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Pecha Kucha Night – My love affair with numismatics

April 17, 2018

The Opalka Gallery at the local Sage College has a great event called “Pecha Kucha Night;” they’re held all the world. A bunch of presenters each shows and talks about 20 slides, each shown for exactly 20 seconds. I did one recently. It was quite a challenge to time my verbiage so that it matched up with the slides. Here’s my presentation:

Hello. My topic is my 60 year love affair with numismatics, which is the fancy word for coin collecting. It has enriched my life beyond measure. Eventually it took over my life, and I quit my real job and became a full time coin dealer. I’ll show you a couple of pictures of my coin office.

This is a small part of my “fulfillment center,” coins I have for sale. I assure you it’s very well organized, and I can locate any coin to fill an order. Usually. By the way, I sell coins only by mail. Quite a lot of them, as this picture suggests.

Now, often coins require some research, and here’s a picture of part of my numismatic library. Much of this kind of research can now be done on the internet, but it hasn’t totally replaced the need for reference books.

And speaking of books, I did write one myself about coin collecting, in 1992, called “Confessions of a Numismatic Fanatic.” Note the subtle, understated color I picked for the cover. Almost nobody noticed that the coins on it form a smiley face.

I’m going to focus tonight on just two things. The first is ancient coins, which I especially love. Here’s one from Parion, in what is now Turkey, around 300 BC. Every Greek city had its own coins. The face is Medusa. Supposedly, seeing it would turn you to stone. But this picture is safe to look at.

Now, that coin is in superb condition, which is rare. Quality is the name of this game. Here we see the more typical condition for ancient coins. I bought this boxful of junk to re-sell. But when it comes to my own collection, I’m very much a condition snob.

The next coin, from Larissa, is notable for its artistic quality. Also, it happens to come from the greatest collection of Greek coins ever formed. That collector is still around, he’s actually bought coins from me; my wife and I once had dinner with him in Athens. (And with his full time librarian.)

Next is a coin from the Roman Republic. This depicts the story of Tarpeia; she’s the figure in the center; with two soldiers bashing her to death with their shields. I’m showing this delightful coin to illustrate how ancient people had a different mentality about violence.

The main thing I want to illustrate is portraiture on ancient coins. Often again the artistry was pretty amazing. Here is Alexander the Great. He really had an amazing career. Note that he’s depicted deified with the horn of Ammon, an Egyptian God.

The next guy is not so famous: Philetairos, the eunuch king of Pergamon. One time my toddler daughter climbed into my lap while I had a coin like this in my hand. I explained to her that it had a picture of an ancient king. And she asked me: “Was he nice?” I had to say probably not.

And here we have Cleopatra. A realistic portrait. She was not in fact a great beauty. This coin is actually more worn than I like to have in my collection, but it’s fairly rare, and about as good a portrait coin of Cleopatra as you can get.

Next we have her lover boy, Julius Caesar. “Yuli-oos KAI-sar” as the Romans would have pronounced it. He was the first guy who dared to put his own portrait on a Roman coin. It was one of the things that got him assassinated; it was felt he had too much power.

The next coin is Caligula’s. I’m showing you the back, because this was again something unprecedented — it names and depicts Caligula’s three sisters. Whom he slept with, at least according to the ancient historian Suetonius, who wrote “The Twelve Caesars.”

Here we have another famously disreputable Emperor, Nero. His coin portraits are particularly impressive. Now this is the kind of condition quality I like in my collection. This is a bronze coin; notice the beautiful green patina. This is a coin to die for.

Next is Hadrian, another superb portrait. Look at this artistry. And again, a bronze coin. I do have some gold ones, but I really much prefer bronze and silver. The reason is that for the price of a very routine ho-hum gold coin, you can get a fantastic bronze.

This is the last portrait: Antinous. Who was he? The boy toy of the previous guy, Hadrian. (Do you think there’s too much sex in my talk?) Antinous seems to have killed himself at age 21 because he felt he’d lost the bloom of youth. This coin is from Egypt and is very rare.

Now for the second part we jump to the early 19th century, and a little tin coin from Palembang, a Sultanate on Sumatra. A few years ago I happened to discover that quantities of these coins, apparently recovered from a river, were being sold quite cheap by several guys in Indonesia.

So I e-mailed each of them: how many have you got? Want to make a deal? I wound up with 35,000 coins. This picture shows just a portion. The cool thing is that these coins come in many variations, which had never been properly studied and catalogued.

So I decided to tackle it myself, and published a little book. It was a monumental job to sort through all those coins to make sense of them; I now have a real appreciation for just how big a number 35,000 is. In the end, I identified 18 distinct issues, with 291 significant varieties.

