northerly part of the world. The place also tends to play up this association as well. The palm tree is prominent on the Great Seal of Florida and the state is absolutely filled to overflowing with Palm Beaches, Palm Cities, Palm Coasts, and Palm Bays, not to mention the Palm Rivers, Palm Plazas, and Palm Valleys. The point is probably made without recourse to the numerous places with palmetto in their names as well. Suffice to say that Florida has very strong associations with palm trees.
In classical antiquity, palm trees also had a very powerful geographical association. The Greek name for the date palm was phoinix, and because these trees were abundant along the southern Levantine coast, the Greeks already in the time of Homer had come to describe the region as Phoenicia (“Land of the Date Palm”). It seems not to have mattered much that the native inhabitants called it Canaan, or that its immediate neighbors tended to associate the area more closely with the cedars that grew on Mount Lebanon than with the palm trees of the coast.
Canaanites hailing from the great maritime cities of Sidon, Tyre, Arwad (Arados), and Gebal (Byblos) seem to have completely ignored the Greek name for their land in the fifth century BC when they first struck their own coinages. Instead, their money tended to feature types advertising naval power, patron deities, or relationships with the Great Kings of the Persian Empire (Fig. 2). While Greeks and Canaanites were not infrequently exposed to one another through trade and war, they did not live in close enough proximity for the Greek exonym to make much of an impact in Canaan. Ironically, it was actually the Canaanites outside of Canaan who first seem to have internalized “Phoenicia” as the name of their homeland.
In 813 BC, the Tyrians founded the city of Carthage in North Africa. By the eighth century BC, the new colony was expanding its growing trade empire into western Sicily. The Canaanite peoples of this empire are regularly described as Punic— from Punus, the Latin name for them, which in turn is corrupted from Greek Phoinix. Since the eastern part of the island was increasingly populated by Hellenic settlements (Fig. 3), Punic traders and colonists from Carthage found themselves in much greater proximity to Greeks and their culture than Tyre and the other cities of Canaan ever did in the same period. Sharing an island—even one as large as Sicily—with the Greeks meant that over time, aspects of their culture were sure to rub off on the Punic inhabitants of western Sicily. One such aspect was the use and production of coins. Interestingly, when Punic military mints and the civic mint of Motya (a Punic colony founded in the eighth century BC) began striking coins in the late fifth and early fourth centuries BC a prominent recurring emblem was that of the palm tree, either as the main type (Fig. 4) or as a secondary element of the type (Fig. 5).
The tree almost certainly appears as a means of advertising the Canaanite ethnic origin of the issuers, but expressed in Greek terms: The palm tree presents them as Phoenicians. Evidently, when the Punic peoples adopted coinage, they also adopted the distinctly Greek iconographic language that came with it. Punning emblems used to represent the names of cities (e.g. a seal [Greek phoke] on coins of Phokaia [Fig. 6]) are almost as old as the invention of Greek coinage. The Greek palm tree emblem to establish the non-Greek origin of the issuers combined with legends written in a Semitic alphabet, make for a remarkably schizophrenic coinage.
Sustained close proximity to the Greeks seems to have been the key factor in the development of a Phoenician public persona by peoples of Canaanite origin, perhaps because of the common Greek tendency to interpret other cultures in Hellenic terms (the so-called interpretatio Graeca). In Sicily, Punic peoples came to identify as “Phoenician” through their coin types early because of constant Greek contact on the island, but a similar phenomenon occurred in their homeland after the conquests of Alexander the Great (336-323 BC) established numerous Greco-Macedonian colonies in the Near East. Canaan’s northern neighbor, Syria, was aggressively colonized by Alexander’s successor, Seleukos I Nikator (320–281 BC), and therefore it is perhaps unsurprising that Arados, the northernmost Canaanite city was the first to advertise itself as “Phoenician” in the mid-third century BC. The palm tree appears on the city’s autonomous Alexanders perhaps as early as 246/5 BC. Self-identification as “Phoenician” seems to have spread along the Levantine coast and by the time of the Seleukid conquest of the region (200-198 BC), Tyre used the iconography of the palm, either as a tree or a branch, to indicate its “Phoenician” character (Fig. 7).
By the late second century BC, most of the other coin-issuing cities of the region also included palm branches on their coins to illustrate that they too belonged to Phoenicia, a feature that continued into the Roman Imperial period (Fig. 8).
