Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Gold & Silver Investment as Shark-Infested Waters

I thought there seemed some similarities between the current Arizona case and another I'd read about. In that previous case the dealer was sentenced to three to nine years in prison, I believe, and required to make restitution. The problem in this field is not just theft, of course, there are any number of scams going, to the extent that I noticed where one law firm deals especially in gold fraud cases. Please do not consider this a recommendation, you should of course check references when you need legal counsel, however I did find the site very interesting.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Why They Invented Safety Deposit Boxes

A residential burglary in Arizona netted quite a haul for the perpetrator. The details are a bit sketchy but it certainly seems someone had inside information. It would appear they had a limited time and knew enough to hit the storage room. Did they come in on a front-end loader? Think of the combine weight of it all:

The victim said that the following is missing from her home: 7,000 American Silver Eagle 1-ounce coins in plastic sleeves; 12 bags of silver nickels, dimes and quarters minted from 1920-1963; 15 South African Krugerrand gold coins; 20 10-pound bars of silver; 20 5-pound bars of silver; 30 American Gold Eagle coins with Canadian Gold Maple Leafs; 10-ounce and 6-ounce bars of silver with Johnson Matthey and Engelhard stamps; and $80,000 cash in bank envelopes.

The full story here.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Bonnie Prince Charlie's Buried (?) Treasure

It might be that too many people knew about the casks of coin sent to Scotland by France and Spain to fund Bonnie Prince Charlie's failed Jacobite rebellion. With the collapse of the rebellion, what became of the money? There were accusations but the full answer remains a mystery. Story here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Brasher Doubloon "The Most Expensive Gold Coin"

A coin minted by a neighbor of George Washington has brought $7.4 million, said to be the record for a single gold coin. There are probably more in-depth articles elsewhere. But, if you didn't buy it, didn't sell it, and don't have one stashed in the a hidey-hole somewhere, this may be all you need to know.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Happy Holiday Hunting Grounds for Silver Searchers

There's an area of coin collecting called roll searching. It's just a matter of obtaining rolls of coins from banks and digging through them. I think I mentioned the story about one fellow and his daughter who plowed through a million pennies looking for, and finding, valuable error coins. This story however is about silver content in 50-cent rolls. The searcher says the holiday season is a great time, presumably because piggy banks or other stashes are cashed in by those more interested in shopping than in searching. Here's the story...

Christmas Benefactor Drops Gold in Sallie's Bucket

A nice surprise for the Salvation Army in Tulsa as an anonymous donor slipped a one ounce gold American Eagle coin into one of their red Christmas collection buckets. Apparently it's a tradition with this generous giver, story here...
Apparently it's a nationwide phenomenon, gold and silver coins showing up in kettles far and wide. A video report here.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Penny Savers Hope to Cash in on Copper

It seems inevitable that the penny, minted at a loss, must cease to exist as U.S. coinage. Do the cost-benefit, easy to see that it's only a question of when.
So, though it is currently illegal to melt pennies, the time should come when the law is scuttled. And then pre-1984 pennies should have substantial scrap value, that being when the mostly zinc penny was launched.
In anticipation, hoarders are hard at work... story here
And a tip of the hat to Esylum newsletter for the tip.

Friday, December 2, 2011

New Book on Peace Medals and Power

Peace medals were a token of "friendship" presented to important Native American allies by government operatives on behalf of the President whose image they bore. Of course this was a way to convey power and recognition to select individuals. Tribes didn't necessarily have over-all chiefs but rather individuals who rose to responsibility for particular situations. However the U.S. needed a "chief" to sign treaties and the medals helped give credence to whomever was selected. Peace medals often come up on auction sites at prices assuring they are not genuine. Buy a good guidebook before buying the medal. Here is a story on a new exhibit and related book.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

CoinCrime: Photos of Stolen Coins

Coin theft is a common problem with new reports surfacing every few days. I'm aware of one professional group that logs thefts but they keep the info privileged, I'm sure with good reason though it means the loss of assistance from amateur sleuths. I'm posting a link to some good photos of stolen coins, a tiny drop in the bucket but a good example of what victims could do to alert the public. And a good reminder, take photos of any valuable coins in your collection. This particular theft took place a few years back and there's no update. If still out there, they could make an appearance at any time.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Time to Change the Way We Make Change

