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A BRIEF HISTORY OF ROMAN COIN STUDIES

Alex Fallows MA

The study of Roman coinage involves several academic disciplines, namely: Ancient History, Economic History, Archaeology and Numismatics. The answer to why these disciplines vary in approach to what is ultimately one of the most familiar artefacts in our daily lives, is down to the origin of the studies of coins themselves and the various influences of archaeology and economics as our understanding of sociology and anthropology has developed.

Modern interest in the study of coinage came about in the wake of the renaissance of the 16th century with a desire to visualise the great individuals of the historical texts. This in turn incited the rich aristocracy of the day to collect ancient coins as highly desirable items. The relatively small pool of men that had means to collect what had hitherto been curiosities led to the creation of vast collections of coins, laying the foundations for the collections of the Ashmolean and Fitzwilliam museums (Arnold 2005; Haselgrove & Krmnicek 2012).

In these early times a method of organisation of Roman coinage developed that broadly holds true to this day: order by the Augustan monetary system: gold, then silver, brass or ‘orichalcum’ and finally copper followed by size. For the more learned coin collector, their arrangement could be influenced by their own knowledge of the Latin and the classics giving them the ability to decipher inscriptions beyond the comprehension of the ordinary person who found them (Arnold 2005). To the masses, roman coins were just an interesting form of gold or silver bullion that could be sold or compulsorily handed over to their landlord or jeweller for reward. Excerpts to this effect can be read in the wonderful Inventory of Romano-British Coin Hoards, where you can find numerous examples of farm workers or tradesmen finding masses of Roman coinage. (Robertson 2000).

In the lens of the ancient historian or art historian, coins could be seen as alternate form of text to be ‘read’ or a medium to express history aesthetically. The importance of coins in this sense was to identify the issuer or deity on the obverse of the coin and interpret the imagery of the reverse before matching them to known statues or historical events (Haselgrove & Krmniecek 2012).

Silver denarius of Caligula (AD 37-41) beside a marble bust of the emperor. Image: Baldwin’s, Public Domain.

This curiosity also drove the antiquarian method of thinking that can clearly be attested by the cataloguer of the Scarisbrick hoard in 1655:

‘…you have in others S P Q R in a wreath laurel, ye faces of sondry of ye first twelve caesars, no lesse discirnable than ye stamps of our modern coyne…’

(Robertson 2000)

The point of reference the recorder makes for this find was Suetonius’ Twelve Caesars. Reliance on inscriptions in the foundation of numismatics as a component of ancient history led to one of the principle reference texts of the 19th century, Cohen’s 8 Volumes written between 1857 and 1892 to be ordered alphabetically to aid in further identification. It was however the chronological-metallist way of structuring coin collections that still persists and separates numismatics from other historic disciplines.

From the 18th century onwards, the study of numismatics followed a wider enlightenment trend for cataloguing and compiling corpuses on all matter of subjects (Haselgrove & Krmnicek 2012). Evidence was collected in a more systematic fashion than the individual collections that came before. The attitude of the founding numismatists of the Royal Numismatic Society in the 1830s neatly summarises this approach to Roman coinage: study of coinage was ‘Numismatic Science’ (Carson 1986). The great catalogues of the 18th and 19th centuries are numerous but undoubtedly the one that remains the most influential was started in the 1923 by the great numismatists Mattingly and Sydenham – Roman Imperial Coinage

Any collector of Roman coins will instantly recognise the name and the reference that is littered through the many thousands of coin journals, auction catalogues and websites. The text followed earlier traditions by listing by metal, taking note of both size and weight and recording then of type by inscription. It also marks a new facet of coin studies by separating coins geographically by mint but a strong focus on ancient history is obvious, as was it in Sydenham’s other work on ‘Historic References’ (1917). RIC similarly contains biographical coin related excerpts for each emperor that influenced the authors’ interpretation of the coinages. A good example of this would be the closure of Lyon mint being due to the civil war of 68 to 69 A.D.

The next major influence on numismatics would be that of economic history. Formalist economic thought became a growing influence on numismatics in the late 19th and early 20th century based on the idea that the value of the metals in the Roman monetary system was intrinsic and that the decisions of the Roman government and where they placed their mints could be rationalised within modern economic theory (Aarts 2005). Entire sections of publications could be dedicated to exploring the metal content and economic policies of empire (Hill 1899).

Looking at the coinage of the time this may not be surprising. The empires of 18th to 20th century Europe had found an analogue that they could relate to in the form of the Roman and Greek civilisations. The influence ran deep and it is apparent in not only the architecture of the time on a large scale but also down to the minutiae of coinage. The currency system was very overtly based on the roman system. For example, British currency values: pounds (l); shillings (s) and pence (d) related directly to the Roman pound, solidus and denarius; and had done for centuries. By the 19th and early 20th centuries more than conceptually; the currency materially reflected this:

The modern British currency system mirrored that of ancient Rome. Image: Baldwin’s.

The gradual collapse of this modern tri-metallic system following the first world war from the 1920s-1970s enabled experts of the mid to late 20th century such as Bolin (1958) to move away from formalism and view coins in a distinct new light as separate from their own contemporary monetary systems whilst still holding on to an economically evolutionary sense of growth, decline and development. This movement was known as substantivism based on the work of Polanyi’s The Great Transformation (1944/1957). Rather than solely intrinsic, the value of money was thought to be more socially subjective.

