Fae Amiro is a PhD candidate at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. Her research focus is Roman portraiture, and she is currently writing a dissertation on the portraiture of the Imperial house during the reign of the emperor Hadrian, which addresses broader questions of portrait type creation and the dissemination of sculpture throughout the Roman empire. She was a participant in the 2017 Eric P. Newman Graduate Seminar.
The empress Sabina is not a figure who is frequently given much attention, due in part to her lack of prominence in the literary record. She was wife of the emperor Hadrian and they are said to have had an unhappy marriage, but not much else is known. Her coinage, however, has received more scholarly attention, because it was issued in larger numbers than that of any previous empress and features a good deal of variety in its portraiture. The question of the true chronology of her coinage has been debated for ninety years. However, few have addressed the reasons behind the changes observable in the coinage, in particular the impetus behind its start date and the introductions of new types.
In order to address these problems, I conducted a die study of the aurei which display the portrait of the empress Sabina. This had not previously been done and is the best way to form a relative chronological sequence for coinage. The die-link sequence confirms the following chronology for the portrait types which appear on the aurei. First is a type called the turban, dating to 128 C.E. (Fig. 1). The next type is Sabina’s main portrait type, the queue, which was probably introduced in the year 131 C. E. (Fig. 3). The Aphrodite type comes next, around 133/134, and was in use until her death and shortly thereafter. Following her death in 136/7, she was consecrated as a diva and a posthumous issue was created to commemorate this.
So, this answers the question of the true sequence of the types. The reasons for the creation of the last two types, the Aphrodite and posthumous types, are well understood. The Aphrodite is represented in a classicizing style, which is associated with Hadrian’s return to Rome after his trips in the east. The posthumous type was created to commemorate her consecration.
The impetus behind the creation of the other types is harder to address. The motivation behind the start of coining for the empress in 128, eleven years into Hadrian’s reign, is unclear. Previously scholars believed that it was because Sabina gained the title of Augusta in that year, but this has been proven incorrect by Eck and the results of the die study. Most likely a number of factors came together at the right time to inspire this change: the ten year anniversary of a reign was a common time for coinage reform, the imperial couple had just returned from a trip abroad and were about to embark on another one, there were no other Augustae alive at the time, and Sabina’s presence on coinage may have helped advertise the family’s prestige, given her relation to the imperial family of the previous dynasty. This last point is supported by the style of the portrait, which resembles that of her mother, Matidia, who was Trajan’s niece (Fig. 2).
Scholars have previously believed that the queue type was introduced to form a visual connection between Sabina and her predecessor, Plotina. However, there are a number of problems with this assessment. This message would have been redundant, since the turban already showed dynastic continuity, and untimely, since Plotina had died eight years previous. A side by side comparison shows that the very assertion that they look alike has been overstated, especially given the prevalence of ponytail-style hairdos among women at this time (Fig. 4). The motivation for the creation of the type is more likely the opposite, that it actually represents a stylistic departure from the previous dynasty and the introduction of a uniquely Hadrianic style.
More work needs to be done, but the results so far show that Sabina’s life events, particularly in association with Hadrian’s imperial travels, had an effect on the appearance of her coin portraits.
Tara Sewell-Lasater is a PhD student in the History Department at the University of Houston. Her work focuses on Hellenistic and Roman Egypt. She has previously worked on the role of women in Egypt during the Pharaonic period. Her dissertation will focus on the transmission of Greek and Roman traditions into Egypt and their subsequent envelopment into the Egyptian culture.
Queen Berenice II ruled in Egypt during the period of 246 to 221 BCE as the wife of Ptolemy III. She fit well into the Hellenistic period, which is known for familial infighting, extravagance, and outspoken female figures. From murdering her first husband, to participating in chariot races, eating her dinner with a pet lion, and finally being murdered by her own scheming son, she is an excellent example of all the drama the Hellenistic period could produce. She is perhaps most well-known from the poem by Callimachus, as retold by Catullus, which described the dedication of a lock of her hair at the temple of Arsinoe-Aphrodite and its subsequent catasterism. But, while these details of her life are dramatic and interesting, the most intriguing aspect of this queen is the coinage which was produced in her name.
