Category Archives: Uncategorized

Telegraphic Numismatica

Detail of Morse from the reverse of an 1896 $2 silver certificate, ANS 1980.67.17
Detail of Morse from the reverse of an 1896 $2 silver certificate, ANS 1980.67.17

On January 6, 1838, American polymath Samuel F. B. Morse and his partners Leonard Gale and Alfred Lewis Vail hosted a successful private trial of their new electric telegraph system. Morse was a celebrated painter who became fixated on the idea of creating an expeditious means of long-distance communication when his wife fell ill and died while he was away (the news, delivered by mail, arrived only after the fact). Morse’s signature contribution was adding extra circuits or relays to the existing electromagnetic systems, which ensured that the telegraphic signal would carry over longer wires. The first message that was transmitted that day was an aphorism: “A patient waiter is no loser.” (The more famous phrase associated with the telegraph, “what hath God wrought,” was sent in 1844 as part of a public demonstration of the new commercial telegraph line between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.)

The electric telegraph expanded exponentially in the mid-nineteenth century, transforming commerce and communication throughout the United States and eventually around the world. The key to the globalization of the technology was overcoming the challenge of manufacturing underwater cables that were durable enough to survive and transmit signals across vast distances. The first successful effort to lay a trans-Atlantic cable was undertaken by the Atlantic Telegraph Company headed by Cyrus W. Field. On August 16, 1858, the first message was sent from England to the United states, which read: “Europe and America are united by telegraphy. Glory to God in the highest; on earth, peace and good will toward men.” Shortly after, Queen Victoria and President James Buchanan exchanged congratulatory messages, but the cable failed after just a few short weeks.

ANS, 0000.999.4493
ANS, 0000.999.4493

Nevertheless, the venture had demonstrated the viability of undersea cables, even if there were some technical issues that still needed to be worked out. The New York Chamber of Commerce commissioned a medal from Tiffany & Co. to celebrate Field and the engineers that had made the project possible. The richly symbolic result depicted Columbia and Britannia holding a cable across the globe. In the small cartouche below the figure of Mercury stands with the fruits of American commerce, which includes a beaver.

A more entertaining version of Tiffany’s rather formal medal were a series of tokens struck for the occasion by George H. Lovett of New York City.

ANS, 0000.999.4501
ANS, 0000.999.4501

Here an electrified handshake takes place across the Atlantic between ‘Brother Jonathan,’ a contemporary personification and parody of a New Englander, and a British gentleman. The latter asks “How are you Jonathan,” to which he responds “Purty well old feller, heow’s yer self.” Another fascinating momento from this event was a token produced by Granville Stokes, a merchant in Philadelphia who purchased a portion of the failed cable.

ANS, 1952.110.26
ANS, 1952.110.26

Stokes had the cable cut into quarter-inch thick slices and a suitable die was made to serve as a housing and advertising card for his business. It was then attached so that a cross-section of the cable showed as the reverse. It was not until 1866 that trans-Atlantic telegraphic communication was re-established when a new 1700-mile long cable went into operation.

ANS, 0000.999.57219
ANS, 0000.999.57219

The means by which signals were sent and interpreted via the telegraph was by what came to be known as Morse code. In this system, numbers, letters, and symbols were assigned a combination of dots and dashes that allowed for quick communication by simply tapping on a receiver. Skilled technicians could transmit a remarkable amount of text, up to 30 or 40 words per minute. A silversmith named S. W. Chubbuck from Utica, New York, seemed to have a particular interest in the Morse code system. This silver token is one of two minted, though more were made in bronze, and it depicts the full “Morse Telegraph Alphabet” and advertises his business, which apparently had a connection to the telegraph industry. Chubbuck later issued paper scrip during the Civil War that also included a tutorial in Morse code.

ANS, 1945.42.278
ANS, 1945.42.278

Perhaps the most famous bits of telegraphic numismatica are the Canadian nickels minted during the Second World War. New twelve-sided five-cent pieces were struck in brass and chrome-plated steel in 1943 amidst metal shortages caused by the war. As you can see, the device on the reverse was a torch splitting through a large V, which both indicated the denomination (5 ¢) and nodded towards the Allied ‘V for Victory’ campaign.

