New Focus-Stacking Photographic Technique for Coins

ANS photographer Alan Roche created the short video below to describe the “focus-stacking” photographic technique to produce high-definition, 3D-like images of coins in fantastic detail. Have a look:

Lesser known collector and dealer H. A. Ramsden left his mark at the ANS

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John Reilly’s membership certificate for the Yokohama Numismatic Society, signed by Ramsden

There are certain numismatic personalities I expect to encounter over and over again as I work with the historical collections at the ANS—Howland Wood, Sydney Noe, Thomas Elder, Henry Chapman. But there is a more obscure figure I sometimes find myself running into. This would be H. A. (Henry Alexander) Ramsden, a collector and dealer who exhibited an boundless enthusiasm for his area of expertise, Far Eastern numismatics, passionately working at it right up until his untimely death at the age of 43 in 1915.

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Postcard of the Kobayagawa Company of Yokohama (ANS Archives)

Throughout the Society’s library and archives are pockets of materials associated with Ramsden. There are  his numerous letters in the Howland Wood, John Reilly, and Bauman Belden papers, for example. There are his publications—books, but also periodicals like The Numismatic and Philatelic Journal of Japan, which he founded and edited. Rummaging around in the library’s pamphlet files recently, I happened upon what turned out to be an uncataloged item. It was ANS treasurer John Reilly’s membership certificate for the Yokohama Numismatic Society, which included the stamped signature of Ramsden.

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Holiday greeting card from the Kobayagawa Company (ANS Archives)

Many ANS members will recall the Reilly Room at the ANS building on Audubon Terrace where the Far Eastern numismatic collections were kept and displayed. Reilly obtained much of what would become the ANS’s premiere collection in that area from Ramsden. Though his influence still strongly reverberates, Ramsden remains a somewhat mysterious figure. There are no known photographs of him. Howland Wood supplied the ANA with what little he had on him for Ramsden’s obituary in the Numismatist, information Wood had gleaned from a biographical letter Ramsden had sent him in 1914. Not too much has been added to what we know about him since. His father was a British diplomat. The younger Ramsden followed in his father’s footsteps and came to be stationed in Japan as a representative of Cuba. He married a Japanese woman and went into business with her brother, stamp collector and

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A spade coin from the ANS collection. Like many of those acquired from Ramsden, it is held in a board that has been specially cut to conform to the coin’s unique contours. 1937.179.17030.

dealer Jun Kobayahawa, in Yokohama. He built up an enormous numismatic collection, over 15,000 specimens, including Chinese, Japanese, and Korean coins, as well as an impressive library. His unexpected death threw the future of these collections into question, and after some back and forth with the executor of his will, they were purchased by Reilly, who retained ownership, though they were housed at the ANS. Reilly’s daughter Frances formally donated the materials in 1938.

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Part of a page from a catalog of coin rubbings distributed by Ramsden for the Yokohama Coin Club

Ramsden may not be as familiar a name as some, but his legacy lives on in the ANS’s outstanding Far Eastern numismatic collections. In 2009, a student in the Society’s Eric P. Newman Graduate Seminar in Numismatics, Lyce Jankowski, produced an extremely useful research paper on the Society’s Chinese collection, documenting what she had uncovered on the subject. One interesting fact was that, had Ramsden lived longer, he might have left an even bigger impression on the ANS. Just a few months before Ramsden’s death, Wood had suggested that he might come to New York to be the curator of what Wood was already calling “the best collection of Far Eastern coins known.”

Italian Emergency Money of the 1970s

This guest post by our curatorial intern Taylor Hartley describes one of the projects she has been helping us with over the past several months.

Since last November I have been working on a project here at the ANS to catalogue a group of Italian miniassegni from the late 1970s that was donated by our late benefactor Sidney W. Harl in 2001. Miniassegni or “mini-checks” are coupons or promissory notes made to replace small-denomination coins during a shortage of 50 and 100 lira coins, which were the approximate equivalent of American nickels and dimes.

The shortage of 50 and 100 lira coins lasted from 1975 to 1979. Its causes are famously mythologized. Some said the coins were used as buttons in Japan, others that the shortage was caused by trade union strikes. In his book Europe, Europe, Hans Magnus Enzensberger suggests that it was actually caused because the Italian government abandoned their plans for a new mint and the old one simply could not produce enough coins to meet demand.

When the shortage of small-denomination coins began in 1975, vendors started by giving small items instead of change. Candy, grapes, stamps, phone tokens, and even chicken livers were given to customers when there was no way to make change. One café owner in Rome wrote handwritten notes for his customers as credit for their next order.

After the shortage stretched on for a while, stores began to issue little coupons or checks of their own that ranged from 50 to 350 lire. Then banks started issuing miniassegni that could be collected and then exchanged for larger bills.

