Wednesday, 9 December 2009

What recession and other musings – the case of Gemini VI

I was sent a copy of the Gemini VI sale catalogue yesterday in “dead tree” format (excellent, you can’t beat having these in hard copy), although it is available to browse online HERE.

A good selection of Greek, Roman (imperial and provincial) coins on offer, although sadly, or perhaps fortunately, no Carausius to tempt me.

The star of the sale though, whatever your interests, has to be the Byzantine gold medallion of Tiberius II Constantine (pictured above) with an estimate of $2,500,000, and this got me thinking about the global recession and what the potential market would be for such a piece of “bling”.

Only yesterday a Rembrandt and a Raphael sold in London for a total approaching £50,000,000, the Raphael, estimated at £16 million and making £29.2 million being a record for a work on paper, demonstrating that there is still money available to invest in works of art.

I was also intrigued by the actual description of the medallion, in particular the state of preservation being described as ” Two parts of the original frame had become separated and the medallion itself had a slightly wavy surface. These have been resolved as were two very minor scrapes”. How much work has been done, when and what did it look like before? Such restoration work has provoked much comment on message boards with quite divided opinions when they have come to light in the past. I’m pleased that this work has been noted in the description and I wonder whether it really does materially affect the article’s value in either direction? Some would argue that restoration would reduce its worth while others the enhanced beauty would increase it.

I, for one, will be looking for the outcome of the Gemini sale and the result of this piece in particular. Will there be a buyer or not and at what price?

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Pescennius Niger and Oliver Wendell Holmes

The coins of Pecennius Niger, the eastern challenger to the Roman throne in AD 193, exhibit three characteristics, rarity, desirability and ugliness. One of my two examples, illustrated above certainly exhibits the latter characteristic (my other example being much worse). These features were used by Oliver Wendell Holmes in his 1872 work The Poet at the Breakfast Table which features a conversation with an entomologist:

"What a superb butterfly you have in that case! -

-O, yes, yes, well enough. These Lepidoptera are for children to play with. Give me a Coleoptera, and the kings of the Coleoptera are the beetles! -

The particular beetle he showed me was an odious black wretch that one would kick out of his path, if he did not serve him worse than that. But he looked at it as a coin collector would look at a Pescennius Niger.

-A beauty!-he exclaimed, -and the only specimen of the kind in this country, to the best of my belief. A unique, sir, and there is pleasure in exclusive posession. Not another beetle like that short of South America, sir -"

Whilst I cannot claim unique I was pleased to acquire this specimen, it being a variety not fully as the description in RIC, the closest attribution I can give is cf 23-5.

My wretched second specimen, below, is RIC 5.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Another Royal Mint quality control problem.....

I was passed this 2008 penny on Sunday. It has a raised blob before the date. Not the first one that I've seen. I haven't picked at it to determine whether it is a die fault or whether it is the bronze surface lifting from the iron core.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

New 20p problems....

The Royal Mint do seem to be having problems with the quality control of their new coins. Besides the well popularised undated mule of old obverse and new reverse dies for the 20p there appear to be production problems.

I came across this coin in change the other day that looks to have been made from an obverse die that was breaking up or suffering from some damage that resulted in two raised lines coming down from the queen's nose.

On top of that there is evidence of die clogging on the reverse obscuring some of the raised pellets that border the shield.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Carausius medallions and a German victory

Just added a page about the three known Carausius medallions that are all in the British Museum plus some thoughts on how they interact with the VICTORIA CARAVSI A coins.The page can be found HERE.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Gallic prototypes of Carausius

My latest Carausius acquisition affirms my hypothesis that a number of the coin types of Carausius were inspired by those of the Gallic Empire.

This early unmarked Carausius INVICTVS with a star in the left field is clearly modelled on the coins of Victorinus.
Similarly this early Carausius PAX AVG has field marks of V and star, again mirroring Victorinus.
Indeed PAX AVG coins were very popular in the Gallic series, just as they are with Carausius, vertical sceptres for Postumus and Tetricus I, transverse sceptres for Victorinus. I think that this needs further investigation.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Carausius and Sol again

I noted in the previous post that a British Museum specimen, purchased in 1863, could be traced to Kennedy's "Oriuna" from 1751. Here are the two illustrations of the coin - it really goes without saying that the line engraving is the one from 1751!

Friday, 30 October 2009

Jugate Carausius and Sol

I’ve been doing a study of this jugate Sol “series” and I now think that Curtis Clay is correct in suggesting that the Hunter specimen is the one illustrated in Stukeley’s plates as I can find no reference to any other examples pairing this obverse type with this reverse legend (excepting my own example, of course).