Fig. 8. Seleukid silver tetradrachm of Sidon under Demetrios II Nikator (146-139 BC) with palm branch over eagle’s shoulder. ANS 1944.100.77312.
While the fortunate golf or take refuge from the kindly sun under the shade of Florida’s palm trees at this time of year, it is worth giving a thought to the long shadow that the palm has cast over the peoples of ancient Canaan. We are told that a rose should smell as sweet by any name, but when the world turned Greek there was evidently a perceived value in accepting names and identities more fitting with the changed milieu. Maybe there is more in a name than the Bard suspected.
Note: The majority of this post and the migration framework (academia-migrate) were authored about a year ago, but placed on the back burner while other projects demanded my time. Between the revelation that Academia.edu has implemented banner ads on some profiles and Sarah Bond’s article in Forbes, I have been motivated to finally push this project into production.
Many scholars throughout the world use Academia.edu to broaden access to their own research, which includes not only published documents, but unpublished manuscripts or presentation materials (such as Powerpoint slideshows) that would otherwise never be submitted to peer-reviewed journals. Academia.edu bills itself as a “disruptive” service that takes a shot at the increased commercialization (and resulting access restrictions) of academic publication. For scholars that want their research to be made available to the widest possible audience, peer-reviewed journals are falling short. Peer review offers a certain cachet required by university administrators for considerations toward tenured professorship, but more and more journals are owned and distributed by fewer and fewer publishers. University libraries are strapped with increasing costs to subscribe to journals, and unaffiliated scholars are on the outside looking in with regard to access to current scholarship, unless they would like to pay as much as $50 to acquire a single article. Academia.edu has changed this somewhat. With HTML microdata and pathways for search robots to crawl full-text articles, researchers are able to find relevant articles through Google, and Google’s algorithms tend to favor Academia.edu over other harder-to-crawl sources.
On the surface, this seems great for scholars. And it was good in the beginning, but this has changed over the last year. Despite its domain name, Academia.edu is a commercial venture. It is beholden to investors, not the scholarly community it serves, nor universities, governments, or taxpayers. Recently, an Academia.edu developer approached a scholar about his willingness to participate in a pay-to-play system. I won’t go into great detail, as the initial exchange and subsequent outrage on Twitter have already been covered thoroughly. But what does paying for a recommendation mean? Aside from sacrificing a certain intellectual honestly, a recommendation essentially enhances visibility and access to your work. By definition, though, not paying for a recommendation thus reduces visibility and access to your work. If the Academia.edu developers alter the metadata provided to robots to improve search relevance for those that pay for their publications to be promoted, this necessarily reduces relevance for non-paying users. As a result, access declines, which reduces the likelihood of citation, and may even negatively impact administrative reviews of faculty output.
Furthermore, it appears that Academia.edu is now experimenting with banner advertisements. They do not yet appear to be a permanent fixture, but I believe we are seeing the beginning of overt attempts at generating income on top of research that scholars have published to the site in good faith that it is free and open.
Zenodo.org is a truly open access scholarly publication framework that is capable of replacing Academia.edu. Zenodo is open to “research outputs from across all fields of science,” including the humanities and social sciences. Like Academia, users may upload journal articles, conference papers, posters, and presentations, but may also upload raw research data. Zenodo is developed by CERN, which has long demonstrated its devotion to open science and the web. It is backed by funding from the European Union. Moreover, Zenodo has a well-documented API for publishing and harvesting content via well-known open web standards. This is in stark contrast to Academia.edu, which goes to great lengths to prevent users from harvesting publication metadata and makes it impossible to download documents without registering for an account (which also inflates their userbase). Academia.edu prides itself in being disruptive, but it too needs to be disrupted.
Migrating from Academia.edu to Zenodo.org
I fully advocate leaving Academia.edu, but what purpose does it serve to simply delete your account? You are removing publications that are, in the very least, freely and openly available at the moment. Essentially, the best decision is to migrate documents to Zenodo.org, and allow at least one week for Google to fully index migrated content before deleting the Academia.edu account. My MA thesis entitled “Recent Advances in Roman Numismatics,” about the application of Linked Open Data methodologies toward Roman numismatics with Nomisma.org and Online Coins of the Roman Empire, had been available in both the ANS Digital Library and Academia.edu as of January 28, 2016. Due to our superior use of microdata and full-text indexing, the ANS Digital Library version surpassed Academia days after it was published. I uploaded my thesis to Zenodo.org January 29, 2016, and it was already on the first page of Google three days later.