This final picture shows two sample pages from the book. And in case you’re wondering, I have sold thousands of these coins, but still have many thousands left. So if any of you are interested in a great deal on Palembang coins, you can see me outside.

Thank you!

 

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My humanist collage

March 24, 2018

My local humanist group recently had an arts-and-crafts afternoon. It was actually fun, a chance to be kids again. There was a pile of magazines, so I decided upon a collage; started with no concept in mind, just added things as they caught my eye. Here it is:

Shit-hole countries

January 13, 2018
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

BREAKING NEWS: Trump Shoots Woman on 5th Ave

January 13, 2018

(Associated Press) — President Donald Trump shot a woman on New York’s Fifth Avenue last night. The woman, whose name has not been released, was shot in the foot and is reportedly in stable condition in a nearby hospital.

The incident, captured on video, occurred shortly after 8 PM, as the President was being escorted by his Secret Service detail from Trump Tower to a waiting car. The woman, who was walking her dog nearby, screamed at the President, impugning his physical appearance, truthfulness, and mental condition. Mr. Trump looked in her direction and shouted back, “Lunatic!” whereupon the woman rejoined, “You’re the lunatic!”

The President then voiced an expletive and turned to Secret Service Agent Matthew Carnevale saying, “Give me your [expletive deleted] gun.” Agent Carnevale initially demurred, but when Mr. Trump said it was a direct order, Carnevale complied. The President then fired once at the dog walker, now standing about ten feet away, striking her foot. It is not clear where the President was aiming.

Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy stated that Agent Carnevale has been suspended, pending an administrative review of the incident.

President Trump tweeted shortly afterwards, “Lying bitch insulted your President to-nite! Lock her up! Will be SUEING [sic] HER!! But there was no shootting [sic], none whatsoever, believe me. FAKE NEWS!!”

Early this morning, after it was reported that overnight polls showed no measurable drop in his favorability ratings, Mr. Trump tweeted, “Remember I said could shoot somebody on 5th Ave & lose no votes? Look at polls! I am a GENIUS!!”

Interesting

August 31, 2017
  1. Note the “Found in supposedly empty equipment” stamp. Apparently this situation happens enough that the Postal Service has a rubber stamp for it. (This package was mailed in February 2015; received August 28, 2017.)
  2. This ad was in my local paper. Always proofread.

July 4: The Twitter Hymn of the Republic

July 4, 2017

Mine eyes have seen vainglory in the president’s dumb tweets,
He is trampling out the vintage of the grapes of wrath he eats,
He hath loosed the feckless lightning of his idiotic bleats:
His lies are marching on.

Glory, glory, to the Donald!
Glory, glory, to the Donald!
Glory, glory, to the Donald!
His lies are marching on.

I have read his fiery gospel writ on tiny cellphone screens,
In a hundred forty characters, this crazy person preens;
He has no mind or heart, but he sure does have a spleen,
His garbage marches on.

(Chorus)

He has sounded forth a trumpet with each and every tweet;
He is savaging every critic, before his judgment-seat;
Oh, be swift, he thinks, to insult them! Be jubilant my feet!
The Donald marches on.

(Chorus)

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me;
In contrast our president is disgraceful as can be.
The nightmare marches on.

(Chorus)

Coin collecting

April 22, 2017

Sartre called coin collecting a hobby for dull old men. Well, I started collecting as a dull young man 60 years ago. I’ve been selling coins too, for more than half that time. But Sartre was wrong. I can hardly calculate how much numismatics has enriched my life (and not just financially, though that’s important). To say that it enhances one’s sense of history hardly begins to explain. It has been a great window onto the vast pageant of the human enterprise. The connections involved, with other actual humans, are rewarding too.

And the quest, the chase, is challenging and fun. One never knows what will turn up. Many coins are not cut-and-dried, but can entail all sorts of intriguing nuances.

Many suppose that if a coin is old it must be valuable. Not so. Remember that past epochs didn’t have credit or debit cards, checks, Paypal, etc; even paper money is a relatively recent invention. Before then, all money was in the form of coins – so they needed a lot of them. And tons of those coins (many thousands of tons) have actually come down to us (especially since the advent of metal detectors).

What this huge supply means is that you can acquire historically fascinating coins for very little money. How little? Many thousand-year-old coins can be had for a buck or two; even ancient Roman coins if you’re not fussy about quality. However, quite nice ones can be gotten for only $10 or $20, too.