Numismatic expert Dick Johnson presented the following article in the lastest issue of Esylum newsletter, offering a plan to revamp U.S. coinage.
by D. Wayne Johnson

South Africa announced this week that it is abolishing its 5-cent coin. It is also changing the composition of its 10-cent coins (slightly).
Here's the government news release/

This is a very smart move by South Africa. It is the latest progressive country among about a dozen others that have recognized that world economics has advanced so far to make the cent and nickel obsolete coins of commerce because of their low value. The 10-cent coin will be the lowest coin in circulation in this country as in the others. Prices will still be quoted in cents, it is only the final transaction amount to be rounded off to the nearest 10-cent increment.

How long will the United States drag its feet to recognize this fact? It should revamp its entire coinage system at one time instead of attacking separate problems, say, for each denomination.

The U.S. Treasury lost $42 million last year making cents and nickels of metal alloys that cost more than the face value of the coins produced. We are on track to spend $5 million more for a study to find a metal to replace these compositions. Numismatist David L. Ganz suggested an aluminum alloy in such a study in a New York Times article (reported here in E-Sylum vol 14, no 36, art 13, August 28, 2011).

To find compositions in which to strike cents and nickels -- which no longer have an economic justification to exist -- is dumb, dumber and dumbest. Both the cent and the nickel as a circulating denomination should be abolished. (Prices can still be quoted in cents, or any decimal fraction thereof, it is only the "transaction price" -- what the Canadians call the "tally price" -- that is rounded off. This balances out overall. To criticize for the reason everyone will raise to the higher increment is insignificant. Such criticism is also dumb.

The nickel should be rebased (revalued) to 10 cents and continue to circulate. The cents need to be melted and recoined into a higher denomination. These are just two suggestions in my 42-page plan "Future Coins."

I outline not only what coins should be abolished, what denominations should be retained, what new denominations should be added -- instead of 1c, 5c, 10c, 25c, 50c -- we should have 10c, 50c, $1. $5, $10. There are six compartments in current cash registers. They would easily accommodate these new denominations once the lower denominations are eliminated.

The vending machine industry, largest user of coins, would surely endorse this plan because 90% of the industry's problems are the use of paper dollars in their machines. Higher denomination coins would eliminate that.

My plan spells out the size of all future coins -- diameter and thickness -- plus what composition each should be struck in (eliminating problems from inevitable rise of metal costs).

It calls for what mints should do what, plus a new mint to be established just for the striking of one denomination -- guess which! -- and where it should be located (and why).

It calls for design suggestions for each new future coin.

It also suggests embedding a microchip in high value coins for a number of reasons. Hey, we have serial numbers on currency, why shouldn't we have serial numbers for each coin?

I have sent the manuscript on "Future Coins" to numerous publishers. Each has rejected it. It appears the plan is too practical -- it is not political -- and it is politicians who will make the final decisions to implement such actions.

In spite of this, I am willing to send a copy of this plan to any U.S. Treasury official, Congressman, or Congressional aide who requests it. (At:

Dick suggested the following list of tags to help anyone searching the Internet for information on the topic: "cent alloy", "cent composition", "cent metal", "new alloy for cents", "replacement cent alloy"; "penny alloy", "new penny composition", "new penny metal", "new alloy for pennies", "replacement penny alloy"; "nickel coin alloy", "nickel coin composition", "nickel coin metal", "new alloy for nickels", "replacement nickel alloy".

Johnson's blog.
He is associated with Signature Art Medals.