Many of us have uploaded a substantial number of documents to Academia.edu, and it might be tedious to re-upload these documents into a new system, especially with regard to re-entering publication metadata. I have sought to rectify this by facilitating a more efficient migration system. I have developed a framework that is capable of parsing metadata from an Academia.edu profile (although not all publications are listed when the profile page loads), accepting re-uploaded documents (since these cannot be extracted from Academia.edu directly), and uploading these contents into Zenodo.org. This framework itself is open source and available on Github. I will save the technical discussion for different venue.
This system took about a week to develop, but I hope that this migration process might save each user several minutes per publication. I hope that this work will encourage more scholars to consider migrating to Zenodo.org from Academia. Migration ultimately enhances the value of these publications, as they can be harvested en masse by members of the general public, who might be able to use them for statistical analyses, to enhance them with named entity recognition or improved interlinking between publications (via Library of Congress Subject Headings, which are incorporated into Zenodo’s metadata entry system), or to simply read them without the obstacle of registering for an account. It is time to accept that the Academia.edu is seeking to shift the academic publishing paradigm from one commercial provider to another.
Today’s post is written by Jeremy Simmons, a PhD candidate in the Classical Studies program at Columbia University. He has written on the topic of Indo-Roman trade, and in particular, the spice trade in antiquity. His dissertation will look specifically at patterns of consumption in the larger Indian Ocean trade network, including the engagement between Indian monetary systems and imported Roman coinage. His project, as a participant of the the 2016 Eric P. Newman Graduate Summer Seminar, focuses on Western Kṣatrapa coins.
For my ANS Seminar Project, I decided to look at silver coins of the Western Kṣatrapas, who ruled in the modern day Indian states of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh from the mid-first to early fifth centuries CE (Figure 1). These coins have been indispensable for reconstructing the chronology of the Western Kṣatrapa kings, as well as the line of succession, due to the presence of dates (in the Śaka Era) and patronymics on coins. However, the feature of these coins that drew me to this project is the obverse legend, which appears to be written in a script that mixes Greek and Roman characters at random.
These legends have been little discussed in scholarship (as opposed to the Brāhmī legends on the reverse), and have been variously labeled “Greek,” “corrupt/pseudo/blundered Greek,” or “Greco-Roman,” without much consideration of the larger implications of these different descriptions. In fact, it is a general practice to not record the obverse legends of Kṣatrapa coins in catalogues or other publications: cataloguers justify their actions by stating that the legends become corrupt over time and cease to have any meaning; and those publishing or auctioning a single coin tend not to transcribe the obverse legend at all.
This lack of scholarly attention arises from the assumption that the obverse legends at one point communicated written language—specifically, the coins of the early kings like Nahapāna, which have Greco-Roman script transliterations of the Prakrit reverse legends (Figure 2)—but that later die-cutters, due to their lack of skill or knowledge of Greek and Latin, merely rendered corrupt versions as a form of ornamentation. I believe this narrative of decline, first suggested over a century ago, is not only based on the limited evidence of early collections, but has been perpetuated by a regrettable practice of not recording positive data.
In order to correct the treatment of obverse legends on Kṣatrapa coins in scholarship, I have created a database of Greco-Roman obverse legends found on silver coins minted during the three-and-a-half centuries of Kṣatrapa rule (from Nahapāna to Rudrasiṃha III). I gathered these legends from specimens presented in various museum catalogues, auction listings, and publications. While this task involved some difficulties due to the damaged nature of most obverse legends (Figure 3) and the poor quality of photographs, I managed to assemble a large corpus of data in order to supplement existing descriptions and serve as the basis of my initial observations.
It is my hope that these observations will contribute to the following aims: 1) determining which paleographic features of the obverse script are Greek versus Roman, in order to mitigate the problem of variable terminology; 2) outlining possible sources of inspiration for these legends, whether it be local precedents (e.g., Indo-Greek, Indo-Scythian, and Indo-Parthian), imported Roman coinage, or imitation Roman coinage produced in India (Figures 4 and 5); 3) uncovering any evidence of conscious design behind these legends (as opposed to mindless copying as previously suggested), indicated by similar patterns of letters, standardization of legends, etc.; 4) and, most importantly, speculating why the Kṣatrapa kings would design coins with unreadable obverse legends alongside very legible Brāhmī legends and numerals.
