Thu, 8 Mar 2012
You can find out amazing things if you are curious about the origins of coin inscriptions. One of the great things about dealing in non-circulating legal tender (NCLT) coinage is that many issues commemorate historic events, while the vast majority of circulating coins feature contemporary individuals or events.
For example, when I was at the ANA World's Fair of Money in Denver in August, I purchased a 1995 Turkish 50,000 Lira proof crown issued. According to Krause's Standard Catalog of World Coins, the .925 silver coin had a mintage of 15,000 and weighed 23.33g. Its design was described as "Sailing Ship-Piri Reis". What struck me as curious was the "reis" part , which, as far as I knew, referred to a unit of Portuguese or Brazilian currency. What that had to do with a Turkish coin was beyond me.
An online search revealed that Piri Reis was a famous admiral in the Turkish navy in the 16th century. His passion was cartography and because of his high rank, he had special access to the Imperial Library of Constantinople. In 1513 he drew a map on a gazelle skin that showed the southwestern coast of Africa, the southeastern coast of South America and the northern coastline of Antarctica, which was kind of interesting, because Antarctica wouldn't be "discovered" for another 300 years, but that's another story. The Admiral's map was found in 1929 by a group of historians, and further research showed that it was a genuine document drawn in the sixteenth century. (In a series of notes on the map, the admiral admits that his version had been compiled from a large number of other maps, some drawn as early as 300 B.C.)
In 1953 a Turkish naval officer sent the Piri Reis map to the U.S. Navy Hydrographic Bureau, where it was examined by M.I. Walters, the Bureau's chief engineer, and A.H. Mallery, a known authority on ancient maps. Mallery concluded that the map had been drawn using a projection method. To substantiate his theory, he made a grid and transferred the map to a globe. The determined the map was totally accurate and that Piri Reis had measured the circumference of the Earth within fifty miles! The Bureau also determined that in order to draw the longitudinal coordinates with such precision, it would have been necessary to use spheroid trigonometry, which supposedly was unknown until the 18th century.
According to Mallery, the only way to draw a map of such accuracy was to use an aerial survey, but that raises the question of who had the capabilities of flight 6,000 years ago? Why 6,000 years? Because according to extensive studies on the subject, it has been that long since the northern coast of Antarctica was ice-free. When the Piri Reis map was drawn, the coastline was under a cap of ice a mile thick!
So, as I said, you never know what you'll find out! To learn more about collecting NCLT coins, see my guest editorial in the September issue of the Numismatist (p.113).