Design & Decoration S04 ep19 : Michael Weiss, Nomos , [Zurich]
Interview with Michael Weiss
Nomos AG, based in a newly renovated building in the central old town of Zurich, specializes in rare and beautiful ancient, medieval and renaissance coins and medals. The firm was founded by Dr. Alan Walker, who serves as Director and Dr. A. Peter Weiss, who serves as Board Chairman. Objects are presented by private treaty sale, through a yearly fixed price list catalogue and at an annual public auction. Our clients are worldwide and include major institutions such as the Harvard Art Museum and Princeton University. ."
We deal in coinage from ancient Greek through ancient Rome into medieval and early European works of actual money that was
used. And then metals which was mostly for presentation, specializing in Renaissance period as well as Dutch 17th century, which
goes along with a lot of paintings that here at the fair.
I’m actually a hand surgeon in real life. This is kind of a passion, I’ve collected coins since I was a young boy. My partner is Dr.
Alan Walker is an archaeologist by training and we both love it just from an academic perspective and also a historical
They are actually amazing pieces of art but in miniature. The Greeks 2 ½ thousand years ago striking coins that just stunning by
today’s standards even.
I was studying at John Hopkins medical school in Brooklyn Baltimore and I went to a conference and saw a coin of Alexander the
great. You know the large size silver and it was only $500. I couldn’t believe that you could buy something real from that age for
$500, so I bought it. This was mid 80’s, so then I really got hooked on the ancient coinage because there is a history with those.
Both the Greek and Roman history is just fascinating. And it’s actually a fairly affordable collecting area so you can get the lot of
value for your money.
My partner Alan Walker who runs the business and he is really being an expert at one of the most famous firms of bank lawyers
in Zürich for many many years. He wrote very well-known catalogs and we’ve been very friendly for a long time. And the two of
us just decided it would be a fun venture to do something on our own.
It’s a disease frankly collecting. I mean I’m as addicted as a lot of the other dealer friends I have here and you transfer some of
that into the business. And sometimes you will sell some of your things to help the business and sometimes you will sell
everything. It’s just money, so I can either put it in a bank and get no interest or I can buy something really interesting, in the
long run it's a very good investment.
There is a very large coin it’s called Aquagas Decagram it was struck in Sicily. It’s huge, it weighs about 45 g, it’s extremely rare
and it’s gorgeous from its artistic perspective. That’s probably my favorite and probably the most valuable Greek coin in
Romans had great history behind them you know Trojan and the emperor Nero playing his fiddle as Rome burns, things like
that. But they tend to portrait on one side and a figure of something on the other. I find them a little; for me personally a little
monotonous. Greek coins; every coin has a different either a goddess or a god or a mythical figure or an amphora. The Greek
coins are most likely a little more harder to learn. They are collecting because there is so much variety. Roman is kind of easier
because it’s one emperor after another.
A lot of these were used for large commercial transaction, paying for an army, paying for a ship. They weren’t for everyday use;
smaller pieces of silver were used for that. If you wanted to either strike your own coins, you would get coins from somebody
else melt the metal, strike your own, put your own stamp of approval on it. Or you just melt the metal and use it as bullion.
What the clever forgers used to do in old times, they would coat a piece of copper with silver. So how did they determine a
merchant that it was real? They would take a chisel and they would cut it, and so you could see on the inside of the metal. Well
some had the bright idea that instead of a chisel I’m going to make a design and it would be my stamp that I guarantee this coin
is pure silver. And so that was how the first coins were actually stamped with a design and then the battle started. One city
wants to have a better design than another city and so the art became incredible, because it was a badge of power and a badge
of taste for the city. And so Athens of course and Sicily some of the powerful cities, they had some of the most beautiful
Normally they are round, but they were in siege times. Sieges could go on for years. I mean they would be camped outside the
walls and nobody was going anywhere for two years. So to make money and have an economy inside, they would cut strips of
metal up; just as long bar of metal. And they would cut it into squares and they would stamp the square, and that would be the
siege money. So it’s kind of like a pendant almost. So they were kind of unusual shapes related to the historical context.
Banks didn’t exist until modern days. So what did the guy do that was going off to war? He would collect his life savings of coins
and stick them in a pot, find the nearest tree, bury them and go off to war and get killed. Well that thing was going to stay there
it wasn’t like you could go to your bank and put it out. The wife maybe didn’t know where it was, the tree got chopped down. In
the 1800s all these areas were excavated, all this material was found. They are always still finding things in countries like Greece
and Turkey and Italy. But it’s really gone down a lot in the last 30 years because fertilizers have eaten what’s left and every piece
of square foot of land has been searched.
But occasionally somebody shows up and their father left them something and it’s a major piece. $500,000 item, that’s
happened in our office. When we tell them they are in shock. They panic a little bit, if it was cheap it would be much easier to
rationalize. But when something like that happens it’s actually pretty exciting. It’s like winning the lottery for the family. And
we’re pretty honest; we tell them what it’s worth. We either buy it or consign it to an auction or something like that for the
individual. That’s kind of exciting when that happens.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Michael Weiss, Nomos, Zurich