Silver Dodekadrachm of Berenice II (Classical Numismatic Group VI.494)
The coinage of Berenice was minted in seven gold denominations and five silver. Some of them are exceptionally large; for instance, the silver dodecadrachms (also called pentekaidecadrachms) are some of the largest coins minted in a Hellenistic kingdom, second only to the 20-drachm pieces issued by King Amyntas of Bactria. These coins, and the other large and unusually weighted denominations of Berenice, do not seem to fit into the economic structure of the period. Egypt had a closed monetary system, and in 310 BCE Ptolemy I abandoned the Attic standard (with a silver drachm of 4.3 g) in favor of the Phoenician or Ptolemaic standard (with a silver drachm of 3.575 g). Thus, when Svoronos catalogued the Berenice coins in his 1904 work Ta Nomismata Tou Kratous Ton Ptolemaion and listed them as returning to the Attic standard, they quickly became a subject of contention for numismatists. This has caused historians and numismatist to question if the production of these coins had something to do with the Third Syrian War, or if, perhaps, they were minted outside of Egypt.
My project for the 2017 Eric P. Newman Graduate Seminar is a die study of the Berenice silver and gold coinage which attempts to answer some of these major questions.
For instance, one question about this coinage is which Berenice does it depict? As per Hellenistic tradition, the Ptolemies were fond of using the same royal names, and there were at least three royal Berenices at this time. This has led several historians, most notably Hazzard, to question if the queen on these coins was Berenice II or Ptolemy III’s sister, Berenice Syra. The die study and iconographic analysis conducted on the coinage has proven that the coins belong to Berenice II. There is a strong iconographic continuance between this coinage and that of her predecessor, Arsinoe II, that would have been useless to a Syrian queen. Additionally, these coins bear the inscription of ΒΕΡΕΝΙΚΗΣ ΒΑΣΙΛΙΣΣΗΣ (Berenike Basilissa); Basilissa was a title used by only a few Hellenistic queens, all of whom actively ruled, as Berenice II did while her husband was away during the Third Syrian War.
The biggest question of all is: on which standard were these coins minted? In the process of completing the die study for this coinage I gathered over 200 samples of the gold and silver coins of each denomination. The gold can be made to fit both the Attic and Ptolemaic standard through various formulas and the inclusion or exclusion of taxes. With the silver, however, lies the issue. My study will show that the silver denominations fit neither the Attic nor the Ptolemaic standard. The strange weight of the silver, then, calls the identification of the gold denominations into question, as the gold denominations were based on the silver. The study will also show that, although these coins did not fit either of the previously used standards, the coins were most likely minted in Alexandria for use within the closed system of Egypt. So, while my study answers some of the outstanding questions, such as who is depicted, where were these coins minted, and how many were minted, it also raises some new and important questions about the relation of this coinage to the weight standards of the period.
The American Numismatic Society cabinet contains a remarkable collection of Chinese coins and currency ranging from early bronze spade money (Fig. 1) and so-called “ant-nose” coins derived from cowrie shells down to more recent issues of the People’s Republic of China. Within this long parade of money, a watershed moment took place in the late third century BC when Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of a unified China (220–210 BC), introduced a new cast bronze coinage to be used throughout his empire. The coins, known in Chinese by their denomination ban liang (“half tael”), were circular in shape, like the contemporary coins of Greece and Rome, but included a square central hole that permitted them to be strung on cords for easy storage and transportation in an age before pockets (Fig. 2). Over the centuries the basic form of the ban liang was used and reused for new imperial coinages of different names and denominations like the wu zhu (“five-zhu”) and tong bao (“circulating currency”). As European trade with China expanded in the Far East in the seventeenth century, such coins came to be known in English as cash—a term derived from kaasu or kasa, South Indian (Dravidian) words for “money” often referring to a coin of small denomination.
While cash coins are interesting in their own right, not only in their role as currency, but also in Chinese tradition as talismans for the living, medicine for the sick, and assistance for the spirits of the dead. They are also remarkable as part of a growing corpus of Eastern coins brought to the shores of the United States and Canada early in the histories of these countries, largely unnoticed by the numismatic community. There is always something exciting about a coin discovered in a wrong or unexpected place. When this happens there is almost invariably a good story that goes with it.