Monday, November 28, 2011

18 Tons of Coins Found in Indian Temple

I don't know that they were ever really lost as they seem to include modern coins. The hoard is now being sorted for future dispersal. I suppose churches, temples, synagogues and various other religious shrines and sites could do rather well in the coin business, an interesting area for study. Here is the temple hoard story

Monday, November 21, 2011

New Chapter in Tragic Tale of Buried Gold: Auction Time

There is no remedy for the horrors wrought by war but a family will experience a bit of silver lining -- make that gold -- when a recovered buried treasure of old gold coins is auctioned. You'll find a story about it here.
(Thanks to Esylum newsletter for the tip)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

New Issue Honors the Mystery Crown of Bohemia

Somehow it calls for Sherlock Holmes, here is an excerpt from the the story:
"The Czech crown of Bohemia, the Wenceslas crown is not just any crown. Mystery surrounds it. The ominous legend that mysteriously envelops the crown states that of anyone, who wears it without the right to do so, will die within a year. Sadly, this myth seems to have proven to be true, even within the last 100 years. Therefore, the crown is securely locked behind not just one lock, but seven locks, deep within the cathedral. There are seven keys held by seven high-ranking officials of the church as well as the state. All seven must come together in order to gain access to the crown. It is very rare indeed; only happening 9 times during the 20th century."
The announcement of the new coin may be found here.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

'Doomsday Coin' Marks End of the World, Not

Rev. Harold Camping missed the mark a couple of times in 2011, predicting an end to the world that somehow failed to occur. Anyway, a few of the survivors might want a souvenir and if so, a marketer is ready with "The Doomsday Coin."

Monday, November 7, 2011

Tracking the So-Called "Tribute Medal" Copies of Great Art Medals

A new type of copy or replica has appeared recently on eBay termed a "tribute medal," these are inexpensive pewter versions of (mainly) art medals by the great medallists. I bought two and asked the seller for more info which he declined to provide. Unlike coins, there is no prohibition that I know of against copying art medals, still, my concern is that the next seller may not be so forthright in describing the item, perhaps at the expense of unwary newcomers to the field. I queried various experts and received various opinions on the matter, and I will mention the results in an article soon. Meanwhile, I notice in the E-Sylum newsletter of numismatic bibliophiles that I am not alone in my interest. A note from their latest newsletter follows:


L. Michael Lawrence submitted this question for our readers. Can anyone help? -Editor

As a collector of French Art Nouveau medals, I have noted the recent appearance of "Pewter Tribute Medals" offered in the last few months by a single U.S. eBay seller. These pieces are inexpensive and appear to be modern reproductions of a variety of French medals, most notably of the Orpheus by Coudray.

Having purchased two of them, I observe that they are nicely done and quite accurate (Orpheus images attached). I have attempted to discover more about the origin and manufacture of these pieces by searching the internet and inquiring of the seller, but all websites lead right back to the eBay seller who is very polite but does not offer any details.

I'm curious to learn where and how these pieces are being made and seek input or information fromE-Sylum readers.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

One Ton Gold Coin Minted in Australia

A one ton gold coin valued at one million Australian dollars has been produced to promote sales of the Australian gold kangaroo coin. Story and photo here.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Buyer Beware: Looted Treasure of Benghazi

The recent dust-up in Libya offered great opportunities for thievery. Noting the incredible quantity of stolen coins, collectors are wondering what the impact will be on the market -- however, with no documentation and no photographs, Libyan officials will be hardpressed to identify the stolen tgreasure if it is pieced out. Story here.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Rare (Maybe a Million$) Coin Missing From Brinks Delivery

A very rare double eagle was found to be missing from a Brinks shipment upon arrival at Heritage auction house. The shipper, an authentication company, apparently has tapes showing that the coin was safely passed along to Brinks. It would seem a simple matter to determine who had access up to the time of delivery to Heritage ... we'll see. Story here.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Order of the Golden Fleece Alive and Well

The Order of the Golden Fleece, mentioned in reference to several noble medallions, was established as a clever political maneuver in the days of the 100 Year War. The Order survives, though now as two entities. "The Spanish branch is presided by Juan Carlos I of Spain since 1938. He has turned the Order into a truly royal community. Members (current or former) are inter alia (in order of joining): Constantine, King of Greece, Charles Gustav, King of Sweden, Jean, Grand Duke of Luxembourg, Akihito, Emperor of Japan, Hussein, King of Jordan, Beatrix, Queen of the Netherlands, Margrethe, Queen of Denmark, Elizabeth, Queen of the Commonwealth realms, Albert II, King of the Belgians and Harald V of Norway." More about the Order here.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Different Take on Coins as Art

As you would note if visiting my art medal site mentioned in the side panel, I collect and sell coins and medals of interest for their images. I like it that the "root of all evil" can have artistic value. Although I use coins decoratively I hadn't considered the possibilities of volume -- as in creating a work using 250,000 Euro cents! It happened in Amsterdam in 2008. See the result here.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Thousands of Dollars for Pennies in Your Pocket? Could Happen...