I now have images of eleven of the twelve examples of the jugate Sol coins known to me and it is apparent that this is more than a single issue when looking at the spread of mint marks (C, CXXI and S/P//C) and the corpus is represented by four distinct obverse dies.

Five of the coins are in the British Museum (one of which, BM 1992,0635.1, must be mis-catalogued on the basis of the die links now known to me; another of the British Museum coins, BM1863,0325.4, is clearly the same specimen as the one illustrated, but not owned, by Kennedy in his “Dissertation upon Oriuna”, from 1751 ), two in the Hunter collection in Glasgow, five in private hands. I need to check the Cambridge and Oxford collections (sadly the Heberden Coin Room is undergoing a reorganisation and so is not dealing with enquiries at present) to see if they hold any further specimens.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Carausius, Stukeley and RIC 5

William Stukeley was perhaps one of the earliest scholars who studied the coins of Carausius, along with Claude Genebrier, John Kennedy and Richard Gough.

The have been criticisms, sometimes valid, over the scholarship of the age, the debate over the status of the personality identified as "Oriuna" not helping put any of the protagonists in a good light.

A biographer of Stukeley wrote in 1985 that "there is little to his credit in the voluminous books of notes and drafts of Histories of Carausius that he so laboriously compiled in the later years of his life".

It is sad that when compiling the appropriate volume of Roman Imperial Coinage (the second part of volume 5 in 1933) that more attention were not paid to the plates of Stukeley from his Medallic History of Marcus Aurelius Carausius, 1757-9 (that were largely copied from Genebrier?) as some rare coins that are known today to exist make an appearence in his plates that are missing from the 1933 catalogue.

One such coin is this one from my own collection that is also illustrated as plate VII, coin 1 in the Medallic History:

Carausius 287-93AD
Radiate bust in imperial mantle left jugate with Sol
Pax walking left holding branch and sceptre
Camulodunum mint
RIC - (cf 341)

Sadly the idealised nature of the plates in Stukeley's work makes it impossible to know if my specimen is the one cited by Stukeley.

However, digging a little deeper what we probably have is an error on the part of Webb, the compiler of the Roman Imperial Coinage volume, and I'll explain why.

RIC 341 describes the above coin except that it says the portrait of the emperor and Sol face RIGHT, not left. He cites his own 1908 publication on the coins of Carausius and, in particular, coin 398 and again the portrait description is right. He also quotes the collection where his particular coin resides, the Hunter Collection, Glasgow University. Fortunately the Hunter collection is published (although the particular coin in question, Hunter 110, is not illustrated). We are fortunate though in that a similar coin, but with a different reverse, Hunter 109, is noted as being an obverse die duplicate of 110 and that coin is illustrated and shows the portraits to the LEFT.

It looks as though we can clear up a descriptive error in Roman Imperial Coinage with a little detective work.

Thursday, 1 October 2009


I recently came across this coin that was languishing in a junk box of sorts. I realised straight away that it was a coin of the “rebel” Poemenius, struck in the name of Constantius II. Poemenius, you ask, who’s that?

References are scant and the only extant literary reference for Poemenius is Ammianus 15.6.4: “...Poemenius was condemned as a malefactor, hailed to execution and perished; he was the man (as we have told above) who was chosen to protect his fellow-citizens when Trier closed its gates against Decentius Caesar”. Sadly the writings of Ammianus prior to 353 are lost and we can only wonder what else could be learned if that part of the text remained.

At the time of the civil war between Constantius II and the western usurper Magnentius, the imperial administration was based at Trier. However, the real centre of military power was on the frontier at Cologne and Mainz, leaving the former relatively undefended in the case of attack. By spring, 352 the Trier region was suffering attacks from Germans who had been prompted by Constantius to attack his rival’s centre of power. Poemenius, for whatever reason the most important man left inside the walls of the city, during the resistance to the barbarians had seemingly declared for Constantius – prompting Magnentius’ brother, Decentius, to besiege the town. The rare series of hybrid coins honouring Constantius on the obverse and using the chi-rho type of Magnentius on the reverse were all struck in Trier and are therefore presumed to be a product of Poemenius’ counter-rebellion. The fate of Poemenius is known and Ammianus notes that he was executed after his stand against Magnentius. The period of the revolt was brief, probably lasting a little over one month in the middle of 353.

My example of this scarce issue has been cut down, removing most of the obverse and reverse legends. It has been done in such a way as to preserve the religious symbol, the chi-rho, on the reverse and may have been to mount the coin as a religious pendant.

Although the legends have been largely removed it is possible to identify the portrait as being that of Constantius, rather than Magnentius or Decentius as there is a diadem, only present on the coins of Constantius.

