Tuesday, May 29, 2007

And You Think Your Ancient Coin Is Old?

Money And Its Origins

Do you know what the world’s oldest coin is? If you’re not sure, don’t feel bad — the book is still open on what exactly represents the “first” money. Some early forms of primitive money were mostly objects used to barter for other goods. These included such things as bronze necklaces, pieces of gold and silver, gold dust and nuggets, sea shells, pressed blocks of tea, rings of silver, slaves, tobacco, cattle and much more. As far as money made from precious metals is concerned, ring money, developed by an Egyptian Pharaoh thousands of years ago, was the first. This Pharaoh made sure his “money” was made of gold and was relatively uniform in size and weight. Most importantly, especially if you were some poor granite carver working on a pyramid, was that the Pharaoh said that it was money and his subjects either had to accept it or they ended up on the wrong end of a spear.

Electrum and the First Coins

What’s generally accepted as the world’s first coins were struck more than 2,500 years ago in the kingdom of Lydia, a small but wealthy state in Asia Minor, in what is today part of modern-day Turkey. The reason for Lydia’s prosperity was its vast amounts of electrum, a very scarce natural alloy that is essentially the combination of gold and silver found in the silt along the shores of the Pactolus River. In fact, according to legend, these special gold deposits originated when King Midas washed his hands in the river to rid himself of his “golden touch.” It was Electrum that made the kings of Lydia the richest and most powerful rulers of the ancient world. King Croesus of Lydia was the first person to mint gold and silver coinage and played a pivotal role in developing the world’s first monetary system based upon precious metals. Electrum was the key instrument in this development. Croesus had his underlings shape electrum into bean-shaped lumps each with a fixed weight and purity. Then, each was stamped with an official symbol. By 550 BC, the practice of striking coins was established in all the important trading cities throughout the known world.Electrum remains a rare metal alloy today that’s even scarcer than platinum. Although very rarely used in the striking of coinage, it’s no stretch to say that every coin collection around the world is based on electrum, the first precious metal used to strike coins. If it weren’t for electrum, we might not be collecting coins today! More importantly, this first coinage allowed mankind to move away from barter and to expand throughout the known world. No other invention can compare to this one, for without coinage, we’d still be stuck in a barter economy. Bartering may be all right for trading a sandwich for a bag of cookies in grade school, but not for a civilized global economy!

Enter the Greeks

The rise of the Greek city states brought with it a marvelous development in coins. The Greeks took striking coins to a whole new level. Featuring exotic images of gods, goddesses and winged creatures, Greek coins had a beautiful visionary quality that would not be matched for another thousand years. The coins of Greece, and in particular those of some of their city states, such as Syracuse, are amazingly beautiful miniature works of art. No people in the history of the world have ever truly exceeded the beauty of their coins. When Alexander the Great conquered the known world from 336 to 323 BC, he not only spread the Greek Hellenistic culture throughout his empire, he also spread the concept of coinage. It was an idea that lived on even after his death as his generals and successors founded the great Hellenistic empires. These successors introduced realistic portraits as a regular feature of their coinage. The true visages of world rulers were recorded for posterity. Many of these rulers are unknown to history except through their coin portraits.

When in Rome

The Roman Empire continued the Hellenistic tradition of realistic portraits on coins. The emperor’s family was also frequently depicted on the coinage — the ancient world’s version of the newspaper tabloid that kept track of the royal family. In this way, the progression of some emperors can be seen on their coins from boyhood through maturity. With no television, newspaper or internet to spread news, Roman coins were frequently the main propaganda tool used by the emperors. Besides telling citizens in no uncertain terms who was in charge, Roman coins also publicized the achievements of the emperor, such as key military victories and important architectural works like the Coliseum and the Circus Maximus. Even important events such as the assassination of Julius Caesar or an alliance between cities, were recorded on the coinage. Unsurpassed in their quality and completeness, Roman coins are like a portrait gallery that tells the long history of the world’s greatest empire. These coins were so important that even usurpers to the throne, who would otherwise be unrecorded in history, struck coins with their names on them as their first rule of business after seizing power. Besides needing the coins to pay their army, which allowed them to proclaim themselves emperor, the coins bearing their image legitimized their rule to the masses. Today, many of these usurpers are known today only through their coins.

