Kevin Goldberg

Old World, New Ideas

Kevin Goldberg

Kevin D. Goldberg began collecting European coins as a Middle School student in suburban Philadelphia. Three decades later, he still collects European coins, but now in suburban Atlanta, where he teaches in the Department of History & Philosophy at Kennesaw State University. He earned his Ph.D. in European History from the University of California, Los Angeles, and was a postdoctoral fellow in the International Humanities at Brown University, 2011-2013. Kevin has been planning on expanding his collection beyond Europe for the past decade, but is only now getting around to it.   

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    File under Holstein-Gottorp-Rendsburg or Holsten-Gottorp-Rendsborg?

    October 27, 2015 7:13 PM by Kevin Goldberg

    As time ticked down in a recent auction, and I suspected that my bid would win, my mind turned immediately to an impending mini-crisis of classification. Is this pair of 18th-centuryHolstein-Gottorp-Rendsburg coins German or Danish? The frontier between Germany and Denmark had been hotly contested for centuries, and the small state of Holstein-Gottorp-Rendsburg (Holsten-Gottorp-Rendsborg in Danish) shared traits of both. Had this question only been academic, I would have hardly batted an eye, but this was about something more important than geopolitics or scholarly pedantry; this was about real problems for coin collectors…this was about choosing the proper album for storing these coins for the long term.

    Organization is both a bane and pleasure of numismatics. Whether we use albums, folders, boxes, or some other contraption, we all rely on some form of organizational tool to help us enjoy the hobby. But what happens, as it so often does, when coins seem to fit into two (or more!) categories that we use to organize our collection? With separate albums for Germany and Denmark, how do I decide where to place these coins,which, truly, are German and Danish?

    I decided to share my thought process here in this forum, hoping to solicit feedback on your own strategies when this or similar dilemmas arise.

    The case for Germany: The territory in question is located in what is today Germany. Though passed back and forth for centuries, the town of Rendsburg is now a sleepy hamlet of almost 30,000 in the northern-German state of Schleswig-Holstein. Within the hobby, there really is no separate niche for Danish states. Rather, these territories on the German-Danish frontier are almost always lumped into the much larger German states category. To strengthen the case further, the well-respected international dealer who hosted the auction sold the pair as German.

    The case for Denmark: Holsten-Gottorp-Rendsborg was a territory of the Danish king, Frederick IV. Asa result of the Great Northern War, Denmark had established dominance in the region, and had stripped less powerful German and Swedish princes of their territory. The coins themselves also tell a story…and the story they tell is in Danish. With the monogram of Frederick IV on the obverse and “I Skilling Danske” on the reverse, there is little room for doubting their Danish provenance.

    While this dilemma offers some nice food for thought for numismatists, the so-called “Schleswig-Holstein” question had perplexed observers for a very long time. Speaking in the 1860s, the British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston purportedly remarked about the true nature of this territory: “Only three people have ever really understood the Schleswig-Holstein business—the [Danish] Prince Consort, who is dead—a German professor, who has gone mad—and I, who have forgotten all about it.” It’s no wonder then that I should struggle so mightily to determine the fate of these otherwise delightful coins in my collection.

    I’m curious to know what strategies you use to organize coins that may fit many niches in your collection.    





    A Crusade for Peace

    October 18, 2015 3:11 PM by Kevin Goldberg

    Last month, Pope Francis traveled for the first time to the United States. The Argentinian-born Pope charmed admirers in New York, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia with his humility,social awareness, and commitment to interfaith dialogue.

    The highest figure in the Catholic Church was stateside during two of the holiest days on the Jewish and Islamic calendars; Yom Kippur and Eid al-Adha, respectively. Call it what you will; a testament to the founding fathers, a manifestation of American exceptionalism, or just pure luck, but last month’s sharing of the stage among three of the world’s great religions was a breath of fresh air given the recently renewed hostilities in this complicated three-sided relationship.

    The deepest riff in this thorny history harkens us back to the 11th-13th century crusades and the petty rivalries between medieval popes, princes, and sultans. The convolutions of this wretched period are enough to occupy the curious mind for a lifetime. In fact, some coin collectors are content doing just this.

    Crusader coins are among the most challenging niches in all of numismatics. The almost-universal poor condition of surviving coins is a turnoff for most collectors, though those collectors who do push forward are usually rewarded intellectually and financially. Put simply, crusader coins are difficult, ugly, and cheap.

    At the broadest level, we might put Crusader coins into two categories; Christian and Muslim. Christian crusaders from all parts of Western and Northern Europe established dozens of short-lived Crusader States (for example, the Principality of Antioch and the Kingdom of Thessalonica), from where they struck any number of small billon and silver coins. Europe’s lack of great wealth is evident in the crude nature of its coins

    The Byzantine Empire—the former eastern half of the Roman Empire—was an Orthodox Christian realm centered at Constantinople. Its wealth allowed for the circulation of an abundance of gold coins, unlike in relatively impoverished Western and Northern Europe. The breadth of Christian crusader coins is daunting. Patience, good eyes, and a Dan Brown-like ability to parse symbols should be formalized prerequisites.

    The Muslim world, like the Byzantines, was also on the gold standard. Also like the Byzantines, copper rather than silver accounted for most ordinary transactions. The coins of the Muslim empires reflect their considerable wealth and technological advances. Stunning gold pieces laced with artistic Arabic script make a stunning first impression,though an expert’s eye is needed for proper attribution. Coinage of the Seljuks of Rum (“Rum” designated “Rome” in Arabic and was a reference to the growing Islamic presence in the Byzantine territory of Anatolia) or the Ayyubid Dynasty, under the famed Emperor Saladin, are both good places to start, though the opportunities to branch out are numerous.

    The Christian/Muslim divide is just one port of entry into this challenging niche. Like elsewhere in numismatics, opportunities abound to collect by denomination, metal type,ruler, etc. Unique to crusader-era coins is their association with this fascinating yet deeply disturbing history. For this reason, and many more, Pope Francis’s visit to the United States carried with it a historical burden and,more importantly, hopes for a peaceful future. 

    Kids' Coins

    September 14, 2015 12:48 PM by Kevin Goldberg

    Very few traits of pre-democratic regimes so radically differ from today’s governments as hereditary claims to rule. Before the winds of democratic change swept through Europe and its overseas empires, governing was almost always a family affair. Strict rules determining succession gave rise to myriad dilemmas, with murderous disputes between family members and incestuous relations often providing the fix. One of the more curious resolutions to succession problems was the placing of a child on the royal throne.

    Child monarchs were found in all parts of the world. King Tutankhamen of ancient Egypt, who ascended to the throne at age 9, and Puyi, who was less than 5 years of age when he ruled the early twentieth-century Qing dynasty, are just two well-known examples. King Louis XIV of France, the famous “Sun King,” took over Europe’s most important throne before the ripe age of 6. Though always the exception rather than the rule, child monarchs were a recurring feature in global politics before democracy replaced heredity as the preferred method of selecting a ruler.

    Coins document this history in a way that can only be described as…well…cute.

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    King Alfonso XIII of Spain was installed on the throne at birth because his father, Alfonso XII, had passed away the year before. Although his first 16 years of “rule” necessitated the regency of his mother, Maria Christina of Austria, Alfonso XIII would sit atop Spain’s throne until 1941, when he abdicated in favor of his son, Juan.

    Silver and gold coinage, beginning with the 1888 5 Pesetas (25g, .9000 Ag, .7234 ASW), bear the portrait of the adorable infant king. Facing left, the portrait is “bare,” meaning without robe or military insignia. In 1893 and 1894, 50 Centimos, Peseta, 2 Pesetas, and 5 Pesetas coins were struck with the adolescent king’s bust, still facing left, but now with a fine head of curly hair. Two other regency types (1896-1902, 1903-1905) were struck with the bust of the child king. Only the fourth type portrays the king, approaching his 16th birthday, wearing his military attire.

    The same decade, the 1890s, saw the ascension of another child monarch, Queen Wilhelmina I of the Netherlands. Like Alfonso XIII, Wilhelmina’s reign would continue into the 1940s, though her legacy is far more politically sound and stamped with courage compared to that of the young Spanish king. Wilhelmina (though not without some accusations of Nazi sympathy) would be the face of Dutch resistance against German occupation in World War II. She spoke (in fluent English) before the U.S. Congress in 1942, where she linked the shared histories of the Netherlands and the United States in an effort to seal an ongoing, democratic alliance. For her courage in Europe, the United States awarded Wilhelmina a WWII Victory Medal.

    Only one type from Wilhelmina’s regency period exists, which may explain its high collectability. From 1892-1898, the Netherlands issued denominations of 10 cents, 25 cents, 1 Gulden (100 cents), and a gold 10 Gulden, all with the facing-left bust of the young queen. Unlike later types with an older queen donning the royal crown, Wilhelmina appears somehow commoner-like in this regency-period bust, with a peasant’s face and the grimy, dirty blondish hair of a working-class youth. It is a startling type for this reason alone.

