Monday, April 27, 2020

My Numismatic Bibliography (Partial List)

Much can be learned from examinating, comparing, contrasting. sorting, and arranging. It is said that Mendeleev established the periodic table of elements by playing solitaire with cards displaying the empirical data of the elements. (See the Library of the University of California at San Diego here and also Nature here.) So, you have start with the material evidence. From that, putting the facts into the right order reveals many new truths.

The Numismatist
“A New Look at the Origins of Coinage,” The Numismatist, Vol 108, No. 8, (August 1995) (George Heath Literary Award, First Place, 1996).
“A Penny Earned: the Wages of Work,” The Numismatist, Vol. 109, no 11 (November 1996), p. 1320-1321, ill.
“In Praise of Walking Liberty,” The Numismatist, Vol 109, no 1, (January 1997)
“The Buffalo Nickel: America's Handsomest Coin,” The Numismatist, Vol. 110, no. 5 (May 1997), p.502-504; 539, ill.
“The Affordable Yet Beautiful Peace Dollar,” The Numismatist, Vol. 111, no. 6 (June 1998)
“Lost Opportunity: the Double Dime,” The Numismatist, Volume 111, no. 9 (September 1999), p. 1024-1029; 1069, ill.
“A Passion for Bust Halves, “ The Numismatist, Vol. 113, no. 12 (December 2000), p. 1407-1411; 1489, ill. 
“The Bicentennial Coinage of 1976,” The Numismatist, Vol 114, no. 5 (May 2001), p. 501-503;541-542, ill.
“Sir Isaac Newton: Warden and Master of the Mint,” The Numismatist, Vol. 114, no. 11 (November 2001), p. 1302-1308, 1363 : ill., port. (George Heath Literary Award, Second Place, 2002)
“How to Assemble a Dime Type Set,” The Numismatist, Vol. 115 no 5 (May 2002), p. 495-501, ill.
“Short Snorters: Keeping the Memories Alive,” The Numismatist, Vol 115, no 11 (November 2002), p.1302-1305, ill.
“Mr. Longacre's Indian Head cent,” The Numismatist, Vol. 116, no. 10 (October 2003), p. 33-36 : ill.
“The Many Faces of Coronet Cents,”  The Numismatist, Vol 117, no 4 (April 2004)
“Proof Double Eagles: Rarity and Perfection,” The Numismatist, Vol 118, no 8 (August 2005), p.36-40, ill.
“The Riddle of Riddell (From Texas to the Moon with John Leonard Riddell),” The Numismatist, Vol. 127, No. 4 (April 2014)
“Pursuing Paper Artifacts: A Checklist for Syngraphists,” The Numismatist, Vol. 128 No. 4 (April 2015)
“Internet Connections” Monthly feature column, The Numismatist, January 2004 to December 2010.

The Celator 
Champagne: The Athens of the Middle Ages, The Celator, Vol. 25. No. 11, November 2009.
“Harlan Berk’s 100 Greatest Ancient Coins: A Glimpse Behind the Book,” The Celator, Vol 22. no. 11, (November 2008), p. 28-29;37.
“Copper Owls : The Emergency Coinage of Athens 406 BC,” The Celator, Vol. 19, no. 10 (October 2005), p. 6-16: ill., map. 
“Electrum,” The Celator, Vol. 17, no. 8 (August 2003), p. 25-31: ill.
“Book Review - Sargent, Thomas J. and Fran├žoise R. Velde. The Big Problem of Small Change. Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2002.” The Celator 17.3 (March 2003), pp. 34.
“Authenticators Offer Range of Services,” The Celator, Vol. 16, no. 12 (December 2002), p. 37. 
“Portraits and Representations of Alexander the Great,” (co-author Ann M. Zakelj), The Celator, Vol 16., no. 7, (July 2002), p. 6-20 ill.
“Foiled by Fourrees?: Are these Plated Coins Official Issues or are all Plated Coins False? The Celator, Vol. 15, no. 12 (December 2001), p. 20-27.
“The Crime of Diogenes,” The Celator, Vol. 13, no. 5, May 1999
“Ancient Coins Show They Knew It Was Round,” The Celator. Vol. 12, no. 2, (February, 1998), p. 18-20 : ill
“The Origin of Coinage: Evolution of a Theory,” The Celator Vol. 11, No. 10, (October, 1997), p. 32-34.
“Kolophon: A Quiet Place to Raise a Family,” The Celator, Vol 11, no 8, (August 1997).
“Dyrrachium: Rome's Gateway to Greece,” The Celator, Vol 11 no 4, (April 1997).
“The Voice of Classical Greek,” The Celator, Vol. 10, no 1, (January 1996).
“Lycian League Issued Interesting Series of Coinage,” The Celator, Vol. 9, no 11, (November 1995).
“Book Review - Before Writing: A Catalog of Near Eastern Tokens,” The Celator, Vol. 9, no 1, (January 1995).
“Computer Software for the Collector,” The Celator, Vol 8, no. 8, (August 1994).
“The Purse of Eratosthenes: the Coinage and Commerce of Cyrene,” The Celator, Vol. 8, no 1, (January 1994), p 18-20., ill