How the Fall of Rome Affected Coinage

One can see the decline of the Roman Empire on its coinage. In the time of Emperor Trajan (98-117), the standard monetary coin was a large Silver Denarius. In the mid-200s, the coins shrunk in size to a small Silver Antoniananus. By the late 200s, the coin became a Bronze Antoniananus, which was silver plating over bronze. Finally, by the 300s and 400s, the coins became solid bronze, indicating the depths to which the Empire had fallen.When the Roman Empire collapsed in 476, most of Europe was thrown into the era known as the Dark Ages. Yet many of the barbarians who conquered Rome were half Romanized. The remains of Rome’s greatness were all around them. They strode along her roads. Many became Christians. Roman law, literature and architectural remains are still studied, and our calendar is based on the Julian calendar of Julius Caesar. Roman roads paved the way for the spread of these ideas. The roads traveled to foreign lands and established cities that are still in existence today — London, Istanbul, Paris and Lisbon to name just a few. In the East, Constantinople kept Roman ideas, culture and laws alive well into the Renaissance. Though the Roman Empire was no more, the mints it had established in the far-flung corners of the world lived on. No longer glorifying the “Eternal City” of Rome, these now served their tribal leaders and warlords for several centuries until a renaissance in thought, culture and technology could effect a change.

At a later date I will add date about the Byzantine Empire and Subsequent coinage. The information I am sharing can be found at the following URL: govmint.com I give full credit to the site and to the writer of the article. Thank you for reading and God Bless.. Jerry..

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Picasa 2: Great Free Picture Host

I have used Picasa in the past and I think it is one of the finest free hosting services on the web. Read Google's review of their service.

Transfer, find, organize, edit, print, and share images, all with this easy-to-use product. Watch Picasa automatically organize all your pictures into elegant albums by date. Having all your photos in one place means no more time wasted searching for folders or files. The program works with JPEG, GIF, BMP, PSD, and movie files and is compatible with most digital cameras; it detects your USB driver and imports pictures into albums. Editing tools include cropping (standard or custom), removal of red-eye, and enhancing--even switching from color to black and white. Create slide shows set to your MP3s. Integration with Picasa's free Hello instant picture-sharing software lets you share hundreds of photos in seconds and chat in real time. E-mail photos with Picasa's built-in client to take the guesswork out of compressing images, and order photo-lab quality prints or print at home with no mistakes. You can also make instant backups to CD (or to other hard drives) of your photo collections, to organize your photos using labels and stars (just like with Gmail), to write captions for all pictures, and to organize videos as well as pictures. Picasa is owned by Google.
The latest version of Picasa adds Web-based features in the form of Picasa Web Albums.

I am providing a link for what I consider to be an easy download. Please let me know if you like this free host. The URL is as follows: http://tinyurl.com/2j8ma5 Thank you and God Bless.. Jerry..

Friday, May 25, 2007

Zapping Crusty Coins On A Budget

Dear readers, I am addressing the increased cost of living relative to our interest in cleaning coins. First and foremost I want you to know that one can easily assemble a zapping unit for $5 dollars or less that will do just as good a job as my “Super Zapper.”

I have schematics for building a very simple zapping unit under the “Files” section of CoinZappers. The URL is as follows: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/coinzappers One must join our group to have access to the schematics but that is not a bad thing either. You will find some of the friendliest members you have ever met. We will be happy to walk you through the building process and we will be there for you as you learn the “kindest method” for cleaning crusty coins.

The coins you see in the picture above right are coins I cleaned using my zapping process. I invite you to join our group and learn our process. The learning curve is nominal and it certainly is not rocket science. I venture to say that we can have you zapping coins within a week and that includes assembling the unit.

There has been much talk recently about the escalating costs of power supplies. I have an AC/DC power supply that can be purchased at WalMart for a bit under or over $10 dollars. I get great results when cleaning no more than three to five coins with my WalMart power supply and a small zapping unit. My interest is to continue to make this an affordable hobby! We will lose many potential zappers if the initial outlay is close to 200 bucks to get started in our hobby.

