Author Archives: adamlanders

Intro to Ancient Coin Collecting

Coin collecting is a vast and intriguing hobby. For many areas of coin collecting, like American coins, the objective is rather simple as one can a procure a price guide, such as Whitman’s Red Book. For other areas, such as ancient coin collecting, however, the hobby is more complex as there is not a true price guide. (Yes, there is the Sear’s Roman Coins and Their values series and Seaby’s Roman Silver Coins, but these books do not include a majority of rarer types and varying conditions.) To make ancient coins collecting easier, I will outline a simple step-by-step method to aid new coin collectors.

The first key to building an ancient coin collection is assessing the rarity of a coin. For this, I will demonstrate with a denarius of Commodus whose attribution is RIC 259a. This coin of Commodus has his portrait on the obverse and a iconography-loaded scene on the reverse with the personification of Africa handing an ear of grain to Commodus, who is portrayed as Hercules. In the pre-internet world, the way to assess the rarity of the said coin was to look it up in The Roman Imperial coinage volume. Now, however, there is a simpler way. On acsearch.info, one can search “Commodus + RIC 259a” and find how many of this type have sold at auction. This coin has a little over a dozen results and is therefore quite rare.

The item of secondary importance in ancient coin collecting is assessing the condition of a coin. For ancient coins, the condition varies from worn flat to as struck state, or in more coin collecting terms “Good” to “Fleur de coin.” An easy way to grade condition is to examine the ear of a portrait. Ancient coins are concave in nature and the ear represents the highest point on the coin. If the ear is intact and not worn the coin is in high grade. If the ear is worn, the grade is diminished to at least “very fine” state. Another factor involving the condition is how the coin is struck. Unlike modern coins, ancient coins were not struck by a machine, but by hand and due to this, ancient coins are often off-centered.

New Baseball Hall of Fame Commemorative Coin

Two weeks ago, the U.S. Mint announced a new baseball-related commemorative coin. While this is hardly the first coin inspired by baseball, this coin is particularly significant as it will be the first curved American coin. Seeing how one side depicts a baseball, this is an apt time to debut the new curved technology.

While most modern coins are low-relief, in ancient times many of the coins were much more curved. Perhaps the best historic parallel to the new baseball coin is ancient Greece’s Aeginan tortoise denomination. The curved nature of the both the ancient tortoise coin and modern baseball coin provide a similar realistic dimension to the coins’ obverse iconography. Despite the similarity in the high-relief aspect which enhances the imagery, the two coins were made much differently. The ancient Greek example uses the so-called “incuse square” technique which originated in ancient Lydia. During this process, the “square side” of the coin is indented to allow metal from the planchet to be transferred from the reverse to the obverse, thus making the coin’s “tortoise side” high-relief. While the technology behind the new baseball coin is classified, the significant progress in numismatic technology over 2000+ years is evident as now the the baseball coin’s reverse does not have to be indented which previously made one side of the coin essentially devoid of a meaningful design. To capitalize on the reverse’s newfound space, the baseball coin will depict a low-relief, but non-incuse glove.

It will be intriguing to see if curved coins regain the prominence they had several thousand years ago. While there would be some problems surrounding the return of curved coins to circulation, such as an inability to use them in current vending machines, they would offer certain advantages. The most notable advantage would be that curved coins would be harder to counterfeit, much like the new British pound coin.

Major League Baseball and Sabermetrics

Advanced baseball statistical analysis is no longer the fringe field it used to be. Now, Major League Baseball’s flagship TV station has an entire show dedicated to sabermetics and the advanced statistic-centric website, Fangraphs, has emerged as an industry leader for baseball analysis. Sabermetric’s influence is now even present in general popular culture as legendary baseball statistician Bill James made a cameo appearance on The Simpsons and Moneyball was transformed into a blockbuster movie.

For a die-hard baseball fan, there is no doubt this advanced statistics phenomena has been a blessing to the sport as this mainstream emergence has coincided with sabermetric statistics becoming readily available to fans. Now, one can use the “Wins Above Replacement” statistic to effectively compare players of different historic eras. Before advanced statistics it would have been cumbersome to appropriately compare Deadball Era aces like Walter Johnson and Christy Matthewson to today’s premier pitchers such as Clayton Kershaw and Felix Hernandez. Using a traditional statistic like Earned Run Average is futile as there are too many variables such as changes in rules, ballpark dimensions, athlete conditioning that essentially altered the statistic’s magnitude for each era. With Wins Above Replacement, one can effectively minimize the impact of such variables and can truly see how effective a player was in the entire scope of baseball history.

While it is intriguing to casually compare players of different eras with sabermetric statistics, Wins Above Replacement should not be used as a primary statistic for determining Hall of Fame candidacy. Numerous articles for key media establishments, which have the potential to influence HOF voters, use Wins Above Replacement end-all statistic. Often times, pundits excessively diminish a player’s hall of fame chances if they do not reach an arbitrary Wins Above Replacement threshold. While it is convenient to sum up an entire career in one number, the immense shortcomings of Wins Above Replacement are too often overlooked.