Monday, 17 August 2009

My sad world.........

Welcome to my sad world!!!!!!

Whilst I was in Filey I happened to notice my first 2009 coin in circulation on Saturday 15th August; a penny.

Bronze age archaeology in action

Ferriby boat replica puts to sea with Filey Brigg in the background where a late Roman signal station was located

I was at Filey this weekend on the east coast of Yorkshire. There were a series of events to raise money for the RNLI and Filey lifeboat and one of these events included putting to sea a half size replica of one of the Bronze Age "Ferriby Boats".

The Ferriby boat replica, cutting edge Bronze Age technology, with the Filey lifeboat behind, cutting edge modern technology

The Ferriby Boats are three sewn plank-built boats, parts of which were discovered at in the East Riding of the county of Yorkshire. Only a small number of boats of a similar period have been found in Britain and the Ferriby examples are the earliest known boats to be found in Europe. The crew said she was good in the water but a little heavy to manoeuvre.

For more information on the Bronze Age boats go to

Friday, 3 July 2009

Edward Jekyll - a bookplate traced

I bought the two volumes of the "Coin Collectors Manual", 1853, by Humphreys years ago when I was just beginning to develop an interest in numismatic literature. Looking at the price paid, £20 in 1990, it was probably too much.

Inside each one there is a name inscribed in black ink plus a bookplate with the name Edward Jekyll. Curiously this is the name of the doctor in Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 book "The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde" - but more of that later.

I searched Edward Jekyll on the internet and came up with such a name related to Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932). She an influential British garden designer, writer, and artist who created over 400 in the UK, Europe and the USA.

Then I came upon a link to an excellent family history website about the Archers, the Goodmans and Associated Families who included the Jekylls. On the page of Jekylls, including Gertrude Jekyll, is reproduced the crest from the bookplate - I had been fortunate enough to track down the right family.

So which Edward Jekyll is it? I'm not sure. It must be either Captain Edward Joseph Hill Jekyll (6 Feb 1804 - 26 Mar 1876) of the Grenadier Guards, father of Gertrude, or his son Captain Edward Joseph Jekyll (18 Aug 1839 - 3 Mar 1921) of the 64th foot, and therefore Getrude's brother. Looking at the membership of the Royal Numismatic Society does not help narrow this search down as the name does not appear to be present on any of the membership lists sadly.

So where is the connection to the horror story? Well Edward jr. and Gertrude had a younger brother, Rev Walter Jekyll, who was a friend of Stevenson and who borrowed the family name for the main character in the book.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

What's so bad about firemen?

In book 10 of Pliny's letters, that is the volume that charts the correspondence between him (as a special imperial delegate in Bithynia) and the emperor Trajan, there is a rather intriguing exchange.

In letter 33 Pliny informs the emperor of a serious fire that broke out in Nicomedia that detroyed many houses plus two public buildings, the Elder Citizens Club and the Temple of Isis. He suggests that he might form a company of firement, numbering about 150 or so also noting that any privileges granted would be monitored and not abused.

Trajan's reply is very suspicious, saying that although is it a reasonable idea it is groups or societies like those that have been responsible for political unrest within the province. "If people assemble for a common purpose, whatever name we give them and for whatever reason, they soon turn into a political club. It is a better policy then to provide the equipment necessary for dealing with fires, and to instruct property owners to make use of it, calling on the help of the crowds which collect if they find it necessary."

Saturday, 13 June 2009

The Doors of the Temple of Janus are shut.

Nero 54-68 AD
AE as
Bare bust right
Temple of Janus with doors closed
Rome mint
RIC 306
There is a series of well known sestertii, dopondii and asses issued by Nero that show the Temple of Janus with closed doors. It is also widely known that the closing of the door was symbolic of peace throughout the Roman Empire. But, what is not widely known is why the doors being shut came to represent peace........

Hill's Monuments of Rome as Coin Types (1989) offers some suggestions as to where the temple was located but does not provide an answer to our question. Similarly Stevenson's Dictionary of Roman Coins (1889) can offer us that Livy tells us that the doors were mostly open, in fact were shut only once, from the foundation of Rome to the battle of Actium, but again not why they should be shut. Suetonius reckons that Nero's closing was the third occasion on which the doors were shut.