    There are yet still other coins with the cherub faces of child monarchs. It is curious to see, as with both cases here, the aging of the monarch over long stretches of time. Many specialists in British coins have this in mind when collecting the over 60-years’ worth of “Vicky” (Queen Victoria) portraits. But while we can still appreciate these lovable faces, we should all be thankful that the age of the child monarch has come and gone.        

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    The Royal African Company and the Morality of Numismatics

    September 7, 2015 11:48 AM by Kevin Goldberg

    The question seems to come up frequently; does the act of collecting politically tainted coins necessarily taint the collector? Occasional flare-ups over the morality of trading Nazi coins or dealing in the coinage of “unfriendly” states like Cuba does add an element of political consciousness into the hobby, but is there anything sinister about it?

    While preparing a lecture on the African slave trade this past week, I came across a reference to the Royal African Company (RAC), a London-based mercantile monopoly that bought and sold captive Africans in the decades before and after 1700. I immediately recalled reading a fine article about a year ago by Greg Reynolds about English coinage with the provenance mark of the Royal African Company, and was driven to dig deeper into the operations of the English tradesmen. The deeper I dug, the heavier my heart became.

    Gold, the raison d’être of the RAC, was soon complemented by the trade in slaves, fueled in large part by the increasing demand for labor in the Caribbean and the American colony of Virginia. Although the RAC’s monopoly on slaves would soon be erased by the entrance of free market ideals on all shores of the Atlantic (and the ensuing explosion of the slave trade), the horror of its legacy is as visible as the letters R-A-C branded across the chests of its captives.

    Thankfully, little remains of the Royal African Company other than the highly prized coins manufactured from its mined gold. Several issues from the Royal Mint of England in the period 1688-1722 bear the “elephant and castle” (or sometimes just the elephant), the provenance mark of the RAC. Elephants are found on shillings, half-crowns, crowns, and gold guineas. Collectors of English coins jump at the opportunity to acquire RAC-marked examples, though the high demand and rarity of such coins warrant a high premium.

    Collectors of English (or, after the 1707 union with Scotland, British) coinage are blessed with an array of nuance beyond the traditional scope of ruler, denomination, and condition. One such nuance is the provenance mark, of which the elephant of the Royal African Company belongs. Other provenance marks include “Lima” for silver captured from the Spanish during the naval wars of the 1740s, and “SSC,” designating silver supplied from the infamous South Sea Company. The nuances of British coins offer spectacular thrills for those willing to engage, rather than run from, such complexities.   

    Collectors of provenance marks must face the question about the morality of RAC coins. The almost-four centuries that separate us from the actions of the Royal African Company have deadened the screams of its victims, but does our collecting of these coins justify the actions of the RAC or somehow further assail those whose lives were robbed? No matter how we independently answer this question, perhaps we all share the obligation to be aware of the blood underfoot the elephant.       

    Is this the most beautiful coin of the 20th century?

    September 1, 2015 10:32 AM by Kevin Goldberg

    It’s a misleading question. Simply by asking it, I’m already suggesting the answer. And really, is such a question even measurable? Of course not, but please allow me to explain.

    Coins have long been used for nationalistic purposes, either to project the identity of a nation to the outside world or to brand a sense of unity among insiders around a common symbol; for example, the Brandenburg Gate, an image of Charlemagne, the Magna Carta, etc. These coins often feel more like tourist tokens than authentic pieces of a nation’s identity.

    The 1914 2 Kroner (15g, .8000 Ag,.3858 ASW) from Norway, on the other hand, captures its time and place beautifully. Minted to commemorate the Centennial of the Norwegian Constitution, the sparse reverse features an older woman, alone in traditional dress, gazing longingly above the placid sea. The royal crest on the obverse is surrounded by an almost-complete circle of spruce trees, ubiquitous in Norway’s dense, sacred forests. The coin is an ideal evocation of early-20th century Norway, when Nordic mythology and a burgeoning civilization collided in the spectacular western fjords and on the damp streets of its fledgling capital city, Kristiania (today Oslo). 

    Norwegian literature, from the late-nineteenth century naturalist dramas of Henrik Ibsen to today’s New York Times bestsellers by Karl Ove Knausgaard, is suggestive of an otherworldly nature, somehow European, but with a rugged, de-populated landscape somehow so unlike Europe. The world-weary protagonist in Knut Hamsun’s Hunger as well as the unforgettable face in Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream seem to share the same combination of solitude and angst of the alone, yet not lonely woman on the 2 Kroner.

    1914 matters, too. While Norway was celebrating its constitutional centennial, the rest of Europe was bumbling into the deadliest war the world would until then know. By 1918, about 18 million would perish. The woman’s gaze on the coin reminds us of the fortunate distance between Norway and the guns of war while also alerting us to the great danger then, in 1914, looming on the horizon.

    Is this the most beautiful coin of the twentieth century? It’s not a question of appearance. Yet, I can’t think of another coin that captures its issuing-country’s atmosphere and culture so profoundly. The majestic yet empty imagery of the landscape and the brooding interior underneath the modest exterior of the people described or painted into Norwegian culture is the same as that featured on the coin.    

    Yes, this is the most beautiful coin of the 20th century.

    Beating the Chicago Blues

    August 23, 2015 4:04 PM by Kevin Goldberg

    It’s that time of year; school is back in session, traffic is trending heavier, days are trending shorter, and summer vacations are coming to an end. To add insult to injury, many of us had to watch from the sidelines as the hobby gathered in Chicago last weekend for the World’s Fair of Money, perhaps the busiest coin show on the yearly circuit.

    If ever a shot in the arm was needed for a bad case of numismatic envy, it was this past week. Fortunately for collectors in the Southeast, the antidote was available in the form of the 56th Blue Ridge Numismatic Association (BRNA) show, held in Dalton, GA, August 21-23.

    Dalton, an easy daytrip from Atlanta, Nashville, and Birmingham, is an ideal location for the show’s 300+ dealers to cast a wide net. The show this year—on Saturday at least—seemed less-well attended by collectors than in years past, but this hardly dampened the mood. Entering the showroom reminded me of walking through a bleacher tunnel at a football stadium. Just like when seeing the freshly painted white lines atop the lush green grass and hearing the intoxicating roar of the crowd, I was overawed with the enticing task of scrutinizing a few hundred tables.

    Although the BRNA show is geared more towards collectors of U.S. coins than world coins, there were enough well-stocked dealers in foreign types to make the trip worthwhile. I didn’t find anything on my “want” list, but I was happy to leave with a 1622 Nuremberg 15 Kreuzer, a relatively large denomination from the “Kipper and Wipper” period, a time when rulers in Central Europe debased their currencies in an effort to pay for the wars then engulfing the continent.

    As always seems to happen, I regretted passing on a few coins as soon as I pulled out of the parking lot. And as usual, I considered turning around until about 20 minutes into the drive. Alas, a pristine 5 Batzen from the Swiss Canton of Aargau that should have been riding shotgun with me likely will by this point have traveled home on the same horse that it rode in on.  

    Despite the fact that I struck out with my want list, and that I was cautious to a fault when faced with spontaneous purchasing decisions, the Blue Ridge show did what I had hoped; it injected a dose of fun into an otherwise busy time of year and cured a nasty case of World’s Fair of Money envy. I’m already looking forward to getting sick with envy again next year.    

    Orders, Decorations, and Medals

    August 15, 2015 11:32 AM by Kevin Goldberg

    Living in a popular convention city like Atlanta has its privileges. I was reminded of this as the annual gathering of the Orders and Medals Society of America (OMSA) descended upon the leafy confines of suburban Dunwoody last weekend.

    Though I’ve picked up a few table medals here and there, I don’t consider myself an avid—or even casual—medals collector. This weekend may have changed that. Frank Draskovic, 45-year member of the ANA, co-author of the Standard Price Guide to World Crowns & Talers, President of the California Orders & Medals Society, and super-sharp guy,was kind enough to spend an hour with me, sharing his passion for medals and introducing me to the OMSA domain.

    Frank was quick to clear up someterminological matters. “Medal” is too broad a term. What most numismatists refer to as medals (including myself) are not actually part of the repertoire of a medals and decorations collector at all. Nor is this exonumia, or the various tokens, chips, badges, wooden nickels, elongated coins, etc., that many coin collectors dabble in. OMSA members collect so-called portable medals and decorations, often issued by various orders, militaries, and governments. The sources and types of these medals are vast. They can include, for example, aUS-government issued lapel piece, complete with ribbon, commemorating a soldier’s service in the Spanish-American War, or a pin issued by the RoyalOrder of Vasa for service to state and society in Sweden. Thousands of beautiful and collectable orders, medals, and decorations were on display this weekend inAtlanta.

