Thursday, July 20, 2017
What was the first coin? Where was it minted?
Legend has it that coinage was invented by the Lydians. Croesus certainly minted the first bimetallic coinage with gold and silver staters of about 10.7 grams.
Prior to Croesus, Alyattes and perhaps Ardys minted coins in Electrum as early as 650 or perhaps even 675 BCE in Lydia,
But electrum coinage appears all throughout the Black Sea area of what is now present day Turkey. Ephasos, Kyzykos, Miletos, Samos, and Phokia all minted electrum coinage.
The archeologists who excavated sites such as Ephasus date the coinage to the early part of the seventh century. They did this because they were able to date with some precision other objects found at the same level of the excavation site along with the coinage. For example objects with inscriptions, especially royal inscriptions, can often be dated fairly accurately, and objects found with or near these are assumed to be of the same time period.
Numismatists have re-dated much electrum based on die studies. These die studies are accepted by other numismatists as being useful in dating coinage, but are not accepted as historical evidence by archeologists. So there is a dispute. Obviously in the coin world, dating, especially by coin houses, as well as grading companies is done according to accepted numismatic practices. But these are far from what would be considered as historically accurate in any other discipline.
So, there are discrepancies. And a lot of guesswork.
Even the precise locations of many mints in this early period are not known. All we know for sure is that large coins called Staters as well as fractions thereof, the most common being the Hekte of sixth stater, were minted throughout the Black Sear Area as early as 675BCE and perhaps even earlier.
What this really means it that there is an entire area of collecting where an enthusiast with a little initiative can acquire examples from early human history and study the origin of coinage for themselves, and make their own connections and come up with their own theories.
What could be more interesting than that?
And because most every example, especially of the Staters will be found in conditions that do not approach mint state, so the prices are relatively cheap, as many collectors are obsessed with condition.
Thursday, July 6, 2017
The Greeks believed in Heroes. They had a different idea of heroes than we do. For the Greeks a Hero was someone who acted out the Will of the Gods - or a particular God or Goddess. In fact, to the Greeks, the God or Goddess descended and entered the human and then acted through them. Quite Literally.
The earliest human heroes were warriors such as Alexander the Great, the first human hero to be pictured on a coin. In fact, the portrait coins of Alexander the Great are most probably the earliest extant sculpture portraying a known historical figure with some degree of realistic accuracy.
How important is that in both the history or art and the history of human accomplishment?
In the earliest portraits Alexander is pictured wearing Apollo's Laurel Wreath which identifies him directly with that God. In later portraits he is adorned with the horns of Zeus Ammon, identifying him with that God.
In fact, heroes such was Alexander were deified and worshiped after their death.
After Alexander, many Greek rulers were pictured realistically on coinage. The first Roman (excepting Quintus Labienus) to put his portrait on a coin is Julius Caesar. He is also pictured wearing weaths that identify him with deities. Like Alexander he also traced his lineage back to a God and also like Alexander he was deified and worshiped after his death.
And, like Alexander his finest portrait coins were executed by artists of the highest caliber. After Julius Caesar, each and every Caesar and most of their wives and many of their children were pictured on coinage
Fine style portraits of these historical Generals and Kings and Princes are all of as yet unappreciated historical and artistic value when compared with most other art forms.
Really, as long as there are Lincoln Pennies and post modern doodles that trade for more than these ancient artworks, I think they can be safely considered to be vastly undervalued.
The trick is to find coinage a) of the finest style and then b) in as well conserved state of preservation you can find and afford.
Thursday, June 8, 2017
This is not an article on why to buy Ancient Coins. If you already understand the appeal, you may still find the marketplace to be something of a puzzle.
Ancients are not like any other type of coinage. Mintages are unknown. Population reports are almost useless even in the very few cases where they exist. Styles vary widely even within particular issues.
But you still need a criteria upon which to base your choices.
1) The best criteria over time is your own eye. If you have a good eye for painting, architecture, sculpture, it does translate.