The answer, however, does appear in Donaldson's Architectura Numismatica (1859). In it he tells us that, according to legend, the original Temple of Janus was built by either Quirinus or Romulus. He notes that, according to the ancient writer Macrobius, during the Sabine wars the enemy were rushing into Rome through the Porta Janualis when they were overwhelmed by a vast torrent of boiling water which impetuously flowed from the Temple of Janus. From then it was decreed that as Janus had come to their help during a time of war the doors should remain open.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

A handful of spits

Ionia - Klazomenai
AR obol
c.520-480 BC
Forepart of a winged boar right
Quadripartite incuse square

When I first read that in Seaford's "Money and the Early Greek Mind" I have to admit I had the wrong end of the stick! I now know the "spits" referred to were made of iron and were of the type used for roasting meat.

You see a "spit", or "obelos", gave its name to the small Greek silver coin we know as the obol. Given that small change could be carried in the mouth then my misunderstanding was, I think, excusable.

The term "drachma" means handful, particularly six (as noted by Aristotle, for example), and so we get "obeliskon drachmai" - a handful of spits - being used in temple inventories and inscriptions. These must be referring to bundles of iron rods, not the grudging payment in the hand of small silver coins. It was only later that these two terms began to have a specific reference to money.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Ancus Marcius

One of the coins in my posting about the Aqua Marcia featured on the obverse a portrait of Ancus Marcius. The coin is reposted above and I just wanted expand a little on who he was.

He was, traditionally, the fourth king of Rome, 642-616 BC; Romulus, Numa Pompilius (the maternal grandfather of Ancus Marcius) and Tullus Hostilius preceeding him.

The concept of a 'just' war is ascribed to Marcius. In a ritual, still practiced in a modified fashion in the second century AD, war was formally declared on another country only after a Roman priest had visited the territory, calling on each person he met and Jupiter himself, to witness that satisfaction was demanded in the name of religion and justice.

He also built an early prison, which was founded in around 625 BC, and was used to hold people until it was decided what to do with them or unishments they should serve. Before this time a popular punishment was to simply exile people.

Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, 616-579 BC, succeeded him as king. Well respected he was adopted by Ancus Marcius as his son, also appointing him guardian of his other sons. After the death of Ancus Marcius, Tarquinius Priscus was able to convince the People's Assembly that he should be elected king over Marcius' natural sons.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

So where was/is Abila?

A pertinent question I thought. Abila is now known as Tel Abil and it is located to the east of lake Tiberias (the Sea of Galilee), some way north of Aelia Capitolina (Jerusalem) and the Dead Sea.

It possibly formed part of an unofficial alliance of 'ten cities' from around the time of Pompey, although just how loose this grouping is can be witnessed from the disagreement over which ten cities actually constituted the Decapolis.

Pliny the Elder lists Damascus, Canatha, Scythopolis, Pella, Gadara, Hippus, Dium, Philadelphia, Gerasa and Raphana - but not Abila! An inscription dating to 133/4 AD however names the city 'Abila of the Decapolis'.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

An unpublished coin of Abila?

FORVM recently offered this unidentified coin for sale. Given that there was enough of the obverse legend to identify it as a coin of Geta Caesar and there was a substantial amount of the reverse legend visible I figured it must be worth the $22 they were asking as it ought to be identifiable.

The left hand side of the reverse clearly reads SELEVKI in Greek letters, whilst the right reads A ABIL.... It has to be a coin of Abila in the Arabian Decapolis.

The only problem is that there is no coin of Geta listed in the appropriate British Museum Catalogue of Greek Coins for the region, nor is it listed in Spijkerman 'The Coins of the Decapolis and Provincia Arabia'. Lindgren I and III list no such con and neither do the British SNG volumes. It is also not represented in the American Numismatic Society SNG volume.

It would appear that this is a new coin of Abila, previously unrecorded.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Brother six character holed cash......

"Brother Six Character Holed Cash
Old and young, poor and rich fight for it.
If in the government offices there is no justice,
And in the monasteries there is no unselfishness,
By holding it finally one can move the hearts.
Stinky brass makes the kowtow - cratures very busy,
Be it in business or begging.

By the Skinny Taoist

Painted to remember Ch'en Lao-lien

By Sung-Shan Ping"

The frontispiece from Burger's 'Chinese Cash until 1735'.
I used to actively collect the cast cash coins of China and was smitten by Burger's book, not only for the wealth of detail it contained about being able to attribute the undated cast cash coins to a year, but also for its fine tissue fold out plates, wood block engravings and hand corrections/annotations.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Procurator Monetae and the Gallic Empire

I've just been re-reading Michael Peachin's paper about the post of procurator monetae (PM) in the 1986 Numismatic Chronicle. In it he catalogues the names of the post holders, where known and tries to put them into a chronological context.

It is suggested that within the Roman minting system there was only a single PM until the fourth century AD, even though there were a number of provincial mints striking Roman coins by the third century.

