Sunday, April 13, 2014

British Museum Coins in OCRE

With many thanks to Eleanor Ghey in the British Museum Coins & Medals department for providing spreadsheet dumps of the BM's imperial coins from Augustus through the end of RIC Volume 4, I was able to match more than 11,000 coins from Augustus to Elegabalus to URIs defining Roman imperial coin types in OCRE. After these matches were made, another script queried the British Museum's SPARQL endpoint to generate a large RDF file conforming to's model. Most coins include die axis, weight, and diameter. Many (if not most) also include links to images. These measurements are now available for the quantitative analysis feature in Numishare, resulting in generally more accurate queries.

There are now roughly 20,000 coins hooked into OCRE from four collections: the ANS, British Museum, Berlin, and the University of Virginia Art Museum. We do expect to incorporate larger numbers from Berlin and the Bibliothèque Nationale in the future, as well as from some large scale finds databases like the Portable Antiquities Scheme and the European Coin Find Network. The floodgates will soon open in providing data and research tools to a wide audience of students, scholars, and generally interested parties to visualization information and ask questions of the data that were not previously possible.


  1. In my opinion it was a critical mistake to have RIC as a primary sort order on all searches. Any printed media which uses lists has to commit out of necessity to a serial arrangement. References in particular have a big initial decision: to list its entries alphabetically, chronologically or some other system. It has no choice but to commit simply because the medium is not interactive. An electronic database has no such limitations - unless cooked in by shortsighted design - and I think this is exactly what was done in this case.

    What happens when RIC gets revised and republished? The database will become instantly outdated, having anchored itself to a now obsolete reference, and must be reprogrammed to use RIC's new numbering scheme or become obsolete itself. What is the point of painting yourself into a corner?

    Worse, without any scholarship overseeing the addition of RIC's listings, the data entry operator will happily include the many, many errors across its volumes. These include the listing of phantom coins, mint misattributions, wrong rarity data, important omissions, duplicates and many other similar errors that will sadly get perpetuated.

    Finally, the RIC series is updated at a glacial pace but new varieties turn up practically daily. How will these entries be accommodated? By way of example, RIC's newest edition completely overhauled the coinage of the Flavian dynasty in its 2007 publication... and it only partially replaces the 90 year old first edition! Yet in just 7 years' time my recent publication on the coinage of Domitian has found literally dozens of errors and new varieties.

    The solution, obviously, is to disengage the database completely from ANY printed reference and realize its full potential by allowing many different sorting orders: by type, by date, rarity, weight, etc., etc. according to the needs of the researcher. In theory, there is no reason at all that any field can be used as a sort key from a pull down menu.

    From a design standpoint there are a number of improvements that could be made to the UI that I think would be more useful than the rush to key in empty RIC placeholders; for instance, a checkbox to filter out records without images is urgently needed as a first step. Secondly, to stimulate research and collaboration, the addition of a table allowing commentary on individual coins would also be very useful. If blogs like this one allow commentary why not the records themselves?

    Rasiel Suarez

  2. The RIC number is the default sort order in OCRE by request because most numismatists still peruse types in this way. There is a drop down list which allows users to sort by more than a dozen other categories, like denomination, mint, obverse or reverse legend, authority, year etc. OCRE reflects the current state of publication of RIC. It is possible to incorporate or link to updated references in the future, and OCRE will eventually maintain concordances between the various editions of typologies--not just between RIC editions, but also linking to other type corpora.

    I am interested to hear about your recommendations for enhancements to the UI. At the moment, OCRE is using the older design for Numishare applications, but it will be migrated to the new Bootstrap-based design (which our newer prototypes, like the digital IGCH and RRC Online, will use).

    Finally, this blog allows comments because the software was developed for other people. Blogs by nature allow for commentary. It is an interesting idea to allow comments about coin types in OCRE, but this requires a fairly extraordinary overhaul of our software architecture, such as the incorporate of authentication software. I am working on at least 6 projects at any given time, so the implementation of a commentary system is among the lowest of priorities currently.


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