The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 16, Number 53, December 29, 2013, Article 20


Speaking of topical collecting, Howard Daniel writes:

Bill Mullan of the Washington, DC area has had a coin program for school kids where they learn about world coins and then he gives each of them many coins. His "stash" for the kids literally weighs a ton!

One of his ideas for numismatics is that coins be cataloged in more detail so they can be collected by topic. He believes there will eventually be a world coin database and there should be a field in it to identify the major items in their designs so they can be searched. If there is someone interested in the production of honey, they could search the database and find every coin with a bee on it.

Below is Bill's description of his classification scheme. -Editor

Sooner or later a data bank of coins will be formed which will allow a computer to sort for all coins containing a certain design motif. In order for such a sorting process to be effective all subjects that might become the basis for a topical coin collection must be identified.

The task of preparing such a list is a daunting one because it requires the compiler to be aware of all of the topics that interest coin collectors of today and anticipate subjects that may be of interest tomorrow. Such a listing will be the work of many individuals and will probably have to be revised often.

The attached is a first attempt to form such a list. I have given each motif a two letter abbreviation which will be used to describe each coin by the motifs present in its design. Eventually I hope to assign the appropriate abbreviations to each coin in the WORLD CATALOG OF COINS for purposes of sorting by computer. There should be a code assigned to each area of topical coin collecting in which there are a sufficient number of coins to warrant a code. I am not wise enough to make all those judgments, so I am asking all members reading this notice to check the list to see if it satisfies all of the collecting schemes they use or have heard of. If it does not please let me know.

Since the number of motifs ascribed to each coin should be limited (At present I think the limit will be 5 or 6.) Some rules have to be developed for the use of the codes. In general the most restrictive code should be used. For instance the many coins featuring sailing ships would be coded SS (for Sailing Ship) and would not be further coded BO (for Boat) The code BO is used only when the motif in question does not fall into one of the more restricted codes, For instance the canoe on the Canadian dollar or the raft Kon Tiki on Western Samoa coins.

I can see the same thing happening under Buildings. I have a relatively small number of subgroups identified by their own codes mainly because I am not familiar with many of the buildings that are depicted. I am sure that experts will have to be called upon if there is an attempt to create additional subgroups. Some specialist will have to classify some of the buildings on the coins of Germany and Austria for instance.

Where collecting interests overlap it may be necessary to use a general code as well as a more restrictive code for a single coin. All Olympic coins will have to be identified as such for those collectors specializing in them, but the sport may also have to be identified because a collection of soccer coins, for instance, will contain many coins including some minted for Olympic events. Fine judgments will have to be made to determine if the various competitions presently lumped under Field Events warrant separate codes.

Similarly, the broad classifications under animals need some fine tuning. Should there be a breakdown under birds such as aquatic birds, birds of prey, ratite birds, etc. And under animals - it is now such a huge category - should there be subgroups for primates, ungulates, , felines, canines, (all are mammals) etc. ? What should those categories be?

Coats of arms present a problem because they may be comprised of so many motifs such as animals, birds, mountains, or boats that they may easily excede the 5 or 6 motif limit for a single coin . I am proposing to use a short cut on the Arms for socialist countries. I think they all use a star (Heavenly body), and sheaves of wheat (crop) so I am intending to use a code for such coats of arms and not code them separately for the star, or the wheat. Collectors of these topics will soon discover this and will sort for “SE” to identify the stars or wheat coins they would otherwise miss.

No separate coding is provided to separate coins with stars, moons, or the sun. Is this likely to be a problem?

Codes have been assigned to DATE (DA), Denomination (DE) and EMBLEM (EM) for which I envision no practical use in the coin sorting task. I use these for classifying slides I have taken of some coins, and have recorded them here to assure that the letter combinations are not used for some other motif. Actually it may be necessary to assign some kind of coding to individual denominations like the ECU adopted by the European Common Market countries because I can see that becoming a collecting theme.

Bill's topic code list is too lengthy to show here. It runs over three pages, with topics including animals, bridges, castles, churches, city views, forts, flowers, games, maps, monuments, music, shapes, trains, warfare, and water sports.

Some sort of standard may evolve someday, but it's a daunting task because the field is so vast. How do other fields address this? Is there a cataloging standard for artwork or photographs to "tag" the subject matter elements?

One step in the direction of a common cataloging standard is, a project organized by Sebastian Heath and Andrew meadows of the American Numismatic Society, along with representatives from other numismatic museums around the world. Associated with is the Numismatic Description Standard (NUDS). -Editor

Numismatic Description Standard (NUDS)

NUDS is a set of suggested field names for recording numismatic information in a column-oriented database. It is designed to capture information as it currently exists in databases deployed by museums and collectors in "real world" situations. It is flexible in that it can represent objects for which only very generic information is known or objects that have been described in detail. It does not mandate a set of required fields.

A main goal in the design of NUDS is that it capture the distinctive categories of numismatic data that are fundamental to the discipline. Primary among these is the distinction between obverse and reverse. It is extremely important that numismatists be able to search for the occurrence of words or visual motifs on the distinct sides of coins. NUDS also recognizes that the edge of a coin often needs to be separately described. Obverse, reverse, and edge are constituent "parts" of a coin. NUDS can also represent particular concepts that are likewise important to numismatists. The concept "denomination," whether explicitly assigned at the the time of production or identified by later scholars, applies to almost all officially issued coins. It is not a field that appears in many museum collection systems. Likewise, "axis" - or the orientation of the obverse to the reverse - is important for numismatic study but not often accounted for in non-numismatic databases.

For more information on Nomisma, see:

For more information on the Numismatic Description Standard (NUDS), see:


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Wayne Homren, Editor

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