Tag Archives: visitors

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.


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.

Profiles in Research: Andrei Gandila

For the past month, Andrei Gandila, an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, has been at the ANS working on a project that examines the coinage of Byzantium. He was kind enough to sit for a short interview about his work, and what follows is a lightly edited transcript of our talk.


To start off, maybe you can just tell me a bit about what you have been doing at the ANS these past few weeks?

I am working on a new book project about the circulation of early Byzantine coins [Money in a Pre-Modern Economy: Coin Circulation in the Eastern Mediterranean, c. 500-650]. This is not my first time at the ANS. I was a student at the summer seminar in 2009 and I came back in 2010 to do some research for my dissertation [“Marginal Money: Cultural Encounters on Byzantium’s Northern Frontier”]. This new project actually started in the summer seminar when I was looking at the circulation of early Byzantine coins in the eastern provinces, which turned into an article that was published in the American Journal of Numismatics. There were three things that I noticed that I think are important.  The first thing was that numismatists of the early Byzantine period were concentrating on particular places such as the Balkans, Palestine, Syria, and Italy–but I realized that there were so many finds published in the past three decades that we could begin to look at a bigger picture. So that is what I did in the massive AJN article, which is the foundation for this new book.

That article looked at circulation in the “eastern provinces,” what does that correspond to in modern-day geography?

I would say the Balkans plus Asia Minor and parts of the Middle East–modern Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel. It’s a big project obviously, but there seems to be an opportunity because many numismatists are so regional in their approach. The other thing, and this is where I want to connect with historians and work on Mediterranean networks of exchange and communication in late antiquity, is that much of that literature avoids talking about coins. Numismatic evidence in this context is often poorly understood and rarely used, and so my intention is to bring coins into this discussion. My hope is that this will help our understanding of the period. Archaeologists have been looking at the distribution of pottery, but in my opinion coins are much more powerful than ceramics. It is not just that they can be dated, but it tells something about the economy and the movement of coins and people. And you know where coins are produced, which is not always true for ceramics. One of my main goals here at the ANS has been to finish up this article, which is also going to be a basis for a chapter in the book, that looks at coins minted in the West–Italy and North Africa–found in the East–the Balkans, Asia Minor, and the Black Sea region in the sixth century.

So around the time of Justinian’s reign?

Yes, Justinian is a very important part of the story. He was a very ambitious Emperor; he had this dream of recreating the old Roman world, which meant reconquering the West and he was partially successful in this. He reopened mints at Carthage, Ravenna, Rome, and probably in Sicily as well, and all of this coinage circulated eastward with finds as far as Georgia. My goal in this article then is to find explanations–how did they circulate this far and why? Why didn’t they just stay near where they were minted? So I am looking at economic interpretations, archaeological interpretations, and the political and military situation. Justinian was waging war on several fronts at the same time and troops and coins were moving around because of that. Obviously there are limitations to this as a lot of coin collections, in Turkey for instance, have not been published.

Anyways, the third reason I am doing this book is that there has been a long debate about the nature of ancient coinages. Numismatists and economic historians have been reluctant to draw parallels with modern monetary systems, but the question is whether there is any token coinage in the 6th century. Is there anything that is pre-modern? How modern was early Byzantine coinage?

ANS, 1944.100.14818
ANS, 1944.100.14818

When you look at a Justinian follis, for example, you get a lot of modern looking bureaucratic information, much more than you would expect from a coin from the 6th century. On the obverse you have the Emperor and his legend, and on the reverse the large M indicates the face value–it is the Greek numeral of forty. And then you have the mint mark, which is for Constantinople, and the workshop number, in this case three. It also gives the exact date, year twelve (XII) of Justinian’s rule, which is AD 538-539. So this is a very bureaucratic and standardized way of displaying information on a coin, which is something that you see on any coin you handle today.

Right, so your interpretation suggests that because these coins look modern, they might have also been used in different ways than people have assumed.

Yes. This is arguably the most bureaucratic ancient coinage and part of my research is to find out exactly what the purpose of these coins was. Was it about the weight? Was it about the face value? A combination of the two? This is a big question that we simply don’t yet have an answer for. The weight standard is very inconsistent and that is a problem. The traditional interpretation of course has been that the value of coins are tied to their weight and metal–gold, silver, copper. That was certainly true for gold, but not so much for the copper. This follis of Justinian is by far the heaviest Byzantine coin ever minted, but there are hoards with coins of the same value that weigh half as much that are found mixed together with Justinian’s coinage. They clearly circulated together! How do you reconcile that unless it was all about face value? Unless there was some sort of common agreement that we are going to value and use these as an M, a piece of forty, and not based on the weight, then the system could not work. So there was some kind of token or fiduciary value behind these that we don’t yet understand. And this is something very modern.