Evidently then, after the huge amount of early cataloguing of coin types was done, new questions about coins could be asked. The vast hoards found and collated warranted study whether that be archaeological, economic or historical in nature. So rather than catalogue coins themselves, academic numismatists such as Robertson (1956; 2000) began cataloguing hoards as entities. At the same time economic numismatists, namely the expert of Roman Republican Coinage, Crawford (1970; 1974) began concerning themselves with trying to model how many coins were produced and applying the general principles of economics.

However, a new approach focusing on how we in the modern day find and acquire coins driven by the principles of archaeology began to emerge in the 1960s onwards. Coins and the Archaeologist (Reece & Casey 1974/1988) is a must read for anyone interested in the archaeology of coins. Several key articles pointed out both the socio-political and economic factors that affect how we recover coins today and how they are influenced by archaeology. Richard Reece’s position for example still maintains the importance of coins as primarily economic objects but highlighted how denominations to different individuals in Roman society and across the vastly different provinces of the empire, could vary in value by citing sources such as the Satyricon and the New Testament of the Bible. He also, however, used the archaeological evidence of coin finds, whether on site, single finds or in hoards to begin to explore the nature of coin circulation in Britain: i.e. what kind of archaeological context; temple, town, fort or farm coins were found in, combining both the mindset of an ancient historian and archaeologist (Reece 1987; 2002).

More recent emphasis in numismatics in the last decade has shifted towards the social or anthropological role of coinage (Aarts 2005). This is drawing upon the post-modern archaeological movement and draws on 

important anthropological works of the late 20th century themselves influenced by the earlier substantivist thinkers such as Polanyi. The Social Lives of Things, by Appadurai (1986) outlines the idea that objects themselves have a kind of life story and taking a view that delves deeper into who actually owned coins is fascinating. A recommendation for the latest thoughts on numismatics would be Haselgrove and Krmnieck in The Archaeology of Money (2012; 2013) who drew attention to the hoards of Pompeii representing a cross section of Roman Society, the savings of individuals ranging from a few loose coins in ceramic vessels to a wooden casket with a fortune of gold auerii to name but one example.

There are many stakeholders in the world of numismatics whose roots follow a myriad of different 

traditions. To grossly simplify, it may be that the numismatist or collector is more likely to think of a coin as an individual specimen, to ancient historians, perhaps a form of historical document or illustration. A historical economist would think of a coin as part of the greater whole of the monetary supply of the wider Roman economy. An archaeologist may consider its value as an artefact within an archaeological context. Any coin literature or academic literature one reads will draw on more than one of these approaches. It is important to remember that coins are historical, economic, and archaeological objects that combine image, text, and material form (Casey 1986). All these disciplines have a shared appreciation of coins and modern numismatic research can pay heed to these approaches whilst moving numismatics forward, holistically, to the benefit of all.

