Saturday, February 25, 2017

Print on demand catalog of the coins of Troas

I recently purchased a Print on Demand copy of Warwick Wroths 1894 catalog of the British Museum collection Catalogue of the Greek Coins of Troas, Aeolis, and Lesbos.

Google scanned three copies of this book: from the University of Michigan, from the New York Public Library, and from Harvard

The Harvard copy doesn’t seem to show up in an ordinary Google Book search. I found it using this link:

Public domain books that have been scanned by Google can be printed on demand. To order online, just bring up the book in Google Books, click “Get this book in print” and “On Demand Books” and several vendors appear. I wanted to see an Espresso Book Machine in action. There is one at the McNally Jackson bookstore in Manhattan. So I went down there, armed with the title.

The machines aren’t self serve. I gave the operator my title, and he brought up the University of Michigan Copy. I had hoped to see it printed but the machine apparently takes a while to download the book. It downloaded overnight and the operator printed it the next morning. I was surprised to find I had received Harvard’s copy.

The problem with getting a different copy than expected is that Google’s 2008-9 analysis did a poor job of distinguishing photo plates from line art. For numismatic books this is a problem. If the Google book preview shows a coin “posterized” the print on demand copies print it as a black blob. Luckily Harvard's copy is better than the U of M's.

Here are three copies of plate 8. On Harvard and the NYPL’s copy, coins #1, #2, #18, #19 and the reverse of #22 are shown greyscale. On the U of M’s copy, none of the coins are shown greyscale. They all appear as “posterized” four color art.

The “posterized” coins appear as black blobs when the Book Machine prints them. I am not certain this is the fault of the book machine. It is unfortunate that there is no way to supply feedback to Google books that a page or part of a page is greyscale artwork.

There is also no way to specify that the printed size of the page is meaningful. This is not a huge problem for the BMC volumes, which originally appeared the similar in size to what the Espresso Book Machine prints.

I paid $17 plus tax for this volume. For comparison, the hardcover decent plate Italian edition by Forni from the 1960s can be found used for $50, with other copies selling for more. The original version can sometimes be found at auction for $150+.

Many years ago I wanted to get folks with original BMC volumes to scan the plates. I had hoped to assemble a plates-only PDF. I managed to scan a few volumes myself but was not able to get the needed volumes and the project fell through. Perhaps with the British Museum putting their collection online the need for this has passed?

Thursday, January 19, 2017

ISEGRIM search form

ISEGRIM is a database of 60,000 Greek coins of Asia Minor developed by Otfried v. Vacano at the University in Düsseldorf. There are no pictures. Unlike other search sites, instead of filling out forms the user was to write "queries" using a special syntax similar to Lucene. Although powerful, it has been difficult for computer novices to use.

I created a proof-of-concept for searching ISEGRIM using forms. My experimental site is at If you already know ISEGRIM this site still gives one advantage because it alters search responses to the BMC Greek catalogs to be hyperlinks. So if you are in the United States you can just click to go to the BMC description (then search for the plate, if any).

I sent an email to the ISEGRIM contact address but got no response. It is possible they will ask me to take it down. Or maybe they will let me contribute it to their site.

This is a proof of concept. Let me know if it helps.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Odd surface on presumably fake coin

I show here two coins from the same die pair. The high grade example is a Bulgarian replica of a Neapolis stater. The damaged example was sold as genuine on eBay this spring.

This replica shows up being offered from time to time as genuine. This new example surprised me because the damage is so strange. Here is a close-up:

Several things are going on. Pieces are broken off! There is strange cracking that follows the shape of the gorgoneion. There is a lot of wear both normal and strange looking.

Has anyone else seen a coin with this coin of surface?

Friday, December 23, 2016

3D model of Kushan coin

The Institute of Archaeology of the University of Warsaw has provided a remarkable 3d scan of a Kushan bronze coin. The model was done by Otto Bagi and Sergi Mañas Jolis. Apparently photogrammetry was used to to infer the 3D coordinates.

I am inquiring what kind of equipment and software is needed to produce such models.

The team also has a nice model of an Alexander tetradrachm and a cupped Byzantine coin. All the models can be rotated and zoomed with your mouse or trackpad.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Is this 'panther' Cerberus?

Numismatic Naumann, auction 46, lot 182

Medusa is not the only creature in Greek mythology with snakes for hair. The monstrous dog Cerberus, who fought Herakles, had a mane of snakes.