Sunday, April 26, 2020

Mistakes Happen: VAM Varieties (U.S. Silver Dollars According to Van Allen and Mallis)

This is why coin collectors want electron microscopes. You see, the Mint was forced to strike millions of these, just to consume silver. The price of silver had collapsed because of the Comstock Load of Nevada which brought more new silver into the world than existed at that time. Mining interests found a supporter in U.S. Senator Richard P. "Silver Dick" Bland.

Over on the discussion board, the topic of lenses came up once again. I replied with an allusion to a friend who pursues VAMs. Another regular poster commented on my answer.
Alegandron said: 
Still, our Ancients questions seem to always be answered from the perspective of Modern Coins and their acronyms viewpoints...
(His avatar caption is a tribute to Alexander the Great)

I replied: Yes, my apologies. I thought about that... (If anything, I am an ancients guy. I have not done much with U.S.). You probably googled it. VAM: Van Allen and Mallis for their cataloguing of every Mint error in a useless but big and shiny and (I admit) nicely designed coin. (The Morgan Dollar. The Peace Dollar has a nice obverse, but the Reverse was the botched work of an angry and aged George Morgan.)
Comprehensive Catalog and Encyclopedia
of Morgan and Peace Dollars

by Leroy C Van Allen; and A George Mallis
(many editions 1976 to present)

“As a way to appease miners in the West and other silver supporters, the Bland-Allison Act of 1878 ordered the Treasury to buy $2 million to $4 million in silver from the miners each month. The bill was also a way by some congressmen to return the United States to bimetallism. Twelve years later, the Sherman Silver Purchase Act followed, with similar intent, requiring the United States government to buy an additional 4.5 million ounces of silver bullion every month. However, the government could do so with gold notes, which was driving silver out of circulation.” – “Crime of '73” at the US Mint here:

At that level of production, quality control as we understand it today was impossible. Errors were common. Most of them were simply the result of daily work. If a numeral of a date did not seem sharp enough, the die was repunched to bring it out more. With our magnifiers today, we can tell. Overpunched Mintmarks (O over CC ) were the result of dies intended originally for Carson City being sent to New Orleans. Die clashes happened when a coin blank was not injected into the dies and they struck each other. Subsequent coins would show evidence of the opposing patterns. 

Die doubling is a consequence of how working dies are made from masters. The master is pressed into the working die several times (typically three). The forces required result in hardening of the working die. So, it is annealed (softened) with heat. The master is reapplied. If the master does not re-align with microscopic precision some of the image will be doubled, like a visual “echo” of a line or edge of a device (Eagle’s feather; Miss Liberty’s hair), numeral, or letter. Again, some collectors pursue those with magnifiers, loupes, and microscopes.

In wider numismatics, such detailed examinations can show if dies were transported from one place to another, especially if we have other reasons to believe that they were. In the ancient Greek world c 500-100 BCE, celators (die cutters) were in demand as perhaps a thousand independent cities issued their own coinages. 

American numismatics has a different motive. We have less history. So, many advanced collectors focus on small details within issues. 



Monday, April 13, 2020

M44 Beehive Cluster First Sighting

As with the Andromeda Galaxy, I was pleasantly surprised and a little crestfallen to discover how easy it was to sight, given that I had never seen it before. I just did not know what was possible. I have a major shopping center one mile to my east and a smaller one a mile to the west. The lights of the city of Austin block my northern sky. And yet... 

The Beehive Cluster is a bound group of 1000 stars in the constellation of Cancer. You can see it without an instrument from the city if you know what you are looking at. Naked eye it is a small, tight cluster about 3 fists to the right of the great sickle of Leo's head, in the more-or-less-open-space between Leo and the Twins. (The Crab is not visually compelling.) A telescope reveals much.
About what it looked like to me.
Screenshot trimmed from image by F. Espanek
Most commonly catalogued as Messier 44, the Beehive is associated with another cluster, the Hyades which form the V of Taurus's horns. (See NASA Hyades here and NASA Beehive here.) The two clusters are the same age and moving in the same direction. (Aldeberan, the Eye of the Bull, is not physically a member, but only aligned visually from our perspective.) The Beehive is about 600 million years old and about 600 light years from Earth. It takes a larger telescope to view the entire cluster because at 1.5 degrees of celestial arc it seems as wide as three full Moons.