ANS, 1944.33.1
ANS, 1944.33.1

Some will note that the rims of the coin look a bit strange. This is because Thomas Shingles, the engraver of the Royal Canadian Mint, included a message along the rim in Morse code. Beginning at 6 o’clock (under the N) and reading clockwise it says:

We Win When We Work Willingly

Here’s a closer look at the top edge where the word “WORK” is spelled out: W (·——)  O (— — — ) R (· — ·) K (— · —)

1944.33.1.det

And with that short lesson in Morse code we end our short survey of the numismatics of the telegraph!

Matthew Wittmann

Frohes Neues Jahr | Happy New Year

The dawning of a new year has long been an occasion for celebration, but at least in numismatic terms, it seems to be the Germans who party the hardest. During the late nineteenth century, striking small medals and giving them away as one might send cards to friends and family was a common practice. But this new year’s numismatic practice extended all the way back into the eighteenth century as well.

ANS, 0000.999.3066
ANS, 0000.999.3066

This commemorative medal was struck to mark the beginning of 1718. The obverse apes Roman imagery in depicting Charles VI as a conquering hero and celebrates the Holy Roman Empire’s defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the Austro-Turkish War. The expression for best wishes in the new year in the exergue is rather tangential here, but the rise of specialist firms like Ludwig Christoph Lauer in the nineteenth century democratized the practice of medal-making.

ANS, 1940.100.723
ANS, 1940.100.723

This pretty medalet depicting angels with the inscription VIEL GLUCK ZUM NEUEN JAHR (good luck for the new year) is a nice example of the sort that were being struck and given away around this time. This particular one marks the beginning of 1890.

The most common form that these new year’s trinkets took in Austria and German was in medals that resembled business cards. The example below is a particularly rich one.

ans, 2011.2.1

ANS, 2011.2.1

The medal is the work of Franz Kounitzky, and you can see on the top of the car that the “sender” of this card (as indicated by the “ABS”) was Paul Schulz. It features an incredible ensemble of good luck charms for the new year of 1906: an automobile with a pig driving, a female figure holding a large cornucopia and a chimney sweep holding ladder with horseshoes sit in the back; there is a four-leafed clover on the luggage on top of the car; behind it is a devil with cut off tail raising its fist in anger (presumably the pig has just run him over?). Whatever the case, Frohes Neues Jahr!

Matthew Wittmann

A Countermark Christmas

I was casting about for a subject appropriate to the holiday season when I came across this coin:

ANS, 1943.132.4
ANS, 1943.132.4

And so I figured I would review some of our more interesting countermarked coins for the holiday season. This 1843 US large cent was apparently countermarked for one A. S. Warner as a Christmas gift in 1845. I am not sure if the maker had a full set of letter punches because a C has been used instead of a G in “GIFT.” It has also been suggested that the maker may have been drinking.

ANS, 1957.109.4
ANS, 1957.109.4

This is a silver four drachm minted in Alabanda around 170 BC that has been countermarked with the head of Tyche to revalidate the coin for circulation in Caria (southeast Turkey).

ANS, 1953.171.1081
ANS, 1953.171.1081

A rare bronze as struck in Rome during the brief but supposedly debauched reign of Caligula (AD 37-41). The purpose of the ‘AV’ countermark on the reverse, which depicts the Roman goddess Vesta, is unclear.

ANS, 1960.111.363
ANS, 1960.111.363

The reverse of a silver thaler minted in the German state of Württemberg during the early sixteenth century. The eagle countermark is thought to represent and validate the coin for circulation in the Hanseatic City of Lübeck.

ANS, 1917.215.2628
ANS, 1917.215.2628

A gold dinar bunduqi minted in Maghrib during the reign of Ismail Ibn Sharif (AD 1672-1727), the warrior king who consolidated the power of the Moroccan Alaouite dynasty. The counterstamp, a key between the initials JR, is supposed to have been that of King João V of Portugal, which maintained a string of coastal fortresses and trade centers along the Atlantic coast of northwest Africa.

ANS, 1913.130.209
ANS, 1913.130.209

This is a very worn 1795 US half dollar that features a neat countermark which resembles a spoked wheel. The speculation on the container is that this was marked for circulation in the Bahamas, but that seems dubious. Fred Pridmore suggested that it might be a Dharmarckra, a Buddhist religious emblem. Perhaps one for the “Mysteries from the Vault” series.?

ANS, 1970.156.712
ANS, 1970.156.712

So we are cheating a bit on this last one, which is not really countermarked, but is an appropriately repurposed coin. This is the reverse of a well-worn 1815 silver real from Columbia that some enterprising nineteenth-century American re-engraved as a Christmas gift for a loved one.

