Saturday 19 May 2012

CoinProject: What Coin Nerds Collect, What they "Research"

Alfredo De La Fe is the "founder and director of", a "free, collaborative, non-commercial numismatic research website". He boasts:
CoinProject is a very different website from other numismatic research websites. For starters, it is MASSIVE, covering virtually all specialties of numismatics ranging from ancient, Byzantine, Medieval/Early world to modern coins. But what I feel really makes CoinProject special is that it was designed to be a community effort. The success of CoinProject depends on collectors, dealers and academics to contribute their time, knowledge and other resources.
It has been going now for two and a half years " with the help of more than sixty numismatists" and has been "used by over 100 numismatists". Therefore I think it is worth a look. De La Fe is one of those dealers who argues that cleaning up the market in dugup coins will "hinder scholarship" because it will somehow prevent all those "avocational numismatic scholars" (his clients) from getting access to material which they can research. He is one of those that claims that much of the numismatic research being done today is being done by these collectors. It is therefore extremely informative to see his own ideas of what constitutes a "numismatic research" website.

Basically, what I see here is a list of different coins owned by different collectors. I do not see anything here whatsoever that could actually qualify as "research". This has about the same value for scholarship as a website of "Ted and Johnny's bug collection" with rows of photos of various dead creepie-crawlies stuck on pins; so what if the Latin and common names of each are given under each picture? What kind of research material is that without any indication, for example, of the habitat and location of the specimen or any other information putting a dead bug on a pin in some form of context? That's not research, its just bug-killing. In the same way we see here a cemetery of corpses from damaged and destroyed archaeological sites. So what if the coin is round and flat and glitters attractively and some coin-nerd can read the inscription and picture to tell you who had it struck and roughly (from other sources) when? Real archaeological information is trashed so these people can play at "science" in a show-and-tell session using things they bought?

Just what is it these people are collecting and cataloguing? The spread of material covered (as shown in the site's sidebar) is very instructive. There is a small section on "Counterfeits and imitations" (not very well-populated: Ancient Imitations, 347; Modern Forgeries of Ancient Coins, 15 (only?); Medieval Imitations, 0; Modern Forgeries of Medieval Coins, 0; Modern Forgeries of Modern Coins, 0). That is not at all representative of what is on the market as a whole these days. Still, De La Fe is a dealer, probably does not want the number of fakes on the market to be brought to his clients' attention. they might start asking questions.

The "World Coins" section is pretty sparse too (just one coin from Asia, twelve from Europe, just ONE from  North America while none at all in the sections on  AfricaAustralia and the Pacific Islands, and  South America). The cover-all section on "Medieval/Early World" is pretty sparse too. Oddly enough "Ancient and Medieval India" (with its one coin) goes here. It seems for Mr De La Fe "Ancient India" does not deserve to be considered part of the "real" ancient world.  Neither does Ancient China or the other coin-producing societies of the "Ancient and Medieval Far East". This section has as many as   1204 coins, all from China, mostly pre-Ming and mostly from a single collection. The coins illustrated include several which have corrosion products on them that to my eye were not produced on ancient objects, if you get my drift. Caveat emptor as they say.

Interestingly enough among De La Fe's collaborators clearly are not very many who collect Islamic coins. The entire Islamic world is represented on this "research website" by just four coins. Europe fares a little better in the "Medieval and early World" section (Western Europe with 33; Central Europe and Italy with 14; Eastern Europe and Scandinavia, 29). Oddly enough, Germany is listed separately, obviously then not in 'western Europe', just three coins in this section. then things get confusing, because some of the mints he describes as "central Europe" were in the hands of the German emperors while alongside them are some of the Piast rulers of Silesia, while the rest are lumped into "Eastern Europe", which would make the life of anyone trying to use this website for "research" very difficult. In his ambitions to make his website "MASSIVE" (sic), the American has got himself tied up in knots over how to organize the data. Certainly this is not the way to go about it.

It is abundantly clear from the proportions of records, that the overwhelming interest of Mr De La Fe's collaborators on this project is in dugup ancient coins. There are several groups here. The first are those of the Greek world  (8677, Mostly Macedonian kings and Seleucids) alongside these we may place the   Celtic coins  (362, almost half British, but look where the rest come from). We can place the issues listed as "Ancient Spain" (851) here too.  Among the coins of  Ancient Africa (141), the proportion of Axumite coins is notable. These indicate close modern trade links with Sudan(considered by the Department of State in the US as a "state supporting terrorism", so why are US collectors boosting local economies by buying coins from the area?). Ancient East (4615) - largely coins of Parthia and Graeco-Bactrian stuff (most of these coins coming from US area of interest in Afghanistan and Iran)

Quite clearly though, it is dugup Roman coins that most appeal to De La Fe and his collaborators. Roman Republican  Imperatorial (2193), Roman Imperial (23614) Roman Provincial (5447). Byzantine (606)  Goths, Vandals (225)  All together, the total is over 32 thousand coins in this group.  Add just over 10000 for the rest of the ancient coins, that is over 42000 holes in the archaeological record somewhere so Mr De La Fe's collaborators can do this online show-and-tell presentation of their online-purchased dugup trophies.

This is not research, neither is this a resource that can be used for any kind of research (apart from "I've got one of them too" searches, which might be the only kind of research its originators actually have in mind). 

Vignette: Stamp and Coin Collector nerd.

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