An inscription is recorded from Rome that lists an un-named individual as having the titles:

praefectus alae Indianae
praefectus vehiculorum per Gallias
procurator monetae Trivericae
praeses provinciae Germaniae superioris

The interesting title is the third one, PM Trivericae, procurator at Trier, a provincial mint! Is this the Gallic Empire mint or the mint of Diocletian and his later colleagues?

It is suggested that this is the Gallic mint because the post holder was praeses of Germania Superior, a province that changed name to Germania Prima around the Diocletianic reform, c.294-6. There is a slight chance that, as Trier was operating as a mint briefly before the Diocletianic reform, that the inscription is late rather than mid to late third century.

If this is the Gallic Empire minto official, because he is the procurator of the mint at Trier it suggests that Trier was the primary mint. Also, given the pardon of Tetricus and his son it would appear that the officials of the Gallic regime may have had a rehabilitation as this officer's career continues at a high level after the fall of the Gallic regime and is reference on an inscription from Rome itself, rather than the provinces.

Monday, 4 May 2009

The Aqua Marcia

The water supply that maintained Rome was an important part of city life. Eleven aqueducts supplied the city of which the Aqua Marcia was the longest. Purportedly paid for out of the spoils of the Punic wars, including the defeat of Carthage, plus also the conquest of Corinth and was constructed, or perhaps restored, between 144 and 140 BC by the Praetor Quintus Marcius Rex.

The ancient source for the aqueduct was near the modern towns of Arsoli and Agosta, over 91 km away in the Anio valley.

Given that water supply was so critical to the survival of the city it is not surprising that the Aqua Marcia and other aqueducts are feature on the Roman coins. Two such coins are featured in my own collection.

Mn Aemilio Lep c.114/3 BC
AR denarius
Obv "ROMA"
Female bust (Roma?) right
Equestrian statue on the Aqua Marcia
Rome mint
Crawford 291

The attribution of the aqueduct is undoubtedly the Aqua Marcia as although it was finished by Marcius Rex it was begun by M. Aemilius Lepidus (the ancestor of the moneyer of this issue) and M. Fulvius Nobilior who were both Censors on 179 BC. It has been suggested that the three arches potrayed on this coin are those carrying the aqueduct across the Via Praenestina.

L Marcius Pilippus c.56 BC
AR denarius
Diademed head of Ancus Marcius right
Equestrian statue on the Aqua Marcia aqueduct
Rome mint
Crawford 425

An interesting coin that shows, on one side, a portrait of the fourth king of Rome, Ancus Marcius, with an equestrian statue, perhaps of Q. Marcius Rex. There are some problems with associating the stature with Marcius Rex as there is no record of his statues in Rome ever being equestrian. But a statue of him was erected in Rome on the Capitol, where the aqueduct eventually arrived in the city, so this reverse probably does represent that monument.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Carausius and his brothers

People suggest that the arrangement of the three emperors on the CARAVSIVS ET FRATRES SVI coinage shows a deference to Diocletian in that he is central and flanked by his junior colleagues Maximianus and Carausius. This seems reasonable as Carausius may have been trying to build bridges with the legitimate emperors of the time.

The same may not be strictly true of the Romano-British coins that feature the rulers separatley in that there is a differentiation in the bust styles between Carauius and his two "brothers".

Carausius is usually portayed with a draped and cuirassed bust,

whilst Diocletian and Maximianus are usually cuirassed only, perhaps suggesting the seniority of Carausius, in the British isles at least.

It is by no means an exclusive division of the portraiture but it does appear to have been the normal way.

This looks as if it may be an extension of the convention from earlier times when caesars were bare headed whilst the emperor was depicted laureate. Similarly in the third century when the radiate crown became the usual way of portraying the male personalities on antoniniani the caesars were differentiated frequently by being represented by a draped bust whereas the emperor was draped and cuirassed.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

You can't prove anything.....

Isn’t it always the case when a catalogue is published that new specimens are found straight away as people begin to use it. I’m in the process of updating a catalogue for a particular series of the coins of Carausius and whilst I am checking against significant public and private collections I know new ones will turn up after it is published.

It’s because we’re dealing with an unknown total population. We know what does exist and we may predict what should exist but we don’t know what could exist. We’re dealing with a sample population and therefore we cannot, for certain, prove a hypothesis, only disprove it. I can’t remember my lectures so well but it may be called deductive reasoning (or possibly inductive reasoning).

The example I was given at university, a number of years ago now, was that we could come up with a hypothesis “all swans are white”. We can test this by observation and indeed the hypothesis will hold true until the first black swan is observed.