One thing I want readers to understand is that one has sacrificed nothing when making the choice to use the smaller assembled homemade zapping unit. The quality of cleaning is still there. It is only the quantity of coins one can clean that is being “sacrificed.” With the increased cost of crusty coins I think there is something to be said about making the choice to clean 1-5 coins at a time as opposed to using a Super Zapper like mine and cleaning twenty coins at a time.

I suggest you go for coin quality and buy quality crusty coins if a buying choice needs to be made. I will state what I so often say and that is that I have now zapped about 6000 coins and I know what I am talking about. I think the proof is in the picutes of the coins I am more than willing to share with all. Please give us, the members and moderators of CZ, an opportunity to help you learn the most exciting ancient coin cleaning method I know of. God Bless.. Jerry..

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Roman Toga: Who Wore Togas?

What do you think of when you think of Roman clothing? The toga? Actually, the toga was worn by males only and was the equivalent of a suit and tie we see men tearing today. Most Roman citizens wore a tunic, which was a kind of long shirt with a belted waist and short sleeves. If a male was engaged in heavy labor he wore a tunic with one sleeve. Men wore either shoes with laces or sandals.

Women wore long, loose fitting dresses fastened at the shoulders with fibulae and was the counter part of contemporary safety pins. These were also belted at the waist. Married women wore an extra piece of fabric over their dress called a stola. That was not all; over their heads they would wear another piece of fabric called a palla, a combination shawl and veil. If you can add to my limited knowledge of Roman dress, please do so. I am sure our readers would enjoy.

The written material in the article above was paraphrased from a handout I received at the Pompeii exhibit in Mobile. The handout is entitled “A Day in Pompeii.”

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Graphite Cleaning: A Major Coin Cleaning Breakthrough?

I think I have discovered a method of cleaning ancient coins that will meet the needs of all who clean regardless of cleaning techniques. I am just short of amazed at what happens when I employ my new method. Please allow me to preface my data by stating that the method does not replace the cleaning techniques you now employ but it enhances your ability to better clean your coin.

For some time I have been looking for a gentle method of removing the omnipresent “dirt” and stains found in around the legend and features of the coin’s image. I will not bore you with all the cleaning media I have tried. I went so far as to apply harsh chemicals as I continued to search for a vehicle to lift the tiny particles found in the ancient coin’s crevices.

I recalled my dad and I used graphite powder as a lubricant whenever I helped him restore player pianos and that I had added the powder to my repertoire of art mediums. Almost as a lark I chose a 5mm mechanical pencil and began to draw in and around the legend of a coin. The coin was already clean and I was highly satisfied with my product. As I applied the pencil I immediately saw small residues of dirt begin to roll up into tiny balls and I could gently blow the tiny balls away. I worked on one letter of the legend and then another. I could not believe what was happening! I only thought the coin was clean!

The “dirt’ continued to roll into tiny balls in and around the legend as I continued to draw along the coins surface. I could not believe the cleaning results. I drew all over the coin and the graphite was obviously picking up the infinite specks of crust from the tiniest orifices of the image to the small “o’s” of the legend. The graphite was actually working as a binder! However, I now had a gray coin. I wiped the coins surface with a dry towel and the coin was clean but I could still see the gray deposit left by the graphite.

I tried a damp towel and easily removed most of the graphite. I tried a bit of hand soap with water and the remainder of the graphite easily floated away! The coin was the very same color I had before the graphite application! I knew graphite was used as a lubricant but I was still concerned about the abrasive characteristics. I chose the hardest graphite pencil I had- a #2B- and I really bore down on one of the coins I was working with. I continued to work in a small area of the coin with very hard and rapid strokes. I wanted to be sure about the abrasive qualities of the graphite. I washed the coin with soap and a soft toothbrush and the coin had no abrasive marks at all! Not a scratch!