I spotted the cluster first with my binoculars, Bushnell 12x42 (12 power-42 mm front lens), to make sure that I knew what my target would be.

I started the evening by aligning my finder scopes on Venus. It is now nearing an apparent maximum brightness, though the crescent is waning. I used filters to cut down the glare in order to resolve Venus to a disk.
My new iPhone 11 is not yet compatible with my instruments.

The filter kit was easily the best bargain from Celestron. I felt validated when I saw other amateurs with big dobsonian light buckets using the same kit. My 5.25-inch (130mm) reflector came with a lot of short-cuts. I just lost another screw last night. Moreover, the reflector requires frequent special adjustment (collimation) of the mirrors. I recentlybought a collimator and followed the instructions but the images are still not as sharp as they are with my smaller 70 mm (2.75-inch) National Geographic refractor. Obviously, it takes some finesse. I was also surprised not to have noticed before that the refractor inverts the image differently than the reflector. Usually for astronomy it is not a big deal: there is no true up or down in space; left and right can be consequential. The refractor showed the bright side of Venus facing the Sun.

Backyard Astronomy
Seeing in the Dark: Your Front Row Seat to the Universe
The Andromeda Galaxy

Saturday, April 11, 2020

No One Needs a Computer in Their Home

“No one needs a computer in their home.” -- Ken Olsen, 1977.
What is really funny about that is the way Snopes debunked it back in 2004.  
Quote: “What Olsen was addressing in 1977 was the concept of powerful central computers that controlled every aspect of home life: turning lights on and off, regulating temperature, choosing entertainments, monitoring food supplies and preparing meals, etc. The subject of his remark was not the personal use computer that is now so much a part of the American home, but the environment-regulating behemoth of science fiction. Digital historian Edgar H. Schein described it thusly:‘What Olsen [was focusing on was] that in the 1950s and 1960s there existed the notion that the computer not only could but would control all aspects of our lives. Images of the fully computerized home that automatically turned lights on and off and that prepared meals and controlled daily diets were popular. And the fear that computers might, as in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, even try to take charge altogether was widely experienced.’ ”  --
 On the eve of the Hall Process, Napoleon III served his most important state guests on aluminum dinnerware while dignitaries of lesser status ate from gold or silver. Our best hobby telescopes today in the $10,000 range would have been the envy of an observatory. Our dobsonian "light buckets" ten to 16 inches costing between $500 and $1000 would have been unthinkable to amateurs whose 3-inch refractors would be considered toys ($50 to $100) today. 

Your kitchen has appliances that would have been found only in laboratories of 1950, among them the variable high speed blender, microwave, and coffee filters.

If no one needs a computer in their home, do they need one in their pocket, to stream video chats, play music and movies, bring the news, and (functions I actually use) be a map accurate to ten feet, a directional compass, and a carpenter's level? 

Pundits of science tell us that the universe is beyond our imagination. I find it more compelling that our own civilization challenges our easy assumptions about what is possible--and what is helpful, useful, and ultimately necessary in common daily life.


Wednesday, April 1, 2020

NYC Covid-19 and Conservative Business Interests

“People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.” – Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, (Book I, X “Wages and Profit,” Part I)

Writing for The Savvy Street and cross-linked for discussion on Galt’s Gulch Online, Objectivist scholar Walter Donway identified New York City’s long history of business regulations as the root cause of its horrific Covid-19 death toll. Writing primarily for an audience that supports President Donald Trump’s populism, Donway sprinkled his essay with a pejorative use of “liberal” via the redundant “left-liberal.” But his facts would have been the same and more damning if he had called the failed political policies “service to conservative business interests.”
Donway wrote: “But the city is the most ideologically left-liberal city in America. ...  Here is the briefest rundown on the left-liberal ideological principles and policies that have left New York City spread-eagled, utterly vulnerable to violation by the new epidemic. It was inevitable, an accident waiting to happen. ...  Understand that almost every university, government agency, foundation, and think tank in New York City has a left-liberal bent, tending to support and further these housing policies....  NYC is the U.S. epicenter of the  coronavirus because it is the U.S. epicenter of left-liberal economic intervention that in every possible way has increased the cost and decreased the pace of building ordinary housing for ordinary people.”
Donway has two targets: rent control and labor unions. Donway conflates rent control and rent stabilization. NYC has only 22000 rent-controlled apartments. About half the housing in NYC is “rent stabilized.” 
NYC as seen by the New York Times
Onerous as the regulations are, though, realize that they are business regulations that benefit a special interest: renters. Many capital goods are leased: personal automobiles, taxicabs, semi-trucks and trailers, railroad engines and cars, construction equipment, aircraft, computers, telephones, and office space. If semi-truck rentals were subject to onerous government-mandated pricing, it would be wrong, but we would all know how to analyze the problem. It would be a business interest using civic legal authority for its own profits. And so it is with apartment renters. 