At the very least, it is my hope to show the merits in investigating elements of a coinage tradition that many have disregarded as “meaningless.”
The ANS is looking for a TEI specialist wanted for a short-term, part-time (c. 250-hour) project at $20.00/hour. TEI proficiency preferred. Numismatics knowledge helpful but not required. The successful candidate will add to the research value of TEI XML-encoded ebooks by enhancing linking to American Numismatic Society projects and external resources, which will also facilitate broader dissemination though other cultural heritage aggregation projects, such as Social Networks and Archival Context (SNAC) and Pelagios. The TEI specialist will verify existing tags in the current files for ca. 90 books (some are quite short), and will supplement tagging with:
specific references to coins in the ANS collection
specific coin types published in Coinage of the Roman Republic Online (CRRO) and Pella
any other place name or personal name that is featured or most relevant to the subject matter of a particular section in a book
The TEI specialist will also ensure that the illustrations referenced by the TEI XML files are linked to the correct images on the project server.
These tasks may be done outside of the ANS’s New York office. The project is perfect for graduate students in the Digital Humanities, and provides the opportunity to work with a world leader in linked open data, open source, and open access at the ANS with its Director of Data Science, Ethan Gruber.
Send CV/resume to Ethan Gruber by September 1. Project deadline is December 1.
Truer words could not be said by someone with a passion for ancient history, especially when the baroque takes over the ancient. Such is the case with a Roman Bust of Antinous in the collection of the Museo Nazionale Romano, Palazzo Altemps, in Rome. After the original ancient Roman face was broken at some unknown time, the bust received a “new” baroque-style face that was added by the mid-18th century. To many viewers, it is apparent that the face does not match the style of the rest of the bust and is a restoration added later. But then what happened to the original face?
The answer can be found in a new exhibition titled A Portrait of Antinous, in Two Parts, at the Art Institute of Chicago that opened on April 2, 2016. Loans from the American Numismatic Society help introduce Antinous—the Greek youth and companion of Roman emperor Hadrian, who mysteriously drowned in the Nile River in A.D. 130—and his enduring interest throughout history. The ANS loans include four bronze coins of Antinous (1967.152.356; 1944.100.62226; 1944.100.58522; 1944.100.58531) and a 1711 book from the Harry W. Bass, Jr. Library. The coins demonstrate the same iconographic features that were likely inspired by sculptures of the same type of Antinous: broad shoulders, bare chest, and lush, curly hair.
The show brings together years of research that took place to determine whether or not the Art Institute of Chicago’s Fragment of a Portrait Head of Antinous was the original face of the Bust of Antinous (inv. no. 8620) that belongs to the Palazzo Altemps museum, a suggestion first put forth by W. Raymond Johnson, Egyptologist at the University of Chicago. Since the “new” face that the Palazzo Altemps bust received is part of the sculpture’s history, it could not be removed, and added to the challenges of understanding if, and how, the Art Institute’s fragment might have fit. But—Spoiler Alert!—it did!
This conclusion, and the years of research that led to it, are the focus of the exhibition. Modern 3D printing technology was used to create a mold from which a plaster replica was made in order for the team to effectively demonstrate that the two parts were in fact originally part of one ancient bust. The show is centered around these two parts: the fragment of a portrait head from the Art Institute and the bust from the Palazzo Altemps, which are displayed together along with the full-scale plaster cast reconstruction that gives the impression of its original appearance in antiquity.
The exhibition further tells how the fragment ended up in Chicago, an ocean away from its original location. A video documenting the research and creation of the plaster cast accompanies the show, while a timeline of events spans nearly 40 feet of wall in the gallery. I’ve had fun working on this project, and it is a fascinating story with a lot of content, which can be difficult to convey through photographs alone, and is one of many reasons I hope readers will be able to visit the show in person!
When thinking about the collection of the American Numismatic Society, the mind often leaps first to the trays of gold and silver coins, to beautiful and famous rarities, and the extremely valuable pieces that only a select few could ever hope to own privately. The shiny stuff has a great allure. There is no question about that. Who doesn’t like the warm glow of the Brasher doubloon or appreciate the rarity of the Confederate States silver half-dollar? I can personally attest to the great thrill of holding one of these in each hand while we were preparing the Drachmas, Doubloons, and Dollars exhibit for the Federal Reserve back in 2000.
