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?

Friday, October 07, 2016

snible.org should be back

snible.org should be back online. It is now hosted by Amazon.

Monday, October 03, 2016

snible.org will be back soon

My web site snible.org is down. I hope to have it up again tonight. Until then, you may access the AWS mirror.

It was not hacked. The operators shut it down because it went over quota. It is apparently under attack by a virus.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Collectors have the opportunity to comment against Cypriot import restrictions

Ancient coins struck in Cyprus before 235 AD cannot be imported into the United States unless they have an export permit from the Government of Cyprus or documentation they left Cyprus before July 16, 2007. It is believed that no export permits are granted for coins. So American collectors can typically only buy coins from US-based dealers.

This policy, the “Memorandum of Understanding” between the US and Cyprus, is up for review. The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild is suggesting collectors send public comments to the US Government by September 30th. Our hope is that if enough pro-collecting comments are heard a way will be found for some categories of Cypriot coins whose history cannot be tracked before 2007 to enter US collections.

I object to coins appearing in the Memorandum between my government and Cyprus. It is not because I hate all regulations! I object to it because a 100% ban for coins that lack pre-2007 publication means there is no motivation for collectors, archeologists, and the people of Cyprus to have a dialog on different rules that would let us work together.

To me it is obvious that medium-cost export licenses combined with cash rewards for reporting unlicensed antiquity exports would put a halt to the problem. If I don’t object to a simple renewal of the MOU there won’t even be a chance to for folks such as myself to even propose something different than the blanket ban.

If you think ANYTHING other than a blanket ban on coins is appropriate please leave comments asking for coins to be reconsidered in the renewal.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The gorgons of Mallos part 3


Antiochos IV, Uncertain mint (Mallos?), 175-164 BC
(Münzen & Medaillen Auction 30, May 2009 “Roland Müller collection”, lot 706) 1.56g 11mm

Web sites and reference books for Greek coins group the coins by city. For example, Wildwind.com's Mallos entry contains the coins struck under the authority of Mallos.

The typical arrangement skips over coins struck under the authority of a king and used in the city. For Mallos Wildwinds shows nothing for the centuries between a stater of Balakros (struck some time between 333 and 328 BC) and coins of Caligula (struck AD 37-41). Coins issued from 328 BC to 100 BC at Mallos will be hiding in catalogs of Seleukid coins.

The coin at the top of the post depicts a side view of Medusa. The reverse shows Nike standing left holding wreath. Arthur Houghton and Catherine Lorber and Arnold Spaer place the type under the mint at Mallos. [SNG Spaer (1998), p. 150 #1006]. They connect Medusa to the aegis of Athena Magarsia, not to the earlier tradition of gorgoneions at Mallos.

The Gorgons of Mallos

Monday, September 12, 2016

It will soon be difficult to sell autographed slabs in California

David Siders reports for the Sacramento Bee that California Governor Jerry Brown has signed a law with a lot of new requirements for selling autographed items (such as books and coin slabs) in their state.

The bill was promoted by Assemblywoman Ling-Ling Chang, and Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker. The full text of the law is here and I could not understand it. I I have seen nothing about this law on numismatic trade web sites.