The top ten rare coins you might find in your pocket change include a number of modern pennies. I read an article not long ago on a collector and his daughter who sorted through a million pennies, over time, looking for treasures such as these. They did find a number of error coins but I don't know how that translated as "profit." Anyway, here is a list.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Two Heads Better Than One ... With Coins, Maybe So

Generally when you find expert comments on two headed or two tailed coins, the point is made that they are all fake, such coins have never come from the official U.S. mint but are put together in machine shops. Well, I found a site with information somewhat to the contrary. Perhaps the official mint actually did produce a few two headed or two tailed coins ... however, they never reached general circulation and so won't be found in your pocket change.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Why Are Many Masonic Tokens Marked "One Penny"?

I recently put up a batch of Masonic coins or tokens for sale on eBay, among them being a couple which in addition to other Masonic markings were engraved "One Penny." There were also two actual U.S. pennies marked with Masonic emblem and punched. Though I haven't gone deeply into it, I would guess that the penny is a traditional vehicle for identification of "brothers." It seems to have come about when a Masonic penny was minted as genuine coinage and circulated throughout the British Empire. Some information on the matter may be found here.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Colony on the Moon next year? Funded by Medal Sales?

Well, that's what this item on eBay purports. This particular sale runs for sixteen days but I imagine there will be others from Project Luna.
Quite a few web sites go by the name Project Luna but I didn't see one for a moon colony.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Wilder the Weather, the More Fruitful the Treasure Hunt

Most of the news we hear regarding hurricanes, tropical storms and severe nor'easters is bad but then, with time, a few tales will come trickling out about treasures found along the beaches. Of course, knowing where to look is a big help to the hunter. Here's a spot in Delaware that has yielded up quite a few old coins due the the wreck of The Faithful Steward.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Federal Authorities Say They Can Confiscate So-Called Liberty Dollar

Subject of a recent court case, the privately minted so-called Liberty or Norfed Dollar circulates in quantity among collectors. The feds say they can seize any they discover. That includes any displayed for educational purposes only.See the story here.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Official 9-11 Medal Prices Rise, Proceeds Support Museum

The official U.S. 9-11 commemorative medal is a big seller and has now passed the introductory price stage. To my mind, this isn't an investment or collector sort of thing, it's about support for the victims, survivors and all those who worked to bring some healing to the wounds of an unthinkable tragedy.If you have not, please read the biographies (archived here) of the innocents who died, compiled by The New York Times. More information on the medal is available here. If you buy a 9-11 medal, be sure it is from a reputable source and proceeds will indeed help with remembrance projects.
Portraits: 9/11/01: The Collected "Portraits of Grief" from The New York TimesPortraits: 9/11/01: The Collected "Portraits of Grief" from The New York TimesPortraits: 9/11/01: The Collected "Portraits of Grief" from The New York Times

Friday, August 19, 2011

Rare Numismatic Books at Auction Closing Sept. 15, 2011

Kolbe & Fanning’s 122nd sale includes over 1400 lots of rare and desirable numismatic literature. A mail-bid sale, it closes on September 15, 2011 (see the catalogue’s Terms of Sale page for bidding instructions). Particularly rich in rare and desirable works on American numismatics, the 112-page catalogue also includes an extensive selection of interesting and elusive works on ancient, medieval and modern numismatics, including the working library of a specialist in ancient coinage. Catalog, bid sheet and informative site here.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Money Museum on The Medicis and Murder

In October 1587, the mortal remains of the 47-year-old grand duke Francesco I de' Medici and his second wife, Bianca Cappello, were buried in the little church Santa Maria a Bonistallo near Florence. The couple had died within only a few hours from each other – unexpectedly and under mysterious circumstances. Was it murder? ... See the article here.