Chinese cash coins have been recovered from Indigenous archaeological sites of the maritime fur trade period (1778–1850) along the northwestern coast of North America stretching from Alaska through British Columbia and into the contiguous states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. The coins were already being traded to Indigenous peoples of British Columbia by the late 18th century, as indicated by a meeting between the Spanish explorer Jacinto Camaño Moraleja and the important Nuu-chah-nulth (Nootka) chief Taglas Cania in 1792. On this occasion, Taglas Cania is reported to have arrived at the meeting wearing his finest apparel, which included a coat and trousers adorned with cash coins similar to the Qing (Manchu) Dynasty tong bao depicted below (Fig. 3). These were attached to his clothing like buttons, but seem to have been intended to announce the presence of their wearer by the pleasant tinkling sound they made when they struck against each other as he moved. The coins and their sound enhanced the status of the wearer, visually illustrating the chief’s important trade connections and providing him with his own theme music on occasions of significance. It has been claimed that the Tlingit peoples of Alaska sewed numerous cash coins to leather coats and vests not only as status symbols, but to serve as body armor in their conflicts with other tribes and Russian traders in 1802 and 1804. However, the military aspect of such clothing has been disputed, with some recent commentators arguing that it was primarily used as ceremonial garb. A number of Tlingit cash-encrusted jackets and vests can still be seen in public collections such as those of the American Museum of Natural History and the Canadian War Museum.
It is unclear exactly how long before the arrival of Caamaño the Indigenous peoples of the north west coast of North America developed their taste for Chinese cash, but 1788 seems most likely. In the spring of this year, the English captain John Meares sailed from the Chinese port of Guangzhou (Canton) with a complement of Chinese crewmen, and reached Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island. There he established a post for trade with the indigenous Nuu-chah-nulth peoples despite lacking permission from the East India Company to do so. It has been suggested that Meares’ Chinese crewmen may have begun trading cash coins to the Nuu-chah-nulth when they discovered the attraction of Indigenous peoples to articles made from copper—copper and brass pots had long been staples of European trade with the First Nations of North America—and that this chance trade became regularized in subsequent visits by English traders. On the other hand, it is just as possible that Meares purposely included cash coins in his cargo when he sailed out of Guangzhou in 1788 with the intention of trading them to Aboriginal peoples as trinkets in return for much more valuable seal skins.
Chinese cash coins remained a popular item of clothing decoration among the Indigenous peoples of the north western North America into the 20th century (Fig. 4), although by this time the supply brought by maritime fur traders was supplemented by coins carried by the large numbers of Chinese immigrants who came to work on the great transcontinental railways built in the United States and Canada in the 1860s and 1880s, respectively. Cash coins seem to have been preferred for adornment in part because they came ready for stringing and because they were obtained fairly easily. With a value equal to about one tenth of a U.S. cent, Chinese cash had virtually no use as money in North America. Nevertheless, when cash coins were not available, other coins, like U.S. dimes and half dimes (Fig. 5), were pierced by for the same decorative purpose.
It is worth noting that the custom of wearing coins as clothing adornment connects the Indigenous peoples of northwestern Canada and the United States not only to the Far East through their use of Chinese cash, but indirectly also to the Middle East. There many Islamic cultures had a tradition of piercing coins to be worn as part of a bride’s costume (most typically her headdress) on her wedding day. The ANS collection includes hundreds of examples of coins that have been pierced, some of which almost certainly received their holes in this wedding context (Fig. 6). It is from this custom that the term sequin (an English corruption of zecchino, the Italian name for the famous Venetian gold ducat and its imitations) enters modern parlance as the small, shiny disk-like decorations most frequently found sewn on to certain kinds of glamorous women’s apparel.
