A 4th Century Bronze of Constans




Flavius Julius Constans was the youngest of four brothers to call Constantine I the Great father. Constans was born in 320 (or 323 by some accounts) in Constantinople and received his education there. However, Constans does not receive good reviews from historians such as Eutropius and Aurelius Victor, who list depravity, avarice and contempt among his less vulgar qualities.

In 333 Constans was hailed as Caesar and in 335 received Italy and the Illyrian provinces as his domains. His brother Constantine II ruled the western provinces and Constantius II, the eldest brother since the murder of Crispus, ruled Asia Minor. The three brothers became co-Augusti in 337 with the death of the senior Constantine and quickly removed their cousins Delmatius and Hanniballianus, dividing up their territories among themselves. Feeling slighted by this division of territory, Constantine II demanded that Constans relinquish Italy and North Africa to him. Constans, though technically the junior Augustus due to his youth, refused.

Constans bribed his brother Constantius II with territory inherited from the purge to gain his support. War could no longer be avoided and in the spring of 340 Constantine II invaded Italy only to be killed in an ambush outside Aquileia. Constans was away in the Balkans recruiting for Constantius II, gaining total victory without even being present for the battle.

Constans continued military operations, waging war against the Franks in 341-342 and becoming the last legitimate Roman emperor to visit Britain in 343. Unfortunately, his caustic personality and disdain for his army would soon be his downfall.

In 350 Constans was deposed by his own field commander, Magnentius. The uprising took place at a party hosted by Marcellinus, Constans’ finance minister. Magnentius declared himself emperor and was hailed as such by his troops. Word spread quickly and Constans fled for Spain. He was overtaken near the Pyrenees and put to death.


This particular bronze was struck about 347 or 348 A.D. at the mint of Treviri, now Trier in northwest Germany. Ironically, Trier was the headquarters of the defeated Constantine II. Bronzes of this size and late date are commonly called “half-Centenionalis” though this term is not contemporary.

On the obverse is the diademed, draped and cuirassed bust of Constans with name and title abbreviations around. The reverse depicts two confronting victories, each holding a wreath, with “D” in the field between them. An interesting feature of the surrounding legend is “AVGG”. Not a misspelling, this indicates there were two Augusti at the time of this coin’s manufacture, which we know was Constantius II and Constans.

Bronzes of this era were used as small change. Inflation was rampant and nothing sold at a fixed price. Depending on the region and time period, the value of a handful of small bronzes such as this could fluctuate widely. As the Roman era waned, the only medium of exchange that continued to hold real value was gold.

Selling Your Silver Coins? Not Until You Read This Article!

Don't Sell Your Silver Coins Until You Read This Article!

Photo courtesy of coincollector.org

Here’s a very helpful article from coin dealer Tony Davis originally posted at coincollector.org. Tony gives a dealer’s insight on what you should be aware of before selling and explains the different points to consider in order to receive a fair price. All too often collectors go into the sell process unarmed with this necessary knowledge. Read on and enjoy!

As a coin dealer, we regularly meet with customers who are interested in buying and selling various types of silver coins. Our customers tell us that they have no problem finding online resources about purchasing silver coins, but that it is difficult to find anything online regarding the specifics […]


Beyond the Grade, the Devil is in the Details

1929 Quarter ObvEver since the advent of third party grading services there has been an ever growing trend toward chasing numbers instead of quality. Worse yet, at some point third party grading became a crutch, an excuse for novices and veterans alike to no longer rely on their own grading skills. As a result, many newcomers to the field of coin collecting rely solely on the grade to direct their buying decisions, never realizing there are so many other aspects to a coin’s value and appeal until they try to sell.

Truth be told, the best way to build a truly exceptional collection, one that immediately distinguishes itself to any viewer that it has been painstakingly selected rather than simply accumulated, is to understand these matters of esoterica and apply them to your collecting habits. One of the most misunderstood and greatly overlooked aspects of a coin’s eye appeal is the strike.

Now if you are a collector of the classical designs of the early 20th century, i.e. Buffalo nickels, Mercury dimes, Standing Liberty quarters and Walking Liberty halves, then you probably have a grasp on this concept already. These coin series are noted for their artistry in the presentation of their subject matter, but are also notorious for the inconsistency of the design strike. The high relief of the designs, the hardness of the metal (in the case of nickel), and the economic considerations of the Depression era mints all contributed to this high variability in strike. Thus, many of the coins of this era look “mushy” and worn though they may still be in uncirculated condition with no real wear from handling.

However, when you wean yourself from chasing just the number on the coin holder and understand that every MS63 isn’t just like every other MS63, with a little perseverance you can find coins in these series that truly stand out! In the case of Buffalo nickels you may be familiar with the Full Horn designation, referring to the fact that this feature is not always present and so differentiates a typical Buffalo nickel from one with an exceptional strike. Mercury dimes have the Full Bands designation, Standing Liberty quarters use Full Head, etc.

But why stop there? These aren’t the only details on these particular designs that didn’t strike up well. Regarding the quarter, what about the rivets on Liberty’s shield or the line of drapery on her right leg? Shouldn’t the Buffalo nickel display the Indian’s braid and hair to its fullest extent, or the line of fur on the buffalo’s left shoulder? These are points that separate the collector from the accumulator. These are things that make the hunt so much more enjoyable. And not all dealers take these matters into consideration. They’re just chasing the numbers. Take advantage of this and see the difference for yourself!

Collecting the Cents of 1798 by Donovan Epling

1800 S196 obv

The S196 1800/179, a repurposed 1798 die

Mr. Donovan Epling is a former EAC member who wrote a wonderful piece for that club’s journal, Penny-Wise, back in May of 1999. The article, entitled “Collecting the Cents of 1798”, is both an excellent introduction to a fascinating method of collecting and a scholarly tutorial on the world of early U.S. copper collecting as a whole. As a current regional chairman of EAC, I love to share these stories about my particular favored niche of the hobby. Mr. Epling  and Penny-Wise editor Dr. Harry Salyards have generously allowed me to reprint this article here.  Enjoy!


Well, I’m back collecting early copper again. I first began about 10 years ago and collected off and on for several years. The first cent that I attributed was an 1802 S232 in VG8. I bought it unattributed and with the help of Penny-Whimsy, I was on my way toward a larger world. I took the shotgun approach at first and collected everything I could afford that caught my eye, at least in the early and middle dates, which held the most interest for me. I never did escape the shotgun approach and at one time owned a pretty awful S9 Wreath, several ’94’s, quite a few Draped Busts, an almost complete set of Classic Heads, a 1817 set, and quite a few other middle dates. I had fun along the way but my numismatic interests were broad and I drifted away. I sold my large cents to finance other pursuits, including a substantial collection of Barber Halves among other things (please don’t cringe, it gets better).

