The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 13, Number 13, March 28, 2010, Article 21


Bruce Smith writes:

I am attaching something I retyped from a book in my library. It's about an American working for the Ford Foundation in Iran and Pakistan in the 1960's, and his experiences with coin hoards and coins sold in local markets there. It's from Chapter 28: A Compulsive Collector.

Fifty Years Around the Third World: Adventures and Reflections of an Overseas American, by Haldore Hanson. Fraser Publishing Company, Burlington, Vermont 1986. ISBN 0870340808 (paperback) 0870340816 (hardcover).

My favorite diversion during four years in west Africa was collecting tribal art, especially wood carvings. And in south Asia my passion was ancient coins. . In the Iranian Khuzestan, as mentioned earlier, our land-leveling machines inadvertently tore open ancient graves that contained relics, including clay pots of coins.

Most coins were Elamite --- 2,000 to 2,500 years old, a quarter inch in diameter, usually depicting a bewhiskered Elamite king with a star and crescent over his crown. No one else in our organization was interested in coins, so our laborers gladly accepted from me a few modern rials for each handful of old coppers. In two years I collected 3,000 specimens.

Later in Tehran, I found jewelry shops with silver coins of Alexander the Great --- the drachma, size of an American dime, and the tetradrachma, the size of an American half dollar. (Alexander lived from 356 to 323 BC). Tehrani jewelers melted down these Alexandrians to make modern jewelry for Iranian women, so it was possible to buy coins by the ounce for the current price of silver bullion. I bought about 100 silver pieces at prices that ranged from US 10 cents to US $1.00 each. Their true value has no doubt by now been discovered.

In Pakistan my coin collecting was again stimulated when I visited Taxila. Taxila is an old capital of Alexander the Great, located about 20 miles northwest of modern Islamabad. It is now a ruin of foundations a quarter mile square, located on a slight rise. There is a small museum there, but something more important to me -- farmers who till the surrounding fields constantly discover coins in the soil. If a visitor were to stand for a few minutes on the front steps of this ancient site, a farmer would walk from the fields, draw from his pocket a folded rag and display a small collection of ancient coins, usually a mixture of silver and copper. I never saw a gold coin here although gold coins existed in Alexander's day.

In Pakistan jewelry stores at Peshawar and Lahore, I found collections of Alexandrian drachma, all green with patina and looking truly ancient. But when I cleaned some of them with acid, I discovered they were reproductions, cast by the same jewelers who sold them. I asked one jeweler how he produced the green oxidation. Easy, he said. He had pushed the dime-sized coin down the throat of a chicken; when the coin came out with the droppings, the acid of the intestinal tract had caused the green color.

On my last visit to Taxila -- just before the end of my Pakistan assignment -- a village boy showed me some exciting silver coins, and I offered to buy them all. Then it occurred to me to ask if he had others. Yes, he said, he had a hoard at his home. We drove to his village a few miles distant, and there he produced a lump of coins, the size of a grapefruit, mostly coppers stuck together.

We had no time to break them apart and count them because my plane was about to depart from Rawalpindi. How much did he want? He said 10,000 rupees, which was probably the largest sum he could imagine. I gave him a one thousand rupee note (US $140), and he jumped with joy. That hoard still sits in a closet drawer awaiting my retirement and an appraisal of their value. I don't think they are fakes, but they may be.

Bruce adds:

Haldore Hanson (1912-1992) was in Iran during 1959-1962 and in Pakistan 1962-1967, working for the Ford Foundation as an agricultural consultant. During the 1930's he was a foreign correspondent in China. Early in 1942 he was hired by the U. S. State Department to set up a program to send American experts in cultural, technical and scientific fields to China to teach classes and provide technical assistance. Hanson, himself, however, ran the program from Washington, DC.

After the war, Hanson worked for the Ford Foundation on development programs in Burma, Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria and Mexico. During the 1970's and 1980's, Hanson ran a Rockefeller Foundation program in Mexico called the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, developing hybrid grains for use in different parts of the world. Did anyone know Haldore Hanson or know about his collecting? Was he a serious collector? Did he belong to any numismatic organizations? Did his collection ever come on the market? The book from which these passages come is his autobiography. Photos in the book show him shaking hands with the last Shah of Iran and in Yenan during a 1983 trip to China.

In the late 1930's as a journalist, Hanson had visited Yenan, the capital of the communists in China, and met Mao Tse-tung and others, as well as Canadian doctor, Norman Bethune. In the early 1950's Senator Joseph McCarthy wrongly accused him of being a communist, and persecuted him along with many others during the shameful anti-communist hysteria McCarthy created during those years.

Thanks so much for taking the time to type this up for our readers. Interesting! -Editor


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Wayne Homren, Editor

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