Happy holidays and for those in the giving mood, please consider donating to the American Numismatic Society as part of our year-end appeal.

Matthew Wittmann

Identifying Roman Coins on Micropasts

Micropasts is a web platform that hosts crowd-sourced collaborative research projects focused on archaeology, history, and heritage. The admirable goal of Micropasts is, in their words, to “improve how people traditionally distinguished as academics, professionals and volunteers cooperate with one another.” To this end, the website hosts a variety of projects that allow for contributions from enthusiasts, scholars, and the interested public on a wide variety of different topics. It is jointly run by the UCL Institute of Archaeology and the British Museum with support by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Micropasts.org
Micropasts.org

A relatively straightforward example of how the website works is a project that seeks to transcribe diaries kept by the noted Egyptian archaeologist, Sir Flinders Petrie. The project page includes a tutorial on how to contribute, which can involve either transcribing material directly from the scanned document, or reviewing the work of others to ensure its accuracy. A somewhat more complicated project is one by the British Museum that involves photo-masking medieval Pilgrim badges to create 3D models of the artifacts. All of the projects use the same simple interface which makes it easy to understand how you can help out, and there is a useful ‘Statistics’ tab for each that traces how the overall project is progressing.

There are a wide variety of different and salutary projects that users can contribute to, but we mention here because of a recently-launched numismatic one called the Roman Imperial Coin concordance.

ocreThis project was formulated by Daniel Pett of the British Museum and Ethan Gruber of the ANS to facilitate the addition of Roman coins catalogued in the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) to the NEH-sponsored ANS database Online Coins of the Roman Empire (OCRE). The tutorial explains just how the process works, but the essential task is for users to try and identify more precisely what the RIC (Roman Imperial Coinage) number for a given coin drawn from the PAS database is. If and when a more precise identification of the RIC number is made and confirmed, it can then be integrated into the larger OCRE database. pasrgbsize4The PAS, which is a voluntary program that records small archaeological finds by the public in the UK, presently has over 200,000 Roman coins in its database so it is a potentially rich resource for additional coins and data for OCRE.

Denarius of Tiberius, ca. AD 36-37 Portable Antiquities Scheme
Denarius of Tiberius, AD 36-37 | NCL-294EF5
Portable Antiquities Scheme

Of course, objects like the denarius above can only be integrated into OCRE when they have been properly identified so if you have time to lend a hand, head over to the project website!

Profiles in Research: Katherine Smoak

Last week Katherine Smoak, a graduate student in the Department of History at Johns Hopkins University, visited the ANS to research coins and counterfeiting in the eighteenth century Atlantic world. Katherine was kind enough to sit for a short interview about her work, and what follows is a lightly edited transcript of our talk.

ansvissmoak

What brings to you to the ANS today?

I am a Ph.D. candidate at Johns Hopkins University and I came to look at Caribbean coinage. I have been working on an article about counterfeits made in Birmingham and shipped to the Caribbean, mostly of Spanish and Portuguese coins, but also French billon coins.

And how did you get interested in numismatics?

Initially it came through an interest in crime and punishment in colonial America. I came across counterfeiters in this context and reviewing court records just made me realize how rich this sort of material about coins and paper money was.

What sort of material did you look at today?

Mostly at trays from the Caribbean cabinet. I am particularly interested in small change used mostly by enslaved peoples like black dogs and stampees.  And then I was also looking at some higher value coins like cut Spanish silver and Portuguese gold half-joes that had been variously clipped and plugged. I was really interested in the counterstamps and what that means for different islands as they tried to certify weights and keep coins in circulation amidst a flood of counterfeits.

What is a black dog?

It was a small French coin that was supposed to be a copper and silver alloy that was sent to the French colonies in the Caribbean, but ended up circulating much more widely. My understanding of them from what I have been reading is that by the 1780s and 1790s, most all of the black dogs in circulation were counterfeits and not the original imported coin. What is circulating is something like a trade token that was being produced en masse in places like Birmingham and shipped to merchants and planters to use as small change.

Part of what was so exciting for me looking at the trays today was just to see what these coins I have been reading so much about looked and felt like. Getting to feel how heavy a silver dollar was and how tiny some of the cut pieces are was really great. With the copper coins, seeing how crude and thin and easy they presumably would have been to produce and counterfeit was interesting. Seeing how much counterfeit material there was relative to genuine coin on particular trays was pretty remarkable. The wear and clipping and plugging on the gold joes was pretty amazing and thinking about the tactile interactions with money that people are having and how you can feel when a coin has been altered.