I’ve found that any old coin can be an interesting talisman of a bygone era but the interest lies in the link between the coin and the era. It’s more than that with early cents. I keep getting drawn back to early cents because the coins themselves are interesting, apart from any historical link. They are handmade Americana, the product of the engraver’s skill and the coiner’s art, or lack thereof. They are interesting because each one is unique and has a story to tell about how they are made, apart from history.

Now that I’ve been drawn back, what should I collect? This is the question that everyone asks and everyone wants the answer to. The Draped Busts have always been my favorites. I’m not sure why, they just are. I’ve decided to put away my shotgun and acquire some discipline. I may indeed expand my focus to include all Draped Busts but for now, I intend to narrow the chase to one year, 1798. Why? First, let me include a little historical background. Since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I’ll borrow John Wright’s format somewhat.

In 1798, on the heels of the infamous XYZ affair involving French diplomats attempting to intimidate the Adams administration, the Federalist-led Congress passed the Sedition Act, which among other things threatened fines and imprisonment for publishing malicious writings against the government. The American schooner Retaliation was captured by France, which prompted Congress to end the treaty signed between the two countries in 1778, and an undeclared naval war began. Ex-President George Washington was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the army to instill confidence and deal with the impending war with France. Congress officially created the U.S. Marine Corps. The 11th amendment was passed, preventing citizens from one state from suing another state. Finally, Mississippi Territory was created, including present-day Mississippi and Alabama.

Now to the cents. Why 1798? The year 1798 contains 46 varieties, 44 numbered and two NC’s, which are more varieties than any other year of the Draped Bust design. There are two distinct head punches with different hair styles, the only year in the Draped Bust series to use both, unless you count the 1800 / 1798 overdates, which are 1798 dies anyway. There are two different letter styles, two date sizes, two distinct wreaths used, and the 1798/7 overdates, which are the first overdates in the large cent series. In addition, the 1798’s were struck in 1798 and 1799. There are also distinctive die breaks, rim cuds, die failures, reused dies and individual rarity ratings from R1 to R7, none of which are impossible to obtain. It is also an 18th century coin, which has a certain appeal. All of these factors put together make 1798 a year with a little bit of everything that a cent collector could hope for.

There are six different groups that Sheldon used in Penny-Whimsy to classify the 1798’s, based on their obverse die characteristics. They are,

Group 1: Style 1 Hair, Style I Lettering, Large 8’s:

This group contains six varieties employing four different obverse dies. The point of interest for this group is that they have style 1 lettering which was replaced in late 1797 with style 2 lettering. In fact, the last 1797 obverse (S142 and S143) has style 2 lettering. It was the practice of the mint in those years to create working obverse dies but omit the final digit so that it could be used the following year if needed, i.e. a die would be created bearing the date 179 which could be punched with a final digit of 7 or 8 depending on the year of use. The 1806’over 179 cents are good examples of dies created initially with the date of 179 . I suspect that the 1″~98’s with style one lettering were created as follows: Late in 1797 four dies, the four from this group, with style I lettering were on hand, dated 179. An unknown number of additional dies were created using the new style 2 letter punches and dated 179. These two groups of dies were probably put together on a shelf until needed. At some point, the current 1797 usable dies were almost gone and three 179 – dies were pulled from the shelf, all three being style 2 letter dies. A seven was punched in for the last digit which created three additional 1797 working dies with style 2 lettering but only one was put into service, the die used for S142 and S143. The other two remained unusual at the end of the year. At the beginning of 1798, this left four style 1 letter dies dated 179 and two unused 1797 dated style 2 letter dies. I believe at this time in late December 1797 or early January 1798 that the four style 1 letter dies were punched with a final digit of 8 to create the four obverse dies that form this group.

Group 2: Overdates, Style 1 Hair, Style 2 Lettering, Large 81s:

This group contains three varieties employing two different obverse dies. Continuing the discussion above, I believe these two dies were created when two unused 1797 working dies were on hand at the end of 1797. The reason they have style 2 lettering rather than style 1 lettering is discussed above. They were sent back to the engraver, heated and softened, then punched with an 8 with the intent that dies should be dated bearing the year that they are used. As I’ll discuss later, this adherence to the law concerning dating was only casually observed.

Group 3: Style I Hair, Style 2 Lettering, Large 8s:

This group contains two varieties employing two different obverse dies. These two obverses continue to use the large 8, which is noticeably larger than the other digits. I haven’t read any theories as to why the 8 is larger on these and the preceding dies while subsequent dies, except one, use a smaller 8. No half dollars were minted bearing the date 1798 so it may or may not be the half dollar 8 punch. I don’t believe the large 8 is the same as used on 1798 Draped Bust Dollars. The dollars that I have seen have a noticeably different style 8 which is taller and thinner with oval loops rather than the round loops on the large cent 8 punch. There is no evidence that the large 8 punch broke and was replaced with a different, smaller 8, either. Further research may shed some light on the reason for these different 8 punches.

Group 4: Style I Hair, Style 2 Lettering, Small 8’s:

This group contains twelve varieties employing eight different obverse dies. This group is also the first to contain the reused 1796 reverses and in addition, contains both NC varieties. The classification of the cents up to this point, along with the emission sequence, seems straightforward and logical. This group however is hard to fit into a neat sequence. The annual yellow fever epidemics prevalent in Philadelphia in the late 18th and early 19th centuries may hold the explanation. After the epidemic of 1796, the Mint Director, Elias Boudinot, successfully petitioned Congress to give him the authority to close the mint during an epidemic if the severity warranted. In 1798, yet another epidemic broke out in Philadelphia, which was particularly severe, and the Director closed the mint for three months beginning August 20th . Although the mint had closed for a month in 1797 due to yellow fever, it didn’t completely shut down. In fact, Adam Eckfeldt, Henry Voight, and Albion Cox remained behind to carry on some of the mint duties. During the 1798 shutdown however, the mint completely ceased to operate. Among other things, all usable dies were boxed up and shipped to the Bank of the United States for safekeeping. Apparently, the reverse dies used in 1796 were among the dies deemed usable and boxed up with the others. When the mint reopened in November, whatever dies were on hand were used, which accounts for the odd pairings of 1798 obverses with 1796 reverses. In addition, this probably accounts for the rusted dies used in this group, which were not stored properly during the shutdown.