Coins found outside of their expected areas of circulation and put to unexpected uses are always a source of great interest. The case of Chinese cash in northwestern coastal North America is no exception, as the coins document the long-distance maritime trade between European traders operating from Chinese ports and Indigenous peoples and highlight the cross-cultural uses of coins as part of clothing. The modern states of Canada and the United States have prided themselves on being cultural mosaics and melting pots, respectively. The more attention paid to foreign money found in North America reveals these terms to be relevant just as much to coins as to people.
Several weeks ago, the ANS migrated an older, circa 2002 TEI ebook on the Taranto 1911 hoard, authored by John Kroll and Sebastian Heath, into our Digital Library. The original TEI file and subsequent updates have been loaded into our TEI Github repository. The updates follow transcription precedents that we have set in older ANS-published printed monographs as part of the Mellon-funded Open Humanities Book Program: relevant places, objects, people, etc. have been linked to entities in LOD systems, such as Nomisma.org. All of the objects within this hoard (itself linked to IGCH 1864) are in the British Museum and linked to their URIs. Upon publication into the ANS Digital Library, the document parts are now accessible from the IGCH 1864 record and in (eventually) in Pelagios, connected to relevant ancient places.
Since Sebastian is an active scholar, with an ORCID, this document served as a proof of concept for the next iteration of ANS digital publication: that our current and future monographs and journal articles, once issued openly online, should be connected to ORCIDs for their authors, and publication metadata should be submitted to Crossref to mint a DOI and enhance accessibility. Furthermore, since there’s a direct connection between ORCID and Crossref submissions, this new digital publication workflow would automatically populate an author’s scholarly profile with ANS publications. This is a vast improvement over the likes of Academia.edu, which requires manual submission. The broad vision is this:
Regardless of whether an author submits works through the American Numismatic Society Digital Library, Zenodo.org, Humanities Commons, their own institutional repository, or an Open Access journal system, their ORCID profile is the central, canonical aggregation of the entirety of their intellectual output (which includes datasets, software, etc.).
This aggregation system between DOIs and ORCIDs, following Linked Open Data principles, is the future of academic publication. Ideally, it should be expanded beyond citations to modern works with DOIs and ORCIDs to include more historic works defined by Worldcat and linked to historic scholars with ISNI identifiers. It would take a tremendous amount of work, but in theory, it would be possible to create a network graph of citations across all disciplines, going back in history to the advent of the printed book, charting the evolution of how knowledge is generated and disseminated. Therefore, Crossref, ISNI, and ORCID would perhaps play a greater role than providing simple (and superficial) citation metrics in enabling us to develop a broader historiography and analysis of scholarship itself. We plan to mint DOIs for our historical publications eventually, if Crossref extends its XML schema to support ISNI identifiers.
Under the Hood
Some extensions were implemented in ETDPub, the TEI/MODS publication framework that underlies the ANS Digital library. First, I authored XSLT stylesheets that would crosswalk TEI or MODS into the appropriate Crossref XML model according to their schema version 4.4.0. You can see an example of my MA thesis here:
If the author/editor URI matches an ORCID URI in the TEI, then the Admin panel in ETDPub will enable the publication of the metadata to Crossref. Similarly, within the MODS ETD editing interface (in XForms), a user can insert a mods:nameIdentifier[@type=’orcid’] under the mods:name for an author/editor in order to capture the ORCID. So far, only TEI or MODS records with ORCIDs attached to people are available for submission into Crossref to mint a DOI.
In the admin panel, if a document is eligible for submission to Crossref, a checkbox is available. Clicking on this will fire off a series of actions in the XForms engine:
The TEI/MODS-to-Crossref XML transformation is executed and loaded into an XForms instance
The Crossref XML is serialized to /tmp because it must be attached via multipart/form-data
Still having difficulty getting multipart/form-data to execute correctly in the XForms engine, the XForms engine instead interacts with a PHP script in CGI
After the PHP script responds with a successful HTTP code, the MODS/TEI document is loaded in the XForms engine in order to insert the DOI in the proper location within the document
The TEI/MODS file is saved back to eXist, and the standard publication workflow is executed (a chain of XForms submissions), updating the Solr search index and the triplestore/SPARQL endpoint
So far two documents in the Digital Library have DOIs connected to ORCIDs:
Gregory Callaghan is a PhD Candidate in Ancient History at the University of Pennsylvania, and a Kolb Fellow of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Greg has a wide range of research interests, including Roman Republican politics and the evolution of Athenian democratic institutions. His main focus, however, is the international relations of the Hellenistic Period. His dissertation applies IR theories of status hierarchy and regional powers to the growth of the Attalid kingdom, examining Attalid foreign benefactions through epigraphy and archaeology.
