The tools we use to see the world change the kind of world we can see. In the latter half of the 19th century, two technological advances changed the world of imaging forever. First, the development of film photography, allowing more detail to be captured than had been possible with other imaging methods. Secondly, the development of pre-mixed artists’ paint in tubes, which allowed painters to leave their studios and paint what they saw in the world, instead of relying on sketches and models. The photographers began to focus on capturing the realities of the physical world in a way that paint never could, and the painters, through the Impressionist and Expressionist movements, began to focus on the experience of the world, in a way that photography could not capture.
Throughout the 20th century, photography became cheaper and more portable; more and more people were able to afford cameras and film, which led to greater experimentation with film. Films arrived, first the silent films, then “talkies,” and finally films with full color and sound, even experimental 3D effects.
And then, at the beginning of the 21st century, the digital revolution happened. Digital cameras were ubiquitous, and constantly improving in quality and size. When smartphones became de rigueur, most people had digital photography–in previous inaccessible quality–in their hands at all times. Selfie culture rose, as did the live-streaming of dramatic events, such as the rescue of the passengers aboard the famous plane that went down in the Hudson River. No matter event is happening, no matter where in the world, someone is covering it with the digital camera in their phone. That is what today’s world looks like.
The world of numismatics is not exempt from this story. As photography has improved, so have coin catalogs: instead of relying on descriptions of coins or artists’ depictions, collectors have photographs. On eBay, most prospective collectors can zoom in on any given coin in high detail. Purchases are more informed than ever. But something has been lacking. If a collector knew what coin she had, she could get a value on it. But what if she did not know? What if a treasure was sitting in her pocket change? Of course, there were occasional stories about such finds. Even this year, an extremely valuable coin turned up in a child’s pirate treasure playset. But this only happened when the coins chanced to make their way to experts.
There is no longer a need to rely on that chance. We’ve taken the next step, and paired digital imaging with machine learning. Our new Machine (read more about it here) can correctly identify and grade up to three coins a second…and we can put the power of that Machine on your phone. Our new app, Lookzee, is in development and has already identified many valuable coins simply by taking photos of unsorted coins from our stock. Right now, the image library is focused on wheat cents, though we will be growing from there, as we evaluate the needs of the numismatic community. Our goal is organic growth that collectors actually want and will use.
We are currently seeking testers for Lookzee: if you’d like to help us test the app before it is released to the public, please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.