An example in the coin world is could be the Gallic usurpers. In the 19th century the hypothesis “the Gallic usurpers that issued coins are Postumus, Laelianus, Marius, Victorinus, plus Tetricus I and II” was thought to be true. There was no indication that it was not and all the data from hoards and site finds corroborated it. In 1900 we finally knew with certainty that the hypothesis was not true because a coin of Domitianus II was found. So, we now include him in the hypothesis of the list of Gallic usurpers that issued coins which we will only know for certain not to be true when a new usurper is found. As we are dealing with an unknown total population the hypothesis itself can never be proved true.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Karl Becker, 1772 - 1820

Perhaps one of the most famous ancient coin forgers of the last couple of hundred years is Karl Becker who is known to have produced coin dies for well over 300 coin types. Whilst many were for the Roman series, in particular the gold aurei, he also produced dies for Greek and mediaeval European coins.

In his day, before the accurate reproduction of coins by photography, many of his coins succeded in deceiving collectors and curators of collections. However, in modern times with the accurate photographs of legitimate coins being able to be compared with Becker's actual dies, many of which are kept in the Berlin cabinet, he does not really confuse the experienced numismatist.

His career seems to have taken a number of paths, for example, by 1795 he was established as a wine merchant and from 1798 to 1802/3 he was in business in Mannheim as a draper.

There is a tale reproduced in Hill's biography of Becker that early in the 19th century he was sold a false gold coin of Commodus. When he discovered that it was false he tried to return the coin only to be told that it served him right for meddling in things he didn't understand. This may have been the catalyst for Becker to learn the art of die cutting so that he may take revenge on the fraudster which he eventually did.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Numismatic Reference Books

For the last 18 months I have been standing at coin fairs selling antiquarian, second hand and out of print numismatic books and what has struck me is the reluctance of people to actually buy many of these works.

I can understand that going to a fair you might be more drawn to a new coin purchase, history in the hand as it were, and for the price on some of the books the coin might, at first, appear better value but without the books you are buying blind.

What governs the price of numismatic references? I suppose new ones the amount of work that has gone into the publication, the research and knowledge it contains, the fact that many works aren’t big sellers so set up and print runs are more expensive per unit cost and so on.

Why should a second hand numismatic book cost so much? Again it must be judged on the knowledge/information it contains, is it available elsewhere or is the work the reference for the series, how many people want it and how many are available to meet that supply, given that above we have already acknowledged that some of the references are in extremely short print runs and there may not be an alternative reference for the series. That is always then assuming that it is not an antiquarian book.

The long and the short of it is that many of the most detailed and up to date resources are expensive, but also specialist, and many of the "normal", general, collectors are not willing to pay out significant amounts of money for them.

It depends ultimately how detailed, I suppose, that you want to document, record and understand the coins in your own collection as to how much you will pay for specific references.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Jigsaws; don't you just hate it when........

Just set about doing my 103 piece double sided jigsaw of the Charles II "petition crown" that has been published by the London coin dealers Spink & Son. I got to the end (well really just past the beginning) to find that one piece of the border was missing at the top!

Of the 14 "petition crowns" that are known to exist only three are in private hands, nine are in museums and two are unaccounted for.

The coin they have used is the specimen owned by Geoffrey Cope, the finest known example. He is the collector who has also lent an absolutely superb example of the EXERC BRITANNICVS coin of Hadrian to the British Museum.

There is also an absolutely superb sestertius of Agripina Senior in his collection.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Numismatic biography on Wikipedia

I have spent more than my fair share of travelling of late and indeed I am currently on a train as I type this meagre post. There are, I have discovered, a number of numismatic, or associated, biographies on Wikipedia. Some are merely stubs but others offer quite an insight into the lives of people, the only knowledge of which we normally have is through their published works:

Philip Grierson (largely sourced from interviews printed in Spink's Numismatic Circular)

Lord Grantley (very brief)

Lord Stewartby (very brief)

Joseph Pellerin

John Watts de Peyster Wrote an interesting monograph on Carausius and is, perhaps, more of a historian than numismatist

Joseph Hilarius Eckhel

Henri Cohen

William Henry Waddington

William Stukeley

William Hunter

Laurie Bamford A wonderfully colourful sketch of a collector of British coins, beer enthusiast and singer in a punk band. A worthy wiki biog and one that I would have been proud of.

Sir John Evans

Max von Bahrfeldt

Ya'kov Meshorer

Jean-Jacques Barthelemy

There are probably others and I hope that this encourages some of you to explore further.

Friday, 10 April 2009


I have done a little digging to find out a little more about the work of Venuti, cited in Akerman's letter, posted yesterday.