One of the traditional lectures of the Eric P. Newman Graduate Seminar in Numismatics is entitled “Cistophoric Mysteries.” It is an apt name for a lecture dedicated to the cistophoric coinage of Asia Minor. Known as one of the ugliest coins ever produced, the cistophorus was introduced by the Attalid dynasty on a reduced silver standard, somewhere between 190 and 160 BCE. And that is more or less all that we agree on, with the exact date of its introduction, its nature of production, and to what degree it was a closed currency system still debated. But if we still scratch our heads at the nature of the early cistophoric coinage, this is nothing compared to our ignorance of the late cistophoric coinage. From ca. 105–60 BCE, a generation after the end of the Attalid dynasty, several Anatolian mints issued a second series of cistophoric coinage, which was followed by issues produced by these same mints under the direction of Roman magistrates. It is only now that these later issues of cistophori have begun to receive the scholarly attention they deserve. Helped in particular by the generous bequeathal of Rick Witschonke’s collection of cistophori to the ANS—undoubtedly the finest single collection of the coins in the world—Lucia Carbone and William Metcalf have forthcoming studies that investigate the late cistophori of Tralles and the Proconsular Cistophori, respectively.
My project for the graduate seminar picks up on these recent studies by examining the late cistophori of Laodiceia-ad-Lycum. This city is described by Strabo as one of the two great cities of Phrygia, along with Apameia—another late cistophoric mint. Hoard evidence suggests that it began minting cistophori around 90 BCE, and continued into the 60s BCE, when the mint switched from seemingly civic issues to issues stamped with the authority of the Roman proconsuls. My die study of the coinage shows that the mint had a stable output of cistophori through both periods of production. This may seem unremarkable, until we place this in a greater context, both chronologically and geographically. Under the Attalids, Laodiceia produced only 4 identified obverse dies, less than 2% of total cistophoric production. Yet it produced 46 identified obverse dies in the late cistophoric period. Furthermore, in the period of late cistophoric production, Laodiceia produced less than 10% of the total cistophori minted in the province, but it produced over 20% of the proconsular cistophori.
These substantial changes between periods of production need be explained. Until we have more complete studies of all the mints of the late cistophoric period, we can do little more than speculate. But it seems that around 90 BCE, something occurred at the local level that resulted in Laodiceia springing from a mint hardly worth mentioning, to one producing at the level of its more established neighbor, Apameia. In the decades that followed, as we become more certain of Roman oversight, it is clear that a Roman provincial policy developed that maintained the cistophoric production of Laodiceia, while dramatically cutting the production of other mints. My study of Laodiceia can do little more than draw attention to the existence of these situations, and cannot pinpoint the explanation behind them, but it does provide an important piece of the puzzle that I hope can be completed with the addition of further pieces as more of the late cistophoric mints are subjected to similar scrutiny.
The Art of Devastation: Medals and Posters of the Great War premiered as an online exhibition on July 31, 2017. Based on the physical exhibition by the same name, which ran from January 27–April 9 at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College, the online edition includes each of the 130 medals and posters with text and high-quality, “zoomable” color images. The online exhibition also includes video, maps, and links to the ANS’s collections database. Guests can browse the exhibit on their computers, tablets, and smart phones. The exhibition and its catalogue were co-edited by Peter van Alfen, the Margaret Thompson Curator of Greek Coins and head of Curatorial at the ANS, and Patricia Phagan, the Philip and Lynn Straus Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center. The online exhibit was created by Andrew Reinhard, ANS Director of Publications.
