Friday, 25 April 2014

The strange case of the Syracusan dekadrachm ― part seven

Five antiquaries look through magnifying
glasses at objects. Coloured lithograph after
L. Boilly, 1823. 
The first thing that must be said about strange coincidences in obtaining rare collectibles is that those who have such an interest frequent places where collectibles are offered for sale. Collectors go to shops, markets and auction rooms, and these days also do a lot of online shopping. The collector must also know what he or she is looking at. Already, the collector is far ahead of the general public in finding bargains.

Yet, amazing coincidences do happen where the odds against such seem overwhelming. When I bought my Syracusan dekadrachm, a couple of events were in close time proximity and I had wanted that particular die combination although only two of them were known to exist and both were in public collections.

An event that would have seemed highly unlikely before it happened is known as a "Black Swan". As I said before, rarities and even the unique are actually very common provided that we do not try to specify them before they happen. It is far easier to expect any bargain than to try and custom order one. I have also noticed that finding something frequently echoes a thought that I had about that same thing, but that thought was only rarely about being to obtain such. In fact, the thought I had when I saw the photograph of my favorite Syracuse dekadrachm was that I would not be able to get one because of their great rarity. Obviously, it was not a case of positive thinking.

The main defining quality of synchronicity is that a thought within the upper levels of the unconscious is paired with a meaningful event in one's life. When the thought and the event take place at the same time, Jung called it synchronicity, but he also said that the phenomenon was not always synchronous, and when there was some time between the psychic and material events, the incident was called "synchronistic". Randomness, too, can deliver such strange occurrences: many people will have noticed how frequently seen is an adjacent number set on winning lottery tickets. I don't usually pay too much heed to these synchronistic events, but in the case of the dekadrachm, the coincidental events were numerous and linked by certain psychic themes:

  • The dekadrachm of Syracuse was a "Holy Grail" to many collectors of Greek coins, myself included.
  • My father did not understand my interests and wanted me to get into the oil business, and this was reflected in the mental image of a boy being sold into slavery by his father for the same sort of coin.
  • The dekadrachm type I picked as my favorite was exceedingly rare and yet I fairly quickly obtained it.
  • A friend had brought the book on these coins when visiting me, but had no specific knowledge that they interested me.
  • An auction cataloguer had misread the same book and thought that the author believed the type was a fake, and this made it possible for me to afford one.
  • Suffering financial hardships after the death of my wife, I was able to sell the coin and "obtain my freedom" which "corrected" the significance of the mental image. (the unconscious has a distinct compensatory function).
Also, the person who purchased my dekadrachm was an oil millionaire and his intention is to leave his Greek coin collection to the museum at the same university as his education, there, was instrumental in his later wealth. Here's a life-lesson: if I had got into the oil business, I might  have been able to afford the same coin if its genuineness was known at the time (of course I might also have ended up dying in a well blow-out!). The same destination might be reached through a multitude of routes.

Jung called a set of such events a constellation, which is defined as, "activation of a psychic personal complex or an archetypal content." In On the Nature of the Psyche, he writes much on the existence of complementarity in psychology as well as in physics and concludes (para. 418):
"Since psyche and matter are contained in one and the same world, and moreover are in continuous contact with one another and ultimately rest on irrepresentable, transcendental factors, it is not only possible but fairly probable, even, that psyche and matter are two different aspects of one and the same thing. The synchronicity phenomena point, it seems to me, in this direction, for they show that the nonpsychic can behave like the psychic, and vice versa, without there being any causal connection between them. Our present knowledge does not allow us to do much more than compare the relation of the psychic to the material world with two cones, whose aspices, meeting in a point without extension ― a real zero-point ― touch and do not touch."
It was undoubtedly Jung's association with Wolfgang Pauli which developed, even if not originated, this line of thought and Jung and Pauli were not the only pair of people with shared interests in the psyche and matter. Later, the British physicist David Bohm discussed similar things with Jiddu Krishnamurti  and their relationship is studied. Bohm complements Jung's words with his own:
"We have got to see that thought is part of this reality and that we are not merely thinking about it, but that we are thinking it”. (On Creativity, p. 141)
Yet, I can find no information that David Bohm also studied Jung, and he seems to have come to his related ideas through a different route. Theoretical physics, more than any other science has crossed the "boundary" between science and religion, even though its significances are frequently misused by creationists.

