Monday 17 September 2012

The Mystery of the Disappearing Euros: Whatever Happened to COINS?

A goodly while ago, a group of folk got lots of euros from the EU to develop something called COINS  an acronym for "Combat On-Line Illegal Numismatic Sales".  The project got €820,000 (equivalent to US $1,277,000) and aimed to provide "a substantial contribution to the fight against illegal trade and theft of coins which appears to be a major part of the illegal antiques market". The EU blurb identifies "The problem"  as one of "terminology":
Europe's cultural heritage is being eroded through theft and illegal trading in historical objects. The illicit sale of ancient coins is particularly widespread, as they are often well-preserved, valuable, and easy to conceal and transport. Furthermore, the absence of inventories makes it difficult to distinguish between illegal and legal possession. The problem has become more acute with the large trade in coins on the internet. There is an urgent need for standardised terminology in ancient coin documentation and methodologies to ensure more effective traceability.
So a working group was set up to deal with this "problem" by developing computer software which would allow the tracking of numismatic objects.
Contribution to policy development:
COINS will contribute to cultural heritage policies relating to numismatics. It will promote cross-border collaboration in fields of cultural heritage policy and crime prevention. It will provide a user-friendly tool for law enforcement agencies, which also creates an awareness that modern technology and e-commerce cannot easily be used to sell stolen coins.
The project will create a tool to help coin collection curators define institutional policy. 
We are given the following information:
Research priority: The protection of cultural heritage and associated conservation strategies
Specific webpage:
Proposal/contract no: 044450
Start date: 1 February 2007 Kick off meeting: February 2007
Completion date: 31 January 2009
European Commission scientific officer: Michel Chapuis and Adele Lydon, 

:   PIN S.c.r.l. Servizi didattici e scientifici perl’Università di Firenze, University of Florence [Professor Franco Niccolucci]
Technische Universität Wien [Pattern Recognition and Image Processing Group]
Austrian Research Centers GmbH
Soprintendenza Archeologica di Roma
Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale
VARTEC nv , (computer company)Belgium
Muzeul National de Istorie a României
The University of Cambridge (Fitzwilliam Museum) UK
Not very many numismatists there... and not a single coin dealer. "Substantial contribution to the project will come from stakeholders, some of which are present in the partnership, which includes the Italian law enforcement organisation Carabinieri and three major national museums with important coin collections". According to the EU "Overview":
COINS will establish a scientific framework for numismatic inventory systems.
The project will:
Utilise state-of-the-art information technology to develop data management and web search tools which will be made freely available to collectors
Develop documentation and inventory methodologies based on ISO international standards
Develop automated search and identification tools – based on innovative pattern recognition algorithms and image processing techniques – which detect an individual coin's unique ‘digital signature’
Establish a multilingual thesaurus for numismatics and a digital reference collection of coin types
Wunderbar, but... where and what is it? Which of these aims has been achieved? How much of the above was just empty grant-getting fluff, and to what extent are the instituitions and individuals named accountable for the results (or non-results) of this project?  In fact the "Project deliverables" are defined rather vaguely:
Domain ontology, multilingual thesaurus, and mapping template – April 2008
Tools for coin data management, numismatic web search, and image recognition – August 2008
Report on coin reference collections – August 2008
Integrated packages and guides to good practice – November 2008
Internet-based demonstrator – December 2008
But then are they not in fact the more specific tools  listed in the Overview? So where are these tools? The data management and web search tools made freely available to collectors (where, when?), the publication of the "documentation and inventory methodologies" (where, when?), the "automated search and identification tools" which are intended to detect an individual coin's unique ‘digital signature’ (now, it appears something like this was released, and was commented on in some detail by computer-savvy coin collector Ed Snible, but where has it gone?). Well, at least they could have managed in all this time to not only "establish" a "multilingual thesaurus for numismatics and a digital reference collection of coin types" but publish it too. So where is it? The timetable shows we should have had these things long ago. They apparently hosted "a Coin Recognition Workshop in Vienna on August 27th" 2008 according to Ed Snible.
Project website – June 2007
Brochure, leaflets and other information materials – June 2007
On-line demonstrator and guidelines – December 2008
Presentations at conferences and publications in scientific journals – ongoing
Final event for disseminating knowledge and raising public awareness – February 2009
I'd be grateful to links to any of this, it seems to me that these EU-financed deliverables have not exactly reached a stellar scale of "dissemination". The brochure is there, very nice. A nice brochure however does not get us very far in combating anything, except ugly brochures.  Where is all the rest? What about that website? It has been overtaken by spam. Three years on from the completion date, what have we got to show for the combined efforts of seven institutions? 

A quick search reveals a few paper results of the project, it would be very useful if somebody could send references to the rest:

Hubert Mara, Martin Kampel, Franco Niccolucci and Robert Sablatnig 'Ancient Coins and Ceramics - 3D and 2D Documentation for Preservation and retrieval of lost Heritage',

Hermon, Sorin, , 'COINS – an EU Funded Project to Combat On-line Illegal Numismatic Sale', [in:] Niccolucci, Franco (ed.), Chalmers, Alan (ed.), Arnold, David (ed.) 2007, VAST2007-Future Technologies to empower International Symposium on Virtual Reality, Archaeology and Intelligent Cultural Heritage 2007, 26th – 29th November 2007, Brighton, United Kingdom

also newspaper article:
Martin Kugler, 'Keine zwei Münzen gleichen einander zu 100 Prozent', "Die Presse", Print-Ausgabe, 20.02.2008.

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