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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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Archive for 'April 2015'

    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:  http://www.oeaw.ac.at/eckhel2015

    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.