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COMMODUS’ BRITANNIA

Britannia is a symbol of British success and power. I’m sure everyone reading this magazine will be all to familiar with her depictions on more recent British coins.  But Britannia didn’t always rule the waves.  She was an all too Roman invention.  Personifications were the Roman way of giving a face to an idea, place or people.  The Romans loved personifications and could use them for almost anything.  Prosperity, peace, faith, manliness and other political ideals important to the Romans all had their own personifications and so did the many kingdoms and domains the Romans conquered, or added to their growing empire.  Even important rivers including the Tiber and Danube had their own personifications.The Romans used personifications across their coinage. This silver denarius of Trajan depicts Dacia, (modern day Romania) which had recently been conquered. RIC 219.  Image: Baldwin’s. The Romans used personifications across their coinage. This silver denarius of Trajan depicts Dacia, (modern day Romania) which had recently been conquered. RIC 219.  Image: Baldwin’s. Cultures, cities and kingdoms were usually embodied as females, dressed in and holding items relevant to that particular culture or civilisation.  Egypt was often depicted holding a local musical instrument, the sistrum, on Roman Imperial coinage.  Hispana, or Spain, is depicted with a rabbit at her feet.  The emperor Hadrian’s ‘travels’ coinage displays these fascinating Roman personifications in amazing artistic style.  Hadrian visited every province of the empire at that time, and showed off to his subjects by issuing the remarkable series.  Coins of Hadrian’s ‘travels’ were issued in bronze, brass, silver and gold, for all levels of Roman society to see.  This is also where Britannia appears on coinage for the first time.Hadrian’s ‘Travels’ series depicts a massive variety of personifications based on regions across the empire. Also featured is a coin showing the ship he travelled in. Image: Baldwin’s.Hadrian’s ‘Travels’ series depicts a massive variety of personifications based on regions across the empire. Also featured is a coin showing the ship he travelled in. Image: Baldwin’s.From what we know, the concept of Britannia was invented during the reign of Claudius (41-54 AD).  She is depicted on a contemporary frieze discovered at Aphrodisias, being ‘subdued’ by the emperor, but by the time of Hadrian the personification had evolved into more than a loosely clothed and helpless victim.  The Britannia of Hadrian’s coinage is more of a warrior.  Extremely rare today, copper asses and brass sestertii depict the figure seated beside a pile of rocks (or as some like to interpret it; Hadrian’s Wall). Britannia is armed with a spike-tipped shield and a spear.  Her weapons might hark back to the fearsome revolt of Boudica around 70 years earlier.  She appears solemn, likely due to the construction of Hadrian’s Wall, which was probably intended to put an end to damaging barbarian raids from Scotland.  To defeat a weak enemy is easy, there was little glory in that.  The Romans preferred to depict their conquered enemies as strong and powerful – which the native British no doubt were.Hadrian’s base metal currency features the first depiction of Britannia in coinage. Note the spiked shield on this copper as minted in Rome. Rare. RIC 577.  Image: Portable Antiquities Scheme. Hadrian’s base metal currency features the first depiction of Britannia in coinage. Note the spiked shield on this copper as minted in Rome. Rare. RIC 577.  Image: Portable Antiquities Scheme.Antoninus Pius, Hadrian’s successor, issued a larger Britannia coinage.  It may even have been locally produced, or at least intended for circulation in Britain. Large quantities of Britannia asses, which feature an updated design of the solemn Britannia, have been discovered across the country and in significant numbers at Bath Spring.  Antoninus’ reign saw the construction of a new frontier north of Hadrian’s Wall.  The Antonine Wall was constructed in turf and timber.  Its construction seems to have given precedence to a new Britannia coin, celebrating the conquered province.  The Antonine Wall, however, seems to have been abandoned only eight years after its completion in 154 AD.  These Britannia coins are much more accessible to the modern collector and are popular with ancient and British enthusiasts alike.  Generally quite crudely struck, possibly due to local production, they are difficult to find in nice quality, compared with other base metal coins issued during Antoninus Pius’s reign.A particularly well struck copper as of Antoninus Pius (138-161 AD).  These may have been produced by a moving mint in Britain c. 154-155 AD.  RIC 934.  Image: Baldwin’s.A particularly well struck copper as of Antoninus Pius (138-161 AD).  These may have been produced by a moving mint in Britain c. 154-155 AD.  RIC 934.  Image: Baldwin’s.Commodus is one of the best-known Roman Emperors, mainly due to his appearance in two Hollywood blockbusters – The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964)and Gladiator (2000).  Unfortunately for him, Commodus is portrayed as somewhat of a power-crazed lunatic.  Historians have not been kind to him and he seems to have been even more bizarre in real life than in the films.  By the end of his reign the emperor was dressing as Hercules and fighting in the Colosseum. The first few years of Commodus’ power were shared with that of his father, Marcus Aurelius and these years seemed promising for the young ruler’s future.  Commodus adopted the title of ‘Britannicus’ in 184 AD, abbreviated as BRIT in much of his coinage issued thereafter.  It is not difficult to find a coin of the vain emperor featuring BRIT as one of his many titles.  According to Cassius Dio (Historiae Romanae (LXXII.viii.1-6) serious troubles erupted during the last few months of Marcus Aurelius’ life, the time when Commodus was joint emperor.  Caledonian forces invaded Roman Britain across the frontier of Hadrian’s Wall and the ensuing conflict even resulted in the death of a Roman governor in battle.  Cassius Dio suggests this was among the worst military crises of Marcus Aurelius’ reign.Commodus acted to resolve the problem in Britain and dispatched the general Ulpius Marcellus to deal with the troublesome Caledonians.  The reign of Commodus brings us a very rare and interesting depiction of Britannia, one which I wasn’t aware of until it was bought to my attention at Baldwin’s a few months ago.The extremely rare sestertius of Commodus featuring a standing Britannia. Note her helmet held in the left hand. Rome Mint c.184 AD. RIC 473.  Image: Baldwin’s. The extremely rare sestertius of Commodus featuring a standing Britannia. Note her helmet held in the left hand. Rome Mint c.184 AD. RIC 473.  Image: Baldwin’s.Britannia as a personification is depicted on an extremely rare sestertius dating to 184 AD.  Since Commodus adopted the title of Britannicus in 184 AD we can safely assume that the troubles were indeed quelled, and that Marcellus did a good job of tidying things up – so much so that coins issued depicting a seated Victory, celebrating Victory over the Britons are not too difficult to come by today.    The coin in question, however, depicts Britannia in a way we haven’t seen her before. She is shown standing upright, majestic, holding a sword downward in her right hand and a helmet upright in her left.  This is the first time we see Britannia with a helmet, the modern trademark we associate with her today.  In this depiction, she is very much the Greek warrior goddess.  The standing depiction of Britannia here is not unlike the English silver florins of Edward VIII, as, up until his reign, depictions of Britannia on English coins had generally been seated in a manner similar to her earlier depictions on Roman coinage.The Edward VII Florin, dated 1905. A popular standing depiction of Britannia. Image: Baldwin’s.The Edward VII Florin, dated 1905. A popular standing depiction of Britannia. Image: Baldwin’s.Only three examples of this issue have come to the market over the last few decades.  Banti does not even include an image of this extremely rare coin, though it does appear in the Roman Imperial Coin index.Perhaps this sestertius of Commodus was intended to depict a Britannia finally Romanised, in tune with the classical world and its ideals.  Commodus’ brutal death in 192 AD would usher in the Severan Dynasty, and though title ‘BRIT’ appears on coins over the coming years, Britannia herself would not appear on coins for another hundred. Commodus’ reign would see relative peace in the province, bar another campaign in Scotland by Septimius Severus, until the ravages of plague and barbarian invasions during the Crisis of the Third Century.Rare Third Century depicition of Britannia on this silver denarius of Carausius (286-293 AD). Britannia can be seen on the right, greeting the usurper. Image: Portable Antiquities Scheme.Rare Third Century depicition of Britannia on this silver denarius of Carausius (286-293 AD). Britannia can be seen on the right, greeting the usurper. Image: Portable Antiquities Scheme.It was not until the end of the Third Century that the Roman world treats us to the final depiction of Britannia on its coinage.  Carausius’ revolt (286-293 AD) brings us a Late Roman interpretation of Britannia.  Carausius, a Roman naval leader gone rogue, made himself emperor of Britain and parts of Northern France.  He set about introducing his own coinage, minted in Rouen, London and possibly Colchester.  Rare coins struck during his reign feature the would-be emperor being crowned by a somewhat crude figure of Britannia.  Appearing somewhat more similar to her pre-Commodus depictions, she holds Carausius by the hand, welcoming him.  Surrounding the scene is the inscription ‘EXPECTATE VENI’ or ‘Come ‘o Awaited One’.  The coin, a silver denarius of purity which had not been seen since the Second Century AD, would likely have circulated amongst high status individuals in Roman Britain and intended to show them that Carausius was the just the kind of leader that a plague-infested and barbarian ravaged Late Roman Britain needed.The advent of modern milling technology heralded a new depiction of Britannia on English coinage. Charles II, halfpenny, 1673. Image: Baldwin’s.The advent of modern milling technology heralded a new depiction of Britannia on English coinage. Charles II, halfpenny, 1673. Image: Baldwin’s.Britannia would never appear on a Roman coin again, and only return to circulating coinage during the reign of King Charles II, when it was decided to incorporate the icon on the base-metal coinage of England.  The proud Britannia of the Modern Period encompassed everything that an increasingly more powerful England wanted to be, and remains on the country’s coins to the present day.References:Hadrian As recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme Database, https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/626508, reproduced under Creative Commons Licence CC by 2.0; https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Carausius Denarius recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme Database, https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/254630, reproduced under Creative Commons Licence CC by 2.0; https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/All other images sourced from the Baldwin’s archive.
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THE LOVE AFFAIR THAT STARTED THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND