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The ANS collection mostly consists of the notes issued by banks, but they also have a number of “buoni d’acquisto,” the notes issued by shops. My favorite of these is one issued in 1976 by a stamp and coin shop in Moncalieri.

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The miniassegni were almost instantly adored by collectors. During the shortage many catalogues were published to help collectors and to assign value to the rare ones.

miniassegni-catalogues

At one point, coin dealers in Italy were selling more miniassegni than Roman coins. They even gained some popularity in the United States. Boys’ Life Magazine published a letter about them in their coin and stamp collecting section in March 1978. Collecting miniassegni was something of a craze, like tulips or Beanie Babies were in their time.

I can see why they were so popular. Their endless variety and bright colors make them intriguing and highly collectible. Some just look like small bank checks, but others, like these designed by the paper shop of Guerzoni Livio were colorful and beautiful.

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Still more have a homemade charm to them, like this small one from La Spezia.

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Some had local monuments on them, like the Navina Arch in Moncalieri. The miniassegni from the Bank of Sicily even hearken back to Sicily’s rich numismatic history with a picture of the famous coin of Arethusa surrounded by dolphins.

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They are as friendly and fun as Monopoly money, but they were accepted as cash.

After their initial popularity during the coin shortage, the demand for miniassegni as collectibles dropped off. Their values dropped quickly after life returned to normal and there was once again enough change to go around. But they deserve some attention. I have had so much fun learning about the miniassegni through the process of cataloguing this collection. They are memories of an interesting period of recent Italian history when no one had change to spare, and everyone collected and spent little colorful slips of paper instead.

—Taylor Hartley

Lindbergh Kidnapping Ransom Money

Poking around in the ANS’s Farran Zerbe correspondence last week, I stumbled onto a couple of letters on a topic that should interest collectors of paper currency, relating to one of the most sensational crimes of the 20th century.

PosterOn March 1, 1932, the toddler son of pilot and national hero Charles Lindbergh was kidnapped from his New Jersey home. A ransom note demanding $50,000, which included instructions regarding the denominations of the bills, was left at the scene, and though larger sums were discussed in later notes, this was the amount that was ultimately given to a mysterious man identifying himself as “John” about a month later. Ransom_note_cropThough the cash failed to secure the return of the boy—his decomposed body was discovered about a month later—it would ultimately lead to the apprehension of “John,” Bronx carpenter Bruno Richard Hauptmann, who was executed for the crime in 1936.

Zerbe_letterThe money paid in ransom was regarded early on as key to cracking the case, and investigators were greatly aided by President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 6102 of 1933 outlawing the private ownership of gold certificates, which had been used to pay the bulk of the ransom money. Lists of the notes’ serial numbers were distributed, mostly to banks in the New York City area, and this is where Zerbe enters the picture. An ANS council member had suggested that the Society should have a copy of the published list, and secretary Sydney Noe knew just who to ask for one. Zerbe at the time worked for a New York City 20160429113039_00001bank, as curator of the Chase Manhattan Money Museum, and was happy to supply the most recently updated booklet from the U.S. Division of Investigation, led by J. Edgar Hoover. (The ANS library also has a copy of an earlier booklet distributed to banks on April 6, 1932, around the time of the ransom payment.)

In 1933, immediately following the president’s executive order outlawing gold certificates, a large number of them were discovered at the Federal Reserve Bank of First_pageNew York. This exciting lead turned out to be a dead end. Then, in the summer of 1934, numerous gold certificates from the ransom  began appearing in New York and Westchester County. Finally, a gas station attendant in Harlem, suspicious of a gold certificate he had received in payment, jotted down the license plate number of the car belonging to the man who had given it to him: Bruno Richard Hauptmann.

Serial_pageSo what became of the rest of the ransom money? There has been much speculation and discussion, but unlike some notes that were positively identified as being from the 1971 D.B. Cooper skyjacking using a similar F.B.I. serial number list, none of the Lindbergh notes have surfaced since the conclusion of the case.

Yet.

ANS Book Sale!

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The ANS is selling select books published after 2000 at a deep discount (up to 80% off retail) from April 25–May 8. Titles in the sale (while quantities last) are:

From Crime to Punishment: Counterfeit and Debased Currencies in Colonial and Pre-Federal America (by Philip L. Mossman, reg. $145/sale $45)

The Island Standard: The Classical, Hellenistic, and Roman Coinages of Paros (by John A.N.Z. Tully, reg. $120/sale $40)

The Silver Coins of Massachusetts (by Christopher J. Salmon, reg. $95/sale $45)

Diva Faustina: Coinage and Cult in Rome and the Provinces (by Martin Beckman, reg. $95/sale $45)

New Jersey State Coppers (by Roger S. Siboni, John L. Howes, and A. Buell Ish, reg. $235/sale $100)

Numismatic Finds of the Americas, An Inventory of American Coin Hoards (Treasure Trove), Shipwrecks, Single Finds, and Finds in Excavations (by John M. Kleeberg, reg. $125/sale $40)

American Journal of Numismatics Vol. 24 (reg. $75/sale $15).