This edition of Pocket Change, however, is not about such pretty and valuable coins. Instead it is about the coins in the collection that many readers may not know about. They are the forgotten coins, the odd coins, the sometimes distrusted and maligned coins. They are those humble and unsung heroes of the ANS cabinet—the lead coins.
It may come as some surprise (perhaps even shock) to learn that the ANS collection includes some 4,448 lead pieces (including ancient scale weights, seal impressions, medals, and modern fakes). These range in place and period from Archaic Greece and Classical India to the Netherlands in the sixteenth century and the United States in the nineteenth century.
Lead coins of all periods generally fall into one of four main categories:
Counterfeits intended to deceive the unwary in commercial transactions. This use of lead can be traced in the Western World all the way back to the late sixth century BC, not long after coinage was invented. Herodotus reports a rumor that Polycrates, the tyrant of Samos, struck lead coins and plated them with gold (probably really electrum, an alloy of gold and silver) to buy off a besieging Spartan force in 525/4 BC. Despite the doubts of the Father of History, the ANS collection includes a Samian lead hemistater that tends to support the story as well as several Milesian lead issues of even earlier vintage (c. 560-545 BC). Although plated bronze cores seem to have been far more common than plated lead in later periods, lead counterfeits were still produced by unscrupulous individuals to pass as silver coins as late as the early twentieth century AD. The Society’s collection includes a number of lead U.S. half-dollars, quarters, and dimes that were cast from authentic silver examples, apparently for circulation.
Official coinages. When other forms of metal currency—especially copper/bronze—were in short supply, governments sometimes produced official fiduciary coinages in lead as a means of preventing the collapse of quotidian transactions. Thus, in southern China of the Ten Kingdoms Period (AD 907-979) lead coins were cast both officially and in private with value ratings against copper cash coins. Lead sporadically occurs as a coinage metal in India of the Classical Period (first-third centuries AD), especially in central India, but also later under the occupation of the English East India Company in the eighteenth century. The Company’s lead pice not only filled a need for low-value coinage, but also returned a hefty profit since the face value of the coin was much greater than the cost of the lead from which it was made.
These coin-like objects are distinguished from emergency coinages in that they were produced officially or privately usually to be exchanged for goods or services rather than to circulate as money, although in times when other low value coin was scarce they were pressed into service as emergency money. In Roman times, tokens, known as tesserae, were used by emperors and lesser officials in Rome and the provinces to distribute the grain dole and other bonuses to the populace. The also seem to have been used by private businesses. The ANS collection is notable for a group of tesserae from the Roman client-kingdom of Nabataea, which may have been distributed in the context of a religious celebration or were used as tokens to purchase votive gifts in a temple. English shopkeepers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries also often produced their own tokens in part because there was rarely enough copper halfpence in circulation for daily transactions. Lead tokens made business more manageable and some of the more trusted issues even gained the status of local currencies. Lead tokens were still used by small businesses in North America and elsewhere in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Test strikes and patterns. As a soft metal, lead was often used for trial strikes at many mints in different periods in order to test the quality of dies and their engraving or as patterns for coins and medals not yet struck. The ANS collection includes a variety of lead trial pieces and patterns for U.S. coins that were ultimately rejected by the Mint. It also holds numerous lead trial pieces for medals struck or planned by the American Numismatic Society during its long history as a medal-producing institution. Indeed, even as late as the 1990s lead blanks were used to demonstrate hammer-striking when the Society used to have its open house at the old Audubon Terrace location. Some readers may still have one of these ANS “test strikes” carried off as a memento. As one of the demonstrators back then, I still have mine. Out of a concern for safety, all demonstration strikes made at the ANS now use plasticene rather than lead.
It is easy to love gold and silver, but this brief survey of the Society’s holdings of lead should shown that their humble cousin, lead, is of comparable interest from the historical and numismatic technical perspective. Just because they are often small, have less than stunning patinas, and could cause physical harm if you do not wash your hands after handling them, there is no reason why they should not sometimes share the spotlight with their shinier and more attractive relatives. After all, in some cases there might not have been the finished gold or silver coin in the trays if there had not already been a lead piece first.