    It was fun and enlightening tocompare and contrast numismatists and OMSA collectors. Things that we place areal premium on, including toning, condition, and metal content are incidentalto orders, medals, and decorations collectors. On the other hand, they tak every seriously some things that we hardly consider, including attribution, or being able to identify the original recipient of a decoration or medal. Another difference is geographic. At the risk of trumpeting American exceptionalism, I think it’s fair to say that while worldwide numismatics is centered in theUnited States, the global hobby of orders, medals, and decorations is clearly anchored in Great Britain.  

    For all of the differences between the hobbies, there is much that unites us. We all share a passion for history, and we revel in nuance. There is an element of artistic appreciation in both hobbies, though I would venture to say that orders, medals, and decorations are even more aesthetically appealing than coins. Even though it was my first time walking the bourse floor at the OMSA convention, this was not an unfamiliar experience. Passionate collectors, many of whom were long-time friends, joyfully discussed the latest trends and news. The only missing pieces were the coins.

    I encourage any numismatist to give this sibling hobby a look. The path is well-trodden by former coin collectors, including Frank Draskovic.  

    I came to the show armed with an old adage in coin collecting (“buy the book before the coin”) and left with a pair of hefty catalogs on German and British medals. I don’t think it will be too long before I put these books to work.  

    You can learn more about theOrders and Medals Society of America here:

    Reader Mailbag

    August 3, 2015 4:21 PM by Kevin Goldberg

    It has been a great privilege blogging on these past few months. An occasional reader email with a comment or question makes it even more worthwhile. In the spirit of community, I’d like to share two recent inquiries, as I think they are relevant for many people in the hobby.

    Eli from Texas asks “How important is [condition] in collecting world coins? It seems like only U.S. coins get graded.”

    While there are certainly more U.S. coins being sent to grading companies than world coins, there is a growing number of world collectors who are willing to pay more for the assurance of third-party authentication and grading. Even more important is that condition is essential whether coins are slabbed and graded or not. I have often purchased coins in worn condition that I otherwise could not afford in extra fine or uncirculated condition. While I’m happy to own these coins, I admit that I don’t often “enjoy” them as much as I do pristine coins, despite their rarity. 

    However, I would never suggest to any collector that she only seek out uncirculated coins. There are in fact many reasons why worn coins are collectible. In addition to being less expensive, they can feel more “real,” as they were once part of the great mass of circulating issues used to purchase bread, clothing, and beer. Condition is important in determining value, but it’s not essential for deriving pleasure from the hobby. 

    Luca from Washington wants to know if coins are good investments.

    We all wonder about this. Coins can be good investments, but they could also be dogs. In other words, they are not much different than stocks, bullion, and real estate. While I personally don’t collect with investing principles in mind, I don’t disparage those who do.

    Certain truisms hold water when it comes to investing in world coins. East Asia and the Middle East probably  have a greater upside than Europe (in fact, I consider several of my core areas to be risky long-term investments). Of course, more is at play here than crude geography, as condition, rarity, and eye appeal all matter considerably.

    Coins have been great investments for those smart or lucky enough to have bought and held. Imagine having stashed away rolls of Morgan dollars or certain U.S. commemorative halves. But even selective purchases at the top of the market can yield sizable long-term gains. This requires careful research and considerable liquidity. Although opportunities abound for those willing to put in the time and effort, I find myself satisfied by simply collecting the coins that I like at prices that seem fair.

    Here’s a cheers to those who have sent inquiries in the past and an invitation for others to do so in the future. Let’s remember that we are a community of collectors.    

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    Frankfurt's Numismatic Past and Present

    July 27, 2015 10:07 AM by Kevin Goldberg
    For most international visitors to Germany, Frankfurt is the (air)-port of call. But having been built, burned, rebuilt, re-burned, and re-rebuilt countless times, Frankfurt’s former charms may have gone up in the flames. Following its restoration in the aftermath of World War II, the city became a stopover of necessity and convenience, while its massive Messe, or trade fair area, morphed into a city unto itself. Experienced travelers suggest skipping Frankfurt altogether for the delights in nearby Franconia, Rhine wine country, or rural Hessen. Frankfurt has become destination non grata; a place to visit of last resort.              

    While a defense of Frankfurt’s worthiness as a tourist destination lies beyond the scope of this article, I do wish to call attention to the city’s importance in numismatics, past and present. Home to the European Central Bank, one of the largest monetary institutions in the world, Frankfurt is arguably the epicenter of global currency policy. Its Messe, the busiest in Europe, brings in almost $1 Billion in sales annually. Frankfurt is the wind that powers the EU’s and Germany’s economic sails.

    Frankfurt is centrally positioned along a North-South and East-West crossroads in Europe, a privileged location that has for over a millennium attracted merchants, bankers, and hard specie. By the 1100s, Frankfurt had secured its reputation as a commerce-friendly town and had begun to benefit from the imperial privileges that would later allow it to prosper as a Free City, unencumbered by the squabbling of petty princes and noblemen. Even the Messe can be traced to this same century, with one its earliest documented mentions found in a Hebrew literary text written by Rabbi Eliezer ben Nathan of Mainz. Without question, the late middle ages were a boom time for this former Frankish fort on the Main River.

    Frankfurt’s history as a coining city dates back about 700 years. The Holy Roman Emperor granted Frankfurt the right to mint small coins in 1346, though permission to mint a full gamut of silver and gold coinage (and, more importantly, to keep the revenue derived therefrom) was not gained until 1555. From the start, the city’s coins were in high demand because the mint had earned a reputation for not skimping on precious metal content, another factor which attracted traders to Frankfurt.

    Although Frankfurt had established itself as the preeminent commercial city in German territory by 1600, the city council had to navigate an environment in which multiple currency types and weights passed through town gates, especially at its by-then renowned Messe. In short, there were three general currency systems to balance between 1400 and 1600; Rhenish, North-German, and Bavarian-Swabian (South-German). The Rhenish contingency, led by the Archbishop of Cologne, would soon falter, leaving North and South German currency associations salivating at the prospect of greater alignment with Frankfurt’s mounting wealth. The accounting system at Frankfurt was a concern for traders across the continent, and the city became a hub for the vital, Europe-wide currency trade. In this fertile commercial field, the international banking houses of Metzler, Oppenheimer, and Rothschild (among others) would rise to international fortune.

    The nineteenth century was no less dramatic for Frankfurt. Due to its reputation for progressive economics and politics, the city played host to the parliamentary crusaders of 1848. Revolutionaries from across the land attempted to unify Germany under a constitution and to liberalize the economy, in part by creating a common currency. The movement failed, but Frankfurt further solidified its reformist stance vis-à-vis the reactionary courts in Berlin and Munich. In fact, Frankfurt would stubbornly hold on as a Free City until its seizure by Prussia in 1866. Frankfurt’s coinage had come to an abrupt end, though the city's mint would still operate in the new German Empire.          

    Fortunately for collectors, Frankfurt’s coins capture the city’s former beauty and stateliness. The coins appeal to all types of collectors, including those seeking breadth with attractive small denominations as well as those desiring depth and a striking centerpiece for their showcase. While Frankfurt may be unfairly deemed not worth visiting today, collectors of German States coinage would be remiss overlooking its brilliant numismatic past.

    The Holland Enigma

    July 20, 2015 1:08 PM by Kevin Goldberg

    Holland is an enigma. The Holland of our popular imagination—libertine, tolerant, and progressive—is but one side of a startlingly complex society. Another equally important side of Holland—stoic, sober, and rooted in Calvinist tradition—still pervades several historic Dutch settlements in locations as far removed as Indonesia and Michigan. But in Holland, as with all things Dutch, things are not always as they seem.

    Today, Holland is a synonym for the Netherlands, home to the Dutch. Before 1800, Holland was only one constituent part of the Dutch Republic, or what later developed into the Netherlands, of which Holland is today synonymous. Confused yet? Well, the Dutch are too.

    All of this confusion, linguistic or otherwise, has made Dutch (or Netherlandish?) coinage a feast for the specialized collector. 

    As elsewhere in Europe, the mere longevity of circulating coinage in this crucially important cultural and trading zone (where the Rhine empties into the North Sea) means that collectors have many centuries of coins to explore. The tumultuous history of the Netherlands (really, Dutch history is more volatile than the old Amsterdam stock exchange) also means that its coinage was constantly in upheaval, with religious revolts, foreign monarchs, and global ambitions all taking center stage at one point or another.

    For many collectors, the period of the Dutch Republic (aka Republic of the Seven United Provinces), 1581-1795, is the most compelling. The Dutch Republic emerged following years of anguish under the political and religious sway of the Spanish monarchy and died amidst the swirling chaos of French-infused Republicanism. While the Republic’s 200+ years’ existence is frequently simplified to fit the smooth narrative of a steep incline and then decline in Dutch influence, its two centuries worth of coinage endures as a highly collectible treasure trove in today’s numismatic world.