Download an order form for your purchase(s).

Did Any Reprints of Zerbe’s Lesher Article Survive?

George Kolbe of Kolbe & Fanning Numismatic Booksellers had an interesting question regarding my most recent column in ANS Magazine  (“Bumps in the Road as ‘Coin Zerbe’ became the Dean of Coin Collectors,” 2016:1).

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Farran Zerbe

It relates to some correspondence in the ANS Archives documenting a dustup between coin dealer B. Max Mehl and legendary numismatic evangelist Farran Zerbe. Zerbe had become quite perturbed upon learning that Mehl had, without permission, reproduced Zerbe’s article on Lesher Referendum Dollars in Mehl’s own Numismatic Monthly.

The article had first appeared in the 1917 volume of the American Journal of Numismatics. In those days, the ANS routinely supplied its authors with fifty offprints of articles published in the AJN, and Zerbe apparently had big plans for his—namely, selling them. But when the article appeared in Mehl’s publication—“killing whatever market or appreciation there may have been”—his enthusiasm evaporated, and he never bothered obtaining them. Years later, he asked Howland Wood if they were still available.

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That is what prompted George to write. “I could not recall ever having seen or handled a copy of the AJN reprint of Zerbe’s Lesher article,” he says. “Were the Zerbe Lesher reprints ever produced and, if so, did Zerbe take possession?”

Good question! And, though it’s not often the case, this is one time when it was pretty easily and conclusively answered with a quick dive back into the correspondence. It turns out the reprints were indeed printed. In fact, Zerbe writes of having received two when the article was published. As for the others? Wood went poking around in the basement of the old building at Audubon Terrace and also wrote to the printer. But no luck. “They must have gotten lost or been destroyed,” he told Zerbe. “Such is the way of things.”

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Were Zerbe’s two copies the only ones to survive? And what became of those? I know that George spent some time looking around, consulting his and other sales of the remnants of Zerbe’s library (e.g., Katen’s sale of Chase’s World Money Museum numismatic library in 1986 and 1987) but he found no clues. The ANS Library does not have any of the reprints in its catalog, so there are no “official” copies on our shelves. But I will be keeping an eye out!

Has anyone encountered reprints of Zerbe’s article? It originally appeared in the 1917 American Journal of Numismatics, volume 51, with the title, “Private Silver Coins Issued in the United States”? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

If It’s Baroque, Someone Should Fix It!

by Elizabeth Hahn Benge, previous ANS Librarian

Truer words could not be said by someone with a passion for ancient history, especially when the baroque takes over the ancient. Such is the case with a Roman Bust of Antinous in the collection of the Museo Nazionale Romano, Palazzo Altemps, in Rome. After the original ancient Roman face was broken at some unknown time, the bust received a “new” baroque-style face that was added by the mid-18th century. To many viewers, it is apparent that the face does not match the style of the rest of the bust and is a restoration added later. But then what happened to the original face?

The answer can be found in a new exhibition titled A Portrait of Antinous, in Two Parts, at the Art Institute of Chicago that opened on April 2, 2016. Loans from the American Numismatic Society help introduce Antinous—the Greek youth and companion of Roman emperor Hadrian, who mysteriously drowned in the Nile River in A.D. 130—and his enduring interest throughout history. The ANS loans include four bronze coins of Antinous (1967.152.356; 1944.100.62226; 1944.100.58522; 1944.100.58531) and a 1711 book from the Harry W. Bass, Jr. Library. The coins demonstrate the same iconographic features that were likely inspired by sculptures of the same type of Antinous: broad shoulders, bare chest, and lush, curly hair.

ANS 1944.100.62226
ANS 1944.100.62226

The show brings together years of research that took place to determine whether or not the Art Institute of Chicago’s Fragment of a Portrait Head of Antinous was the original face of the Bust of Antinous (inv. no. 8620) that belongs to the Palazzo Altemps museum, a suggestion first put forth by W. Raymond Johnson, Egyptologist at the University of Chicago. Since the “new” face that the Palazzo Altemps bust received is part of the sculpture’s history, it could not be removed, and added to the challenges of understanding if, and how, the Art Institute’s fragment might have fit. But—Spoiler Alert!—it did!