Even if - or perhaps especially - if you have a good ear - it translates. Not because you can get a sound out of a coin - but because you have a well developed sense of aesthetics.
Ancient Coins are works of art. If you approach them that way, you will rarely be disappointed.
2) Understand and Study some area of history you find fascinating.
Coins are historical documents. If you approach them that way you will rarely be disappointed.
3) Investigate which coins are most beautiful and most historicaly important in the areas that interest you most.
Okay, so you know how to find coins you like. How to price coins?
The worst criteria over time is to look up recent auction results and then try to get a coin just under the last price. The last price might have been a steal which will never be replicated, or it might have been a colossal mistake created by two bull headed collectors with very deep pockets.
So how to price a coin?.
A) Look at many auction results and private transaction off of lists over long periods of time.
B) realize that very small differences in condition and style can mean huge differences in price.
C ) Then apply your own personal system of aesthetics.
D) Always Always buy the best: the most beautiful coin in the best condition that you can afford.
This system of selection is also an art - not a science.
C - your own system of aesthetics is always the most important criteria.
Tuesday, May 2, 2017
Greece. Brexit. Trump. Le Pen. Isis.
None of these are problems. These are symptoms.
There is one big problem plaguing the Modern world. And that is something few are even willing to acknowledge:
Negative Real Rates.
Because of the massive global debt, the central banks of the world are forced to keep interest rates well below the rate of real inflation.
They claim there is no inflation, in order to justify this.
And if you just count the cost of buying a new laptop or flat screen tv it's true.
But is you count in the cost of Education, Health Care, and Housing: Inflation is growing faster than 10 percent per year. Not to mention Food, Energy, Insurance etc.
In fact if you take the 500 most purchased items in the 50 largest cities in the US, inflation has been growing at over 10 percent per year for over 40 years.
Meanwhile, when you lend the bank your money they pay you ZERO percent for the privilege.
That means you are losing TEN PERCENT PER YEAR on all of your cash. For those who can't afford Hard Assets and Stocks that means you are sinking quickly into a morass of debt. That's the entire middle class everywhere.
This will never end because the central banks will never raise rates anywhere near the real cost of holding money. They can't. Because the interest on National Debt everywhere would crush every budget.
So to maintain central government power everywhere, the central banks will continue to crush the middle class by refusing to recognize and compensate the real cost of money. And by taxing every other form of wealth.
This means that the masses of the middle class worldwide will continue to sink into oblivion. And they will express their discontent by electing more Trumps, and Le Pens, in the Western World, and by acting out violently everywhere else.
So buckle your seat belts. Things are moving in one direction. Quickly.
Thursday, March 30, 2017
WHY is gold a Hedge against Chaos?
The fact is that though gold is not accepted as money in the retail stores of the world, gold is still money in the sense that over time it holds its value. Gold holds value not for any use value but simply as a thing in itself. Ding an Sich as the German philosophers like to say. It is the thing that holds its value throughout human history. That is its function. That has always been its function.
You can ask why should it hold its value? Just as you can ask why a beautiful melody is beautiful? You can argue that in some cultures the criterion for beauty changes. You can argue that in some cultures objects that store value change. But the fact is that humans are quite similar in what they respond to and what they value. Humans all over the world respond to a beautiful melody. You can use an Indian scale or a Western scale or an Arabic scale, but if the melody is beautiful, humans respond.
Humans all over the world respond to gold as an intrinsic store value.
Thus has it always been.
Which brings us back to Chaos - or the lack of Order. Humans also respond to Order. As long as things remain orderly humans tend to have confidence that things will remain orderly. In orderly times any type of currency that is condoned by the forces of Order - The Government - will be able to act as a store of value. Simply because the forces of Order proclaim it. By Fiat. In times of Order Fiat Currencies work well. But as Order breaks down, the Fiat or Will of the forces of Order lose their power. People lose confidence that Order can be maintained. They lose confidence that fiat currencies will hold their value.
And as people lose confidence in the force of Order they look for time honored stores of value to hedge against the impending Chaos. Gold is not the only store. Any object of Beauty will do. But gold is the most time tested store of value.