The unconscious, as its name implies, can never be fully comprehended by the consciousness, yet the two act jointly and we can see much evidence of this through dream states, active imagination, and the synchronicity phenomenon and more. Furthermore, these connections can be utilized by a therapist to very successful ends. While we cannot have an exact and knowing connection with the contents of our unconscious, its "upper levels" can be shared and we can build theoretical models of how some of this works. The depths of the unconscious contains no language and no mental pictures. Below these, and below the archetypes (in which Jung connected alchemy with psychology in his monumental Mysterium Coniunctionis) he saw some connections with mathematics and geometry. At some point, moving "downwards", we come to a realm where the observer does not  appear to us to be present, but this is the fault of our limited perception and not, obviously, the lack any truth to the matter. Without an observer, we must have pure objectivity because the subject is not (consciously) present. As time and space are relative, and this is provable, the "zero-point" appears to us to have neither and we might see some sort of connection in this idea to Planck's Constant. Perhaps we might go even further and incorporate the ideas about synchronicity with the Greek ζωή (as infinite life). Who knows? Perhaps future theoretical physicists will be searching for a "life particle" rather than a "God particle".

On Monday, he problem of the "synchronistic" in synchronicity phenomena; How it is is resolved, and the connection between synchronicity and transdisciplinarity (which was also developed through knowledge taken from quantum physics). Have a great weekend!


  1. I've found many very rare antiques as a dealer for 30 years and many very race coins as a 40+ year collector. I frequently say that luck favors a prepared mind. I get to know what I'm looking for and places where I might find it.

  2. I frequently tell people it takes at least 20 years to get the hang of these subjects. If you want a good laugh, see:

    and the slide show. As soon as I saw that really bad modern fake mosaic, I burst into laughter. Everything on the slide show is fake, some of it really bad quality tourist stuff.

    It was linked from here:

    Personally, I think the lunatics have taken over the asylum ;-)



  3. Let me tell you how I started. It was 1981. I was coming home from a Chemistry conference in Waco, Texas (I'm a retired Chemist) and driving through Heidenheimer, Texas. It was just a 4 corner town but I was bored and wanted to stretch my legs. There was a junk shop, dairy bar, and one trailer. I went in the junk shop. I looked around for a while not knowing for what and the old man who managed the shop watched me. He must have been at least 80 with all white hair. After watching me intently for a while he said "I have just what you need". Well that got my attention. I said "What would that be?" He took out a small wooden box from under the counter. It was unrecognizable to me all filled with rusty parts and spiders. He said "It's an Edison phonograph, furthermore it's experimental". I was fascinated! I asked "How much is it?" He said it's $25. I counted all the money I had in my pocket. I said "I have $19.60." He said, "Take it and send me a check". Well I did. When I got home I began cleaning all those parts and trying to assemble it. I found an antique dealer knowledgeable in Edison phonographs and he helped me make one missing part. After 6 months of work I finally heard it play. It turns out that it really was an experimental Edison phonograph from the Laboratory in Orange, NJ. Edison was trying to make a transitional model from his first Gem phonograph in 1899. I've been offered $3000 for it 20 years ago but I still have it and it still plays. My wife and I now collect a deal in phonographs and radios and we have had our business Vintage Sounds for 30 years. Obviously the experience was life-changing. Your thoughts?


    1. Good to hear from you again, Bob,and it is a terrific story. I think it proves very well that inspiration can come from anywhere, including a purely chance meeting that could have had so many "alternative universe" events. What if you didn't get bored until the next town down the road? Even if you stopped by that same shop, but the old man was busy with his accounts or something and you never got to see that box? Several different events had to take place in unison for that reality to unfold. You think about it much and it seems very spooky.

      I think that important part of the whole thing is the strength of the inspiration, even though that. too, is still spooky. Something just clicked with you because the time was right for it to happen. Had you have taken any of those alternatives, then something else would have clicked, but we cannot say at all whether you would have ended up exactly where you are now, or in something else very similar, say, early motion picture equipment.

      It is as if, sometimes, we are just ready for that life changing event and we are going to get it regardless. Somehow we "know" and instead of feeling a mild interest, The brain kicks in and says "let's make this an almost religious experience so he is sure about the importance of it"

      With me, I collected coins like many other kids of my generation before the invention of the smart phone, These were English coins and I was English, no big deal. They never inspired me to do anything.