Group 5: Style 2 Hair, Style 2 Lettering, Large 81s:

This group contains three varieties employing one obverse die. I believe this obverse die may have been completed and used before the dies in the previous group. It’s well documented by Sheldon and Breen that the style 1 hair punch, or matrix, began to break sometime in mid 1798. This is evident by several obverses in the preceding group with style 1 hair that have the top of the hair unfinished where the matrix had chipped. This necessitated the creation of a new matrix and the style 2 hair punch was created. I believe that when dies were created, they were not created one at a time. Instead, four or five dies were probably made at the same time, which would have been more efficient. This would create a reserve of five to ten unused dies on hand at any given time. I suspect that several style 1 hair dies were being created, the matrix broke, the style 2 hair matrix was created, then more obverse dies were created with the new matrix. All of these dies were dated 179_ and kept together until ready to be used. During this time, style 1 hair dies with the large 8 continued in service. When a new die was needed, I believe a style 2 hair die, the one from this group, was pulled from the shelf, possibly along with one or more style 1 hair dies. These dies were punched with a large 8 and put into service. I believe this puts the obverse die from this group chronologically before the dies from the previous group. I believe the chronological sequence can better be determined by the 8 punch rather than the hair style, because the 8 was punched in immediately prior to use, whereas the creation of a die up to this point may have included a period of several months where the die sat on a shelf waiting to be used. This theory assumes that a clean chronological break occurred between the use of the large 8 and small 8. 1 think with the evidence we have that this is more likely than assuming a clean chronological break between the style 1 and style 2 hair punches.

Group 6: Style 2 Hair, Style 2 Lettering, Small 8’s:

This group contains twenty varieties employing thirteen different obverse dies. This is by far the largest of the groups of 1798 cents and the hardest to attribute. The majority of cents in this group were probably minted in 1799. The delivery records from the mint show 979,510 cents delivered in 1798 and 904,585 cents delivered in 1799. As even the casual cent collector knows, the 1799 cents are considerably rarer than the cents of 1798. Breen speculates that 42,540 cents were coined with the 1799 perfect date obverse die. There were also 1799/8 cents coined and die break progression on the two reverse dies used proves that these cents were coined before some of the 1798 varieties. One of the varieties in this group also employs a reused 1796 reverse, which was used after the obverse had already been paired with 1798 reverses. Based on this information, it’s hard to classify this odd paring as a result of the reopening of the mint after the yellow fever epidemic of 1798. Perhaps it was an odd pairing after the 1799 epidemic. I’m sure we’ll never know for certain. It’s curious that the mint at times took great pains to overdate usable dies, to conform to the law requiring coinage to bear the current year, but at other times continued to strike coins with dies dated the previous year, such as the 1798 cents. I suppose we’ll never know exactly why. Perhaps it was left up to the engraver or coiner to make the decision. Perhaps it had something to do with the Director’s unofficial policy. Once Robert Patterson assumed the position of Mint Director in 1805, the practice largely stopped. This is just another of the mysterious intricacies of the early cents.

On a final historical note, I own a copy of the Worcester Gazette dated October 3rd , 1798. it includes the following: “State of the Fever: In Philadelphia, it has not at all abated. The number of deaths, from the 1 9th of September, at noon, to the 2e at noon, was 517. The number of new cases reported in the same time, was 658. By this statement, it appears, that nearly four fifths of those, who are taken with the disorder, die.”

Entries were also made for New York, Wilmington, New London, and Boston.

An ad states: “Ran away on the night of the 19th of August, a lad, named Moses Stone, 19 years old. Whoever will take up said runaway, and return him to the subscriber, shall have one cent reward. Seth Stone.” I wonder if it was a 1798 Draped Bust Cent!

I currently have four of the 46 varieties – an S171, S182, S185, and S186. All are in the VG to Fine range. I would really like to build a choice Fine to VF set, but I’m sure I’ll be limited by the availability of nice coins, not to mention my finances. Oh well. As Sheldon observes, you can’t shoot an 18 in a round of golf but you can go from 90 to 80- I’ll have to keep that in mind as I build my set. Wish me luck!

Descriptive vs. Numerical Grading

Mexico gold

Ambiguity in grading can be the bane of your existence when perusing coin ads, whether it be a print ad, eBay description or a dealer’s scribbled notation on a 2×2 coin holder. Among the most misleading grading terms are Select, Choice and Gem. These terms usually refer to some degree of the Uncirculated grade and have been in use for decades. For this reason, we can safely say with a bit of certainty that not all dealers who use these terms are intentionally trying to mislead. But it is up to you, the collector, to determine for yourself the level of comfort with which you can transact business.

The above terms are examples of descriptive grading. Numerical grading is much more precise. Rather than describing a coin as Select Brilliant Uncirculated (or Select BU), numerical grading should represent the same coin as Mint State 62 (MS62) or so. Descriptive grading allows for much more leeway in the range of a grade. Numerical grading is specific.

So what can you expect when an ad reads “Choice BU Morgan Dollars, grades our choice”? In a perfect world you should receive a nice mix of MS63 to MS64 common date Morgan dollars at a fair price. However, the term “Choice” has no definitive grade range and so a disreputable dealer can be less than honest when selecting your “Choice” purchase. “Select”, “Gem”, High End” and all those other descriptive terms we run into have no specific numerical equivalent either.

Because these descriptive terms have been in use at least since the beginning of modern coin collecting (some of the earliest American auction catalogs from the 1850’s contain them), you can reasonably expect a certain level of quality when these terms are used. Generally:

“BU” or “Select BU” would indicate a range of MS60 to MS62.

“Choice BU” in the range of MS63 to 64.

“Gem BU” in the range of MS65 or higher.

Again, by no means is any equivalency between  numerical and descriptive grading written in stone. When you accept an offer involving descriptive grading, you need to be aware that the level of quality you receive is open to the dealer’s interpretation of that term and it may differ greatly from your own. The best investment you can make to avoid ugly surprises when purchasing coins sight unseen is to educate yourself and learn how to grade. Below are three excellent guides to help you!

MAKING THE GRADE: Comprehensive Grading Guide for U.S. Coins

ANA Grading Standards for United States Coins: American Numismati Association (Official American Numismatic Association Grading Standards for United States Coins)

Photograde: Official Photographic Grading Guide for United States Coins, 19th Edition


And Now A Word From John Kraljevich…

1834 Half Cent obvMany of you are probably already familiar with John Kraljevich. John is a professional numismatist, researcher, and cataloger specializing in early American coinage and ephemera. In addition he is a very entertaining individual. If you haven’t visited John’s website, http://jkamericana.com, you are truly missing out on an excellent place to land for an afternoon.