Empires - The Medici: Godfathers of the RenaissanceThe House of Medici: Its Rise and Fall

Friday, August 12, 2011

Gold Investments May Not Be Solid

The Better Business Bureau has targeted two Texas firms specializing in gold as engaging in very questionable sales practices. The conclusion of the article offers cautionary advice on buying gold in general. Check it out:

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Collector News: Zimbabwe "Dollarizes" Monetary System

Not sure exactly what this means for collectors. There hasn't been enough small change in Zimbabwe so consumers have had to accept scrip, tokens, even candy and biscuits as change.
Officials cut a deal with the U.S. to supply U.S. coins to be used as a medium of exchange. Financial institutions and government agencies there have chartered a plane to fetch a cargo of coins from the U.S. -- which in the least sounds like a take-off point for a thriller-action film!
Wondering about the implications. Are older coins from Zimbabwe, many featuring wildlife and other nature themes, now scarce and collectible? What sort of tokens were issued as change? Will there be any counter-stamp on the U.S. coins (no mention so not likely)?
Here's a news story on the subject.

From an older but interesting note on Zimbabwe coinage:
"The 1 Cent coin is no longer produced as they were costing nearly 50 Cents each to make. The 5 Cents is more or less obsolete. Importation of both of these denominations ceased in 1999 and as mentioned earlier, there will not be new version of the 1 and 5 Cents coins. When the new versions of the other coins do appear then likely the older versions (namely the Copper-Nickel pieces) will soon disappear, already an engineering firm buys up old 50 Cent coins, drills holes in them and sells/uses them as washers for nuts & bolts. This is far cheaper than pressing washers from plate metal." The article, here, mentions that, at the time of writing, a single copy of a newspaper cost $20 in Zimbabwe.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Don't Miss My Latest: How To Make Money By Making Money

For some time now I've been a columnist for Joey Skagg's famous Art of the Prank web site, writing about various sorts of fakes and frauds. THE LATEST is on fake Chinese collectible coins, a multi-million-dollar racket.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Rare Coin Investment: The Path to Huge Profits?

If you are among those who browse the Internet in search of coin information, undoubtedly you encounter various pitches for rare coins as investibles. Here is a comment from the newsletter of the Numismatic Bibliomania Society, from a larger piece on the current Double Eagle trial, that has bearing:

(Double Eagle trial coverage is) the kind of story, one of intrigue around the tremendous value in coins that had been sitting untouched for decades, that lures people into coins as an investment. Coin dealers like Goldine and Numis Network, which is actually a multilevel marketing outfit that deals in coins, tout the financial benefits of coin collecting.

And in a way it makes sense: What could be better than collecting money?

But here’s the reality: With the exception of exceptionally rare coins in excellent condition, they have generally proven to be an unremarkable investment. And, as’s coin expert warns readers, the more hyped up a coin is, the worse of an investment it will tend to be. One piece of advice: Please, please, please stay away from the “modern commemorative” coins — a series of “rare” coins produced by the US Mint beginning in 1982. These are made to be collector’s items and so everyone who wants them buys them and keeps them in mint condition. It’s unlikely that a powerful secondary market for them will ever develop (see, for instance, collectible plates).

The story of this lawsuit will likely be used by more than a few coin dealers hocking the dream of a family fortune from rare coin investment. But most of the value in coins comes from dealing them to unsophisticated buyers, not from buying them.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

$16-Million Worth of Mexican Silver Still Buried in Southern Virginia?