I repeat. The new method is an enhancement to the cleaning method you are now employing.
I found that a #2 lead in a 5 or 7mm pencil works the best.
The graphite is not abrasive.
The graphite will not clean crusty coins.
The graphite method enhances what you have already cleaned.
I am sure there are many unanswered questions but I need to know what you don’t know.
I think this is the genesis of a technique that will be used for decades.
I think the graphite enhanced the visual quality of my coins by as much as 25-40%.

I want many of you to try the method and let me know what you think. If you do not get good results the you are doing something wrong. I have now cleaned dozens of coins to some degree and I am very, very excited. Ask Shawn if he got a 3 PM call last night! Thanks for reading and I look forward to feedback.. God Bless.. Jerry..

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Bamboo: Handmade Ancient Coin Cleaning Tools

I am sharing with my readers my favorite coin cleaning tools. My wife buys me 100 1/8" diameter bamboo skewers at WalMart for just a bit under one dollar. I cut them in two pieces length wise and that makes 400 tools because I use both ends of the cut pieces. I discovered the wonderful cleaning properties of bamboo by accident and I use them almost exclusively to dig, probe, flick and scrub my coins as and when needed.

The thing I like best about the bamboo is that I am able to clean the coins without the cuts and abrasions one gets with hard tools. I am also surprised at how long the bamboo holds up to scrubbing and cleaning. I encourage you to give the bamboo a try. I think you will be pleasantly surprised. The photograph you see above contains a few of the cleaning shapes I create using the rotary grinder on my Dremel.

Of course, one can get the same results with a sharp knife. I think each bamboo point in the photo speaks for itself. The sharp point is the point that comes with the bamboo. You will see a small variety of blunt shapes I create for the purpose of pushing and removing encrustation from the coin as I zap. Pay particular attention to the "brush" shaped bamboo on the right. I make these by hammering the end of the bamboo with a hammer on a flat metal plate. I like to keep the "bristles" stiff so I strike the end of the bamboo only five or six times to maintain the stiffness I like. However, if one wants an extra soft brush simply continue to hammer.

I use the bamboo to scrub the surface of the coin. Again, I find I do not get the scratching and marring one gets with hard tools. If you begin to make bamboo tools, please share your favorite shapes with us. A word of caution please! Once you try the bamboo skewers, you will be hooked! You better get your package of skewers early because there will be a run on the little gems! Thanks for allowing me to share.. God Bless.. Jerry..

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Ancient Coin Cleaning: Why Use Salt?

I have no idea why anyone advocates the use of salt in their electrolytic solution when we have sodium carbonate and plain old baking soda available. Years ago my first zapping efforts included salt. However, I got busy and discovered what I consider to be the consummate agent and that is sodium carbonate.

I only know downsides about salt and I know of no negatives with sodium carbonate. I rapidly discovered that SC is much kinder to our ancient coins that other agents. The coin I have posted with this article was zapped with SC and I continue to get good results with all my zapped coins. I know one thing for sure, if one is not using solid copper alligator clips the salt will eat right through the nickel plated clips available at most sources.

After the fact, I learned that museums use SC in their metal artifact restorations. If you have questions or if you have are interested in joining a zapping group please join us at the following URL: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/coinzappers You have a standing invitation from me to join CZ and I and the group will be happy to guide you as you learn the exciting hobby of cleaning ancient crusty coins.. God Bless.. Jerry..

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

What In The World Are Seleucids Or "Bottle Caps?"

I recently zapped a group of coins I had purchased a couple years ago and the photograph you see above is the result of my effort. Most of the coins have a serrated edge. I know these are sometimes called "bottle caps." This tidbit pretty much exhausts my knowledge of what I call "seleucids."

I need to do a bit of homework and see what I really have. The coins are very small and average about 12-14mm. As pieces of art, I find the images to be both fascinating and beautiful. I "discovered" ancient coins about six years ago and I have been enchanted by them since. I have spent so much of my six years learning to clean coins that I have neglected the coins from a historical perspective.