In the April 28, 2008 issue of CoinWorld John wrote an article entitled “Understanding Context”. I can remember thinking how much this article mirrored my own philosophy of coin collecting, and how much more eloquently John explained it than I could. John has graciously allowed me to reprint that article here, a perfect fit for Numistories. Thanks John!

“Archaeologists are obsessive about context. While an object may be interesting, when divorced from its context even the best object is but a stepchild. In archaeological terms, context means all the stuff that surrounds an object – where in the ground it was found, what that patch of ground has to do with the patches of ground around it, the depth of the find and thus the approximate era of its deposit, and more.

Collectors tend to be of a different mind – it’s all about the object. A coin is to be enjoyed because of, for lack of a better term, its “coinness” – its condition and designs and legends and metal and color and everything else collectors might enjoy about a coin. A story is nice, but the vast majority of collectible coins  – even those from the historically rich early American era – tell only a brief story.

Through my own collecting and interaction with collectors, I’ve found that placing a bit of context with the coins immeasurably enriches the objects.

The most obvious context is the broad historical narrative surrounding them. Knowing about the provisions in the Articles of Confederation allowing Connecticut to coin its own coppers, knowing about the proportion of British halfpence in circulation, and understanding the profit-center economics of coining underweight coppers all add to the story. Having a “hook” with a human connection makes the story even better, such as knowing that the Connecticut copper may well have been struck with copper misappropriated from the federal government and originally intended for the production of Fugio coppers.

Such stories make the coin a bit more alive, make it into a genuine historical bookmark allowing the owner to open the correct page in the long saga of American history.

What kind of stuff can collectors of early American numismatic items place with their coins to further provide historical context?

Some collectors are fond of collecting almanacs, particularly those that state the value of one type of coin in reference to another. While we seek to uplift our coins, sometimes returning our coins to their natural habitats as low-down, dirty pocket change make their history come truly alive. If you can, read Colonial-era newspapers and other contemporary documents. Seek out other objects that may further shed light on the world your coins inhabited.

Seeing the context can make your coin collecting become much more fun and rewarding.

The Jefferson Davis “Death to Traitors” Medal

1861JDOne comes across some very interesting things at a coin show. And after years of traveling to different shows and meeting the many interesting characters that make up the world of coin dealers, one comes to expect the odd and seldom seen from certain of these gentlemen (and ladies). One of these is John Kraljevich. John is younger than you would expect when envisioning a “coin dealer”, but his depth of knowledge of all things common or esoteric belies his lack of years. Take a look at John’s website, jkamericana.com , and you will get some idea of the breadth of John’s expertise.

So last year at a coin show in Buffalo, New York I came to John’s table, knowing full well that he would have amazing things I had never seen before, from contemporary counterfeit Spanish coins to huge, thick medals commemorating some 19th century camera club event. Seriously, check the archives on his site! Anyway, on this occasion I spotted this little brass coin with a depiction of a hanged man on the obverse with “Jefferson Davis” above and the date “1861” below. On the reverse was the legend “Death to Traitors” in three lines. Being a history nut and not really having anything from the Civil War era, I was smitten. I could even overlook the unsightly hole drilled clear through the coin at 12 o’clock.

Well John was a busy man and I didn’t want to take up his time by grilling him when others were vying for his time. We had met on a few previous occasions so I said hello, good to see you, plunked down my money and happily went on my way with my new acquisition.

Fast forward to a couple of days later and my first opportunity to sit down and research my purchase. Just out of curiosity, I drop by John’s website and there is my coin! In John’s inimitable style, he had written this thought provoking description:

“A scarce and popular medalet from the dawn of the Civil War, showing President Jefferson Davis hanging on the obverse, a scene that wins some sort of numismatic prize for lack of subtlety…a specimen like this must hide an interesting story of a vociferous Unionist, perhaps a soldier, who was so moved by this medalet that he wore it for what must have been most of the conflict.”

How’s that for an interesting description? A little more research brought some enlightening background to the manufacturer of this piece. From www.americanhistoy.si.edu :

“This medal was made by the Scovill Manufacturing Company of Waterbury, CT around 1861. The Scovill Company was established in 1802 as a button manufacturer that is still in business today. Scovill was an early industrial American innovator, adapting armory manufacturing processes to mass produce a variety of consumer goods including buttons, daguerreotype mats, and medals. This medal was struck in reaction to the secession of the Confederacy and the election of its President, Jefferson Davis.”

At your next show, be on the lookout for dealers like John. Your collecting interests can take a new and fascinatingly dramatic turn!

A Tetradrachm of Philip “the Arab”

Philip I tetradrachmMarcus Julius Verus Philippus had a checkered past. According to Edward Gibbon (“The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”), Philip was “an Arab by birth, and…a robber by profession.” Whether robber or no, his Arabic background is factual, as he was the son of an Arab chieftain named Marinus, and hailed from the provincial Arab town of Trachonitis.

As a deputy praetorian prefect in the army of Gordian III, in 243 he purposely roused the army against Gordian by blaming him for a scarcity of food. Gordian’s death followed these allegations and Philip was promptly hailed as the next emperor by the eastern troops. Questions quickly arose as to Philip’s role in Gordian’s demise, but Philip’s insistence to the Roman Senate that Gordian died of natural causes, as well as his proposal that Gordian be deified, established a friendly relationship with the Senate which proceeded to recognize his claim to the throne.

After concluding a hasty peace with Shapur I of Persia, Philip quickly proceeded to Rome where he was well received by the Senate and the populous. He wasted no time in establishing his legitimacy. His son Philip II was declared Caesar, his wife Otacilia Severa was granted the title of Augusta, and Philip’s late father Marinus was venerated on a series of coinage.

For the next three years (245-247) Philip was occupied by numerous invasions by the Carpi and German tribes on the Danubian frontier. At about the time the above coin was minted, Philip celebrated a crushing victory over the Dacian Carpi and began preparations for the 1000th anniversary celebration of the founding of Rome.

The glory was short lived. Philip’s empire was besieged by pretenders to the throne. On the Danube, Pacatian arose to claim the purple, and in the east, Jotapian had won the hearts of the army. Philip became deeply alarmed, lost confidence in his own ability to rule, and called the Senate to offer his resignation. Though both Pacatian and Jotapian were soon murdered by their own men, Philip remained unable to act.