Following the surrender of Robert E. Lee, the authors tell us, there remained some gold and "39 kegs of Mexican silver dollars" in the Confederate treasury.In an article for History News Network they explained that these "were coins that the Confederacy received through the sale of cotton to Mexico. The Mexican coins had been transported to Danville, Virginia," as Confederacy President Jefferson Davis and his entourage fled south. The 9,000 pounds of silver became burdensome. "For this reason," the authors say, "the coins were almost certainly buried in Danville, and evidence suggests, they remain there today."
There is much more to the book than just the treasure tale; it chronicles a clandestine effort to keep the Confederacy alive despite the military defeat. But for those of us following the price of silver and its effect on coin collecting, those kegs of Mexican reales provide intriguing points to ponder. For instance, if the book was published in 2008 then it was written even earlier -- is $16-million still a valid guess at the value?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Library

To say there are thousands of books on coins, medals and tokens is perhaps shy of the mark. Collectors tend to publish every scrap of available information, a noble obsession.
The subjects may be very, very arcane. Spin down through the list on Rich Hartzog's web site for evidence of that.
A "book" in this field, then, may be a stapled photo-copy of a manuscript concerning ... for instance, the communion tokens of a particular parish ... in, say, Uruguay.
So, unless there is a special reason, we will confine our list to books of broad appeal. Links when given are to Amazon because your click-through may generate a few pennies to help keep this project afloat. There are, of course, many other sites supplying books, such as that of the aforementioned Rich Hartzog. A search by title should bring results in many cases.

UNUSUAL WORLD COINS: A copy is near or on my desk as a matter of routine, not entirely as a reference but somewhat just for entertainment ... I take a break by cruising for interesting entries. If you are unfamiliar with it, this is quite a hefty door-stop of a book, chocked full of coin information. I use the chart that shows numerals in different languages as a start for identifying unknowns. Here is a statement from the publisher, a fair assessment -- "This new edition ... provides up-to-date pricing based on collector interest and precious metal prices, plus 6,000 detailed photos - including 1,000 more photos than the previous edition - for easily identifying coins from micro-nations, private artists, governments in exile, as well as fantasy issues and medallic coins. With more than 13,000 listings, this one-of-a-kind reference meets all your uncommon needs."
I believe I saw that a new edition will be out in October, meanwhile it looks as though the recent one is bargain priced.

A browser's book, a beautiful survey of the consensus of experts, the ones collectors dream about. A large book and, I would have to agree, more an art book than a collection of intriguing tales -- you will probably have to dig deeper, elsewhere, if you want the stories behind the selections. Stil, introductory information is there, often five or six fullsome paragraphs of it. An appendix mentions 100 more also-rans. The bibliography offers some ideas, though one would need access to a large and specialized library to obtain some of the material mentioned. All in all, this is as close as some of us will ever get to some of the "greats" and therefore very much worth obtaining.

(to be continued)

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Elephant Medallion: Alexander's Answer to a Mutinous Mood?

Alexander the Great and the Mystery of the Elephant Medallion
By Frank L. Holt
University of California Press, 2003, Paperbound

If you happen to be looking for a numismatic subject in which to get absolutely lost and totally bogged down, coinage related to Alexander the Great will probably do.

According to an article on this particular book in the journal of American Numismatic Society, on the order of 40 new books appear each year featuring the Macedonian conqueror. Though certainly only a few of those relate directly to coinage, they all have bearing.

No great knowledge of ancient history is required to enjoy a trip through this book. For those who have not delved to any depth into the life and times of Alexander, Holt provides a brief biography before moving to specifics relating to the medallion, including details of the greatest battle of a career consisting of battle upon battle.

At the same time the book offers insight into ancient coinage and modern study of that field, snapshots which may stimulate the reader to further exploration.

Should that happen, there will be no shortage of reading material. The coinage aspect alone fills quite a number of books. It wasn’t only that Alexander carried a mobile mint in his military entourage, producing tons of coins in the process of promoting himself to a god. The field also includes rulers since who have joined in, as have various others hoping to benefit by association, or out of admiration.

So, while Holt argues convincingly that the medallions were issued by Alexander, there is also expert opinion they were done after his death by a ruler wishing to identify with the great one.

The medals in question depict a cavalryman with a lance apparently attacking two figures mounted on an elephant. All the “w’s” come into play: who, what, when, where and why?

Quite a few experts have weighed in from various perspectives. Holt, professor of history at the University of Houston, is an authority, possibly the authority, on Alexander’s forays into Bactria and India. Bactria today would include parts of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

In modern times the medal first came to public attention in 1887 with two articles published in numismatic journals. The first example to surface was thought to have come from the Oxus treasure, a huge ancient hoard of gold and silver artifacts found by locals along the Oxus River at the border of present-day Afghanistan and Tajikistan. (Culturally the artifacts would be termed Iranian but that opens up a new area of discussion which would lead us astray of the matter at hand).