    At the meta-level, the coins of the Dutch Republic lay somewhere between national and provincial issues (for sake of comparison, this is similar to the state issues of the German Empire, 1871-1918, when more than a dozen states still had minting rights). The distinct provinces of the Dutch Republic technically issued their own coins, though higher level agreements mandated uniform types and weights. For example, nearly all provinces struck duits, stuivers, daalders, and ducats. This uniformity in denomination and weight allowed for easier circulation across provincial borders. There is always a clue, usually a provincial symbol or at least an indication in the coin’s legend, which reveals the actual issuer. Of course, the reality of provincial consolidation over time, fluctuations in the price of metals, and political unrest made sure the system did not function flawlessly.

    Coins from the major provinces, including Gelderland, Groningen, Holland, Overyssel, Utrecht, West Friesland, and Zeeland are readily available. Smaller issuers, including Elburg and Zutphen, may be more difficult to locate but do not necessarily command a rarity premium. We must remember that the Netherlands was an economic powerhouse; coins were never in short supply. Nor were these coins relegated to the European continental periphery. Thanks to the global trade networks operated by Dutch merchants, the Republic’s coins circulated widely in the colonial Americas, Asia, and Oceania.

    Let us return to the Holland enigma. It was during this period that Holland and the Netherlands became synonymous. As the home province (technically, Holland was a County) of the prospering cities of Amsterdam, the Hague, Leiden, and Rotterdam, Holland was the most populous, wealthiest, and most influential of all Dutch provinces. The great port at Rotterdam was the gateway between the Republic and the World. Over time, the County of Holland came to stand for the Dutch Republic as a whole, particularly in the minds of outsiders. We might say that Holland, as the cream of the provincial crop, earned its right to posterity. We numismatists are fortunate heirs to the Dutch Republic’s great wealth.
















    July 12, 2015 8:10 PM by Kevin Goldberg
    The Summer FUN Show in Orlando was, well, fun. Well-stocked dealers, educational seminars, live auctions, and air conditioning; these were just some of the reasons to spend time in the Orange County Convention Center these past couple of days. But was the show a “success?”  

    Like any coin show, Summer FUN (Florida United Numismatists) was only as successful as we the collectors were willing to make it. No matter how we define a successful show, there is no getting around the fact that success is a personal metric, measured by one’s own experience. How then do we measure our own experience at a coin show?

    Well, for most collectors, it’s a matter of whether or not we find the right coin(s) at the right price(s). But it doesn’t have to be just that. I made more of a concerted effort to chat with dealers this time around, and I’m glad that I did. Maybe it was the Florida sun, but joviality and humor trumped the sky-is-falling, get off my lawn, misanthropic soapboxing that tends to anchor coin discussions. But, there’s more to a successful show than small talk, right?

    Absolutely. I’m always researching potential new niches for my collection, and there is not a better venue than a coin show to explore options firsthand. Despite the fact that I rarely commit to a new niche, it’s still an opportunity to converse and learn about something exciting and new (to me). This time it was the coinage of Tokugawa Japan.

    But, aren’t the coins that we actually buy more important than the coins that we almost buy when quantifying a successful show?

    I think so. And by this metric, I was extremely pleased with the FUN Show. Two coins that I purchased waited their proper turn on my slow-moving want list, another was a flyer in a peripheral field, and the final coin was a big hitter in a core area. I left feeling content (if a bit lighter in my wallet). So this means I had a successful coin show, right?

    I most certainly did, but for yet another reason. On the show’s third day, I was able to convince my two children to join me (this in lieu of another day at Universal with their grandparents!). But it didn’t end there; my father and a nephew tagged along as well. We had a blast panning for gold, spinning the wheel in the kids’ zone, and digging through junk boxes. Although my daughter denies it now, I am certain that she whispered to me while pulling out coins from the junk box that this was more fun than Universal! Now this is how I know the show was a success.

    Finnish Design

    July 5, 2015 7:58 PM by Kevin Goldberg

    Certain national mints have a history of innovation. The Mint of Finland (Suomen Rahapaja) is today among the most progressive in the world, with its propitious output of Euro commemoratives scoring highly in novelty and attractiveness. It turns out that Finland has an exemplary record in coin design.
    A quick glance at Finnish commemoratives from the 1960s through 1980s (when, let’s face it, drabness was in vogue) showcases a design strategy situated between the resigned predictability from days of yore and the profane postmodernism of the present. Indeed, what Finland produced during these years is nothing short of remarkable.

    Finnish non-circulating commemoratives from the mid-1960s to mid-1980s are divided into three denominations; 10 Markkaa (1967-1977), 25 Markkaa (1978), and 50 Markkaa (1978-1985). There is no uniformity in size, silver content, or actual silver weight, and diameters range between 30mm-37mm. However, it’s the design of these coins, not their metrics, which makes them memorable. In addition, they remain highly affordable. Two in particular stand out:

    In 1970, Finland released a 10 Markkaa coin (.500 Ag, 22.75g, 35mm) honoring the 100th anniversary of the birth of President J.K. Paasikivi, the architect of Finland’s delicate Cold War balance between the United States and neighboring Soviet Union. Rather than utilizing a traditional busted portrait, Heikki Häiväoja’s engraving features Paasikivi’s bespectacled, wrinkled face staring straight ahead, almost sleepily. The borderless design accentuates the president’s gloomy face. The typically aggrandized European portrait coin—always compensating for physical and political blemishes—takes on a patina of authenticity in this Finnish issue. The coin’s textured reverse adds to its realness factor, with the year, denomination, and country name etched into an unevenly mortared brick wall.  You can see the coin here:

    In 1978, the World Skiing Championships were held in Lahti, a popular sports destination about 60 miles northeast of Helsinki. To commemorate the event, the mint issued a 25 Markkaa silver coin (.500 Ag, 26.3g, 37mm); and once again, the progressive design of the coin is a striking example of Finnish numismatic ingenuity. The coin’s obverse features a cross-country skier trekking her/his way through the snow. On the reverse (this is the more inventive side) we see the tracks left by the skier in the powdery snow atop gently rolling hills. The gradual decline in the size and visibility of the path from the 6’oclock to the 12’oclock position creates a sense of distance while the fractured path of the skier—broken by the inclines and declines of the hills—establishes a stationary perspective based on our optometric limitations. The result is a stunning 3D-like image with an almost palpable crackling of the snow below and whipping of the winds above. You can see the coin here:       

    History has something to do with this. Wedged between its two more conformist neighbors (Sweden and Russia), and lacking a homegrown monarchical tradition (again, Sweden and Russia provided these), Finland has more ably thrown off the shackles of its less-weighty top-down customs (once more, compared to Sweden and Russia). Folkish ideas and an unfettered social democratization have taken root in Finland. These wonderful coins demonstrate this phenomenon. The rest of the world is still trying to catch up.  

    Another side of Saint-Gaudens

    June 27, 2015 8:30 AM by Kevin Goldberg
    In looking through a list of the 50 most influential pieces of art and architecture in American history, I was surprised to see a numismatic name; Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Saint-Gaudens, celebrated by most of us here as the designer of the famed double eagle and Indian head gold coins, was also an accomplished sculptor.

    Although his name will forever be linked to numismatics, Saint-Gaudens’s best-known creation is his Memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts Fifty-Fourth Regiment, a bronze relief sculpture located at the Boston Common.

    Robert Gould Shaw was born into a family of white abolitionists in Massachusetts. Following some time in New York and Europe, Shaw returned to Boston to attend Harvard University from 1856-1859. Two years later, he entered the service of the Union army. In 1862, Shaw—with the encouragement of his abolitionist father—took command of the newly formed all-black Massachusetts 54th regiment.

    Shaw was a hero on and off the battlefield. He insisted that his men boycott service until Congress paid black soldiers equal to their white counterparts. On another occasion, he refused orders to indiscriminately fire upon the citizens of Darien, Georgia, as he desired not “to be made the instrument of the Lord’s vengeance.” Colonel Shaw’s leadership of the Massachusetts Fifty-Fourth came to an abrupt expiration on July 18th, 1863, as Shaw took a barrage of bullets to the chest while spearheading a charge against Fort Wagner in South Carolina.

    Unveiled in 1897, Saint-Gaudens’s 14’x11’ memorial honors Shaw’s bravery and sacrifice at a time when these deeds were most foreboding. An inscription on the relief reads OMNIA RELINQVIT / SERVARE REMPVBLICAM ("He left behind everything to save the Republic").

    Among the accomplishments of this particular artwork is the realist (non-derogatory) depiction of African-American soldiers, a true-to-life artistic style that was in too short supply in 19th-century America.

    Augustus Saint-Gaudens was a prolific artist. His sculptures, statues, and busts are found across the United States and Europe. While the day may never come when you or I can own a Saint-Gaudens numismatic piece, we can and should revel in his profound public art.  


