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The Collier Prize in Ancient Numismatics

Self-Portrait after Hans Memling (2006)

The American Numismatic Society, with the support of Carole Anne Menzi Collier, is pleased to announce The Collier Prize in Ancient Numismatics, a new award that will be offered for the first time in 2021. This substantial monetary prize will be awarded biennially to the best single or multi-authored book, catalogue, or online digital work in the field of ancient numismatics (650 BCE–300 CE). The winner(s) will receive prize money of $20,000, to be split equally in the event of a multi-authored work. For the initial prize eligible publications will be limited to those works published in 2019 or 2020. A jury of five senior numismatists will be appointed biennially by the President of the American Numismatic Society, which will include a senior ANS curator. For the initial Prize the jury is expected to announce its selection in late 2021. The winner(s) will be invited to an award ceremony to be held—we hope—in person at the ANS’s headquarters in New York City. To apply for the Collier Prize, please fill out the application form, which can be found on this webpage and forwarded it to the Prize secretary, Dr. Peter van Alfen. The deadline for applications is January 15, 2021.

The artist in his studio in 2012. Image: Magpeye Photography.

Prof. James M. Collier

The Prize is named after the late Professor James M. Collier and commemorates the life of a remarkable man, an ardent lover of the history and culture of Europe and the Ancient world, and a passionate collector of ancient Greek and Roman coins. Prof. Collier was born on Halloween in 1943 in Bellingham, Washington, in the Pacific Northwest, where he pursued his early academic training, graduating from Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) (Tacoma, Washington) with a Bachelor of Arts in History in 1965. After graduating from PLU he worked for the Boeing Corporation as an engineer. He was seconded to Washington D.C. on the Minuteman project, where his office was located across from The National Gallery. For two years he spent every lunch hour at the Gallery and came to realize his real love for art and art history. Returning to Pacific Northwest he attended the University of Oregon and graduated with a Master of Arts in Art History in 1970. Thereafter, he moved to the Midwest to pursue a PhD in Art History at the University of Michigan, which he completed in 1975. He was appointed an Assistant Professor in the Art History Department at Auburn University (Auburn, Alabama), where he eventually was tenured and became department chair. Over the course of his academic career, he lectured widely and published on the Italian Renaissance and Early Netherlandish perspective, which had been the subject of his doctoral dissertation, entitled Linear Perspective in Flemish Painting and the Art of Petrus Christus and Dirk Bouts.

Giacomo (1999) and Carolina (1999)

While a PhD student he assisted Professor Marvin Eisenberg with the University of Michigan’s Sarah Lawrence Summer Program in Italy. It was in Florence that summer that he met his wife Carole Anne in the Sacristy of Sta Croce. Traveling the world was to remain an important part of his life. He visited over 84 countries. In 2012 he sailed with a crew of three on a 50-foot sailboat from Capetown, South Africa to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, covering over 4,000 nautical miles across the South Atlantic. A motor racing enthusiast, his travels also included frequent trips to the Indy 500 and following the Formula One circuit.

Galleon (1995)

It was also during his time as a graduate student in Italy that his interest in ancient coins was fully reignited, as well as his love for Rome and the Classical World. His interest in coins had started when he was seven years old when his father returned from a business trip to New York City with six ancient coins that awaited him under the Christmas tree. He collected for the next 65 years; the last coin, an aureus of Nero, was logged into the collection a week before his death in 2015. Collecting ancient coins became the foundation of his broad fascination with art, history, and culture. His collection of almost 1,000 Greek and Roman coins gave him immense pleasure, continually inspiring him by their beauty and depictions of famous monuments and portraits of Hellenistic and Roman rulers. While the Collier Prize at the ANS commemorates his love of ancient coins, his love for Rome and the Classical World has also been commemorated by the Collier Scholarships at the American Academy in Rome, which allow students from Oregon, Michigan, and Alabama to attend the Classical Summer School thereby extending his passion for the Ancient World to future generations. He was a greatly admired and beloved teacher who brought dozens of students to Rome to share with them the wonders of the ancient world.

Reconstruction of Brunelleschi’s Baptistry Experiment (1980). Image: Museo Opera Del Duomo Florence.

Essentially a self-taught painter, Prof. Collier took up painting full time in 1987, when he joined Carole Anne in New York City to improve his skills at the National Academy of Design, where he attended the Program in Painting from 1988 to 1989. Already by that point he had published and exhibited his work in a number of venues. His interest in perspective and its application in the visual arts has deep roots. Even as a child in kindergarten his teacher noted that he had “an unusual awareness of perspective compared to his peers.” In 1980, for example, he began to combine his academic interest in perspective with painting by reconstructing the first painting in single point perspective: Filippo Brunelleschi’s lost painting of the Florentine Baptistry. The painting was exhibited in the Biennale in Venice in 1986 in the Italian pavilion and now is in the permanent collection of the Museo del Opera del Duomo in Florence where the original experiment was conducted in 1425. His series of paintings “Eccentric Views of Italian Architecture” reflect that lifelong interest in perspective.