Other examples of the medallion have since turned up, some being suspect. The popularity of any coinage related to Alexander makes it probable that among the new finds are fakes and copies.

Because many of Alexander’s coins were produced “on the run” they are the forgers’ dream -- there is no standard of weight, image quality or particular metal composition to judge them by.

The primary question surrounding the elephant medallions, though, concerns the event they depict. Conclusions have layered up with each new round of scholarship over the years.

Various clues led to Holt’s reasonable certainty that the depiction is of a battle between Alexander and the Rajah Porus, ruler of portions of what is now Punjab. This was one of the most fierce of Alexander’s many battles on his long journey to the edge of the known world, taking place in 326 BCE.

Though victorious, Alexander’s troops had by that time been on the road for many years under arduous conditions, engaging time and again in gory hand-to-hand combat, suffering travails of travel and supply, further and further from home. The monsoon-season battle with Porus took place some 3,000 miles away from where Alexander’s campaign began.

Historians depict a situation ripe for mutiny. Things had to have been very bad because Alexander allowed no second chances when it came to even suspicion of disloyalty.

Holt concludes that the medallions were issued as a morale booster. Nonetheless, the mood of the troops is said to have brought on Alexander’s turn-about.

Not long afterward he was dead, at the age of 32.

Ancient coin expert and prolific author Oliver Hoover, writing in the ANS magazine, proposes that the medallions depict not the Porus battle but a more general situation. He supposes the images represent Alexander’s military approach versus that of his adversaries, men on horseback opposing men on elephants (war elephants being termed “the panzers of antiquity,” in Holt’s words).

While among those disagreeing with Holt on this and some other conclusions, Hoover terms the book “one of the most entertaining works of scholarship that this reviewer has read in several years.”

That seemed a recommendation worth passing on. For my part, I would say Holt’s very readable book will likely inspire one to monitor further scholarship in regard to the elephant medallions. And, of course, to learn more about the great Alexander, who, as biographer Robin Lane Fox put it, “did not believe in impossibility…”

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Is It Legit, or Is It a "Gee"?

Heads I Win
(Australia’s Most Audacious Coin Forger)
by Jeffrey Watson, Don Thomas and Jack Bennett
Angus & Robertson Publishers, 1986, hardbound

The charming and brilliant thief and forger David Gee had the advantage over many of his victims and legal adversaries. He was an expert and in some instances, the expert. His knowledge and other talents were the making of a forger who, with some ease, fooled the best and brightest in his field in the 1960s and early 70s.

Gee’s unconventional path to acquiring or re-creating the finest examples of early Australian coinage, with emphasis on gold, was hewed out in part by his charm and in part by his knack for making “a mockery of the security systems in some of Australia’s most prestigious museums and libraries.”

That is the assessment of the authors, two journalists and Don Thomas, detective chief inspector of the Commonwealth Police at the time of Gee’s escapades. Thomas may have played cat to Gee’s mouse but if so would have been one very frustrated and hungry cat before the game played out.

Evidence provided in the book details a fairly astonishing career, but, like Thomas’s investigation, this account seems a cautious effort. One has to wonder, beyond pillaging rare and valuable coins from the Royal Australian Mint and the world class and priceless Dixon Collection of the State Library of New South Wales, what other monumental crimes did Gee accomplish in his heyday? Only Gee could tell us for certain and, among his many talents, he was certainly a liar extraordinaire.

(I recently saw a note concerning the auction of a rare 1930 Australian penny. These were at first thought to exist only as proofs, I believe, and then later it was found that a very few, probably not many more that 50, had slipped into circulation…somehow. At any rate, the commentator mentioned Gee created a die for the 1930 penny that has never been found).