    No Summertime Slumber in Mexico

    June 19, 2015 1:22 PM by Kevin Goldberg

    Last week, William T. Gibbs penned a column about collecting in the summertime; usually a period when the hobby switches on autopilot and glides insouciantly into the fall. Gibbs suggested, however, that summertime need not require the abandoning of the hobby, and he evoked the destinations of Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and Colorado Springs, all legitimate cities of interest for the numismatist.

    Coincidentally, Gibbs posted his column while I was enjoying my summer vacation, in Mexico. Perhaps because I did not intentionally seek out numismatic sites, I was surprised by the frequency with which I chanced upon coin-related matter.

    Mexico, with its colorful coins and bills, offers collectors a unique numismatic experience because—at least in Mexico City and the popular beach destinations—merchants and vendors trade in multiple national currencies. American and Canadian dollars are accepted (and often preferred) by hotels and restaurants. Euros float freely at the highest-end boutiques, and Japanese, Chinese, and Russian money change hands regularly at select outlets. Like a border zone in an overstretched empire, Mexico is a place where several currencies collide.

    Beyond the cacophony of honking horns, the shattered sidewalks, and the dusty air, Mexico City is home to several world-class museums, and the fervor with which Mexicans embrace these museums is equally spectacular. At the stunning Chapultepec Castle—the only residence in North America used to house a sovereign (Emperor Maximilian I)—I watched crowds scrutinize historical exhibits spanning the time between the late colonial period and the revolution of the early 20th century. On display were coins and die molds from Maximilian I’s short reign (1864-1867). I waited patiently, but could only catch a brief glimpse, as others were as intent as I to see them.   

    While I might anticipate finding coins in a history museum, I was flabbergasted to see a numismatic exhibit in the lobby of my hotel! The Hotel Geneve, located in the Zona Rosa, plays the grand dame in a neighborhood that has seen better days. In its turn-of-the-century lobby, surrounded by floor-to-ceiling bookcases and under the din of an ethereal art nouveau glass mosaic, there are cases filled with artifacts detailing the hotel’s 100 year existence. Among the handful of exhibits is a beautiful display of Monedas y Medallas, with examples from the time of the Battle of Puebla (1862), the centennial of the start of the Mexican War of Independence from Spain (1810/1910), and the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920). If U.S. history is marked by relative stability and seamless transitions, then Mexican history is its psychotic counterpart; a place of European-styled political chaos on North American soil. Coins and medals both represent and recount this turmoil.  

    Most surprising of all—and most difficult to explain—is the proliferation of coin and medal kiosks in the historic center of Mexico City. Amidst the buzz of the Zócalo—the sensational (and searing hot!) main square—dozens of stores lure passers-by with advertisements for coins and medals. While some of these shops offer only sightseer tokens and the like, there are enough numismatically driven businesses in this tightly packed area to keep any of us occupied for an afternoon. It’s hard to imagine the scene; envision coin shops lining Bourbon Street, Michigan Avenue, or the 3rd Street Promenade. Increasingly relegated to the dustbin in U.S. cities, coin shops occupy some of the most trafficked space in Mexico’s capital. It’s worth pondering why this is the case.

    This unexpected numismatically enriching summer vacation was enough to carry me through June. Come July, the real F.U.N. begins with the revival of the coin show circuit.

    Modern Ancients

    June 12, 2015 9:47 AM by Kevin Goldberg

    In my World History courses, I harp on how the past—or at least our evolving understanding of it—constantly reshapes the present. I give my students two examples of how this functions in a negative sense; Egypt and Greece. Modern Egyptian and Greek history are so weighted down by the mythologies of their extraordinary pasts that we struggle to fathom each’s modern existence without contextualizing each into the ancients. Today’s national governments cater to tourism and foreign money as much as the plight of ordinary citizens, a phenomenon on display in the Greek currency crisis and the recent “Arab Spring” that blossomed in Cairo.     

    This is particularly troublesome because Egypt and Greece have as significant a history of the past 200 years as anywhere else. Egypt since 1800 is a tale of canalization, colonial entanglement, and balancing historic attachments to Islam and Christianity. Egypt was a key player in Cold War politics because of its pivotal location in both the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern worlds. Modern Greece also emerged in a cultural border area; torn between Ottoman and European powers in the 19th century. But no matter how vital, these modern stories must wait patiently behind their ancient counterparts. 

    Of course, Egyptian and Greek coin designs borrow heavily from their ancient mythologies. Although in Egypt this trend did not take off until after World War II, Greek coin designers had begun to experiment a bit earlier by blending ancient narratives with modern politics. A favorite of many collectors is the 1910-11 1 Drachma (5g, .8350 Ag, .1342 ASW). This common two-year type features the bust of the aged King George on the obverse and a stylized depiction of Thetis, bearing the shield of Achilles, on the reverse. This odd pairing demands an explanation.   

    George was born into the royal Danish family in 1845. Looking to secure Great Britain as an ally, the Greek people courted the Danish prince (Denmark and Great Britain were strategic maritime partners) to be “King of the Hellenes,” a title that George accepted in 1863. In exchange for satisfying British demands (i.e., by not selecting a rival prince), the British transferred the Ionian Islands into Greek possession. Before his assassination in 1913, George’s 50-year reign experienced tremendous highs and miserable lows, with numerous territorial gains and losses, though his most enduring contribution may have been his instilling of confidence in the Greek people during these formative years of the constitutional monarchy.

    The 1910-11 Drachma’s reverse is one of the most beautiful of the early twentieth century, in part because of the rounded high points of the design. The choice to depict the myth of Thetis, goddess of the sea and heroine of Homer’s Iliad, is no coincidence. According to Paris Papamichos Chronakis, Lecturer of Modern Greek History at the University of Illinois at Chicago, “the scene depicted [on the coin] can be viewed as symbolic of national regeneration and an affirmation of the eventual triumph of Greece.” With their nationalist ambitions stifled in the 1897 war against the Ottoman Turks (remember, Troy, scene of the action in the Iliad, is located in Turkey), the Greeks rallied, symbolically, behind Achilles’s shield in their attempt to wrest the island of Crete from the Turks. Papamichos Chronakis also points out that the employment of ancient mythology—in this case the militaristic story of Thetis—is perfectly in line with the rebuilding of the army and the modernizing agenda following the Goudi Revolt of 1909.

    Ancient symbols matter in Greece more than anywhere else. The wonderful Drachmas of 1910 and 1911 are but a small piece of this 3,000- year history. The governments under King George fully understood the importance of coinage in narrating and legitimizing their vision of the past and present.  

    Confession of a German States addict

    June 5, 2015 6:30 PM by Kevin Goldberg

    A recent purchase brought to light a tricky matter within what is arguably the most complex area of European numismatics, the German States. At about the size of a dime, a simple 1766 1/48 Thaler from Münster seems harmless enough, but cataloguing the coin requires careful attention. Münster, a Westphalian town of about 300,000 people today, had three coin-issuing entities in the 18th century; the town’s bishop (bishopric coinage), the commercial leadership (city coinage), and the ecclesiastic-minded nobility (cathedral coinage). As Coin World’s Jeff Starck alluded to in a 2014 article, Münster’s history is marked by violent internal divisions. It is no wonder then that this small state had three separate issuers of coins in the 1700s, all of whom fought for physical and financial control of the town’s trade.

    Before going any further, it may be useful to solve a terminological riddle. “German States” is misleading. The patchwork Holy Roman Empire—the loosely organized governing body for most of Central Europe for about 1,000 years—did not have a centralized monetary policy, which is what allowed for the proliferation of German States coinage. Münster, one among the many bishoprics in the Empire, was never a state in the way that we understand the term today. In fact, the hundreds of territories that we reflexively call “states” were not really states at all. Instead, they were free cities, dukedoms, knightdoms, principalities, abbeys, bishoprics, etc., that constituted the complex system of rule in the Holy Roman Empire. Several of these states, including Münster, played host to petty contests for power between local, regional, and continental elites, both ecclesiastic and secular. The Münster 1766 1/48 Thaler (a bishopric issue, by the way) was struck in this environment of contested rule.

    Münster was not alone as a contested state. Other states—again, this is a misleading term—including Augsburg, Cologne, Hildesheim, Lübeck, and Osnabrück, all had at least two sources of coinage in the 18th century. To be sure, states with multiple sources of coinage are the exception rather than the rule. Nevertheless, it is historically enlightening to explore why these few states had multiple sources of circulating coinage. This is a difficult question to answer succinctly.