Quality is in fact where a lot of the spice of numismatics lies. A coin can be very common and cheap in crappy condition but very rare and desirable if well preserved. The true connoisseur relishes this difference. I am frankly much the condition snob when it comes to my own collection. Yet I’m also a bottom feeder about price. Those might seem incompatible, but for me there lies the sport of the thing: trying to find good quality at good prices. (This paid off spectacularly when my Chinese collection was sold in a 2011 Hong Kong auction. Good coins brought very good prices but excellent ones brought insane prices.)

My Julia Domna sestertius

I have written before about collecting ancient Roman coins in particular. Recently I got a really nice quality sestertius (large bronze coin) of Julia Domna (wife of Roman Emperor Septimius Severus, 193-211 AD). From a Swiss auction, it cost me about $550. I was very happy with it, replacing a not-so-great one in my collection, and I liked the price. I liked it even more when I researched it online and found that the same coin had been in a different Swiss sale just a year earlier, where it sold for $4,086! Evaluating ancient coins in particular can be very subjective, and such price variances make the game pretty darn interesting.

Ancient coins in more typical condition

Pricing is, of course, governed by the law of supply and demand. The vast majority of old coins are cheap because there are so many of them. What makes a coin rare is that there are few of them (duh), and if many collectors seek one, that drives prices up.

But the demand factor is not the same across the board, for all kinds of coins. This blog post was in fact prompted by my seeing, in a Dutch (Schulman) auction catalog, a 1697 Holland Leeuwandaalder (“Lion dollar”). These coins were issued in great numbers by numerous Dutch provinces for a long period, so in general they are quite inexpensive for large old silver coins, available for $100 or less. But this 1697 is the only one known from the province of Holland with that date.

1697 Lion Dollar

So how much is it worth? A comparable U.S. coin – suppose only one 1797 Dollar existed – would be worth millions, because many people collect U.S. Dollars by date. But how many collect Lion Dollars by date? Those people are almost as rare as that 1697 coin. It carried an auction estimate of just 500 Euros. That struck me as quite inexpensive for such a rarity. So did I put in a bid? No; because I doubted I could find a buyer.*

Yet still that’s a very exciting coin, and things like this are also part of what makes numismatics so much fun. It’s full of piquant byways. The longer I’m at it, the richer grows the experience.

* It wound up selling for 750 – with added fees, just about $1000.

My Valentine’s Day poem

February 14, 2017

Microsoft Word - LOVE POEMS cover copy.docxMy wife being a poet, I’ve been writing poems for her for occasions like Valentine’s Day, birthdays, etc. (I published a little book of them.) When she was learning Spanish, I wrote some in Spanish, which I’d studied in high school. Lately she’s been learning German, so I thought I should write her Valentine’s Day poem in that language. The only problem was that I never studied it.

However, my mother was born in Germany, and I got some familial German exposure – mainly hearing her daily two-hour telephone debates with her mother (always on the same subject, “whether Lotte has been a good daughter”). Also, I’m a coin dealer, and buy a lot from big German auctions, whose catalogs of course use the language.

imagesSo I decided to try writing a poem, with my very limited vocabulary. Actually, it almost wrote itself – with just a bit of help from Google Translate (very handy; you can use it to translate my poem). One word I made up (Germans like long combination words):

Ein Valentinstaggedicht

In unserer welt
Von sturm und drang,
Mit einem weissen haus
Wo wohnt ein
Stinkendenscheissestück,
Du bist mein fels
Mein leuchtendes licht,
imagesMeine wunderbare frau;
Ich liebe dich
Bigly.

 

O my America

November 9, 2016

unknown

 

 

unknown-1

Green-Weak: poems by Therese L. Broderick

November 1, 2016

13613373_10154473211057176_4122053389679591205_oI like the idea of being married to a poet. She takes it seriously; went back to school in her forties to get a master’s degree. When our daughter left, I’d feared some empty nest syndrome, but my wife’s poetry involvement keeps her well occupied and fulfilled.

But she didn’t like showing me her work, tending not to agree with my “constructive criticism.” Not that I’m any poetry expert; though that didn’t stop me from having opinions. However, she finally did share with me an ensemble of poems she’d been working very hard on. And this time my response was an enthusiastic “Bravo!” Expert or not, I could see she’d really raised her game.

rwj-green-weak-1-coverThis poetry collection is titled “Green-Weak,” referring to the type of color-blindness her artist father had. The central theme is her relationship with him and his illness; he died of a lung ailment when she was 21. The poems are also a meditation on the color green.

The book has now been published by Red Wolf Journal, at their website (click here) – with an extremely laudatory introduction by their editor! (Printed copies will become available at some future time.)