One of the key issues with Wins Above Replacement is its failure to quantify the catcher’s critical role. The catcher is the most important defensive position as he is entrusted with task of calling each pitch. The difference between calling a change-up versus a fastball can potentially decide the outcome of the game. Besides calling each pitch, the catcher also has key tasks such as framing pitches and inhibiting the progress of baserunners. Unfortunately, these unique responsibilities are difficult to sabremetrically analyze due to the lack of hard data. While there has been some progress in analyzing the catcher’s impact of the game, this is still in its infancy and cannot be reliably implemented into the relatively mainstream Wins Above Replacement.

The even larger problem with Wins Above Replacement, however, is its total disregard for postseason play as the statistic is based solely on regular season games. (Yes, a postseason version of Wins Above Replacement does exist, but this is seldom cited due to small sample sizes and general volatility of the statistic.) The postseason is the most significant stretch and each postseason game carries exponential weight compared to a regular season game. Postseason heroics have singlehandedly defined players’ historic legacies. I’m not saying a player like Kirk Gibson, Aaron Boone, or one of the many other non-HOF caliber players with postseason glory should be headed to the Hall of Fame based on one moment alone, but to not count such immense achievements towards a player’s hall of fame candidacy is a disservice to the players and fans alike. Such monumental, game-changing moments are a key part of player’s career narrative that defines the “fame” aspect of the hall of fame and need to at least carry some weight.

Cooperstown is a place for baseball legends and the honor of being enshrined in the most renowned sports hall of fame is too complex to be funneled into the Wins Above Replacement statistic. There is no doubt that such sabermetric stats are eons better than the traditional counting stats and are actively improving. Even if statistics are perfected to the point where one can boil down a whole career into one number, it would still be the incorrect thing to do. Just as baseball is more than just a sport, but “America’s Pastime,” Cooperstown should be more than a barometer of sabermetric statistics. Intangibles and other notable contributions to the game of baseball need to be weighed as well. While within baseball Yogi Berra is known for being among the best at his position and his multiple world series rings, outside of baseball a non-fan may perhaps know him for his renowned quotes. Such contributions to the game and culture need to be considered even as statistics reach unprecedented levels. No, it is not time to put Bryce Harper in for “That’s a clown question, bro,” but if for some reason that quotation still holds the same weight in culture half a century from now as many of Yogi Berra’s witticisms do today, perhaps it should hold at least some merit.

Thoughts on the California Coin Hoard

Earlier this week, a discovery of a gold coin hoard in California made national news. While the coins’ $10 million appraisal value will undoubtedly make the finders wealthy, unfortunately, the hoard totaled only 1,411 coins so the finders will not have quite enough gold coins to pull a Scrooge McDuck.

Jokes aside, while such buried coin hoards are almost unheard of in the United States, in many other countries, they are semi-regular events. For instance, in the UK, coin hoards, mostly from ancient Rome and the medieval era, are well-publicized throughout media outlets.

After seeing the public and media fascination with this new California coin hoard, in addition to the coin hoards overseas, it would have been a travesty if this California find was not brought into the public conscious.

Unfortunately, this could have been a real possibility as in the United States there is not a system in place for finds of historic interest on private property. While there are a plethora of laws that regulate finds on public land, there is virtually nothing in place for finds on private property. Presently, if one finds historically intriguing item on their own property, the easiest avenue is to contact a local museum. If the item is deemed minor, or not a multimillion dollar coin hoard like this recent discovery, the odds of the item reaching the public conscious are slim.

In the UK, where finds on private property are a relatively normal occurrence, there is an intricate system in place which is spearheaded by the website, finds.co.uk. This website ensures finds, even minor ones, on private property do not go unnoticed. The website, fiscally backed the national government, has the purpose to “encourage the voluntary recording of archaeological objects found by members of the public.” Not only are objects recorded, but they are also published onto user-friendly maps and databases so anyone, not just museum employees, can readily view objects found in one’s own community.

While the United States does not have as many historic object discoveries as the UK, it would be worthwhile to create an American website of a similar nature for the sake of preserving our local and national history. The logistics of such a website would have to be a bit different as the United States is a much larger and geographically diverse nation compared to the UK. Another item that would need to be addressed is the lack of the Smithsonian having a true national presence in every American state as the British Museum has throughout the UK.

In order to solve these issues, the national organization in charge of the website would need to select local museums to be the authority on their surrounding area. Furthermore, a local historian from each auxiliary museum would be assigned to help verify and curate the local content uploaded to the national website.

While such a website would indubitably be a grand undertaking, there would be possibilities for the American website that the UK one does not have. First, the use of ZIP codes in the United States could provide a useful search function for objects. In addition, the United States has the added benefit of being home to Silicon Valley. Perhaps Google, who has already shown an interest in non-profit public interest maps for items such as deforestation, could use their extensive map database to help this groundbreaking initiative.