Florence Cathedral (2008)

In 1990, Prof. Collier and Carole Anne moved to the Netherlands, where he had been an American Field Service exchange student, eventually taking up residence and establishing a studio in a seventeenth-century canal house on Amsterdam’s famous Keizergracht. Although Prof. Collier continued on occasion to lecture on art history and to work as an academic, including a stint in 1993 as a Smithsonian Institution Art Historian in Florence, he was until the end of life a self-sufficient artist. His work was shown in solo and group exhibits in various parts of the U.S., the Netherlands, and Italy, and is represented in private collections in the U.S., as well as in the Netherlands, Italy, England, Norway, and Thailand.

Twelve Houses (2008)

His paintings, a selection of which are illustrated here, cover a range of topics, including portraits, dogs, views of Amsterdam, Italian architecture, ships, and fantasies (more of his paintings can be seen on a website devoted to his work). Prof. Collier was inspired by the world of visual reality. He strove to reflect a selective view of things based upon careful empirical observation, which was never the result of artificial non-observational means such as photographic projection. As Prof. Eisenberg noted on Collier’s solo exhibition of Italian architectural paintings at the Italian Cultural Institute in Amsterdam in 1992, “James Collier’s eye is both lens and filter. He grasps both the large and the small, the essential shape and the minute inflection of light, color, and texture. His power to see is what the American poetess Marianne Moore calls ‘piercing glances into the life of things.’” His work displays not just his acute attention to detail and the play of light and shadow, but also the joy he took in the medium of painting and its long history, most apparent in the portraits he did of himself and Carole Anne.  

Miniature Numismatic Books


According to the Miniature Book Society, only volumes no larger than three inches in height, width, or thickness may properly be classified as miniature books. The small clay tablets used in ancient Mesopotamia are but one example of the long history of writing and recording information on small objects. The usual starting point in this vein for printing history are the Muku Jo-ko Sutra, which were tiny scrolls of magical Buddhist incantations that were printed using wooden blocks and then enshrined in miniature pagodas as an act of penance by the Empress Shotoku (765-770 CE). In medieval Europe, miniature manuscripts in the form of codex books, usually of a religious nature, were common, but it was not until the advent of the printing press in the 15th century that miniature books proper appeared. The Lilly Library at the University of Indiana has a wonderfully informative online exhibition that traces the varied history of miniature books, but our concern here is of course with the numismatic dimensions of this corpus.

The Harry W. Bass Jr. Library at the American Numismatic Society has a dozen or so volumes that qualify as a miniature books. The smallest by far is by the Japanese artisan bookmaker Asao Hoshino. Measuring less than an inch square, Old Coins of the World (1977) has a black leather cover with gilt lettering and edging.

minibooksOnly 250 books were produced and you can see the number 188 embossed on the cover of the ANS copy. The bulk of the 192-page volume consists of small black and white illustrations of historical coins with captions in Japanese and English.

For reasons that are unclear to me, miniature books seem to have been particularly popular in Hungary. Two small hardbound volumes with well-struck silver plaquettes on their covers are the highlight of these Hungarian titles.


These little books were printed in 1984-85 to mark the 250th anniversary of the mining officers’ training school at Selmecbánya, and chronicle its history using medals and plaquettes associated with the school. Perhaps the most useful of the modern miniatures in terms of actual content is Történelmünk penzeken by István Gedai, which was published in Budapest in 1975 and details the numismatic collection at the Hungarian National Museum.

Most of the modern American miniatures are cheaply produced novelties, but the Hillside Press of Tilton, New Hampshire, published some wonderfully-made miniature books in the 1960s and 1970s. The diminutiveIMG_117787 Colonial Coins (1974) was printed in 6 point Bulmer Roman type that was set by hand. The text by F. E. Irwin gives a very brief history of the coinage of British North America and is illustrated with well-cut engravings throughout.

For those of an antiquarian bent, the library unfortunately does not hold any older titles that qualify as miniatures, though there are a few books that do not miss by much. A quatro 1584 edition of one of the earliest and most famous numismatic books, Emblemata, et aliqvot nvmmi antiqvi operis by Johannes Sambucus, is slightly smaller than a 3″ x 5″ notecard.


It also contains some fabulous woodcuts, including one of the earliest representations of the sport of tennis. A poem alongside the illustration is addressed ‘Ad pilulam’ (‘To the tennis ball’), and characterizes it as something that young men waste their time chasing around.

Another notable title is Introductio ad historiam numismatum (1683). It was written by Charles Patin (1633-1693), a French physician and keen numismatist who was arrested in 1666 for smuggling books prohibited by the Catholic Church into Paris. IMG_117804-2Choosing exile over living out his life on a prison galley, he traveled throughout Europe, visiting coin cabinets and making a number of significant scholarly acquaintances. Patin eventual settled in Padua and published several important numismatic studies. The spine on this particular volume measures a little over five inches, and it is actually a Latin translation of the original study first printed in French in 1665.

So ends our short survey of small books, and I would remiss not to acknowledge the generosity of the late Richard B. Witschonke, who collected and donated many of these volumes to the ANS.

Matthew Wittmann