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September 7, 2009

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American Numismatic Society, I Salute You

We’ve been talking a lot about the future of digitization, about how much digitization needs to improve, about the severe limits that digitization still imposes on many things—books, for instance.

So, here’s a change of pace. Here is the almost perfectly digitizable object, almost perfectly digitized.


Small objects, easy to photograph in their entirety? Check.


Defined number of important views? Check. (Obviously two.)


Standard set of metadata? Check. (And click on one of the images above to see an example.)

So, given the ideal material for a digital archive, the American Numismatic Society delivers. There’s a powerful search engine but their collection is pretty browsable, too. And, listen, I only collect coins that I intend to spend on the train, but I defy you not to get a little lost in these pages.

And every coin has its own stable permalink! Swoon!

The only thing missing is that you can’t heft the coins, feel their contours. Fair enough. But I’ll bet you could even generate 3D models from these images, using the depth information implied by the shadows. When I finally have a home 3D printer I’ll crank out some of these guys and send ‘em around.

And you know, ancient coins are perfect tokens of historical imagination, especially when captured so crisply. They’re totally familiar but deeply strange. You can imagine keeping one in your pocket, feeling it in your hand.

Check these off the list. Now we just gotta get those books right.

Posted September 7, 2009 at 5:26 | Comments (3) | Permasnark
File under: Gleeful Miscellany, Media Galaxy


Defined number of important views? Check. (Obviously two.)

I'm skeptical of this claim. I've spent a lot of time making little coin towers, and I would say that the side view is important. Not big, but important. Ridges on a quarter or dime, smooth sides of a penny or nickel--these things matter.

I knew SOMEBODY was going to make a case for the side-view. I just didn't know it was going to be you, Saheli ;-)

I contend that it is impossible to give a meaningful side-view of a round coin. For minimal coverage, you would have to give at least four views (top, bottom, left, right) but that would still assume that the diagonal vanishing-points don't matter. I think you could have a typology of side styles (e.g., smooth, milled, sharp, flat, etc.), but that is best served by metadata along with exact measures. In short, for a well-defined number of meaningful views, two remains optimal.

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