Was there a particular coin that you found illuminating?

ANS, 1927.143.1
ANS, 1927.143.1

One of the most exciting things I saw was this Portuguese half-joe that had been holed and counterstamped for Trinidad, Berbice, and Martinique. Being able to see the clipped edges and weigh it and see just how crude the holing looked was neat. All of the marks just show how widely this coin circulated in the Caribbean. This was my first time actually seeing a half-joe. It was really exciting for me to hold one after reading all these legislative minutes and Board of Trade letters about them.

And what are your future plans for the research you did here today?

Beyond this article about the production of counterfeits in Birmingham for the Caribbean that I have been working on is my dissertation, which explores the larger world of counterfeiting in the Atlantic world throughout the eighteenth century. I want reconstruct the ways that counterfeiters operated, building on the work of people like Kenneth Scott and Philip Mossman, and look at what the presence of counterfeits does to how people interact with money. The working title of the project is “Circulating Counterfeits: Making Money and its Meanings in the Eighteenth-Century British Atlantic.”

You can find out more about Katherine’s ongoing research and publications here.

The Poor Widow’s Mite

Every year at Christmas time, I seem to see mentions of the “poor widow’s mites” made famous by the story in Mark 12:41-44 (and also in Luke 21:1-4):

And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites (λεπτόν), which make a farthing (κοδράντης). And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had…

Tyndale Bible at the Bodleian Library, Oxford
Tyndale Bible at the Bodleian Library, Oxford

The word “mite” first appears in the books of Mark and Luke in the 1525 publication of Tyndale’s New Testament, where it was likely intended as a shortened version of the word “minute” and not as the name of a denomination. As the late Fr. Augustus Spijkerman has noted, the word lepton “implies very small coins…even we may say…the smallest coin being in circulation in Palestine at the time concerned.”

Oliver Hoover has noted that it is not surprising that scholars who made the early English translations of the Bible had a tendency to “reinterpret the ancient coin denominations of the Greek, Latin, and Hebrew scriptural sources in terms of contemporary sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English money.” Hoover, who discussed this in detail for an article in the ANS Magazine, points out that neither the original Greek text of the New Testament nor the Latin Vulgate Bible mention the “mite.” Instead the Greek or Latin words used in that version are, respetively, lepta or minuta.

Title Page of King James Bible (1611)
Title Page of King James Bible (1611)

The word “mite” was most widely disbursed by the authoritative King James version, which was printed in 1611 after work by dozens of scholars over nearly seven years. It became the most popular English version of the Bible ever published and it was noted for its scholarly translations and the artistry of its language, which influenced the course of English literature. In the preamble, the translators expressed the hope that the work would “speak like itself, as in the language of Canaan, that it may be understood even of the very vulgar.” In his article, Hoover observes that early English translations of biblical texts are of “some interest to numismatists, given their tendency to reinterpret the ancient coin denominations of the Greek, Latin, and Hebrew scriptural sources in terms of contemporary sixteenth and seventeenth-century English money.” In numismatic terms, the King James Bible can often tell us as much about the the circulating coinage of early modern Great Britain as it does that of the ancient world. However, there was no mite coin known to exist in British coinage of this period.

Hoover notes that the mite (meaning “small cut piece” in Old Dutch) only began circulating Flanders in the early fourteenth century. The early example below is billon, but by the sixteenth century, it was being minted in copper.

ANS, 0000.999.7906
ANS, 0000.999.7906

One might guess, therefore, that this denomination was imported and used in Britain at the time, but there is little evidence to support that possibility. Even though the Dutch mite did not circulate in Britain, and no British mites existed per se, it was mentioned in contemporary arithmetic books as a fraction of a farthing, varying from one-third to one-sixteenth.

Given all this, Hoover concludes that it seems likely that the mite entered into the King James Version “as a result of a translational quandary created by the original.” In the early English translations, the Gospel of Mark gives the value of two lepta as a kodrantes or quadrans. The crux of the matter for Hoover is that “any Latin grammarian would have known that a quadrans was a bronze coin worth one-fourth of a Roman as, making its English translation as farthing (one-fourth of a penny) almost unavoidable. Unfortunately, in the English coinage system there were no denominations smaller than a farthing, creating the problem of how to deal with Mark’s lepta/minuta.” With no British parallel for any coin smaller than a farthing, there is a good chance that the arithmetic term mite was brought into play.