To restore order, Philip promoted the city prefect Trajanus Decius to commander in chief of the forces of Moesia and Pannonia. Decius established control over the frontier by the end of 248. As a result his troops demanded his accession to the throne. Decius protested but Philip was soon on the march to put him down. In poor health, Philip fell in battle at Verona along with his son in June of 249.


This coin is a nice representation of the principal denomination in the eastern Roman provinces of the third century, the tetradrachm. This denomination originally contained a small percentage of silver, enough to give it the appearance of a silver coin. However, all traces of precious metal had long since disappeared by the time this coin was produced and was now composed mainly of copper with some tin or even lead present.

Notice that the inscriptions surrounding the obverse and reverse devices are in Greek rather than Latin. It was common practice for the Roman provinces to retain their native language and customs, including their own local religious practices. Provincial Roman coins frequently depict Greek, Syrian, and other local deities. The subject matter on Roman provincial coinage is very diverse and can provide years of challenge and enjoyment for little cost!

A Numistories Quiz and Giveaway!

R8 q113


Hugh Bodell is a friend of mine who creates quizzes for publication in the Early American Coppers (EAC) Region 8 newsletter for which I write. He has graciously allowed me to reproduce one of his quizzes here for the first  Numistories Giveaway! Here’s how it works:

Have a look at the above coin and answer the following questions:

1. This is:

a) an early date

b) an over date

c) a draped bust

d) all of the above

2. What variety is this?

3. What hair style is this?

Whoever submits the correct answers by March 15th wins issues 256 through 261 (all the issues from 2010!) of the EAC  publication Penny-Wise. Each issue runs around 60 pages and is full of excellent articles on colonial and early American copper coinage. It’s a great introduction to the world of EAC. In the event of a tie, the winner will be drawn from the pool of correct submissions.

Simply fill out the form below and submit your answers before 3/15/13. Good luck!

Your Name (required)

Your Email (required)

Your Answers


Roman Coins Unearthed In Farmer’s Field

CC Image courtesy of AJoStone on Flickr

Claire Cavanagh is a writer for The Royal Mint in the UK. Recently, she submitted this article and has graciously allowed us to share. Who among us hasn’t dreamt of discovering treasure hidden for hundreds or even thousands of years? It’s easier said than done over here in the States, but the long numismatic history of Western Europe affords the metal detectorist far more opportunity. Claire provides us with this exciting example!

Trudging around in muddy fields come rain or shine may not be everybody’s idea of a good time, but everybody in the coin collecting community owes a lot to those with a passion for metal detecting. Without them, we wouldn’t have half of the amazing ancient coin discoveries that we all love to hear about. The latest great finding comes from the English county of Yorkshire, where Edward Bailey made the sort of finding that every metal detecting enthusiast dreams of.

In a farmer’s field in Sheffield, Yorkshire, Edward unearthed five silver coins from the Roman era. After handing the coins over to the British Museum, they have been identified as silver denarii from the Roman republic. Experts state that the oldest of the coins dates from somewhere between 211BC and 120BC, and are thought to have been lost or perhaps hidden in the field at some point after 74AD. This means that the coins have been in the ground for a staggering 1,939 years.

Denarii were the main coins of the Roman Empire during the republic. The word for a singular coin, denarius comes from the Latin dēnī, which means ‘containing ten’. This is because the denarius had a value equal to ten asses (the lesser value coins of the Roman era, made first from bronze and later from copper). Allegedly, the need for a silver coin came following Roman contact with the Ancient Greeks, and the denarius was styled in a similar way to the Greek coins of the time. Early versions of the coins, struck around 269BC, weighed around 6.8 grams and were not commonly used in Rome. Following an overhaul of the coin system in 211BC however, the new denarii became the most important coins of the empire. The coins struck during this period had their silver content and weight gradually lowered, but on average weighed around 4.5 grams. The coins found in the farmer’s field are thought to be from this post-211BC period.

To put the value of the five coins into contemporary perspective, historians claim that one denarius would be the average daily wage for an unskilled worker or a soldier in the first century AD. The five coins discovered therefore were not a great fortune at the time when they settled into the ground; yet their value today is a very different story. In February of this year, the coins were officially declared treasure by the British Museum. Under the Treasure Act of 1996, which outlines what is to be done to any treasure discovered in Britain, the coins are now the property of the Crown. The Act also states that the finder of the treasure, as well as the owner of the land on which said treasure is found are both entitled to a reward. In compliance with this, a financial reward has been awarded both to Edward Bailey and the farmer, Raymond Woolley.

The coins’ discovery, in June of last year, came just months after another exciting excavation in the UK. In March 2012, over 30,000 silver coins were unearthed by archaeologists in the historic city of Bath. The hoard, discovered on the site of a new hotel, was the largest found from a Roman settlement in Britain – and was the fifth largest ever found in the country. However, these coins were dated from the third century AD and so were not quite as impressive in terms of age as those found in Sheffield. 


This article was written by Claire Cavanagh on behalf of The Royal Mint.


Twitter: ClaireCavanagh



Counterstamped Coins – The References

Ever since I brought up the topic of counterstamped (or countermarked) coins in my earlier blog post, Counterstamped Coins – Twice The History, the responses, questions and comments have flooded in. Apparently there is a large following of this very interesting sub-genre of collecting, and a severe lack of material on the subject. At least, that’s what I understand from the responses that I’ve received. Counterstamped coins were never a focus of my own collecting. They were always more of a curiosity, something occasionally encountered at a show or shop, an enigmatic circle of copper or silver that someone long ago put their name or business to in an effort to drum up some business.

When I acquired my old Sloop Halfpenny it lay in my collection for quite some time before the research bug bit me and I began searching for T.F. Haywood. The inspiration came from an article by Q. David Bowers which appeared in “The Token: America’s Other Money”, a collection of essays published by the American Numismatic Society in 1994. Bowers’ 48 page contribution entitled “Two Coins In One: Large Cents With Interesting Counterstamps” was the only information I had found dealing with these interesting artifacts. When the responses started coming in regarding the posts I had written about counterstamps, I knew many people would probably appreciate some direction in their pursuit of more information on the topic. Here’s what I’ve found. Happy hunting!