Coin depictions of Cerberus (electrum hekte, Italian bronze, Roman aureus) show the monster with two or three heads but no snakes. Vases often show snakes.

There is an animal with snakes in its mane on a very rare Greek coin. This diobol (weight 1.08g, 11mm diameter) seems to depict an animal with a mane of snakes on the reverse. The animal has whiskers and triangular ears. The coin is rare; I have only been able to locate two other examples.

CNG e-334, lot 157
CNG 73, lot 419, no snakes

I suspect that this coin reverse depicts the head of Cerberus. In addition to the snakes, the ears resemble the ears of Cerberus on vase paintings. Some dogs have whiskers, and some Greek and Roman art shows Cerberus with a at least one lion head. Thus, none of the features rules out Cerebus. In addition, Cerberus is not always depicted with multiple heads.

The reverse is thus not a generic panther or lion as suggested by the catalogers of the coin example, but a rare depiction of Cerebus with a mane of snakes.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Identifying a bronze coin using Münsterberg

I purchased this coin in 2004 from Clark's Ancients. It had been identified as being from Abdera, like the first example on this CoinTalk thread. It did not look like that type. It had previously sold in 1980, and the tickets that came with it showed several unsuccessful attempts to ID the inscription.

I didn't even think the animal looked like a griffin. It looked more like a panther. I did some basic searching on sites such as Wildwinds, The ANS' DONUM, ISEGRIM, and dealer sites but found nothing.

There is an inscription, perhaps ΑΝΔΡΟΝΙΚ. Both the dealer and the collector, Biblical coinage expert James Lovette, had tried to identify the coin and failed. I spent a long time on it and got nowhere. I took another look at it this week and identified it in under an hour. The inscription ΑΝΔΡΟΝΙ? previously recognized by myself and the other experts appears in Münsterberg's 1911 book listing the names of Greek coins. I scanned the book with help from Pat Lawrence and put it on my web site 10 years ago!

The entry is here. (Interestingly, that link takes me directly to the entry in Chrome but in Safari 10.0.1 only to the top of the page.)

Münsterberg names ten cities: Ambracia, Adramyteum, Cyme, Teos, Rhodus, Saittae, Apamea Phr., Trapezopolis, Sala, and Laodicea, naming the magistrate Ἀνδρόνικος (Andronicus).

Back in 1911 the reader would have followed each entry to Münsterberg's entry for the city, which would cite the work the entry is to be found in. Today it is much easier just to go to popular ancient coin search engines, like Wildwinds. I searched all those cities again, and nothing resembling my coin showed up.

At this point I SHOULD have fallen back on using the book as Münsterberg had intended. I had failed at that before. I went to my next identification technique: flipping through all the volumes of SNG Copenhagen looking for a match. I found a similar coin in the Epirus volume, for Ambracia, naming a different magistrate. This match gave me the strength to search Ambracia again, and a Google Image search for 'Ambrakia Griffin' turned up this sales record.

Where did I go wrong with Münsterberg? His first reference is to 'Rollin n. 3160'. This is where I had gotten stuck in 2004. Since that time HathiTrust Digital Library has scanned and placed online the 1864 catalog by coin dealers Rollin and Feuardent. The entry for #3160 gives the reverse as 'Griffon marchant à dr.; dessous, ΑΝΔΡΟΝΙΚ' and gives a price of three francs. So a match was found.

Because the type is rare and low-value no examples with photos exist on ancient coin database sites. The example found on the dealer aggregator VCoins was found through a Google search. (VCoins itself doesn't allow sold coins to be searched for.) The ANS and British Museum both had examples in their databases, but neither had photos or inscriptions recorded, so I didn't find them. I was unable to find any examples naming the magistrate Andronicus.

The coin itself is very thick. I am surprised it was assigned 238-168 BC by Percy Gardner in his 1883 catalog. I suspect much earlier. I was wrong about the panther — on better examples the wings of a griffin can be seen.

Why am I going into such detail? I think it is important to share techniques for using the numismatic research tools. I spent over 100 hours putting up Münsterberg a decade ago and I haven't gotten a single question about using it. I can think of many simple improvements (dropping the lower case Greek letters comes to mind!) and extensions. No one in my circle seems to make them to me.

What tools are people using to identify coins? What do you like and dislike about them?