    Most multi-issuer states had a historically strong commercial class alongside traditional ecclesiastic and noble structures. In the north-German state of Lübeck, Hanseatic merchants wielded more power from the 12th-17th centuries than did the bishops; both the bishopric and the merchant elites struck coins. The bishopric issues display the bust or insignia of a princely ruler while the free city issues display the double-headed eagle of the Holy Roman Empire (from whom the “free city” status was usually granted) and the city’s coat of arms. Cologne on the Rhine, another extremely powerful trading city, had (like Münster) three separate coin-issuing entities in the 18th century. In fact, the merchant class was so powerful in Cologne that the ecclesiastic elites, who were no slouches themselves, were barred from entering the city and were forced to reside in nearby Bonn and/or Brühl. Thus, the coins of the Archbishopric of Cologne did not necessarily circulate freely in the city of Cologne at all. The profits from minting coins were often used to wage the bitter struggle between commerce and church. 

    I am aware of how this nuance can signify chaotic confusion for collectors. However, I can’t stress enough that the complexities of German States coins are actually a blessing in disguise. For me, there is an added layer of depth to the German States that no other collecting area offers. While I’m excited about my Münster coin now, it won’t be long before I’m wooed by a new coin from another small “state.”

    For more on German States coins, see my article in the January 2015 newsletter of the Metropolitan Coin Club of Atlanta. 

    Small Change(s)

    May 29, 2015 8:53 AM by Kevin Goldberg

    In a Voices article dated April 16, 2015, I offered five “excuses” why I collect coins. The post generated several email responses that prompted me to think more about what I like and what I don’t like about our hobby. Let’s face it, numismatics is fantastic, but it’s not perfect.

    What follows are three things about coin collecting that I wish I could affect.

    “Chinese” counterfeits: Read carefully. Counterfeits are the scourge of our hobby. There is no contesting that. But I do contest the way we (I mean “we” literally, as I include myself) lazily conflate all modern counterfeits into the abstract label, “Chinese.” At least two complications arise. First, honest Chinese dealers and collectors—there are a great many—are dually mistrusted within the hobby. The repercussions of this are tragic down to the most human level, and this has a direct effect on the overall health of numismatics. Second, modern counterfeiters in Europe, the United States, and elsewhere receive a free pass whenever we glibly scream “Chinese” without really knowing the financial and physical sources of fakes. Despite being so knowledgeable about historical injustices, we tend to overlook our own biases.

    The lack of women in numismatics: Yes, there are some women, including some very high-profile women at Coin World, but women are grossly outnumbered by their male counterparts on the bourse floor. I understand that our hobby has historically been a male pursuit. We can’t change the past, but we can certainly address the future. The hobby must recognize and respond to shifting family dynamics. Fathers today spend more time with their daughters than previous generations, but few of these fathers bring their girls to coin shows. I don’t, because I fear that the lack of women collectors in the room would drive my daughters even further away. Many organizations, from local coin clubs all the way up to the ANA, have begun to address this gender imbalance, but we still have much work to do. Efforts to address the “greying” of the numismatic demographic should go hand-in-hand with efforts to promote the hobby among girls.

    Points: I understand that third-party graders (TPGs) are an indispensable, if still somewhat controversial, reality in our hobby. Points are an enterprising part of what TPGs do, but they should be subordinate to the more imperative task of authentication. As has already occurred in wine collecting, where quality is determined by several (all subjective) 100-point scales, TPG point systems have begun to replace traditional connoisseurship in numismatics and have further tilted the hobby towards money, rather than passion. I suspect that many among us are actually collectors of plastic tombs and “top-pop” trophies, with only a former or tertiary interest in coins. The problem is not that people collect points—really, I don’t begrudge that at all—but rather that any attempt to objectivize and then monetize what is so recognizably subjective will continue to foment speculation, distrust, and malfeasance. My wish is not to remove TPGs from the hobby, but only that raw coin collectors still be able to find the coins they desire at prices they can afford.

    Affecting these three things would, I think, improve our hobby considerably. The first two are more important than the third for the long-term health of numismatics. The third has already changed the way we talk about and actually collect coins, but it’s not a poison pill as long as we retain the choice not to play the points game.

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    Straight Bourbon

    May 22, 2015 8:42 AM by Kevin Goldberg

    No, no, not that Bourbon. The other Bourbon. The House of Bourbon; the family that ruled France — nay, Europe — for centuries. Sorry to disappoint. But while the Bourbon crest once lorded over the continent, the triple fleur-de-lis and the busts of Bourbon monarchs hardly register with collectors today.

    There are several reasons for this disinterest in the coins of the ancien régime, or France before the Revolution. The fact that France was never a major source of migration to the New World (outside of a few pockets, most notably Eastern Canada) is certainly one reason. But so, unfortunately, is the notorious complexity of its mint mark and privy (engraver) mark taxonomy. Dozens of mint locations and worn privy marks have frustrated many would-be collectors. In addition, French dealers — unlike their Anglo-friendly German, Dutch, and Scandinavian counterparts — have not traditionally targeted American collectors. This, I think, is beginning to change.      

    It is not an exaggeration to call the Bourbons Europe’s most significant family of the past millennium. Bourbon monarchs, including Henry IV, Louis XIII, Louis XIV, and Louis XV, fashioned the royal culture of absolutism and solidified the very position of the king as a legitimate power vis-à-vis the Estates General, the rigid hierarchy of clergymen (First Estate), noblemen (Second Estate), and the heterogeneous “Third Estate,” a motley mixture of urban and rural Frenchmen without title. This entrenched system in which birth mattered more than merit is the picture (for many modern commentators) of inequality and inefficiency. The struggles for power within French society were legislated through representatives of each of the three estates. The history of French coinage is no exception.

    The three estates convened in 1576 in order to combat the perceived Huguenot threat. Of nearly equal importance were questions of monetary policy, minting strategies and locations, and currency (de-) valuations. French money would be changed forever as a result. Henry III (the last Valois king) was determined that the Écu be the pièce de résistance of French coinage (much like the Thaler across the Rhine). In1577, on the heels of the meeting of the estates, new legislation put limits on the circulation of foreign coinage and encouraged the minting of small denominations in an effort to better serve the multitudes.  

    Under the Bourbons, the ubiquitous silver Écu (meaning“shield”) greased French commerce. The Bourbons also used the Écu—manufactured at royal mints—to drive out the coinage of their noble and ecclesiastical competitors. The House of Bourbon established profitable mints all across their territory in an effort to undermine baronial and church resistance. There were upwards of 30 Bourbon minting facilities in the 17th-century alone, from the coast of Bretagne to the mountains near Bayonne, from the Moselle to  the Mediterranean. Thus, the intricacy of French numismatics had for the Bourbons a very pragmatic purpose. Control of the Écu meant control of the Estates General. Control of the Estates General meant control in France.

    The House of Bourbon would maintain power in France until the cataclysm of the 1790s delivered it a standing-eight count. A few decades later, the Bourbons would be knocked out by the sweeping winds of 19th-century change. The once-ubiquitous Écu disappeared along with its benefactor. In its place, the new French Franc would continue to galvanize European commerce.

    For those looking for a challenge, the Bourbon Écu offers a chance at a historically unique and powerful collection.

    Marx in Middletown, CT

    May 15, 2015 9:17 AM by Kevin Goldberg

    This week I had the pleasure of spending three days on the beautiful campus of Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT. Discussions with students ranged from 17th century conceptions of freedom to 21st century ideas of race. The occasion was strictly business, but we coin enthusiasts always find a way to link our passion to work. One thought that occurred to me was that many of the individuals who we were discussing—Cromwell, Kant, Napoleon III, etc.—have been depicted on various numismedia, including coins of course.  

    In fact, history might be the very backbone of our hobby, particularly when considering the faces, symbols, and objects that adorn the coins that we collect. Whether it’s the bust of a monarch, a scripture from the Koran, or perhaps a metaphorical symbol of liberty, coin designs reflect the societal, cultural, and political beliefs of a given society. Much of the dialogue this week focused on the 19th century, particularly industrialization and the creation of political-party systems in England, France, Germany, and Russia. It is no wonder, then, that Karl Marx (1818-1883) was on the tip of every tongue.

    While Marx remains a controversial figure, we cannot deny the fact that he was a respected theoretician of money. In his 1844

    Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts , Marx famously parsed verses from Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens to shed light on the divine nature of coins. From Shakespeare:

    “…This yellow slave [gold coin]
    Will knit and break religions, bless the accursed;
    Make the hoar leprosy adored, place thieves
    And give them title, knee and approbation
    With senators on the bench: This is it
    That makes the wappen’d widow wed again;…”

    Reading Shakespeare, Marx calls money a “visible divinity,” responsible for the “transformation of all human and natural properties into their contraries, the universal confounding and distorting of things: impossibilities are soldered together by it.” In other words, with a coin in hand, we can do things that are otherwise beyond our reach. The coin is the bridge between desire and its satisfaction; hence its divine nature.

    Despite Marx’s enormous place in history—not to mention his infatuation with money—his likeness has only rarely been depicted on coins. The centennial of his death in 1983, however, saw the issuance of several commemoratives. Not surprisingly, these coins were mostly issued by the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies, including East Germany and Czechoslovakia.