Rudolfino Venuti (1705-63) was working in the mid 18th century, some 100 years prior to Akerman. Bassoli's book on the Antiquarian Books on Coins and Medals from the Fifteenth to the Nineteenth Century (2001) states that:

"Rudolfino Venuti richly illustrated the medal collection of Cardinal Albini in 1744 (which later passed to the Vatican Library and was opened to the public by Clement XII). The work also included Benedict XIV's additions, and the great classical and modern collection of Cardinal Carpegna."

Sadly his work does not seem to have been scanned onto Google Print, although there seem to be plenty of references to it cited.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

John Yonge Akerman

John Yonge Akerman helped in 1836, partly at his own expense, to found the Numismatic Journal, the precursor to the Numismatic Chronicle, a periodical that continues today.

He also published a number of numismatic reference works, including Descriptive Catalogue of Rare and Unedited Roman Coins (1834), Coins of the Romans relating to Britain (editions in 1836, 1842 and 1844) and Numismatic Manual (editions in 1832 and 1840) .

His books are not rare and I have copies of all the above, including both editions of the Numismatic Manual but my 1840 is rather special to me for tipped inside is a handwritten letter from Akerman on paper impressed with the Society of Antiquaries stamp.


I am favoured with your note of the 27th instant. I never entered upon the subject of the Papal medals, but you will see them engraved and described in Venuti, a Quarto work, easily obtainable.

I am, Sir,
Very faithfully yours,

J Y Akerman

Soc. Ant. Lond.

29. Nov. 1848.

I have not a copy of Venuti or I would with pleasure lend it."

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Saloninus Augustus

The corpus of coins of Saloninus as Augustus is small (not to be confused with his relatively abundant coinage as Caesar), by the latest count it is approximately 50 coins; on gold quinarius and the remainder being base silver antoniniani. In terms of the numbers known this puts his coinage as emperor into the same ball park as Pacatian!

The antoniniani are known in two reverse types, SPES PVBLICA, a type that makes up about 80% of the known types and the significantly rare FELICITAS AVGG that makes up the remainder (pictured above).

The coins known of him are increasing and it was suggested that this is because a number are going unreported or misdescribed as finds or in collections, they being similar to the coins of Valerian II Caesar and even bearing the name Valerianus, (IMP SALON VALERIANVS CAES). That was the case with my specimen (above), languishing in a dealer’s stock for I don’t know how many months, identified and overpriced as a Valerian II but and absolute bargain as Saloninus Augustus.

What are the circumstances of the issue? It is clear from the style the coin is from the imperial Gallic mint, the location of which is uncertain but I favour Trier, an establishment that continued under the Gallic usurpers.

It appears that Gallienus left Gaul for Milan where he established the mobile field army, the equites, around 259/60 leaving Saloninus Caesar in the west. Either as a response to the capture of Valerian, the perceived abandonment of the west during a period of strife, combined with disquiet in the legionary ranks and machinations by Postumus the raising of Saloninus may have been a response to some or all of these factors. What is certain is that he was soon besiged and deposed by forces loyal to Postumus and his very brief reign, not acknowledged on coins from any other mint, came to an end.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Mithradates of Bosporus

I normally inhabit the forum website (link right) but I didn't know quite where I would post this coin on their site as it doesn't fit my current gallery arrangement, nor does it go comfortably into one of the message boards.

It is a bronze coin, a 12 nummia piece, of Mithradates from the Bosporus who ruled for four years from 41-45 AD.

The reverse type shows a lion skin draped over a club in some allusion to Hercules having slain the Nemean lion. To the right is a trident and the left a bow case. Mithradates was the son of Aspurgus and Dynamis and after the death of Caius (Caligula) he was recognised by the Romans as King of Bosporus, c.41 AD. Four years later he was deposed by his half bother, Kotys (45-c.63 AD), after being accused of plotting to overthrow Claudius.
Claudius had withdrawn the Roman garrison under Aulus Didius Gallus from the Bosporan Kingdom and a few Roman cohorts were left with the Roman Knight Gaius Julius Aquila in the Bosporan.

Mithridates despised the situation. He mistrusted Kotys and attempted to regain his throne. Mithridates was able to entice the leaders of the local tribes and deserters into his allies. He was able to seize control of the local tribes and collect an army to declare was on Kotys and Aquila. When Kotys and Aquila heard news of this war, they feared that the invasion was imminent. However, both men knew they had the support of Claudius. Mithridates with his army, engaged in war with Kotys’ army and Aquila’s battalions, in a three-day war, which Kotys and Aquila won unscathed and triumphant at the Don River (this river is now situated in modern Russia).