This Sovereign was minted in the second half of Henry’s relatively lengthy reign. In 1526 the value of English gold coins was increased by 10% in order to stop the flow of gold into Europe, and therefore the Sovereign assumed a new value of 22 shillings.

Henry VIII (1526-44), Gold Sovereign, Second Coinage. m.m. lis on obverse, arrow on reverse, henricvs dei gracia rex anglie et franc dns hib, king enthroned holding orb and sceptre, portcullis at feet. Rev. ihesvs avtem transiens per medivm illorvm ibat, square shield over Tudor rose, 15.32g (Schneider 570; N. 1782; S. 2267). About extremely fine with excellent detail. A comparable example sold at auction by CNG in New York (January 2018) for $120,000 (approx. £75,000) including buyer’s premium. 

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THIS COIN

By 1526 Henry was becoming increasingly concerned about the birth of an heir. His wife, Queen Katherine, had borne him six children, but only one of these, Mary, had survived infancy. His eldest son, Henry, born in 1511, had died after only seven weeks. Their last born child died within hours of its birth in November 1518.

By 1526, when Katherine had turned forty, it was evident that Henry would not have a son, and by 1527 Henry had become infatuated with the 25-year old Anne Boleyn, whose elder sister Mary had been Henry’s mistress for some years. At this stage Cardinal Wolsey, on behalf of the king approached Pope Clement VII, asking him to formally annul Henry’s marriage to Katherine.

The matter could not be resolved, Wolsey fell from power and the king’s adviser, Thomas Cromwell, recommended a clean break with Rome, leading to the establishment of the new Church of England, with Henry at its head. The new Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, pronounced in May 1533 that Henry’s marriage to Katherine was void, and he was free to marry Anne.

 

henry viii and Anne

King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn 

 

Henry’s early delight over Anne Boleyn’s pregnancy late in 1532 soon faded when she gave birth to a girl (the future Elizabeth I) in 1533. The relationship soured, and Anne was executed on 19 May 1536. By now, the king had become besotted with Jane Seymour, one of Anne’s ladies-in-waiting, and she gave birth to a boy (the future Edward VI) in 1537. Jane died during childbirth, but she remained the favourite of Henry’s six wives and after his death he was laid beside her in St George’s Chapel, Windsor.

This coin was minted in a period which was one of remarkable change in Europe. Martin Luther began a prolonged attack upon the Papacy and the Catholic Church, and gradually the Protestant religion evolved. In England, Henry VIII seized the opportunity to suppress all the small monasteries on the grounds that they were uneconomic, and on the strength of this he dissolved all the remaining monasteries in 1539. But despite the turbulence of the times, the reign of Henry VIII produced some of England’s finest Tudor gold coinage.
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A beginners guide to coin collecting

Types of Coins Coins are made from either precious or base metals. They come in many different monetary denominations, just like today, and they split into two broad types: the older hammered variety and the more modern milled type.

Unique Pieces EveryTime

Hammered coins were made by hand by hitting two dies together with a hammer. On the inside, the dies contained the imprint for each side of the coin. Often the head of the monarch or emperor was on one side. On the other were the coin’s denomination and other designs. The motifs of these coins, especially those from the Greek and Roman world can be nothing less than spectacular. Just like with sculpture, master craftsmen were often employed to engrave dies for Greek cities, resulting in exquisite miniature masterpieces. The hammer-striking process was not an exact science and coins from the ancient and medieval worlds can be somewhat off-centre. This usually adds character to the century-old coins, and also means that no two coins are exactly alike.