      One day (I think it was raining), I stepped into a tiny local museum and was just looking around. After a while, the uniformed commissioner came over to me bringing another kid of my age and he turned out to be a coin collector too, but from a nearby town, and from a much better school than the one I attended. After we had established that we both liked coins, he took one of his coins from a paper envelope in his pocket dropped it in my hand and said "I just bought this one". Although I didn't know it at the time, it was a small Corinthian bronze Athena head/pegasus. extremely fine and with a beautiful green patina.

      At that very moment I shifted from a vague interest in English coins to a passion for Greek coins. I had never seen anything that old, let alone such a beautiful example. It was actually tunnel vision, everything else around me, outside the line of vision to that coin just faded into a sort of darkness. We soon became best friends. Malcolm said he wanted to study Classics at Oxford and translate ancient documents at the British Museum. I went to a school that would have expected me to bag groceries or something, or perhaps apprentice to be an electrician or a forester. University was so far out my reality as it was for anyone at my school. After a while we both started wheeling and dealing between London dealers. Then I came to Canada and we lost touch. we made contact again a few years ago. This is Malcolm:

      Part two follows:

    2. Part two:

      The uniformed commissioner, btw, was one of two surviving best friends of a third: a brother of H. G. Wells, He had inherited half of Well's collection, I sold some of it for him, a complete collection of Bronze Age tools and weapons. Some of which were illustrated in one of H.G. Wells' histories. He also owned the oldest surviving coin die (uncancelled) the reverse die of a Tealby penny of Henry II. It was his purpose in life to mentor kids and get them interested in the past. He was actually very poor and lived in a low rental house. His wife was a house cleaner. Now I'm a mentor.

      It gets even stranger. My maternal grandfather was a painter. He also was the subject of an election in the same building where I was voted an FSA, Burlington House, But that was even tougher to get, an RA (Royal Academy. Although one of his paintings made it to exhibition there, he didn't get it. He became a signalman for British Railways, getting a medal for bravery when, single handedly he used a three man pump to extinguish an incendiary bomb that was threatening to damage a small museum.

      As I said, spooky.

      What is interesting is that nowadays very few people know much, or are even interested in looking outside of their narrow field. That law professor who posted the link to the fakes he thought were looted objects could have very easily just asked someone in the know. Then there's Barry Fell:

      What made a scientist suddenly forget science?

      I'm just starting my own study on that phenomenon. One thing for sure, with the apparent dumbing down of the human race, bargains are getting much easier to find!



  4. What a wonderful story! I know what you are talking about with that "tunnel vision thing. When I was about 22 my girlfriend of about 2 years new that I was studying to become a chemist but she wanted me to appreciate history. She was a history major in college. She said to me "You collect coins (meaning US coins), why don't you collect ancient coins." I visited a coin shop in Buffalo NY with that thought in mind. They said at first that they didn't have any ancients, well maybe just a couple. There in the case for $8 was a coin whose design I thought I recognized. It was the JUDAEA CAPTA sestertius of Vespasian! I bought it instantly! It was somewhat heavily patinated but in F+ condition with readable inscription. My second lucky buy was in another coin shop in Buffalo that knew nothing about ancients but had a box of them, nice folles from the 4th century in VF-EF condition. He said take the whole box full, and charged me a few dollars. My girlfriend became my wife of 40 years and she is the one that bought me the dekadrachm! I think I'm more than just lucky. I think my whole life has been blessed and guided.

    1. You are lucky indeed. It must be truly wonderful to have a life that connected. My life is so disjointed I cannot think of any really important connection that ties it all together. Your wife gives you that terrific dekadrachm, and she was the person that got you interested in the first place all those years ago. No one has shared my complete life that was that significant. Although my wife shared twenty years of it, so its not too bad.

      If I were in your shoes, I would think that the sudden flurry of bargains was some sort of reward for getting it right. In all my years, I have never seen a bargain of any sort on a JUDAEA CAPTA Sestertius and I have seen many with only a partial legend. They are just so popular and recognisable and the chances of one lasting for more than two or three customers seeing it seems so remote. Unless the shop had no customers but you that day, it could mean that if you were there just a few minutes later, it would not have still been there.

      With all if the different people and things in my life, I believe that those things close to my core (that I cannot perceive) yet send out a sort of "signal of significance" that makes things more memorable. Then after many years, I connect the things together into a sort of personal mythology, finding even more connections. In my account, I said "small museum" for Prittlewell Priory Museum and for the Jeffreys Museum as the chosen phrase binds them together even more. Yet this too is my unconscious saying the smallness is the significant connection. A sort of Schrödinger's cat of the soul, both true and not true at the same time!