I am profoundly image oriented so each coin I clean is pretty much like "found art" to me. The images satisfy my aesthetics and consequently I continue to clean more coins at the expense of my coin education. Please forgive my ramblings and I really have no idea where I am going with this. Speaking of attributions. Wow! My least favorite thing to do with ancient coins. Give me a bucket of crusties and I will spend endless hours working with them. I am pretty sure there are those who are the antithesis of me. They must hate cleaning.

I constantly have V (my wife) running from her reading room to my indoor studio to view each new discovery. She does get excited about the coins but in exchange I have to listen to her read to me from some Civil War war book. I simply do not have the sense of history many others have. OK, enough. Thanks for reading and I will appreciate the address of your favorite "bottle cap" source and any other information you care to share about these little beauties.. God Bless.. Jerry..

Sunday, May 6, 2007

A Newbie's Article And Observations

I extend a great big thank you to Jon Moller for the following article. Jon is a member of Ancient Peddler and he also serves as a Moderator on CoinZappers. Please view Jon's portrait on the ancient coin in upper left of article. Jerry

A Canadian Newb in Caracalla’s Court

Jerry asked me to write a "few" words on "what to collect" - for Newbies... and being a "newb" (which, being over 40 is my preferred term), I am untainted by long years of cleaning toil and market experience. Perhaps, in addition to "what to collect" I will also comment on "how to collect", or rather, attempt to provide some guidance to lead towards safe buying.

I haven't really been in the ancient coin hobby long enough to develop a true focus - though I have only Romans - mostly imperial portraits. Examples of many different faces is a drive right now, but my approach has been through study of history, then keying in on the individuals that I know something about... I have a lot to learn, both about history and the coins of the times. As time goes on I will likely use up that focus and either move to more of a specialist collection, or broaden to other areas - maybe Greeks, as the artistry is fantastic and inspiring. Though I have a special interest in the bronzes I do find the quality of the silver portraits attractive. I have also been drawn to the more masterly celator work - Nero especially, but I can't afford his really nice coins. Finally, the apparent psychopaths and weirdoes intrigue me - particularly Caracalla, Elagabalus (and Nero). Caracalla's and Elagabalus's coins are artful enough to please me, and inexpensive enough to buy.

As you may recognize from the above, my collection is somewhat controlled by availability/affordability, focused within those parameters by my interest and knowledge. So it should be no surprise that I am also collecting the later imperial era common bronzes, so readily available in uncleaned lots these days. I understand I missed the better days of uncleansed, after the fall of the Soviet Union and the flood of new material from the former eastern block countries. Oh well, like many other newbs, I am probably here because of this recent history....

Which brings me to buying advice:
Study the market - look around and allow yourself to be attracted. The narrower your focus, the faster you'll feel comfortable, attaining a holistic sense of that market segment. Look at http://www.wildwinds.com, http://www.coinarchives.com, http://www.vcoins.com, http://www.cngcoins.com, eBay and others that you can find by searching.

Besides studying enough history or coins to know what coins you want, study forging techniques, as well as evidence of tooling, smoothing, and modern patinas. I have struggled somewhat to decide what I feel is acceptable regarding smoothing and fake patinas, and it is because I have some coins that I'm not quite comfortable with that I know where I draw my lines. I find it most satisfying to be extremely demanding in all respects. Generally, and I agree, the ancient coin collecting community recognizes that many ancient coins must be cleaned to some degree, depending on what has happened to them over the centuries. Obviously something must be done to liberate a coin that has become encased in concrete-like dirt after centuries of compaction in the ground. Hopefully we can remove the dirt and leave the natural patina, especially in those cases where a thick patina has formed from such excessive oxidation that the detail is all in the patina, and removing it leaves only a pitted coin core. In less extreme cases, I have noticed that coins cleaned by electrolysis (zapped) which have had the patina stripped often show noticeable pitting, which likely would not have been apparent had I taken the years to clean the coin without zapping....
Anyway, regarding the purchase of cleaned coins, when it comes to repatination, my acceptance comes down to 3 things:
1. Did the vendor tell me, or is it obvious it has been repatinated?
2. Does it improve or conserve the coin?
3. Is it the best example I'm likely to come across in the time I am willing to wait?