    The Soviet Union minted 2 million commemoratives featuring Marx’s statuesque bust on the obverse and the hammer and sickle on the reverse. These coins, struck from a copper-nickel-zinc alloy, are readily available in the $10-$20 range. The East German 20 Mark commemorative, also made from a non-precious alloy, features the face of Marx on the obverse and a quote from his 1845 Theses on Feuerbach on the reverse (“Philosophers have only interpreted the world…the point, however, is to change it”). The East German coin is slightly scarcer than the Soviet issue, and will generally cost a few dollars more. The former Czechoslovakia issued a non-circulating silver commemorative of Marx in 1983. With only 80,000 struck, this may be the most challenging of the group to find, though it certainly appears—still inexpensively—every now and again.

    Maybe the most surprising of the 1983 commemoratives comes from a country that one could hardly call Marxist; West Germany, or the former Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). Marx’s German birth does not in itself explain the decision of the FRG to mint the commemorative. Rather, the West Germans appreciated the enormity of Marx’s legacy, even in a liberal-capitalist tradition similar to that of the United States. Though in no way a scarce coin (it costs under $10 in UNC), the West German commemorative may be the most honorific.

    Who says business trips can’t be fun?

    La Dolce Vita, 1859

    May 7, 2015 2:59 PM by Kevin Goldberg

    Although I frequently imagine Italian vistas, I often lack the fortitude—despite being a historian of Europe—to ponder Italian history, notorious for its unexpected twists and bewildering turns. In the classroom I usually dodge the knotty subject of Italian unification in particular, choosing instead to let students indulge the notion that Italy is the miraculous creation of a power not of this world; after all, one doesn’t have to be that spiritual to see the hand of God in a place this beautiful.

    But literary and numismatic happenstance has given me the nerve to rethink my fear of Italian history. Umberto Eco’s recent novel, The Prague Cemetary, offers a semi-factual account of the multidimensional process of Italian unification that humanizes the mythological names of Cavour, Mazzini, and Garibaldi. Eco captured my imagination in a way that historians have not. Even more germane to my sudden bravado is the revitalization of a dormant specialization in my collection; the Italian states. This pleasant surprise I owe to a dealer at April’s Georgia Numismatic Association Coin Show from whom I purchased a fabulous 1859 Naples & Sicily 10 Tornesi (a 31 gram copper Goliath!).

    Unifying Italy (Risorgimento in Italian) required the consolidation of historically distinct Italian states into a single Italian nation, generally thought of as completed in 1861, though loose strands were still being threaded together throughout the remainder of the decade. Unlike the comparatively straightforward unification of Germany a few years later (a process that Chancellor Otto von Bismarck matter-of-factly described as the outcome of “blood and iron”), Italian unification seemed to require forked tongues and fairy dust. Deteriorating monarchs, foreign usurpers, uncompromising Communists and compromising Liberals, landless peasants and landed nobles, and of course the Pope; these were just some of the actors sharing the stage in this riveting, real-life drama.

    As is so often the case, coinage—and money more generally—was a crucial part of this drama, and the coins from this tumultuous period remain a critically important aide in understanding the events. I imagine my 10 Tornesi in the pocket of a soldier during the infamous“Expedition of the Thousand,” a heroic excursion of rag-tag adventurers who defeated Bourbon and Neapolitan regiments in Sicily and on the southern half of the Italian peninsula. From our vantage point as collectors, we know that 1859 was the last year that the monarchy of Naples & Sicily issued its own coinage. Thereafter—following a brief interlude under the rule of the Turin-based Kingdom of Sardinia—Naples & Sicily was compelled to join the monetary union of the newly-created Kingdom of Italy, a constitutional monarchy that issued its first coins in 1861.

    Italian states coinage reflects the grand European theater of the 18th and 19th centuries. The incessant meddling of the Austro-Hungarian Empire gave rise to numerous occupational and provisional issues on all parts of the peninsula. The French Revolution’s reorganization of the European map around 1800 reshuffled Italian coinage too. The newly-created yet short-lived Cisalpine, Cispadine, Neapolitan, and Piedmont Republics all produced limited (and today, highly desirable) coinage.Napoleon’s coronation as Italian Emperor in 1805 led to ten years of coins bearing the bust of this most feared man in Europe. The upheaval of 1848, when Liberals, Socialists, and Nationalists all took their grievances to the streets of Europe’s industrializing cities, also reformed Italian coinage, including in Venice, where The Republic of San Marco struck several revolutionary issues. And of course, the drama of unification in the 1850s and 1860s would, region-by-region, erase the centuries-long history of Italian states coinage and simultaneously usher in the age of Italy, and Italian coins…not a bad result at all.

    Armenia's Troubled Numismatic Past

    April 29, 2015 3:40 PM by Kevin Goldberg

    100-year anniversaries usually highlight great deeds or groundbreaking accomplishments. This week, however, another 100-year anniversary reminds us of our limitless capacity to maim and kill. In April/May 1915, with the guns of World War I roaring, the Ottoman Empire unleashed a frightening campaign against its minority Armenian population. Over the next few years, Armenians would be subjected to concentration camps, death marches, and outright massacres, leading later scholars to coin the term genocide in their futile effort to label these episodes that claimed over 1 million lives.

    While the reasons for the genocide—as well as the ongoing diplomatic hullabaloo over use of the very word—are both much larger than this post, we can do our part in remembering this tragedy by shedding some light on the complicated numismatic history of the Armenian people.

    As it turns out, complicated is an understatement. With few exceptions, Armenian coinage, like Armenian history, is bound up with the history of great empires. The monarchical Kingdom of Armenia (321 BCE – 428 CE) issued few coins for circulation, while the neighboring Roman and Parthian Empires, both of which meddled ceaselessly in Armenian affairs, circulated their coins widely. Around the year 1000 CE, the expanding Arab dynasties and Byzantine Empire enveloped the territories of the Armenian people, making for an entangled economic zone, interspersed with coins from both Muslim and Christian kingdoms (including the Bagratid and Cilician Armenian dynasties). Coins from this period are the first known examples that contain inscriptions in the Armenian language.

    This constant tension between relatively weak Armenian kingdoms and much larger neighboring empires continued well into the second millennium, when coinage from the Byzantine, Seljuk, Safavid, and Ottoman Empires featured prominently in the commercial transactions of Armenians. The 19th century witnessed crises and transformations in the region. The Armenians’ status as a Christian minority in the Muslim-ruled Ottoman Empire may have been a factor in their increasingly frequent persecutions, including during the famed Hamidian massacres of the 1890s, when an estimated 300,000 Armenians were resettled or outright murdered. It is important to note that most historians of the period consider this and the later genocide against the Armenians not an act of religious hate, but rather the result of ethnic nationalism, shifting global power structures, economic volatility, and the radicalization of wartime polities.

    Yet another great power would shape Armenian numismatic history in the 19th century. Czarist Russia, regularly skirmishing with the Ottomans, made efforts to win the Armenians as allies. This policy put Armenians on less stable ground in the eyes of the ruling Ottoman Turks. In effect, the Armenian population was recruited by and distrusted by both the Ottoman Turks and Russians. Nevertheless, 19th-century Russian coinage began to circulate widely among the Armenian people. The twentieth century would see continued Russian hegemony in the area, as Armenia was declared part of the powerful Soviet Union in 1922. Kopeks and Roubles became the engines that drove everyday life.

    Defining Armenian coinage today proves as challenging as defining it historically. The modern Republic of Armenia, including its historic core in the South Caucuses, uses the Luma and Dram denominations as its official coinage. But the Armenian people—undoubtedly a consequence of its tragic history—has become one of diaspora. Los Angeles, New York, Moscow, and Paris are each home to hundreds of thousands of ethnic Armenians.  The Euro and the American State Quarter, just as the Byzantine Follis and Ottoman Para before, may be the real coinage of the Armenian people.               



    The Numismatic Science

    April 22, 2015 1:27 PM by Kevin Goldberg
    One of the great pleasures of historical research is the occasional interaction, professionally, with numismatic subjects. I recently received an email on a Humanities listserv about an upcoming conference in Vienna celebrating Joseph Eckhel (1737-1798), a pioneer in modern numismatic studies.The event, set to take place May 27-30 at the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW), is convened by numismatic historian Bernhard Woytek, and will feature almost two dozen numismatic and historical researchers from Europe and the United States, all following the path blazed by Eckhel over two centuries ago.

    Eckhel’s numismatic resume appears almost fantastical.  A crucial moment in the life of Eckhel, who was born and raised in Lower Austria, was a study visit  to Italy in 1772/1773. In Florence, he found employment arranging the impressive collection began by Cardinal Leopoldo de’ Medici(1617-1675).  Following the suppression of the Jesuit Order in 1773 and Eckhel’s return to Austria, Empress Maria Theresa appointed Eckhel as keeper of the Imperial Coin Cabinet and professor of antiquities and numismatics at the University of Vienna, a post that he would hold for more than two decades. It was in this position that Eckhel composed his magnum opus, the eight-volume Doctrina numorum veterum, a magisterial, systematic account of ancient coinage.