As to his two known targets:

The State Library of New South Wales houses the incredible coin collection of Sir William Dixon, a man possessed of the extreme wealth necessary to acquire the rarest coins and medals – as well as the dies and equipment necessary to produce more of those rarities. Access to the collection is restricted but that proved little barrier for coin expert Robert Low. And, yes, “Low” was among the 70 or so aliases of our clever friend Gee.

The other target was the Royal Mint where Gee became great friends with Director James Miller Henderson. With Henderson’s approval, Gee was able to bypass security routines to spend time among the Mint’s unique and priceless collection of rarities. It wasn’t always necessary for Gee to steal; his friend Henderson simply gave him certain quite rare coins as mementos. Henderson, it should be noted, operated as though he owned the national mint, and had many powerful friends in and out of government who supported or turned a blind eye to his autocratic behavior.

What was the secret of Gee’s knack for making friends among the high and mighty? Well, his expertise was no hindrance. And he threw fabulous parties. Another possible factor was his connection to the porn industry, where his screenings of top imported triple-X films attracted a well-to-do audience.

Gee’s downfall came as a result of the determined efforts of detective Thomas and his assistants. Thomas seems to have plowed ahead with his investigation even when lacking the support or encouragement of higher ups. Thomas tracked Gee’s thefts and forgeries not only in Australia but in the U.S., Great Britain and Ireland as well.

The 50 charges brought against Gee were only those where Thomas felt he had an ironclad case. Nonetheless, prosecutors reduced those to fourteen. Following a trial involving some 90 witnesses and 1200 exhibits, a jury found Gee guilty on ten of the counts. During breaks in the trial, Gee and Thomas had many amicable chats.

Sentenced to seven years, Gee served three. During that time he became great friends with the prison superintendent and was often granted leave to go shopping or to attend classes outside the prison.

Gee’s forgeries are still sold now and then as genuine, according to knowledgeable observers of the coin market. It may be some comfort to purchasers, should their error be revealed, to know his forgeries are themselves sought-after collectibles bringing high prices today.

(By the way, I had quite a time tracking down a copy of this book, I wish you better luck).

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Who Was Henry Morgan? Perhaps Now We Know

The Mystery of Henry Morgan
(A Numismatic Detective Story)
by Andrew Wager
Barkham’s Press, 2007, paperbound

Henry Morgan stands vilified by numismatists for his “evil work.” Deservedly so? Was there in fact any such person to hang accusations upon? Andrew Wager takes us back to the early 1800s in England on a quest for the truth.

At the time, with a poor harvest, silver was going to the continent to buy grain to feed British troops fighting Napoleon. The lack of coin of the realm prompted merchants and bankers to issue their own coin or tokens. These were not imitations of crown money as that would have been a hanging offense, as some offenders learned.

The issuance of legitimate tokens redeemable for merchandise or precious metal invited counterfeiters and other fakers. At least one purveyor of legitimate tokens, Henry Morgan or so-called, seems to have worked both sides of that street. He seems to have produced quality work and also “junk” – poor quality imitations of legitimate tokens.

Morgan was denounced in a newspaper advertisement for “infamous deception.” His accusers were the backers of the genuine tokens he supposedly imitated. His tactic, apparently, was to produce legitimate tokens on order and then to make similar though not exact copies, changing a few words or letters, and in some cases dropping all but the design. In an age of limited literacy, of course, the image might be the primary identifier for many who accepted the tokens.

The book’s first four chapter explain in great detail what was going on in the token market at the time. One really needs to have a thirst for details on the subject to pay close attention, I suppose. It is in Chapter 5 that we begin to see the value of Wager’s expertise in the field of genealogy as just the ticket for tracking this Morgan fellow.

In London at the time there were, as might well be imagined, a great many people by the name Henry Morgan. But rather than rely on Google with its 300,000 possibly relevant offerings, Wager turned to census, birth, death, marriage and other records for clues. Rewards were not immediate as he waded through candle-makers, cooks, hosiers and so on.

In the end the case against the suspect does come down to the old Scots verdict, “not proven.” But one is fairly convinced that Wager gets his man. And the author is the first to admit to remaining questions.

What is proven beyond doubt is that the genealogical researcher has much to offer regarding the investigation of numismatic mysteries where relevant records may exist.