Milled coins came about around 400 years ago. They were produced in large quantities from the mid 17th century onwards and are machine made. They have much more precise definition and uniformity. The machining of coins also enabled the introduction of serrated edges and inscriptions which helped prevent forgery and clipping. Mechanised production also came hand-in-hand with improvements in realism and style brought about by the Renaissance two centuries earlier. For the first time rulers of Europe appeared on their coins in spectacular realism.

We’ll come to the condition of the coins you buy later. This is a whole separate subject. Condition is vitally important to the value of the coin.

Coin collectors usually want to collect the coins of one country or group of countries. They might want coins from a particular historical era. Others collect coins that have unusual characteristics. These could be, for example, commemorative sets, or those with errors.

Many collections are based on coins that are similar but have subtly different die patterns. Tokens, used as substitutes for small change in some countries at certain times, are also a highly collectable area.

A common collecting theme is a set series: one coin of each type and denomination for each year the coin was minted during the reign of that particular ruler. This could also include different design variations which might have been introduced. It could include coins struck at different mints. There are many different nuances.

 It makes sense in the first instance to collect and invest in coins of the country where you live, or from a time period which you have a specific interest in. The chances are that you will be more aware of its history and better able to judge what makes a particular coin special.

From a practical standpoint too, for example, it makes sense for a UK collectors and investors to buy British coins, or for US ones to buy American coins. The biggest volume of coin dealing and the largest number of collectors, dealers and investors in this type of coin will be in the home market. The Ancient Coin market, however, is stable and international, with collectors in most countries.

Some coins are indisputably very rare. There are many instances of coins where only a handful of examples are were produced and then a design was discontinued. Proofs and errors – coins made to test a new pattern, or those where some minor production error resulted in an unusual variant of a common coin – are also a fruitful hunting ground for those seeking something scarce for investment purposes.

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HOW TO START COIN COLLECTING

 

Coins are classic collectable items. The opportunity to own a piece of history used by people of times gone by has established coin collecting as a popular hobby enjoyed by individuals of all ages. Using coins as a medium of investment is also becoming more widespread.

Collectable coins have a value that depends on two major factors; scarcity and condition. Prices are set by collectors and dealers based around demand. This happens mainly through auctions and a network of coin dealers. As well as rarity and condition, coins can also be attractive due to their cultural or historical significance. Coins featuring famous historical figures can often carry a premium due to their international fame.

Collectable coins are distinctly different from bullion coins, whose value derives solely from the weight of the precious metal they contain.

SCARCITY

The rarest collectable coins exist only in very limited quantities. Own a rare item in first rate condition and you have a reasonable chance that its value will increase in the future. The value of a rare coin is set and evolves through demand from the widespread collector or investor base. Although hoards of coins occasionally come to light, supply is usually strictly limited to known pieces on the marke

AN HONEST, TRANSPARENT MARKET

Coins are bought and sold through a network of dealers. Some specialise in particular aspects of the coin market. Coins are also bought and sold through coin fairs, and at auctions. It is a global market not dominated by any one player. Values are set by supply and demand. Auction records are a reference point for prices and values and there are well documented historical price trends for almost every type of coin.

 

GLOBAL IN SCOPE

There are collectors of, and investors in rare coins in most markets of the world. Many start off by collecting in the coins of their own country, or those of a particular historical period. So whether it is coins of the English Civil War period, American silver dollars, Islamic coins or Ancient Green and Roman pieces, there is an active market to suit the interests of most collectors and investors.


A HUGE VARIETY

The rich variety of historical coins and medals issued over the past 2000 years gives an amazing opportunity to anyone interested in starting a collection of their own. It might come as a surprise to many that it’s possible to own a genuine Roman or Greek coin from over 2000 years ago; or that a medieval silver groat of King Henry VIII, which might appear more at home in a museum is actually available to buy. Paintings from the Elizabethan Period or Ancient Classical Statues would cost a small fortune, but coins from these periods can be far more affordable. Coins are miniature monuments to the times they originate from, and a lasting, physical memory of the rulers and people who used them. It is an exciting prospect for many to build a collection of historical coins from a time period which fascinates them. As well as high value pieces there is a plethora of material available at almost any price point, making it possible for budding collectors of any age as well as seasoned veterans of the coin world to build or enhance a collection.

To guide you through this process, Baldwins’ experienced staff of specialists can tailor an initial pathway of coins to suit your interests, your time horizons, and the amounts – large or small – you wish to spend. 

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Mark Smith – Featured interview Medal News

How did you get started?

On Friday afternoons I used to be taken from school to see one of my two Grandma’s, my Father’s Mother.  She lived in a very Victorian house which had a parlour, dark cold and spotlessly clean; in the sideboard was a wooden box in which were my Father’s medals from World War Two, he was a Wireless Operator Air Gunner with 240 Squadron R.A.F. with Coastal Command and then in the Far East with the Special Duties Flight of 240, where he and his crew delivered Force 136 S.O.E. and O.S.S. agents in to the Japanese-held islands.  My bedtime stories, when small, were taken directly from his RAF Log Book and he would tell me the story of one “Op” from briefing to the target and back, I never got much sleep but the stories were fascinating.  One Friday afternoon in June 1969 on my visit to Nan, my Grandma gave me the box with the medals in; I went home made a display, got a book from the Library and was totally hooked on medals and the stories.  More family medals, cap badges, steel helmets, bayonets and trench art started to turn up as Aunts and Uncles at last found a home for all this military junk they had brought home from various wars; World War Two, World War One and the Boer War were well covered stretching back to my Great Great Great Grandfather, Private Henry Dickerson, who joined the Rifle Brigade in 1854.