1. American and Canadian Countermarked Coins by Gregory C. Brunk

This is THE countermark reference. When you find a counterstamped coin for sale by a reputable dealer, you find a reference to Brunk. A hard to find reference, most easily found in your local library. Copies can occasionally be found on Amazon or eBay. If you are having particular difficulty locating a copy, contact publisher Rich Hartzog at exonumia.com. Historical information and a comprehensive price guide are features of the newest edition. Also check for the title “Merchant and Privately Countermarked Coins: Advertising On The World’s Smallest Billboards”.

2. Merchant Counterstamps on American Silver Coins by Maurice M. Gould

A short, descriptive volume on the counterstamps common on early American and Spanish silver coins.

3. World Countermarks on Medieval and Modern Coins: An Anthology by Gregory C. Brunk

An excellent hardcover anthology, 400 pages in length, showcasing articles from the venerable publication “The Numismatist”. If you are a true counterstamp addict, or just a newbie wanting all the relevant backgrounf information on this subject, dive into this one!

4.The Token: America’s Other Money, edited by Richard G. Doty, Coinage of the America’s Conference #10

This is a sweet little hardback with essays by many of the greats of numismatics covering topics from encased postage advertising to advertising tokens and counterstamps. The pertinent essay by Bowers begins on page 65 and runs for the next 48 pages, shedding light on many aspects og the counterstamp how, why and who.

The historical implications of these coins is overwhelming. Be sure to read my adventure in discovering the identity of T.F. Haywood in my previous post, link provided above. If you truly want to broaden your collecting horizons, this area of numismatics is for you!

5 More Essential Books for Your Colonial Coin Library

If you enjoyed part 1 of this post last month, then be warned that we’re about to get even more esoteric. We covered some great general references in part 1 and now it’s time to look at some specific attribution guides for specific coin series’. In the world of eBay these guides can be very beneficial in scoring rare varieties at great prices. Knowledge IS power!

Also be warned that some of these books are difficult to locate. Where possible, I have provided links to the sites where you might find them available, but because of their very limited printings, they typically disappear quickly.

1. New Jersey Coppers by Michael Demling

I’m very partial to New Jersey coppers. This book has been an incredible help to me over the last year. Mike Demling’s attribution technique and large photos make this volume a huge improvement over the Maris guide which was published back in 1881. Long overdue, you can’t find a better guide to this fascinating series. Click on the above title for a review and ordering info.

2. A Historical Sketch of the Coins of New Jersey by Edward Maris

Also known as “The State Coinage of New Jersey” in recent reprints, this was the first ever numismatic publication on the coppers of New Jersey. Originally published back in 1881, the volume has gone through many versions but is very difficult to track down. Though somewhat overshadowed by Michael Demling’s new book, Maris’ effort is very interesting for its historical value and huge attribution plate depicting 140 obverse and reverse combinations.

3. The Copper Coins of Vermont and Those Bearing the Vermont Name by Tony Carlotto

Unfortunately, this is one volume I don’t own. What I can say is that Tony Carlotto is a highly respected member of the Colonial Coin Collector Club, or C4, and at 218 pages, this book is considered THE definitive guide to Vermont coppers.

4. The State Coinage of Connecticut by Henry C. Miller

This one is tough to track down but the above site link occasionally has the hardback version in stock at a great price. Miller allows the Connecticut copper lover to make sense of the hundreds (yes, hundreds!) of varieties through identification of the many odd and interesting punctuations between words in the obverse and reverse legends. A must have if you’re into Connecticuts!

5. The Copper Coins of Massachusetts by Hillyer Ryder

Originally published in 1920, this short 11 page guide can be found as a decent reprint. As the first American coins to be designated as “cents” (and half cents) this is a neat series with some interesting varieties.

5 Essential Books for Your Colonial Coin Library, Part I

Easton, Pennsylvania, 1783. You are frustrated. Your paper currency, issued by your “government”, has been deemed almost worthless by the merchants in your state. Continental Currency is worth a fraction of face value, and many merchants refuse to accept it. The New Jersey border is just a few miles away and, thankfully, your currency has a little more purchasing power over there. That’s right. The states regulate the value of your national currency. And if you’re only hard currency consists of local copper issues, chances are they’re counterfeit. If not, it may require 24, 30, or even 32 to the shilling rather than the English standard of 12. The only safe money is Spanish silver. But that’s about to change.

Fast forward 230 years to 2012, and you’ve been bitten by “the copper bug”. Half cents, large cents, Hard Times tokens, these are your fascination. You have delved into the banking crisis of the 1830’s, the copper coinage that saw the burning of Washington during the War of 1812, and the first efforts of the Philadelphia mint in its 18th century infancy. What came before? Here’s my top 10 books to bring colonial coin collecting to life.

The Early Coins of America by Sylvester S. Crosby

First published in 1873, this book was the standard reference to the colonial genre for decades. This is not an attribution guide, but a solid introduction to the coinage of colonial America. Each series is described in detail with extensive historical background provided as well. An essential reference that is still a must for the collector 140 years later.

Money of the American Colonies and Confederation (Numismatic Studies (ANSNS))

Here is a book that places pre Federal coinage in its historical, political and economic context, providing a deep understanding of the environment in which our national coinage was shaped. An essential volume for the collector who is dissatisfied with simply owning a a group of round pieces of metal and wants to gain a better appreciation of the coins and their time.

Whitman Encyclopedia of Colonial and Early American Coins

Back in January of 2010 I did a review on this excellent book by one of my favorite authors, Q. David Bowers. For more on this reference, here’s the link!

John Hull, the Mint and the Economics of Massachusetts Coinage

Louis Jordan provides us with a clear interpretation of the daily operation of the Massachusetts mint established in 1652. His sources include John Hull’s actual ledgers which provide incredible insight to Hull’s business practices, the economic environment of the time, and the productivity and profitability he was able to establish. One can also gain an understanding of the role Spanish silver played in 17th century North America and the obstacles Hull had to overcome to compete with this most popular medium of exchange.

In Yankee Doodle’s Pocket, the Myth, Magic, and Politics of Money in Early America

Here’s one I don’t own…yet! I do know from viewing the table of contents and a few reviews that this has something for everyone. From beaver pelts and wampum to the advent of steam coinage in 1830, any lover of colonial coinage OR colonial history should be able to find a topic of interest in this 541 page reference. If you’re a newcomer to the money of America’s colonies, this should be a great place to start!

That wraps up Part I of my essential books for your Colonial coin library. You’ll notice that the above 5 books give a broad view of the coins and their times. In Part II we will look at some specific attribution guides to help you identify those rare and not so rare varieties of your colonial coin series of choice!




Roman or Greek? Yes!