It certainly appears we are on the brink of a massive loss of confidence in the Order of our Governments and our Institutions.
And as Chaos grows and Order diminishes, gold flourishes.
Sunday, March 26, 2017
The price of gold continues to move opposite the dollar. The dollar continues to move opposite the Euro. The Euro continues to move opposite the expectation and worry that populist movements will continue to sweep through Europe.
So right now the price of gold moves with populist discontent with the status quo.
If you think that discontent is a momentary fad that will eventually sink down into the sands of time and be swallowed by the strength of wealthiest banks, corporations and their captains then gold is a bad bet.
If you think that a very few people can continue to suck all the resources out of the world economy into their own pockets gold is a bad bet.
If you think the swell of populist discontent has finally reached critical mass then gold is a very good bet.
It all depends on how you read the present moment.
Saturday, January 7, 2017
U.S. Embargoes Egyptian Coins among other artifactsby Peter Tompa
December 22, 2016 - The U.S. Government has published an extensive list of artifacts subject to import restrictions pursuant to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Egypt. The effective date of the regulations is December 5, 2016.
The Designated ListThe designated list restricts entry of all ancient coin types down to 294 AD. Roman Imperial, Byzantine and Ottoman coins struck at Roman mints after that date do not seem to be impacted. The complete list is as follows:
In copper or bronze, silver, and gold.
1. General – There are a number of references that list Egyptian coin types. Below are some examples. Most Hellenistic and Ptolemaic coin types are listed in R. S. Poole, A Catalogue of Greek Coins in the British Museum: Alexandria and the Nomes (London, 1893); J. N. Svoronos, Münzen der Ptolemäer (Athens 1904); and R. A. Hazzard, Ptolemaic Coins: An Introduction for Collectors (Toronto, 1985). Examples of catalogues listing the Roman coinage in Egypt are J. G. Milne, Catalogue of Alexandrian Coins (Oxford, 1933); J. W. Curtis, The Tetradrachms of Roman Egypt (Chicago, 1969); A. Burnett, M. Amandry, and P. P Ripollès, Roman Provincial Coinage I: From the Death of Caesar to the Death of Vitellius (London, 1998 – revised edition); and A. Burnett, M. Amandry, and I. Carradice, Roman Provincial Coinage II: From Vespasian to Domitian (London, 1999).
There are also so-called nwb-nfr coins, which may date to Dynasty 30. See T. Faucher, W. Fischer-Bossert, and S. Dhennin, “Les Monnaies en or aux types hiéroglyphiques nwb nfr,” Bulletin de l’institut français d’archéologie orientale 112 (2012), pp. 147-169.
2. Dynasty 30 – Nwb nfr coins have the hieroglyphs nwb nfr on one side and a horse on the other.
3. Hellenistic and Ptolemaic coins – Struck in gold, silver, and bronze at Alexandria and any other mints that operated within the borders of the modern Egyptian state. Gold coins of and in honor of Alexander the Great, struck at Alexandria and Memphis, depict a helmeted bust of Athena on the obverse and a winged Victory on the reverse. Silver coins of Alexander the Great, struck at Alexandria and Memphis, depict a bust of Herakles wearing the lion skin on the obverse, or “heads” side, and a seated statue of Olympian Zeus on the reverse, or “tails” side. Gold coins of the Ptolemies from Egypt will have jugate portraits on both obverse and reverse, a portrait of the king on the obverse and a cornucopia on the reverse, or a jugate portrait of the king and queen on the obverse and cornucopiae on the reverse. Silver coins of the Ptolemies coins from Egypt tend to depict a portrait of Alexander wearing an elephant skin on the obverse and Athena on the reverse or a portrait of the reigning king with an eagle on the reverse. Some silver coins have jugate portraits of the king and queen on the obverse. Bronze coins of the Ptolemies commonly depict a head of Zeus (bearded) on the obverse and an eagle on the reverse. These iconographical descriptions are non-exclusive and describe only some of the more common examples. There are other types and variants. Approximate date: ca. 332 B.C. through ca. 31 B.C.