What is your favourite medal?

For pure aesthetic look, design and feel the first Arctic Medal, the shape, the star suspension and the pure white ribbon are a joy to behold.  The stories behind the medals are absolutely fascinating, as Franklin and his men wandered through the ice and then the rescue missions to find them, real “Boys Own” adventure stories, but pieces of history you can hold and own.

What is your Top Tip for collectors?

Handle as many medals as you can, go to shops talk to your friends, attend the OMRS Convention, join an OMRS Branch, go to museums and ask to see the medals and handle them to get the naming styles and fonts engraved, (forgive the pun) in your memory. Consulting now for Baldwin’s for just over two years, I have crossed from collector to dealer, a completely different world, fascinating but very different, and the one startling fact that stands out is how many medals are wrong, re-named, broken, reconstituted and alas just fakes.  Know your medals; know what they should look like and feel like.

Do you collect and if so what?

From those early days I was given a poster of all the British Medals from 1815 onwards up to about 1965, my first collection was one of each medal and clasp.  I have now about 500 medals and clasps but I am still looking for the elusive few, Defence of Kelat-I-Ghilzie, South Vietnam, the Newfoundland Volunteer War Service Medal and a few more!

I collect RAF Log Books and have about 70, two for the Battle of Britain, a Dambuster, many to Lancaster crews and of course my most treasured Log Book, my Dad’s.

I started back in 1986 a Great War Casualty collection, a medal or group or Plaque or scroll to a man (or woman) killed during the War; the concept was to collect medals to a man killed on every single day of World War One.  I have about 750 days completed.  I also tried something similar with World War two casualties and found that, although this could not be done by day, it was possible by campaign.  I have about 350 casualty groups from the sinking of H.M.S. Royal Oak, an ARP Warden in the Blitz to Dunkirk, D-Day, the Battle of Britain, Imphal, Benghazi, and Monte Casino etc.

If you could retire to an exotic location where would it be?

Well not exotic but over the many years of travelling to the Battlefields of Northern France it would have to be the Somme, a haunting place that never ever ceases to amaze me.

When not working how do you relax/unwind?

I have managed to turn my life-long hobby into a job.  I was lucky enough to be chosen to be part of the Militaria team on the BBC Antiques Roadshow, and I have taken people to the Battlefields for over 35 years.  I lecture in medals and military history, my days are very full with work but doing something I love.  I have two dogs who I like to take on long walks, I enjoy shooting during the season and I have returned to another boy-hood love, making model aircraft – military ones of course!

 

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Coin of a Tyrant: The Agathocles Gold Stater

The island of Sicily has an unusual past.  During the classical period the small island off the coast of Italy was home to a variety of small city states, originally Greek colonies – the largest of which was Syracuse.  Syracuse, unlike many traditional Greek cities, had a tormented political history.  From the 5th Century BC until the Roman period, it was ruled both a tyranny and a democracy – sometimes both – countless times in its history. One tyrant, however, has become more infamous than any other.

Agathocles was a tyrant of Syracuse and King of Sicily, who, after conquering Syracuse in 317 BC (and promising to uphold the city’s democratic values) murdered over 10,000 of its citizens, made himself master of the city, and formed a massive army to conquer the rest of Sicily.

‘It cannot be called prowess to kill fellow-citizens, to betray friends, to be treacherous, pitiless, irreligious. … Still, if the courage of Agathocles in entering into and extricating himself from dangers be considered, together with his greatness of mind in enduring and overcoming hardships, it cannot be seen why he should be esteemed less than the most notable captain. Nevertheless, his barbarous cruelty and inhumanity with infinite wickednesses do not permit him to be celebrated among the most excellent men.’

Machiavelli, on Agathokles of Syracuse.

Silver Tetradrachm and bronze Trias of Agathocles, depicting the nymph Arethusa. Syracuse, c.317-289.

Agathokles’ gold 100 Litra coins usually feature a portrait of Athena and a thunderbolt. Struck c. 304-289 BC, Syracuse.

Silver Tetradrachm and bronze Trias of Agathocles, depicting the nymph Arethusa. Syracuse, c.317-289.

 

The tyrant’s army of mercenaries needed payment, and for this, gold staters were struck.  Gold coins were always popular with mercenaries, who would be able to take the small, high value objects back to where they came from.   Depicting the Goddess Athena, and a thunderbolt of Zeus, Agathocles’ coins are some of the finest of the ancient world.  Athena’s helmet is decorated with a depiction of Pegasus, the winged horse, which has remained in exceptional condition on this coin, while most examples have completely worn away.  Agathocles also issued silver coins, called tetradrachms, which were common denominations in the ancient world.  They feature a portrait of the local nymph goddess Arethusa, who was said to live in the fresh-water spring on an island in the bay of Syracuse.  She is a common motif on Sicilian coins.  

Agathokles’ gold 100 Litra coins usually feature a portrait of Athena and a thunderbolt. Struck c. 304-289 BC, Syracuse.