How best to broach the subject of provincial coinage? It’s a topic with no real clear cut distinctions that creates a lot of confusion among ancient coin collectors (collectors of ancient coins, not ancient collectors of coins!). Let’s tackle the question by starting with the above coin. This bronze was minted sometime between 196 and 146 B.C. by a federation of cities in the Roman province of Achaea, which closely approximates modern day Greece. This group of cities was known as the Thessalian League. Though a Roman province, the iconography of this bronze is all Greek: the obverse features a diademed head of Apollo while the reverse depicts Athena advancing to the right holding a shield and brandishing a spear. Even the legends of the coin are in Greek, denoting the issuing magistrate, Philokrates, and the region, Thessaly.

So why is a Roman coin from a Roman province covered in Greek letters and gods? The simple answer: the Romans were not dummies.

First, some history. In Michael Grant’s “A Guide to the Ancient World” he explains how the Thessalian League existed long before the Roman conquest. Around 400 B.C. a powerful state was created through the cooperation of several separate cities. This league of cities fell quickly under the conquest of Alexander the Great but was reorganized by the Romans around 196 B.C. This Thessalian League was empowered to issue its own federal currency. And, like I said, the Romans were not dummies. They knew that you don’t create productive citizens by crushing their culture and imposing your own.

Provincial coinage illustrates this. The diversity of subjects on provincial coins mirrors the cultural diversity of the people they served. Rather than bury the people living in their outlying territories with Roman gods and Roman language, the empire slowly integrated the colonies while allowing them to maintain their own history.

Provincial coinage is a very interesting subject and can be extremely rewarding to study and collect. See Wayne G. Sayles’ book “Ancient Coin Collecting IV” for more info!

Constantine II- A Question of Seniority

It was definitely a bad idea for the older brother to pick on his younger siblings in the case of Constantine II. But before we discuss the hapless case of the eldest son of Constantine the Great and his second wife, Fausta, let’s turn our attention to the coin.

This particular follis was struck in 332 A.D. at the Lugdunum mint, known today as Lyons, France. The portrait shows a young Constantine II facing right in military cuirass and crowned with a laurel wreath denoting his rank as Caesar. His name surrounds, followed by his rank in abbreviate form. On the reverse, two soldiers face each other holding shields and spears with two military standards between. The Latin inscription around translates to the “Glory of the Army” with the mint and symbol for the fifth officina appearing below.

Constantine II was embarking on his illustrious military career at the ripe age of 16 when this coin was manufactured. Having been allotted the territories of Gaul, Britain, and Spain, Constantine II was installed at Trevirorum (Trier) in 328 to guard the Rhine frontier. In 332 the Sarmatians appealed to his father, Constantine I the Great, for assistance against the invading Visigoths, led by Alaric I. Constantine II was victorious in the ensuing engagements that continued into 334, earning himself the title “Germanicus”.

His younger brother Constans had been declared Caesar in 333, assuming control of the territories of Italy, Pannonia, and North Africa. However, Constantine II was named regent over Constans due to Constans’ minority (he was only 12 or 13 at the time of his ascension). Upon their father’s death in 337, a looming rivalry for the imperial throne began to make itself evident.

338 saw the three surviving sons of Constantine I the Great, now co-Emperors of the Roman empire, at the center of a growing territorial dispute. A meeting was held to finalize their respective borders resulting in additional territory coming under Constans’ control, while Constantine II’s holdings remained the same. It is said that Constans ceded Constantinople to his brother Constantius II in return for his support against Constantine II. Whatever the case, in 340 Constantine II took advantage of the absence of Constans from Italy and decided to invade. He was defeated by the combined forces of Constantius II and Constans at Aquileia, losing his life in an ambush by a group of Constans’ Illyrian troops.

Your Guide to the Standard Reference Books on Early American Copper: The Top Ten

For the uninitiated, the world of early American copper can be a confusing place. The fledgling United States was decidedly behind their European contemporaries in minting technology and resources. The Philadelphia mint suffered for lack of good die steel, quality planchets, and skilled labor. As a result, those of us who collect the half cents and large cents of the late 18th and early 19th centuries have a vast number of distinct varieties to draw our attention. Consider: the 1794 large cent alone has 58 different varieties!

Luckily there are many excellent standard references to assist us in navigating the myriad possibilities open to us in this fascinating field of numismatics. Here are the meat and potatoes books to illuminate your path.

1.The Half Cent Die State Book 1793-1857

Since its publication in 2000, this volume has become THE half cent attribution book. Each variety is illustrated with multiple plates and individual die states are described for each variety as well. The research is far superior to Breen.

2. Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of United States Half Cents, 1793-1857

For a complete review of this book, see my review post here.

3. American half cents, the “little half sisters”: A reference book on the United States half cent coined from 1793 to 1857

This was the original attribution guide for U.S. half cents. Somewhat obsolete, the volume still has much merit and should be a part of every half cent lover’s library if for no other reason than to compare and contrast with the newer references.


Published in 2001 in collaboration with Del Bland and Mark Borckardt, this is by far the most current reference for early large cents. Not only are all known varieties illustrated and described but there are also many additional chapters on minting technology, mint errors, and much more.

5. United States Large Cents 1793 – 1814

From EAC: “A revision of Sheldon’s “Penny Whimsy”. Updated rarity ratings and condition census data for all varieties. Contains approximately a dozen new varieties not in Penny Whimsy. Superb 3 inch diameter plates of obverse and reverse of each variety with lots of additional plates for important die states.”

6. Penny Whimsy

The standard reference on early date large cents from 1958 until the Noyes update. Still very adequate today, though some newly discovered varieties are not represented.

7. United States Large Cents 1816 – 1839

Like his early date volume, this reference features huge 3 inch diameter plates of the obverse and reverse of every middle date variety. The Noyes books make attribution easy. Rarity ratings and condition census data are also a plus.

8. The Cent Book 1816 – 1839

This is my middle date reference of choice, simply because I’m so familiar with it. Like Noyes, every variety is illustrated front and back by large 3 inch photos. Historical information is plentiful and the included quick finder section is simple and easy to use. General condition census info and updated rarity ratings are included.

9. Attribution Guide for United States Large Cents 1840-1857 by John R. Grellman & Jules Riever

Unfortunately, I cannot locate a copy of this book to review it properly. However, every late date collector I know highly recommends it.

10. The Die Varieties of United States Large Cents, 1840-1957

Again, from EAC: “A 400+ page book which greatly improves upon the Newcomb book by the use of high quality line drawings for each variety. Contains much more descriptive data on each variety than found in Newcomb. One full page is devoted to each variety. Attribution of late date large cents has been greatly simplified by the use of this book.”