How did you get interested in numismatics in the first place?

After my first year at the University of Bucharest, I went on a dig at Capidava on the Lower Danube and we found this metal thing that I had no idea what it was. It was a very rough uneven shape, but I cleaned it and the details came through. It was actually a late 6th century coin of the Emperor Maurice. I spent hours trying to figure out what it was, and when I eventually discovered it was a Byzantine coin, I was just fascinated. I was a history major at the time and I just combined my interest in history with my interest in coins, and it has developed into a career. It really all goes back to that first coin.

To see more about Andrei’s forthcoming and ongoing numismatic research, check out his webpage.

Profiles in Research: Chad Leahy

Last week, the ANS was visited by Dr. Chad Leahy, an Assistant Professor of Spanish and Early Modern Cultural Studies in the Department of Languages & Literatures at the University of Denver. Chad was kind enough to sit for a short interview about his work, and what follows is a lightly edited transcript of our talk.

Chad Leahy (left) and David Yoon

What brings you to the ANS today?

I am working on a book project right now about the representation of Jerusalem in early modern Spanish culture and how the politics and interests of Spain in the Holy Land were refracted in art and literature. I also am finishing up an article on the place of coins in a particular episode of Don Quixote that deals with the expulsion of the Moriscos. In the 16th Century, ‘Morisco’ was a term used to refer to the descendants of Muslim people in Iberia, who were expelled from Spain in 1609-1614. Moriscos were officially converts to Christianity, but most of them only nominally so. One of the characters in the novel, Ricote, was a Morisco who was expelled but then sneaks back to recover some buried treasure. The buried treasure of Ricote has been studied a lot from an economic angle, but I am looking at what happens when we read the coins as objects–looking at the marks and inscriptions on them to see the propagandistic messages that were circulating at the time. The discourses used to justify the expulsion were connected to Crusade propaganda and ideas about Spanish national identity, and these same messages are communicated through those coins. So there’s an interesting ironic tension between the character’s own biography and the coins he is coming back to recover. The thing that got Ricote expelled in the first place is stamped on his coins.

And were there some coins that you saw today that you found particularly interesting or enlivening?

Until now, the pieces that I have seen are things you find on Google images or coins published in books. I haven’t had the opportunity to examine any pieces in person and its hard to know without doing so what is real and what is being misrepresented or poorly described.

In Don Quixote, Ricote has all different kinds of money. Most of his money is in the form of escudos and initially I was just surprised by how small escudos are. The expulsion of the Moriscos happened under the reign of Philip III (1598-1621) and the ANS has an escudo from that period and also a gold Portuguese cruzado from a little bit earlier.

ANS, 1969.222.2697
ANS, 1969.222.2697


Both pieces are really fascinating. In the heraldry of the period there is a particular kind of cross called the cross potent that was a mark of the crown of Naples, which was in turn connected to both the crown of Jerusalem and the crown of Aragon through marriage and conquest. The cross potent came to represent the Kingdom of Jerusalem. These coins have crosses potent on them and the reason why this is significant in the period as it relates to propaganda and the expulsion is that this particular kind of cross gestures to Crusader propaganda and the idea of universal battle against Islam. It embodies the idea that Spain is destined to reconquer Jerusalem. These kinds of ideas were used to justify the expulsion of the Moriscos in 1609 and this is a connection I want to highlight. 

ANS, 1936.13.4 (obverse)
ANS, 1936.13.4 (obverse)

One surprise today was that the cruzado (left) had a potent cross on it too [centered above the coat of arms]. I did not know that Portugal had crosses potent on any of their coins and they appear to have them in the 16th century on a good number of their cruzados.


And finally what are your future plans for this work?

This is going to be part of two works in progress. The first is an article that I am finishing up focusing on the Don Quixote coins, and the second is a larger book project about Jerusalem and early modern Spain.

For information about how this work develops, check out Dr. Leahy’s academia.edu page here.

Profiles in Research: Katherine van Schaik

Last week the ANS was visited by Katherine van Schaik, an M.D. and Ph.D. student at Harvard University. Katherine was kind enough to sit for a short interview about her work, and what follows is a lightly edited transcript of our talk.

FullSizeRenderSo you are pursuing both a medical degree and a Ph.D. in Ancient History?

I work on the history of medicine, so that’s where the overlap is. I also study bioarchaeology and paleopathology, which is the study of disease in the past. I look at changes in the burden of disease and disease patterns over time. 

And how did you get interested in numismatics?

