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As rich as who, now?

One of my favorite radio programs at the moment is BBC4’s A History of the World in 100 Objects. It’s two years old, but the BBC is good about archiving their programs for download (only, probably not by you. I don’t know if they filter by regional IP like the TV side does…but, hey, you can look at the pitchers).

Anyhow, it’s a hundred fifteen minute programs featuring significant objects from the British Museum arranged in chronological order. Just the sort of tasty, bite-sized chunks o’ learnin’ I love most. The presenter (and director of the museum) is a lefty tool with an irritatingly patrician delivery, but you live in BBC-land, you develop strong ear filters for that sort of thing.

The last one I listened to featured the thing in the picture, a coin minted by Croesus. Yes, that Croesus. And was he really all that rich? Son, HE INVENTED MONEY.

Kind of. The Chinese had coins already (of course) and merchants all over had been trading in lumps of metal and other precious items for ages. But Croesus’ innovation was to purify the metal to a consistent standard, mint objects of a consistent size and pattern and put a government imprimatur on them. So instead of trading one-to-one in essentially raw materials, you could trade your goods and services for…MONIES!!!!!!

That was the largest coin, by the way. As they came down in size, they featured smaller and smaller pieces of the same scene, until the smallest one (about the size of a grain of rice, he said) was just the lion’s paw.

Did he get rich from his idea? Oh, yes he did!

Came to a sticky end, though. He’s the one who was menaced by the Persians and asked the Oracle of Delphi whether he should go on the offensive. The answer was “If Croesus goes to war he will destroy a great empire.” He attacked, and the great empire destroyed was his own.

The Oracle was such a beyatch.


Comment from Rich Rostrom
Time: August 16, 2012, 10:40 pm

Ancient coins are way cool.

Many years ago, I was eating pizza with some friends, and one of them pulled out a recent numismatic acquisition. It was a bronze denarius minted by Pontius Pilate as governor of Judaea. Quite genuine.

Meanwhile: Please take notice, Mistress Weasel – pablo has won round 34 of the Dead Pool with Johnny Pesky. Can we have another?

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: August 16, 2012, 10:44 pm

Who the blankety-blank is Johnny Pesky?

Comment from Redd
Time: August 16, 2012, 10:57 pm

I watched that series 50 greatest finds in the UK by amateurs. You’re right – always got to be p.c. Not sure why they made it into a contest but the “greatest” was some 30,000 year old flint axe. Me I always go for the gold. They had some nice pilgrimage souvenirs and clothes tags, too.

Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: August 16, 2012, 11:14 pm

Thanks, Stoaty! I recall the Kurt Russell line in Tombstone, “We’ll be richer’n Croesus” or whatever. I wondered who he was, but never got around to looking it up.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: August 16, 2012, 11:20 pm

Good to see you, McGoo! Holding up okay?

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: August 16, 2012, 11:31 pm

I was at a very low level mediaeval fayre (don’t ask!) some years ago and spotted a bored looking individual just about to fold-up his tent, having failed to sell many (any?) coins.

I wandered over and, not for a second imagining he had one, asked: ‘I don’t suppose you’ve anything from the reign of Julian The Apostate’ have you?

His face lit-up and from beneath he produced a coin in fine condition, with the Goddess Diana on the reverse.

Made my day that did. Possibly his, too. And I am still utterly blown-away that I can carry about me a coin that old and that perfect and that it cost me less than a house.

Comment from VPJ
Time: August 17, 2012, 12:47 am

When Croesus heard the Oracle’s pronouncement, he went into a rage. “What the blazes does that mean? ‘Destroy a Great Empire’ indeed…THAT WAS THE BLOODY POINT!!! Might as well flip a freakin’ coin.”

And thus, does history do its thing.

Comment from Stark Dickflüssig
Time: August 17, 2012, 12:50 am

I just have an old Vichy dix centimes coin that I carry around.

Comment from LesterIII
Time: August 17, 2012, 1:27 am

Pesky is a blankety-blank Red Sox player of the Ted Williams era. A pole in Boston is named after him. It was born in Fenway not Warsaw.

Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: August 17, 2012, 1:51 am

Thx, M’lady! Gettin’ older & quieter,but no wiser. Pity…

Comment from Rich Rostrom
Time: August 17, 2012, 2:05 am

Red Sox legend. Shortstop/thirdbaseman from 1942 to 1951 (1943-1945 in the Navy) – career .307 hitter. Traded 1952, retired after 1954 season.

Returned to the Red Sox and served for decades as minor league manager, manager, first base coach, broadcaster (color man), hitting instructor, and “ambassador”: “‘Mr. Red Sox’ to decades of New Englanders”, according to his SABR bio.

I’m surprised that a Rhode Islander like you never heard of him; but I gather you are not a baseball crank. NTTAWWT.