Mithridates knew that resistance was hopeless and considered an appeal to Claudius. Mithridates turned to a local tribesman called Eunones, to help him. Eunones, sent envoys to Rome to Claudius with a letter from Mithridates.

In Mithridates’ letter to the Emperor, Mithridates greeted and addressed him with great honor and respect from one ruler to another ruler. Mithridates asked Claudius for a pardon and to be spared from a triumphal procession or capital punishment. Claudius wasn’t sure how to punish and deal with Mithridates. Mithridates was captured and brought to Rome as a prisoner. He was displayed as a public figure beside the platform in the Roman Forum along with his guards and his expression remained undoubted.

Claudius was impressed with Mithridates’ mercy from his letter and allowed Mithridates to live. He was spared from any capital punishment and was exiled. Mithridates lived as a destitute exiled monarch until his death. He never married nor had children.

Above is a coin, another 12 nummia piece, of Kotys featuring the Roman emperor Claudius on the obverse and on the reverse a portrait of Agrippina Junior.

Agrippina Junior married Claudius in 49 AD and she also happened to be his neice. Twenty-six years younger than Claudius she had been previously married to Cn Domitius Ahenobarbus and bore him a son, the future emperor Nero. Claudius is believed to have been poisoned by Agrippina in 54 AD in order to make way for her son who, in turn, had her murdered in 59 AD.

Coins as dating evidence

As mentioned yesterday the opening presentation at the BANS Congress in Scarborough was a lively presentation from an archaeologist, Simon Tomson, not a numismatist, on dating techniques and the uses of coins in dating sites.

That took me back some years to when I was dealing with the dating problems of Gallic Empire coin hoards. Many seem to terminate in 274, the date of the last official coins of Tetricus I and II, however, many such hoards a probably buried after that date, but they just don’t contain the coins of the official rulers post Gallic Empire.

Uncleaned Victorinus coins from the Wherstead hoard

By way of an example I cleaned and recorded a coin hoard from Wherstead in Suffolk about five years ago. The find contained 1,026 coins, mainly of the Gallic rulers Victorinus and the Tetrici (plus local imitations) but also a fair number of coins of Gallienus and Claudius II. There was only a single coin of Probus, an example from the Lyon mint, that was able to push the date of the hoard to at least 279 using Bastien’s dating. In more than 1,000 coins the earliest date of the deposit of the last coin rested on a single specimen. But for that coin this hoard would be another “274” deposit. The theory used to be that the coins of the emperors Aurelian through to Diocletian's reform did not reach northern France and Britain, a situation that may not have actually been the case given the large, unpublished, Gloucester hoard from the 1950's that contained many such coins.

This is by no means an isolated example of this phenomenon when you go through the Coin Hoards of Roman Britain volumes and what it stresses is that whilst it is important to be able to correctly identify a coin or group of coins to gain any real understanding of the find you have to know something about how they circulated and how they were hoarded.


Monday, 6 April 2009

BANS Congress 2009, Scarborough

I’ve just returned from the British Association of Numismatic Societies (BANS) Spring Congress at the coastal town of Scarborough. I hadn’t been to one of these events for ten years, nor a local society meeting for about two and I now know why.

The weekend started off promisingly enough with a lively presentation on coins used for dating in archaeological contexts, marred only by a pedantic correction of Valens' regnal years from the audience.

The presentations on the following two days were mixed. The high points included a very good presentation on the numismatic aspects on three naval battles, Actium, Lepanto and the Nile, the quality to be expected not least because the lecturer was also engaged in giving similar talks on cruise ships sailing around the Med. Similarly I gained something from lectures on the Ostrogoths, Northumbrian sceattas and the pennies of Stephen and the anarchy.

Other presentations left something to be desired. A potentially interesting talk on the bust types of Ellizabethan shillings would have benefited from a more up-beat delivery combined with a handout of the comparative types with characteristics and their periods of use, rather than just scrolling through slide after slide of the coins.

The nadir came with a presentation on evidence of self identity on early Roman imperial coins. The images on the slides were small and very difficult to make out, even sitting at the front and would have greatly benefited from being a Powerpoint presentation rather than being done on 2x2 slides.

A final plea, if Powerpoint had been the method of delivery a permanent CD of the talks could have been distributed among the seventy delegates as a permanent reminder of the proceedings.


A brief introduction.....


Welcome to my numismatic blog with my (hopefully) frequent and interesting jottings – how many must start with those intentions? I’m not going to make it daily updates but I want to make it at least weekly.

The subjects covered will probably be aimed at ancient numismatics but the borders are not rigid and I know I’ll cut off at tangents.