I did my undergraduate degree at Harvard College, so I had interacted with Carmen Arnold-Biucchi at that time. She taught a section on coins for a course I was taking, and the idea she communicated to our section — that you could see and hold something that someone had seen and held and used so long ago — was just incredible to me. And that’s what I really like about coins: the opportunity to do ‘hands-on’ history. That’s also part of why I like studying human remains: there’s really no way to get closer to the people of the past then to examine their bones and their remains. It makes the past very real and very human, and I think coins also inspire this feeling of connection. And so that section with Carmen stuck in my head. Fast forward a few years to my work in the PhD program at Harvard. We have a numismatics requirement for our Ph.D., so I was thinking about what I was reading and studying with regard to these healing sanctuaries in the ancient world–Epidaurus, Cos, Pergamon, among others. I had seen some coins from Epidaurus with the healing god Asclepius on them, and I was intrigued by the iconography. It seemed a little bit like a form of marketing that this city that is so tied to its identity as a place of healing would put iconography associated with healing on its coinage. And so I approached Carmen and asked if she would consider teaching me in an independent study course on the topic. 

And so clearly that project has significantly progressed. What brought you to the ANS today?

The breadth and depth of the collection.. Harvard has a fantastic collection and what’s available on the ANS website is great, but being here and actually seeing these trays of coins was transformative. You can see all of the different varieties and changes next to each other. I can look at a coin from a healing sanctuary in Cos and then I can compare it to a coin from Epidaurus. It’s the intensity and immediacy of the comparison that makes for a really fruitful research opportunity.

ANS, 1944.100.48492
ANS, 1944.100.48492

Could you talk about a coin that you saw today that you found particularly important?

One that I found interesting is this silver drachm from the island of Cos, which had a huge temple to Asclepius and also is supposedly where Hippocrates was born and taught medicine. The word cancer that we use to denote neoplastic growth was used in Greco-Roman antiquity to mean any kind of hardened lump on the body. We’re not sure exactly if it was cancer in the sense that we would understand cancer or if it was an abscess or some other form of swelling. It’s clear that the word (καρκίνος) could mean ‘cancer’ in the sense that we now understand but the term did not apply to this pathological condition exclusively. In a medical context, the word καρκίνος is descriptive, in that its literal meaning is ‘crab’. The image of the crab is very common for coins from the island of Cos, and it is hard to prove this idea, but I do wonder if there is some connection between the iconography of the crab and the idea that one goes to Cos to be healed of the swelling called a καρκίνος. I don’t know if there’s a pun or some kind of link with what happened at the healing sanctuary and the iconography. And it might be something impossible to prove, but its something I am considering in my research at the moment.

And finally, what are your future plans for this work?

I am presenting the results of this research later this year at the International Numismatic Congress in Taormina for which I generously received funding from both the ANS and INC. Hopefully I will be able add to the conference proceedings volume as well. The healing sanctuary coinage I will be presenting myself, and then I am also presenting jointly with Carmen the research on the crab and its potential relationship with cancer and Cos. 

You can find out more about Katherine’s ongoing research and publications via her Harvard website here

Profiles in Research: Hilary Becker

Last week the ANS was visited by Hilary Becker, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Classics at the University of Mississippi. Dr. Becker was kind enough to sit for a short interview about her work, and what follows is a lightly edited transcript of our talk.

IMG_1312What brings you to the American Numismatic Society today?

I study Etruscan economy and exchange. I have worked on three Etruscan excavations and I currently work at S. Omobono in Rome, but I have never had the opportunity to handle Etruscan coinage. I have seen many, many, examples of Roman coinage but for someone working on Etruscan economy, just the simple fact of being able to handle it and to look for differences in scale was important to me.

How did you first come to the study of Etruscan history?

I went to Bryn Mawr College as an undergraduate, where I studied Classical Archaeology with Jean Turfa.

Were there some particular materials at the ANS that you were interested in?

Part of this visit was simply to be able to look at Etruscan coinage and study it in person for the first time. I am interested in the denominations of Etruscan coinage, especially the varied Etruscan numerals impressed on certain coinage. While it is one thing to study pictures of coins of different size and denomination in a book, it is very helpful to see them. The ANS has a great collection of coins from Populonia—which is worthy of study because it is the city with the longest history of minting in Etruria.

Did you make any new discoveries or see anything that gave you some new ideas about where you are heading with your work?

If anything I have new questions and some things to look up! One thing I was excited to see among the many great examples of Etruscan coinage was that there are about 
nine coins where you have what is undoubtedly an African head on one side and an elephant on the other. Most Etruscans sided with the Romans during the Second Punic War, but there’s a current theory that at least one group of Etruscans may have sided with Hannibal and maybe this minting was an indication of that.

ANS, 1944.100.1990
ANS, 1944.100.1990

And finally, when and where might we expect to see some of your published work on the Etruscan economy and coinage ?

I will be working on my monograph on the dynamics of the Etruscan economy this summer. I also have a webpage on academia.edu where you can find and follow my work.