Agathokles’ gold 100 Litra coins usually feature a portrait of Athena and a thunderbolt. Struck c. 304-289 BC, Syracuse.

The coins of Syracuse, and other Sicilian cities, are considered some of the highest quality of the ancient world.  Prior to Agathokles’ rule, massive silver decadrachms were issued.  These huge silver coins, weighing over 40 grams, were the largest silver pieces of the ancient world.  The artists who engraved the dies for these masterpieces actually included their signatures as a mark of pride in their work.

Agathokles ruled for over two decades, though the final years of his life were plagued by illness.  He died of natural causes in 289 BC.

Huge silver decadrachms were issued by Syracuse at the end of the 5th Century BC.

Huge silver decadrachms were issued by Syracuse at the end of the 5th Century BC. 

 

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The Caesar Denarius: Face of a Dictator

The Romans hated kings.  Since XXX BC Rome had been ruled as a Republic, and as a Republic, had risen to become the dominant power in Western Europe.  Hannibal was defeated.  Greece was occupied, and Celtic Gaul was being subdued thanks to a popular general by the name of Gaius Julius Caesar.  The Senate controlled Rome.  A select group of high-ranking citizens controlled the armies and almost all elements of Roman society.

 

Caesar’s military denarius depicts a snake (the senate) being crushed by Caesar’s power.  Silver Denarius, 49 BC, Moving Mint.

Caesar’s military denarius depicts a snake (the senate) being crushed by Caesar’s power.  Silver Denarius, 49 BC, Moving Mint.

 

Caesar is without a doubt one of the most famous figures in history.  He was cunning, ruthless and ambitious.  His ambition, combined with the strength and loyalty of his armies, resulted in him Crossing the Rubicon, and eventually being elevated to ‘Dictator for Life’ – a newly created position reserved only for him.  The Senate hated this, but had to oblige – Caesar had the military might to do essentially what he wanted.  

A traditional Roman Republican silver denarius featuring the head of Roma.  Silver Denarius, Rome, 137 BC.

A traditional Roman Republican silver denarius featuring the head of Roma.  Silver Denarius, Rome, 137 BC.

 

During the Roman Republic, coins were issued by moneyers and featured motifs relevant to Roman history or mythology.  The heads of gods appear commonly on these coins as well as animals and buildings.  During the 1st century BC, the faces of ancestors begin to appear, but never a living person.  Caesar changed this.  He was the first living person ever depicted on a Roman coin. 

A traditional Roman Republican silver denarius featuring the head of Roma.  Silver Denarius, Rome, 137 BC.

Caesar’s denarii would have caused a stir.  Clearly portrayed are his distinctive facial features. Silver Denarius, Moneyer M. Mettius, Rome, February 44 BC.

Silver denarii were issued in 44 BC onwards, bearing Caesar’s portrait in impressive detail.  All of the dictator’s features were depicted as Caesar wanted, there was no flattery.  Suetonius, writing in the 2nd Century AD, describes Caesar’s appearance as ‘lean, with a long and wrinkled neck, prominent nose and thinning hair’, all of which are visible on his coins.  Some bear the inscription ‘CAESAR DICT PERPETVO’ or ‘Caesar, Dictator for Life’.  Thanks to Caesar’s historical fame, coins bearing his portrait are very valuable today.

The coins of Caesar’s Assassins were generally more conservative, pushing Roman Republican values.  Silver Denarius, Moving Mint, 43-42 BC.

The coins of Caesar’s Assassins were generally more conservative, pushing Roman Republican values.  Silver Denarius, Moving Mint, 43-42 BC.

 

Depicting himself on Rome’s coinage would certainly have infuriated the Senate – it may have been the last straw.  On the 15th March, 44 BC, knives were drawn in the Senate house.  Caesar was assassinated, and the conspirators ousted from the city.  Caesar’s Assassins struck coins as well.  Brutus, in a somewhat hypocritical move, issued a rare few coins depicting his own portrait, and two daggers, with the inscription ‘EID MAR’ referring to the Ides of March.  He did, however, return to more traditional designs supporting civil liberties and freedoms.  During their campaigns against the Pro-Caesarean factions of the civil war which erupted after Caesar’s death, the assassins Brutus and Cassius issued coins from moving military mints, most of which are rare.  They were both defeated at the Battle of Philippi, in 42 BC. 

 Octavian’s naval victory at Actum was celebrated on a silver denarius issued for the anniversary.  Silver Denarius, Rome, 27 BC.

Octavian’s naval victory at Actum was celebrated on a silver denarius issued for the anniversary.  Silver Denarius, Rome, 27 BC.

 

Caesar’s right-hand man, Mark Antony, and his adoptive son, Octavian, would continue to grapple for power for another decade.  This would eventually culminate in the Battle of Actium, which saw the defeat of Antony and Cleopatra, and Octavian’s ascension to sole ruler of the Roman World, and the first Roman Emperor.  

 

 

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Constantine: Rome’s First Christian Emperor

 Constantine’s reign was a turning point in the history of the Roman Empire.  He introduced economic and social reforms which would see the end of a century of crisis in the Roman world, but most importantly he allowed for a religion which had been shunned by Roman Society for three decades to come into the light. 2.	Bronze follis of Constantine, struck in the aftermath of his accession in York.

Constantine was declared emperor by his troops in 309 AD, in the British City of York (then Eboracum), after the death of his father, Constantius I.  At this time, the Roman Empire was ruled by a number of emperors, working together.  Constantine declared himself sole ruler of the empire and marched on Rome, to face his rival Maxentius in battle.