A marginal celebrity, perhaps. He was an All-Star once, but never an MVP, and not a Hall of Famer, and had only seven good years. However, he made a lot of appearances as “ambassador” in his later years. When the Red Sox finally won the World Series in 2004, Pesky shared the honor of raising the championship flag with Carl Yastrzemski. (Ironically, it was Yaz who got him fired as manager in 1964.)

Comment from Scubafreak
Time: August 17, 2012, 3:42 am

Well, we know what the Oracle of Delphi said, but what about The Pythia?

Comment from Some Vegetable
Time: August 17, 2012, 4:21 am

I heard Pythia was paid for her prophecies in Croesus’ pieces

By the way, I’m currently having a sort of aural love affair wirh BBC 4. I discovered an App for my phone (But I have it on my PC too now) called ‘TuneIn Radio’ . Basically you can find almost any streamed radio station on it, in many languages and from almost every country.

My current favorite show is ‘The Philosopher’s Arms’. I’ m trying to get into The Archers but it’s going to take a bit to figure out the story I suspect.

Comment from SCOTTtheBADGER
Time: August 17, 2012, 6:01 am

He was a USN pilot during WWII. PBYs.

Comment from Mike James
Time: August 17, 2012, 10:40 am

Effing oracles…they always say that kind of shit. PBY’s, you say? Cool.

Comment from Some Vegetable Oracle
Time: August 17, 2012, 1:27 pm

Years ago when I was teaching English in Japan, I had a group of businessmen as students. They were pretty accomplished in English, but the company insisted that they get ready for an overseas project with a refresher class, so there we were.

As is always the case in English classes, each student was required to tell the class about his hobbies. We went through the usual – golf, fishing and so forth till one guy said, “I collect gold coins”. A envious look went around the room, and one student finally said, “bachelor!”, which indeed was the case.

The next student said, “Hey, I collect gold coins too, but I’m married.” He pulled off his wedding band and showed it to the class. “But I’ve only got one, and my wife took most of it and left me just the rim”.

True story….

Comment from nightfly
Time: August 17, 2012, 5:07 pm

That is pretty darned cool.

I collect foreign coins (mostly thanks to a friend who is a traveller). Probably my favorite is a 1948 English shilling. I look at it and imagine that Churchill used it to flip for the drinks bill against Lady Astor.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: August 17, 2012, 5:33 pm

Pre-decimalized British currency (<1970) is the BEST.

Comment from Subotai Bahadur
Time: August 17, 2012, 7:25 pm

I collect old Chinese coins. One could make the argument that Chinese coins were closer to the concept of money than gold coins which are just small pieces of bullion of known weight and purity. Chinese bronze alloy “cash” pieces are intrinsically of low value, but 1000 of them on a string were exchangable for a certain weight of silver. China used silver as the primary precious metal, while gold was a commodity used for decoration.

The oldest piece I have is an “ant nose money” from the post Chou dynasty state of Chu. This predates both a unified China and the existence of disk shaped coins. While they were standardized in form, they had varying weights and no dating system. All I can tell is that it was made between 700 BC and 221 BC in Chu. There are earlier forms with slightly different markings from the Chou Dynasty that go back to 1045 BC.

As I go through my collection, I wonder at those who used and handled those coins over the span of Chinese history.

Subotai Bahadur

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: August 17, 2012, 11:40 pm

Subotai Bahadur – Now that was an exceedingly cool comment. 🙂

Comment from SCOTTtheBADGER
Time: August 18, 2012, 5:24 am

At the time I went through the Police Academy at Southwest Wisconsin Tech, I was also a Volunteer Firebadger, and my Chevy pickup had a red lightbar on the roof, and extra lighting on the dash and in the cap.

One night, after a High Risk Vehicle Stop class, one of the instructors said, You drive a full size 4X4 Chevy pickup, with more and better lights and siren set up than any squad car I have seen, your patrol rifle is a Match Grade Colt AR-15, your duty gear is all Bianchi, and your sidearm is an HK. You are a batchelor, aren’t you?

Comment from Nieta de Bob
Time: August 19, 2012, 4:57 pm

you mean, offer BBC programming to people who can’t be forced to pay £12 a month for their quality programming? please… get real. 🙂

Comment from Allen
Time: August 20, 2012, 6:00 am

Some Vegetable, oy. English in Japan… I used to help out on the colloquial bits. As in, you start a car, but turn on the light.

Never mind trying to explain how an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Ooof. It usually resulted in “how do you convert the units?”

Comment from Sordy
Time: August 21, 2012, 11:35 am

Dang Badger – So cool! My one and only guilty pleasure is my Suburban. She cost 35k in 1997. It now has nearly 300k miles and is as sweet a ride as ever – on and off road 😉

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