Smoothing, which is what is done to remove or lessen corrosion in the fields, and often is accompanied by tooling "conservation"/enhancement/out-and-out recarving is another area where we must draw our own limits. Though it can be argued that smoothing only returns the surface back to its original, it always removes the authentic patina from the areas smoothed, so a disturbed patina can be a sign of smoothing. And the fact is that if the metal was corroded, and then smoothed, it is not the original surface anymore, but a smoother's guess at what the original surface was like. Also, on more heavily smoothed coins, the machinist is faced with the problem of how to blend the smoothed fields into the devices. The bust and other central elements may be relatively easy with resulting increased sharpness and definition around their edges, but the legends pose special difficulties – the machinists seem to often be either unable or unwilling to make the effort required to smooth adequately between and within the letters. We must be careful in making judgment on each coin however, as it has been suggested that celators would re-carve their dies with new busts or reverse designs, which would leave noticeable raised fields around the legends. Some reputable dealers offer smoothed coins, with full disclosure. Ok, I personally don't want these coins, but many find them desirable.

Tooling is the term applied to the process of carving features on a coin. Like smoothing, it is often seen on coins that have surface corrosion, where the machinist has tried to “conserve” the coin back to its original form. Not limited to misguided yet good-faith conservation intentions, tooling can be used to sharpen worn lettering and device details such as hair, laurels, facial features et cetera. In its extreme, worn slugs may be completely re-carved with little or none of the original remaining. Considering how I feel about smoothing, I think you can guess how I feel about tooling "conservation"/enhancement/out-and-out recarving!

Finally, research what is known about how the authentic coins were made and get to know the forging techniques and how to detect fakes. It is unfortunate that many new ancient coin collectors are stung by forgeries on eBay, get turned off and leave the hobby. Indeed, my first eBay purchase was a cast fake Trajan denarius. I discovered that it was a fake before it was delivered to me, since I was so excited by my impulse purchase that I researched all that I could on it and found it listed among the Forum site fakes (http://www.forumancientcoins.com/). So study... as much as you can. Wayne Sayles' book "Classical Deception" is an excellent introduction to authentic production methods, forgery methods and forgeries through history. I intend to read Alan Van Arsdale's "Roman Coin Forgery", available on eBay. http://www.forgerynetwork.com/ is an excellent site. The Yahoo group CFDL CoinForgeryDiscussionList will respond to specific posts and has excellent link resources related to forgeries, tooling and smoothing.

When considering a coin purchase, especially on eBay, research the coin to see if there are fake examples. See if you can find authentic examples on http://www.wildwinds.com/ or http://www.coinarchives.com/. Scrutinize the dealer - are they an ancient coin dealer or collector/hobbyist? Avoid estate liquidators and those who claim they don't know much about coins. Avoid 3 day auctions that limit the time to do adequate research. Avoid dealers who don't accept Paypal. Look at the eBay feedback rating. eBay feedback is set up to promote positive feedback, since the dealer can withhold feedback until the buyer gives theirs - essentially extorting good feedback... so make sure there are repeat customers - a feedback rating of 100 with 300 total is a seller who gets repeat customers. Have a look at the other auctions offered by a dealer - if it looks like all the coins came from the same "shop" well.... If you see something suspicious offered by an eBay dealer, don't consider any of their other offerings - consider that well poisoned and don't drink.
While doing all this research and taking such care it can be easy to become skewed in your view. Keep in mind that if you buy from reputable dealers, then probably 99% of the coins are authentic. If you buy on eBay, you can get some great deals, without the reputable dealer middleman, directly from wholesalers or other hobbyists, and if you do your homework you will significantly decrease the risk.

Above all, make this hobby your own and enjoy it in your own way. You make your own rules, for what you collect - be it a specialization like a single emperor, or all portraits, or reverses, or specific mints, or campgates, or animals, gold, silver, bronze, or whatever you want. You will hold history in your hand, and imagine why it was buried or how it was lost. You can consider the political and economic times they came from and gain understanding of the ancient and modern world, and perhaps gain insight I into how to make positive change for our future.