Hoover also speculates, however, that Tyndale’s earlier translation might have been a little influenced by the contemporary Flemish monetary system. He continues:

After all, Tyndale is known to have had good Flemish connections, and he composed and printed his translation of the New Testament while in the nearby German cities of Hamburg, Cologne, and Worms. In 1534, Antwerp became his home and a base for shipping his contraband translations into Tudor England, until he was finally arrested and executed for heresy in 1536. Thus, Tyndale is likely to have been conversant with the Flemish currency system, in which there were twenty-four mites to the penning.

Whatever the case, British money was organized according the £sd or pound-shilling-pence system. There were 12 shillings in a pound and 20 pence (pennies) to the shilling, so a pound was 240 pence. There were smaller denominations than the penny, such as the farthing, which was one-quarter of a penny. There was an even smaller coin, worth a half-farthing (1/8 penny), that, borrowing the Flemish term, came to be known as a mite. It was for this reason that the smallest coin in circulation in early first century Jerusalem became known worldwide and probably for all time as the mite.

It is only natural that people who are interested in the stories of the Bible would want to know more about these coins and exactly which ones could be associated with the stories. In his History of Jewish Coinage and of Money in the Old and New Testament, Frederick Madden uncritically stated that the mite “was the smallest coin current in Palestine in the time of our Lord.” In a Handy Guide to Jewish Coins (1914), Edgar Rogers wrote of the story that it was natural to assume that the coins cast into the treasury were strictly Jewish and suggests that “with some degree of certainty it may be said that the popular coins for this purpose were the small copper of Alexander Jannaeus and his successors.” Whatever its origin and identity, the poor widow’s mite has become one of the most frequently referenced and most popular ancient biblical coins.

Here are two things we know about the widow’s mite story, as related by both Mark and Luke:

  • It is certainly a story about charity and goodwill, rather than a story about money. The poor woman gave all she had to the treasury of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, while, relatively speaking, many rich people gave little of themselves.
  • The amount of money the widow threw into the Temple treasury was two coins of the smallest size in existence in Jerusalem at that time. There is no doubt that the small prutah (Guide to Biblical Coins Nos. 1152, 1153) or half-prutah (GBC Nos. 1134, 1138, 1147, 1185-87) coins of the Maccabean kings and Herod the Great, fit that description. The most common, easily by a factor of more than 1000 to 1, is the small prutah. It would have most likely been struck by the Hasmonean successors of King Alexander Jannaeus (103 – 76 BC), which have been documented to range in weight from 0.20 to 1.70 grams, with an average of 0.81 grams.

The massive issue of these tiny bronze coins in this poor land filled a market need. Some versions of these coins may have been first struck very late in Jannaeus’ reign and likely continued to be minted periodically until as last as 50-45 BC. These coins were all decorated on one side with an anchor and on the other side a crude star.

ANS, 1944.100.62695
ANS, 1944.100.62695

Herod the Great also minted very similar looking but much more scarce coins, possibly quite early in his reign, which technically began on the ground in Judea around 37 BC. These coins range in weight from 0.49 grams to 1.78 grams with an average of 0.94 grams. Herod’s coins are decorated on one side with an anchor and on the other side with crude inscription.

ANS
ANS

The similarities of the Herodian to the Hasmonean in both design and general appearance coins suggest that the latter were crudely copied from the earlier ones, and archaeological finds suggest that their circulation overlapped. The illustration below shows the similarities between Hasmonean small prutot (GBC 1153, top 2 rows) and the slightly later Herodian small prutot (GBC 1173 – 1177 bottom 2 rows).

7.5

7.5a
© David Hendin

Both the Hasmoneans and Herod I also issued relatively small numbers of a few coin types which were clearly meant to be half denomination prutot. The best current evidence suggests that during the first century, the Judean shekel was made up of 256 prutot. Consider that there are 100 cents to the dollar and this was very small change indeed.

Archaeological evidence proves that even though these small coins were struck in the first century BC, prutot continued to circulate well into the first century AD when Jesus lived, and even as long as the fourth century AD. At the joint Sepphoris excavation in 1985, we found the small prutot of Jannaeus in the same areas as fourth-century Roman bronze coins. They were useful pieces of small change at a time and place that small change was not easy to find. Many late Roman and Byzantine small bronze coins were chopped in halves and quarters to accommodate the needs of the market.