4. Roman coins – Struck in silver or bronze at Alexandria and any other mints that operated within the borders of the modern Egyptian state in the territory of the modern state of Egypt until the monetary reforms of Diocletian. The iconography of the coinage in the Roman period varied widely, although a portrait of the reigning emperor is almost always present on the obverse of the coin. Approximate date: ca. 31 B.C. through ca. A.D. 294.
Thus far the official list.
Not all coins from Roman Alexandria have such an impeccable provenance as this one, which comes from the Dattari collection. From Künker 280 (2016), 590.Under U.S. Customs procedures, the above coin types can only be imported into the U.S. with documentation certifying they were out of Egypt before the effective date of the restrictions. As time goes on, this becomes far more difficult to do because the vast majority of ancient Egyptian coins legally available for sale and export in markets in Europe lack the necessary provenance information for legal import into the U.S.
Concerns and ControversiesThe decision raises several concerns both generally and specifically as to coins. As early as 2011, Zahi Hawass, then Egypt’s Antiquities minister, reported on his blog in a now deleted post that a “coalition [of U.S. archaeological groups] reported that the US Government is willing to impose emergency restrictions on Egyptian antiquities....The coalition will be drafting a formal agreement between the US and Egyptian governments....” Additional reports that the matter was already a “done deal” surfaced even before a 2014 U.S. Cultural Property Advisory Committee meeting was announced to process the request. For example, a New York Times editorial, dated March 20, 2014, indicated that the U.S. had already agreed to import restrictions to stem the flow of objects looted during Egypt’s revolution.
Then, however, the fallout from an Egyptian military coup evidently put such restrictions on hold until late in the Obama Administration. The decision was announced less than two months after Evan Ryan, Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Educational Affairs (ECA), received an award from the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA). In the author’s view, Ryan’s acceptance of the award raises serious conflict of interest issues, if not a violation of ethics rules concerning the acceptance of gifts and awards. The AIA lobbied heavily for a MOU with Egypt, and the AIA’s award to Ryan specifically referenced ECA’s work in implementing MOU’s.
The governing statute, the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA), only allows the government to restrict artifacts “first discovered within” and hence “subject to export control by” of Egypt. See 19 U.S.C. Sections 2601, 2604. With regard to coins, the State Department evidently ignored evidence that demonstrates that Egyptian mint coins are regularly discovered outside of Egypt. Egypt’s so-called “closed monetary system” was meant to keep foreign coins “out” and not Egyptian coins “in.” Hoard evidence confirms Ptolemaic coins from Egyptian mints circulated throughout the Ptolemaic Empire which stretched well beyond the confines of modern-day Egypt. (And, indeed, some hoards are found outside the Empire’s territory.) The State Department also ignored finds reported under the U.K.’s Portable Antiquities Scheme that show Roman Egyptian Tetradrachms circulated as far away as Roman Britain.
However, it is the wording of the restrictions themselves that should cause the greatest concern. Despite the CPIA’s “first discovered within” requirement, the regulations imposing import restrictions are based on place of manufacture rather than find spot. Accordingly, the new restrictions appear to create an embargo on all designated coin types based on where they were made thousands of years ago rather than where they are found today. In contrast, the CPIA itself only authorizes import restrictions on coins that were illegally removed from Egypt after the date that restrictions were imposed.
Restrictions drafted with administrative convenience in mind rather than fidelity to the law cause considerable collateral damage. Due to their wording, small businesses of the numismatic trade and collectors risk detention, seizure and forfeiture of designated Egyptian coin types legally exported from Europe. Many historical coins on the market and in collections abroad simply can’t meet the law’s stringent provenance requirements for legal import.
American collectors should only purchase their coins from reputable dealers. Before importing coins from abroad, confirm that the seller abroad is able to provide the necessary paperwork for a legal import.
Going forward, the author hopes the new Administration will take a hard look at current State Department and Customs practices. Efforts to protect cultural patrimony cannot be allowed to justify the taking of private property without due process of law.