    The conference in Vienna will examine Eckhel from multiple angles, but one theme which promises to emerge is Eckhel’s connection to the Enlightenment, a European intellectual movement that privileged analysis and reason over the inertia of static traditions. Eckhel’s research was meticulous and thoughtful, and his goals included the rational systemization of coins and their history, a quality that has drawn comparisons with botanist Carl von Linné (Linnaeus), creator of binomial nomenclature for the natural world. Other themes will include ancient glyptics, coin curation, and numismatic teaching.

    An often-overlooked aspect of our hobby is that its reach extends in many directions. While this conference reveals a historical link and a connection to Humanistic research, I have no doubt that similarly exciting numismatic discussions take place in the fields of metallurgy, economics & finance, theology, art & design, and countless other areas. I’m delighted to share these occasions when they take place in my neck of the occupational woods.

    You can learn more about the conference here:

    These are my Excuses

    April 16, 2015 8:26 AM by Kevin Goldberg
    There are two questions from non-collectors that numismatists are accustomed to answering: What is our most expensive coin and why, of all things, do we collect coins? While the former question carries little interest for me, the latter is worth pondering. Really, why do we spend time and money in such a solitary pursuit? Why do we drive 50+ miles on a cloudless Sunday to perambulate up and down packed aisles in a fusty room atop a painfully hard concrete floor? There have in fact been times when I have questioned my attachment to the hobby, but I’ve never abandoned it, and I don’t suspect that I ever will.

    Nevertheless, it is sensible to reflect upon what it is that motivates us. To some extent, it’s simply the gratification of the purchase, and in this sense there is little that distinguishes us within our consumerist society. But I want to ascertain what is unique about our hobby and to identify the specific pleasures that it provides. After some thought, I’d like to offer up five “excuses”:

    Serendipity: This might be niche specific, but many of us, particularly world coin collectors, hunt with a shotgun, not a marksman’s pistol. I continuously encounter coins that I don’t own (many which I hadn’t known existed), but that still fit my core areas. For me, it’s less of a big game hunt and more about finding out what’s behind “curtain number 2.” I continue to be amazed at what’s out there.       

    The Night Before: I admit it. I daydream about coin shows. And they keep me up at night, in a good way. Granted, as a collector, I don’t have the stress of moving inventory (literally or figuratively), but the night before a coin show is a splendid thing. It’s one of the few moments that remind me of lying in bed as an adolescent, seething with anticipation about the next day. We’d be foolish to abandon the few remaining chances that we have, as adults, to experience this emotion.      

    The Krause World Coin Catalogs: Another confession. I enjoy speculating about the coins that I don’t own as much as I enjoy the coins that I actually do own. One of my guilty pleasures is an hour with a Krause catalog, eyeballing impossible to find goodies from distant lands and periods. While I may be alone in divulging this, I don’t suspect that I’m alone in reveling in this!

    Data Entry: It sounds awful, partly because many of us do this in our jobs, but I relish the process of updating my spreadsheet and online inventory databases. I record just about everything (weight, diameter, mintmark, etc.). My online database includes scanned images of all obverses and reverses. It’s a great way to stay in touch with the collection while away…or at work.

    The 1 in 100 Rule: It hasn’t happened yet, but I look forward to the day when somebody curious enough to inquire about my collection starts one of their own. All family members are out at this point. My siblings have other pursuits and my children’s eyes begin to secrete a wet glaze seconds after I reach for a box of 2x2s. There is still time, but for now I am left only to imagine the joy that comes with helping another partake in such a rewarding hobby.   


    Unexpected Sets

    April 9, 2015 12:07 PM by Kevin Goldberg

    Many collectors cherish sets. Whether it’s the relatively “easy” Peace Dollar series, the extensive yet budget-friendly Soviet commemoratives, or any of the other countless possibilities, having a standardized target in mind offers the collector a gratifying, obtainable goal.  

    But sets can also come about unexpectedly, as I recently found out. One of my earliest German States coins was a Baden 1871 copper 1 Kreuzer commemorating the conclusion of the Franco-Prussian War; a short but bloody conflict that would catapult the modern German state onto the historical stage. There are two varieties of this coin—the only difference being the wording of the denomination on the obverse—and I would not be satisfied until I had both.

    It turns out that the Southwest German state of Baden had been in a commemorating mood following the restoration of peace with France. The above-mentioned Kreuzers were accompanied by three city issues (Buehl, Karlsruhe, and Offenburg), each a copper 1 Kreuzer coin. The Karlsruhe issue is the easiest to find of the lot, and I had no hesitation adding it to my collection.

    Internet research revealed that Baden had a history of striking commemorative minors, something normally reserved only for Thalers or other large silver pieces (for those with bigger budgets, Baden issued several of these stunning coins, too). An 1844 1 Kreuzer commemorating the erection of a statue honoring Karl Friedrich, former Grand Duke of Baden, is an attractive yet fairly common coin. Other copper Kreuzers followed in 1857 (birth of an heir), 1861 (memorial to former Grand Duke Leopold I), 1868 (50th Anniversary of Baden’s Constitution), and 1869 (construction of a Protestant church in Seckenheim). Only the 1869 issue is truly rare, with a meager 1,000 coins struck, and it has, for now, evaded me.

    My fascination with this unexpected set was renewed when I recently came across a non-circulating Baden Kreuzer (Medallic Issue) dated 1832, commemorating Grand Duchess Sophie Wilhelmine’s recovery after giving birth. This exquisite issue adds depth to an unconventional series distinguished by its beauty, rarity, and historical curiosity; all things that many collectors relish.  

    The example of Baden is not an anomaly. There are more opportunities for unexpected sets than there are Whitman folders. Sometimes coincidence leads the collector to new discoveries. In addition to uncovering magnificent stories, we find our individual identities as collectors. To paraphrase Robert Frost, numismatics can reward those who take the road less traveled by.

    A Declaration of Interdependence

    March 27, 2015 2:52 PM by
    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all coin collectors are created equal, that they are endowed by their Dealer with certain unalienable rights to collect as they wish, that among these are the rights to pursue unslabbed specimens, to allow individuality to shine forth, and to always support the collecting interests of others.

    To grow as individual collectors, and as a hobby, numismatists must declare interdependence. We must capitalize on the fact that our interests overlap without negating the individuality that each of us treasures in our particular collections. However, recognizing the distinctiveness in each’s pursuit is more of a challenge than would seem, particularly when catch-all terminology and trance-inducing trends rage around us. 

    In what follows—besides introducing myself—I will stake a position that declares my individuality as a collector while maintaining a sense of belonging to a larger community of numismatists.   

    I am habitually shy about sharing my “origin” story. For reasons having more to do with paranoia than reality, I sheepishly feel that my story is … well … not “normal.” Despite growing up in the Philadelphia area—a region that is arguably at the epicenter of American numismatics—I never collected American coins. And despite having collected for (cough) 30 years, I have only glanced at the Red Book once, just out of curiosity, and I have certainly never used the Grey Sheet. Yet, I maintain that my passion for numismatics burns as bright as that of anybody who cares enough to be reading this.

    In the pejorative jargon of the trade, I am simply a “world coin” collector. To others, I am part of what is known colloquially as the “dark side.” I don’t consider either of these monikers fitting, as both terms fail to capture the spirit of my individual pursuit (or the individual pursuits of other “world coin” collectors).

    I am a collector, exclusively, of European coins, but even then, I certainly don’t haphazardly accumulate everything emanating from Europe bearing a denomination. The bulk of my collection consists of coins, mostly minors and fractionals, minted by the thousands of states, cantons, provinces, free cities, duchies, and other territories that constituted “Europe before Europe,” or Europe before the age of 19th century nation building. My collecting resume may look unconventional, but convention is a trait rarely found in the subspecies Homo sapiens numismatica.   

    There are others out there like me. This I know because of the high prices that I begrudgingly pay for unique specimens! Despite our numbers, we have been largely underserved by the Ameri-centric trade. (Note to trade: There is a lot more to German States coinage than $30,000 Thalers.) But this is where we must declare our interdependence. Although my collecting area may seem arcane to many, I have reveled in learning about the interests of others over the years. In fact, this curiosity about the passions of others has helped me to focus and strengthen my own assemblage of coins.

    In this space, I hope to connect with fellow collectors of world coins, particularly European coins, by sharing stories, experiences, and ideas. But just as we all occasionally experiment with other collecting areas, so too will this blog. Stay tuned to this space for what I promise will be a refreshingly human and reflective approach to the hobby; mistakes and all. I certainly hope that collectors of North American numismedia will read along, perhaps indulging some of the things that illuminate the “dark side” of “world coin” collecting.