One final aspect of the story of the poor widow’s mite remains relevant today. Many people of great means contribute little to charitable causes, while less wealthy individuals contribute a great deal relative to their ability. This is a topic fit for everyone to ponder.

David Hendin

Mysteries from the Vault: Ancient Amulet

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

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

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

Who or what are those little figures at bottom right?

ANS, 0000.999.56759
ANS, 0000.999.56759

 

0000.999.56759.web

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

Update:

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

 

NEH-Mellon Foundation Humanities Open Book Project

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

mellon_grant_logo_v2

 

neh_at_logo

 

 

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

20151217_145111

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

Read the full press release here.

Coins at NYC's Tenement Museum

Orchard Street, ca. 1898 Tenement Museum
Orchard Street, ca. 1898
Tenement Museum

The Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side explores the history of immigration in New York City with a variety of tours and exhibits centered along a row of former tenement houses on Orchard Street. The museum employs an innovative approach that uses a combination of historical preservation and historical narrative to connect visitors to the experience of immigration and instill an appreciation of the role that it has played in shaping American life.

©Alan Roche
©Alan Roche

Although the museum has since expanded, it was originally housed in a five-story tenement building at 97 Orchard Street that was constructed in 1863. To visit, you need to sign up for one of the assorted guided tours, which will take you through a particular floor of the building that has been arranged to show how the different groups of immigrants that inhabited the neighborhood over the years lived. The “Shop Life” tour, for example, looks at the various stores that occupied the basement of the building, which has been fixed up as an 1870s-era German saloon (my review). The 4th floor tour focuses on Irish immigrants, and so on. The building was originally divided into twenty apartments in addition to the two basement-level store fronts and it is estimated that over seven thousand immigrants lived there at one time or another, so there are a lot of stories to tell!

In any case, the reason that I am blogging about the Tenement Museum here is that they posted this on their Instagram account the other day:

As the caption indicates, the museum is presently expanding and discovered an old coin in the walls at 103 Orchard Street. Intrigued, I contacted to them to find out if they had found any other numismatic material over the years.

The Tenement Museum has about 10,000 items in their collection, which includes objects discovered and preserved from the former tenements at 91, 97, and 103 Orchard Street, and historical objects that have been donated or acquired to use for its tours and exhibitions. The artifacts found range from wooden toys to animal bones. We visited to take a look at the eight coins that were found in the buildings (there are additional coins and tokens that came in as donations), which ranged in date from 1876 to 1929. The oldest, an 1876 ‘Indian Head’ cent pictured below, was found in a rat’s nest under the floorboards.

TM-IndianHeadCent

Seven out of the eight coins in the collection were pennies, which is hardly surprising given that higher value coins were less likely to go missing. There was a wooden privy in the back court of 97 Orchard Street that sat above a mortared-brick vault filled with water that was periodically drained into the sewer system. When archaeologists excavated the back yard in the 1990s, the narrow vault yielded a trove of artifacts, including a 1909 Lincoln cent.

TM-LincolnCent

This was the first year that this famed coin designed by Victor David Brenner was minted. Lincoln’s portrait was added at that time to celebrate the centenary of his birth, and this was the first US coin to feature a president and the motto ‘In God We Trust.’ The new penny struck a chord with the public and became a popular keepsake. How this one ended up the privy, we will never know, but it is an interesting bit of Americana. The other coins were two Indian Head cents (1893, 1906), and four more Lincoln cents (1910, 1912, 1926, 1927).

TM-LibertyHeadNickAt right is the obverse of the 1908 ‘Liberty Head’ nickel that workers discovered in the walls the other day. As work on the buildings is ongoing, we suspect that more coins will be uncovered in the future and we will update this post if and when we hear about something new (see update below). In the meantime, I would encourage anyone to do a guided tour or check out one of the many other events at the museum.

TenVisit

Thanks to curator David Favaloro (left) and collections manager Danielle Swanson (right) for hosting us!

Matthew Wittmann

Tenement Museum
Tenement Museum

Update: It seems that just yesterday (12/15) another coin was found under linoleum laid in one of the apartments at 103 Orchard Street and it is real classic…a 1918 ‘Mercury’ dime.

2016 Summer Seminar Announcement

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

June 6 through July 29, 2016

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

IMG_7603

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

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

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

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

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