This marks the first in a new series of free online exhibits created and curated by the ANS using tools provided by the Google Cultural Institute. The ANS collections include more numismatic specimens and artifacts than could ever be shown in its public exhibition space, or through loans to other museums. By curating permanent, online exhibits, the ANS can share its collections in organized, thematic ways for anyone to enjoy. Future online exhibits for 2017 include Funny Money: The Fight of the U.S. Secret Service against Counterfeit Money, curated by Ute Wartenberg, and an exhibition on Umayyad coinage curated by Vivek Gupta.
The printed exhibition catalogue for The Art of Devastation is available for purchase through the ANS’s store.
In the early 1990s, Don Everhart of the Society of Medalists from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, struck a series of bronze medals depicting dinosaurs on their obverse and corresponding fossils on the reverse. As climate change becomes increasingly visible and requires the cooperation of the international political community, these medals start to gain new meanings. Will humans rise to the challenge of the impending environmental turmoil, or will we perish?
Consider the meticulously designed stegosaurus medal. Its distinctive spine curves down to its tail fitting perfectly within the irregular shape of the medal (ANS 1995.75.7). We see the majestic dinosaur’s profile sipping from a lake while a T-Rex looms in the distance. Like coarse rocks, each medal in this series is fashioned in an irregular shape to emphasize the body of the creature. Unlike the lifelike scene on obverse in relief, on the reverse all of it vanishes into bones pressed into the ground. A thin edge between existence and extinction.
While the medalist, Everhart, may have never intended for these medals to have any implications for climate change, they make the problem tangible today. Each dinosaur portrait represents the coming and going of an entire species. In spite of their monumental might, they were not able to survive the test of time. Accordingly, they are miniaturized and fossilized into an medal now in the ANS’s vault.
As much as collections such as the American Numismatic Society exist for us to learn about the past, they are as much for us to interpret and reinterpret today. If numismatic objects are historicized only in relation to the immediately preceding and following periods, sometimes their broader importance can be overlooked. The elegant medallic dinosaur fossils remind us that humans too could one day be in danger if we do not take care of the natural world around us.
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.
In the past decade, the American Numismatic Society has been fortunate to acquire a number of African numismatic objects from the Boston-based collector Alan Helms. These objects are mostly produced within the last two centuries and are distinguished by their large size for objects of numismatic value. Most of the objects come from modern-day Congo, Nigeria, and Cameroon. At first blush they come across as simply worked pieces of metal. The ANS caught up with Helms to find out more about his overall collecting practices and what led him to these objects, and to learn about how he grew his collection.
Q: When was the first time you bought a numismatic object from Africa? What inspired you to collect this work in particular?
I bought my first piece of African currency from Monsieur Huguenin at Galerie Majestic on Rue Guenegaud, and in short order I started buying from most of the galleries in Paris. Whereas a good Baule wooden standing figure in those days might sell at auction for $3,000, $4,000, or $5,000, one could find superb currency for a fraction of that cost. This work remains one of my favorites.
Q: Where were you acquiring these objects when you lived in Paris? Can you describe the market for African works in Paris at the time?
I was a visiting professor at the University of Paris (Nanterre) in 1983 when a colleague took me to several African art galleries and the African collection at the old Musée de l’Homme. I remember being totally smitten. Around the same time, I discovered African metal currency, which I found equally intriguing as African art, and it was more affordable. So I began to purchase examples in Paris. This launched me into a lifetime of collecting African currency in Europe and the United States. Within a few years I had some 80 pieces.
Q: How have these objects fit within the context of your overall collecting practices?
The two main collections of my life have been African metal currency and Chinese scholar rocks—both incidentally among the world’s most beautiful abstract arts.
Q: How did you learn more about the objects you collected?
Visual features have been my sole guide throughout so I’ve never studied these objects in any systematic, scholarly fashion. I’m almost exclusively concerned with the forms themselves. But it’s also true that little serious work has been done to date on African metal currency. Few catalogues exist and many of those are of doubtful value. It’s a ripe field for art historians who specialize in African art!
Q: You have donated parts of your numismatic collection to several important institutions including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Wellesley College. Other than the study and care for your works, what relevance do you think they could carry?
For one thing, the objects themselves are aesthetically fascinating. Beyond that, they’re an important part of the material history of the cultures that have created them.