Rent-stabilized housing distorts those markets. Landlords seek and find escapes. Rentals become condominiums. Owners sell and go into other businesses that they hope to enjoy more. Tenants also could find escapes. My brother was an executive for a classical music label headquartered in the City. When I found out how little he paid his warehouse workers, I was shocked. “How can they afford to live in the City?” I asked. “They don’t,” he replied. “They live in New Jersey and take the train.” So did junk bond billionaire Michael Milken. Everyone knows that Warren Buffett enjoys his middle class home in Omaha. No one has to live in NYC, though Walter Donway himself is among the 20 million who choose to.

Labor unions are also businesses, no less than are our local chambers of commerce. Their members pay dues. The unions set up their own qualifications, including specialized training; and in that they are in the same category as university MBA programs. The political advantage that labor unions enjoy is a direct consequence of one-person-one-vote. But they are voting for their business interests. 
NYC as seen by the New York Post
 Among the business interests that Donway disparages—I say that he sleights it as left-liberal snobbery—is the explosion in “historical” properties. It may be true that zealous urban planners at city hall hunt for such opportunities, but largely, the historical marker plaque is sought, applied for, fought for, and won by the property owner who seeks a marketable cachet, whether for a building or a vacant lot. It is the hallmark of conservatism to find intrinsic value in that which went before and to fear change. So, we must preserve barns and tenements just as we protect markets and job titles.

In excoriating renters and laborers (and left-liberals), Donway engages in a strategy explained succinctly in The True Believer by Eric Hoffer. A mass movement can succeed without God, Hoffer noted, but none can succeed without a devil. In modern language, we “otherize” our enemies: they are essentially different from us and therefore essentially evil. I believe that in otherizing labor unions and renters as beneficiaries of left-liberal government intervention Walter Donway’s goal is to seduce pro-Trump conservatives into accepting Ayn Rand’s Objectivism. See his two essays on The Savvy Street, “The Unquiet Grave: Ayn Rand Declared Conservatism Dead in 1960,” and “The Unquiet Grave Part II : Edmund Burke’s Challenge for Objectivism.” He could have made the same argument that I just did: disasterous as such government interventions have proved to be, they were motivated by conservatism in service to business interests.

For context, remember that Ayn Rand was radically opposed to racism and that the central figures of her three novels were independent women. Moreover, she was in favor of open immigration. And she was proud of having gotten around the laws limiting her own immigration. In addition, she was also an atheist. No surprise, she advocated for a woman’s right to end her pregnancy. In her novels and in her own life, she rejected the social traditions of family as the foundation for society. And among all of the very many political interventions in the economy, she was opposed to tariffs. 

Even more to the point here, many of the villians in her novels are businessmen, some of inherited wealth, all with close ties to government regulators. On the other hand, when we first meet the architect Howard Roark, he is wearing blue jeans, sandals, and a shirt missing most of its buttons. Before going to the dean's office to be expelled, he tosses his long hair into a semblance of order. 
Ayn Rand on Wall Street
(Cover of The Virtue of Selfishness)
Those are all points of failure for anyone who wants to sell her utopia to conservatives. The reason why is fundamental. Conservatism absolutely requires other people for its practice because it is a social philosophy. Objectivism is a personal philosophy. If your neighbors play loud music at 3:00 in the morning, the conservative response is to call the cops because their anti-social behavior deprives you of your right to property. The Objectivist response is to move. Objectivist ethics of selfishness recognize that you might find it much easier (and satisfying) to call the cops. But that would be your choice based on your values and your decision on how best to minimize your losses and discomforts. You might take your guitar over there and join them. But the choice remains yours because Objectivism is a personal philosophy. 

Walter Donway's major premise is empirically undeniable: New York City's terrible losses from the novel coronavirus are a direct consequence of over-crowding. It is population density rather than population alone that spreads the infection. In response to Donway's discussion on Galt's Gulch, I posted these comparisions.

New York City Population 18 million (Metro area 21 million)
Covid-19 cases 40,900 (31 March)

Houston area: Population 7 million
2020 Estimate 2.4 million for the city proper
1,266 cases
12 dead
168 recovered
(31 March Fox News 26)

The City of Houston does not have zoning but development is governed by codes that address how property can be subdivided. The City codes do not address land use.-- Oct 1, 2018; Planning and Development - City of Houston at

Corona Virus Cases Metropolitan Dallas-Ft. Worth
Total Population 7.5 million
Dallas Dallas County - 549
North Suburbs Collin County - 160
Northwest Suburbs Denton County 191
Fort Worth Tarrant County - 161
Dallas Metro total case: 1061 (31 March)