 3.	Bronze follis of Maxentius (306-312), minted in Rome.  His coin types promoted traditional Roman imagery, in this case, the Dioscuri.A strange event occurred when Constantine was on his way to Rome.  According to sources, Constantine and his soldiers witnessed a massive Christian symbol, the ‘Chi Rho’ on the horizon.  The night before his confrontation with Maxentius, Constantine had a strange dream.  He was told the name of God, and that if his soldiers fought under the banner of Christ, then he would have his victory.  The following morning, to the horror of his generals and no doubt some of his soldiers (most of whom were traditionally Pagan) Constantine ordered that the shields of his men be painted with the ‘Chi Rho’.  They obeyed.   The Milvian Bridge still spans the Tiber today, though heavily rebuilt in medieval times.The ‘Battle of the Milvian Bridge’, October 28th, 312 saw the demise of the emperor Maxentius and Constantine’s elevation to sole emperor of the Roman world.  The Christian symbols appear to have worked.  Not only did Constantine legalise Christianity across the Empire, he actually converted to the religion before he died, starting a lineage of Romano-Christian emperors which would last for a thousand years.                                                Constantine’s reign lasted until 336 AD.  Many of his coins feature radically new artwork which had not been seen on Roman coinage before.  He introduced a new gold coin which would become the staple of the Roman world for centuries – the Gold Solidus.  Very rare solidi feature the emperor’s head facing upwards towards god and after his death, special commemoratives were struck, which include the hand of God welcoming Constantine to heaven.The Chi-Rho or Christogram appeared on coins of Constantine onwards.Constantine paved the way for the Christian Era.  Churches were thrown up in Rome, on the sites of former martyrs’ deaths.  It was no longer a shunned, underground practice and by 380 AD, Christianity was the state religion of the Roman Empire.  Constantine also founded what would become the new capitol city of the Roman world – Constantinople.          
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New World Record at Baldwin’s of St. James’s Auction

Baldwin’s joint venture with Baldwin’s of St. James’s has resulted in a most successful outcome with their Coinex auctions achieving almost £3 million coming from the sale of one of Britain’s most beautiful and iconic coins setting a new World recordThe auction room was full for the duration of the session and the bidders of the room were joined by over 150 hopeful bidders online. The highlight of the day came towards the middle of the session when a Victoria, proof five pounds, 1839, commonly known as ‘Una and the lion’, garnered bids from both the room, over the phone and online. After some intense bidding to start with, it was eventually wheedled down to just two bidders, who went toe-to-toe for at least five minutes before the hammer finally came down on a price of £340,000.  The realised price was more than double the original estimate of £150,000 and a New World Record for a British five pounds piece.A Victoria, proof five pounds, 1839, commonly known as ‘Una and the lion'This coin was struck as part of the first coin issue of Queen Victoria in 1838, shortly after she had come to the throne. The obverse displays the famous young head portrait of Victoria by William Wyon while the reverse portrays her as Una leading the lion. This coin is not only very rare but is particularly in good condition.The story is familiar, the mythical tale it is based on is ancient, but here we see a classic, exquisitely produced golden rarity whose origins and emblematic significance certainly bear repeating. In the Elizabethan epic poem by Edmund Spenser, the legend of The Faerie Queene was born. Ethereal Una, companion of the Redcrosse Knight in Book One of the allegorical poem, captivated readers’ imaginations for generations: she was more of the spirit than of the flesh, a delicate lady whose knight protected her virtue and her being with undying loyalty. Una was young, untried, innocent but majestic. Two centuries after the poem appeared, a new age in England evolved, and to the poets and adventurers of the Romantic Age no image had more appeal or offered more inspiration than did the mythical Una, who seemed so much like the new Queen Victoria, for she, too, was young, untried, innocent and majestic.At the Royal Mint, recently situated outside the ancient fortress on Tower Hill, the greatly talented engraver William Wyon sought to capture the public’s imagination and its loyalty to the young Victoria by working to create an image that would endure the ages. By so doing, he also secured his own position, for who could doubt the mastery of the largest gold coin appearing in Victoria’s coronation coin set of 1839? Not only was his sensitive portrait of the young queen lifelike and most beautiful, but his image of ‘Una’ leading the British lion across the Empire and across time itself truly captured the essential spirit of the last years of the Romantic Age, when adventuring ruled the British mind and when the world seemed Britain’s for the taking. Victoria’s ‘little wars’ around the globe were all yet to be played out, and Victoria herself faced the kinds of challenges that no teenager could ever imagine. Over the coming decades, both defeat and triumph would burn into Britain’s collective body politic as the wild escapades of Lord Byron and his contemporaries of the first four decades of the nineteenth century metamorphosed into the realities of conquest and dominion, and as Great Britain reached the zenith of its imperial ambitions.

Considered to be one of Britain’s most beautiful coin, it occurs with two small variant reverse legends, based on Psalm 119:133 and translates as ‘May God Direct My Steps’. William Wyon in 1839 seemed to sense and express  the inspiration of the British Empire by the use of this legend, but his image of the queen guiding the British nation, engraved so beautifully on this coin, reflects Britain’s confidence as a world power. Drawing on inspiration from an earlier age, the engraver achieved something few artists ever have – an indelible image of his own times, the Victorian Age