Left: Fragment of a Portrait Head of Antinous, mid-2nd century A.D. Roman. Gift of Mrs. Charles L. Hutchinson. Right: Bust of Antinous, mid-2nd century A.D. Roman, with 18th-century restorations. Museo Nazionale Romano, Palazzo Altemps, Rome, 8620. Archivio Fotografico SS-Col, num. 589475. Photo by Stefano Castellani.
Left: Fragment of a Portrait Head of Antinous, mid-2nd century A.D. Roman. Gift of Mrs. Charles L. Hutchinson.
Right: Bust of Antinous, mid-2nd century A.D. Roman, with 18th-century restorations. Museo Nazionale Romano, Palazzo Altemps, Rome, 8620. Archivio Fotografico SS-Col, num. 589475. Photo by Stefano Castellani.

This conclusion, and the years of research that led to it, are the focus of the exhibition. Modern 3D printing technology was used to create a mold from which a plaster replica was made in order for the team to effectively demonstrate that the two parts were in fact originally part of one ancient bust. The show is centered around these two parts: the fragment of a portrait head from the Art Institute and the bust from the Palazzo Altemps, which are displayed together along with the full-scale plaster cast reconstruction that gives the impression of its original appearance in antiquity.

The exhibition further tells how the fragment ended up in Chicago, an ocean away from its original location. A video documenting the research and creation of the plaster cast accompanies the show, while a timeline of events spans nearly 40 feet of wall in the gallery. I’ve had fun working on this project, and it is a fascinating story with a lot of content, which can be difficult to convey through photographs alone, and is one of many reasons I hope readers will be able to visit the show in person!

A Portrait of Antinous, in Two Parts will be on display through August 28, 2016, at The Art Institute of Chicago.

The exhibition website can be found here.

And the video that is also part of the exhibition can be found here.

 

Dr. Aneurin Ellis-Evans Redefines Attic Weight Coinage

Dr. Aneurin Ellis-Evans delivers the Fowler lecture at the ANS.
Dr. Aneurin Ellis-Evans delivers the Harry W. Fowler lecture at the ANS.

On April 12, Dr. Aneurin Ellis-Evans of Oxford University delivered the 2016 Harry W. Fowler Memorial Lecture, “Imperialism and Regionalism in the Athenian Empire: an Attic Weight Coinage from North-West Turkey and its Afterlife (427-405 BC).”

View the complete lecture here.

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Dr. Ellis-Evans makes his case regarding Attic weight standards.

Dr. Ellis-Evans holds degrees from Balliol College and New College, Oxford, with a particular interest in the social and economic history of the ancient world. In particular, he is intrigued by the relationship between geography and history, and will be publishing his PhD thesis exploring this theme with OUP as The Kingdom of Priam: The Troad between Anatolia and the Aegean. Since completing his doctoral studies in 2013, he has written numerous articles and reviews, and presented on a variety of topics relating to the Classical and Post-Classical worlds.

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The Harry W. Fowler Memorial Lecture was established in 1998 with a bequest from Mr. Fowler and with additional gifts from the Fowler family. Harry W. Fowler served as President of the American Numismatic Society from 1984-1990, and for his personal generosity was named a Benefactor of the Society in 1986. In 1995 he bequeathed his collection of Bactrian coins to the ANS, which together with the Society’s already strong holdings, has created one of the most comprehensive collections of Greco-Bactrian and Indo-Greek coins.

A Superpower is Born: The Rise of the Dollar

A Superpower is Born
A Superpower is Born

The ANS has received 14 copies of the new book, A Superpower is Born: The Rise of the Dollar.  Published in 2016, this 80-page, full-color book features seven articles on United States silver dollars, including two chapters by Matthew Wittmann, recently the ANS’s Assistant Curator of American Coins and Currency. Other authors include Ole Bjørn Fausa, Brian Hendelson, Svein Gullbekk, Michael Märcher, and Jesse Kraft. Published by Samlerhuset Group B.V., edited by Prof. Svein H. Gullbekk of the University of Oslo. ISBN 978-82-999453-2-5.

Purchase price is $25 for Members and non-Members, plus $10 shipping/handling. Contact Andrew Reinhard, ANS Director of Publications to order.

ANS Receives Grant to Clean U.S. Large Cent Collection

(Please note: the announcement below was an April fool’s prank. Enjoy!)

The ANS is pleased to announce today that it has received a Rockefeller-Noggin grant that will be used to conserve its important collection of early U.S. large cents.

After decades of neglect, dust dirt and grime have taken their toll on this part of our collection. This results in a a layer of corrosion, tarnish and oils that cause the once brilliant gleaming coin to have a dull dark brown appearance making photography of these items very difficult. The ANS photographer, Alan Roche, took the initiative to apply for a grant from the prestigious Rockefeller-Noggin Institute to restore the coins to their original lustre. The successful application means the Society will receive $20,000 in funding to hire personnel and purchase conservation materials, including 50 gallons of Brasso™, to conserve approximately 10,000 coins. The work is to commence immediately.

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