Hopefully this will help fuel interest in the early copper coinage of the United States. Next week we will discuss some of the important references available to those with a colonial bent. Colonial coinage has been gaining in popularity over the last 3 to 5 years and there are still some very affordable areas in which to concentrate your interest. If you love early American history and want to become a caretaker of these relics of our past, arm yourself with this knowledge. Enjoyment awaits!

A Counterstamped Sloop

Some years ago I received this Upper Canada halfpenny token as part of a trade. The “T.F. Haywood” counterstamp was very intriguing and has afforded me many hours of speculation.

So now we jump forward to the last month or so and the fortuitous discovery of some excellent antique references. What follows is the result of my recent research. Let’s take a trip to the Great Lakes region of the 1830’s:

Around the time Queen Victoria was about to ascend the throne of England, Canada’s merchants and shopkeepers began issuing fractional currency in response to the suspension of specie by local banks. The public became less and less accepting of these bills, as the varying quality and dizzying variety only compounded the small change problem.

It is here that we meet Mr. T.D. Harris, a Toronto hardware dealer whose firm was known by the “sign of the Anvil and Sledge”. The business had been started in 1829 under the name John Watkins & Co., Harris being the “& Co.”, and in 1832 the firm assumed the name Watkins & Harris.

Watkins & Harris was the only firm in Toronto to issue fractional currency notes, or shinplasters, but other businesses were circulating copper and brass tokens with success. Recognizing the greater practicality of hard currency rather than the quickly worn out paper alternative, Watkins & Harris began issuing what are now commonly known as “Sloop Halfpennies” sometime between 1832 and 1840.

We get corroboration of this fact from “The Canadian Antiquarian and Numismatic Journal”, vol. 8-9: “The one masted vessel on the Sloop Halfpenny was Mr. Oates’ Duke of Richmond packet, taken as a symbol of the traffic and commerce on Lake Ontario. In the newspapers of the period there was at the head of the Richmond’s advertisement a rude woodcut of the vessel, and this was copied as a device upon the copper piece…this token was issued, I believe, by the Messrs. Watkins and Harris, hardware merchants at Toronto…”

Descriptions of the known varieties of the Sloop Halfpenny series can be found in the 1881 edition of the “American Journal of Numismatics”, vol.14-16, pp.37-38. The revealing remarks between descriptions shed further light on these coppers:

“Those who put into circulation these tokens, although they found their illegal issue a profitable undertaking, assumed the role of public benefactors by such inscriptions as “commercial change”, “to facilitate trade”, and the like”.

“These sloop halfpennies had an extensive circulation in Upper Canada, and from the many different reverses, it would appear that more than one firm was connected with their issue.”

“The commerce of Lake Ontario was almost entirely carried on in sloops; larger vessels were nearly unknown on its waters. This design was therefore popular on that account”.

So there we have the origin of the Sloop Halfpenny token of Upper Canada. But what of T.F. Haywood? For this we turn to “The Fisheries of the Great Lakes” by Frederick W. True, 1880. The Haywood family were successful boatbuilders, so successful in fact that their boats were actually referred to as “Haywoods”. T.F. Haywood was undoubtedly a predecessor of Mr. O.P. Haywood, who is described as having a particularly hard time selling his boats in 1880 because “…the fishermen have been too poor to invest in them. He has, however, the reputation of being the best boatbuilder on the lakes.”

The enterprising Mr. Haywood found an excellent advertising medium for his boatbuilding industry by counterstamping the popular and extensively circulating Sloop tokens. Now the only question that remains: why is this token dated 1820 when Watkins & Harris didn’t begin coining tokens until after 1832?

Remember the series of posts on the Massachusetts silver of 1652 posted here some time ago? Though Massachusetts produced silver coinage well into the 1670’s, almost all were dated 1652 to circumvent England’s laws against privately issued coinage. It seems our neighbors to the north weren’t averse to a little deception either. Once again local economies provided for the needs of the public despite oppressive laws against aspects of colonial independence.

Bonding With Our Coins by James Higby

Image courtesy of auctionshelp.com

This story comes from fellow Early American Coppers member James Higby. His experiences mirror our own as we become custodians of our little pieces of history. This article originally appeared in the March 2008 issue of Penny-Wise, the quarterly EAC newsletter, and is reprinted with the permission of Early American Coppers, Inc.

There I sat, toward the end of the first day of a two-day show, having found nothing for the
collection. Even Tom Reynolds’s copper stock, always broad and deep, had failed to yield any
needed variety, at least in the way-down-low state of preservation to which I have had to resort
in these latter days of collection-building. Tom had a corner setting at this particular show, with
what I call his “cheap seats” (where I was firmly ensconced) down the aisle, and his more
stratospheric items on the endcap table. Just for fun, I craned my neck over to the more pricey
Boardwalk/Park Place area, where he also displays his slabs, and, squinting mightily, thought I
spied an item that had twice eluded me in the past – a silver dollar bearing the mystical date of
1799. The more recent of those second-place finishes had found me on cellphone hold with a
favorite dealer, who, when he came back to my call and heard what I wanted, had to tell me that
he wished I had initiated my call 13 seconds sooner. Yes, there I sat, remembering all that, and
loaded for bear.

The chairs at Tom’s end table were occupied, so he obliged my request that he get it out of
the case for me. What a beauty it was in its PCGS holder, with its original color and surfaces,
plus a delightful array of die cracks here and there on the obverse (did I just now prematurely
betray that I brought it home with me?)! I quickly became oblivious to my surroundings, going
over the coin again and again, as Bill Noyes advises in the introduction to his books, to find any
and all defects that might be there. I must have flipped the slab between obverse and reverse two
dozen times, before another EAC member and friend sitting next to me leaned over and wryly
observed, “You’re bonding with that coin, aren’t you?” That was the first time I had ever been
asked that question. I responded with another question: “How did you know?” “I recognize the
look,” was his answer.

Suddenly a host of questions coursed through my mind: Was I sweating, or worse, drooling?
Could he somehow detect my elevated adrenaline level from afar? Were my increased pulse and
blood pressure observable from the outside? Was I [gasp] breathing heavily? Or babbling
meaningless syllables? Was I “sugaring the strawberries,” as the French refer to tremors of the
hands? Was I humming my college fight song without realizing it? No, a quick check answered
in the negative to all. But I’m still not really sure. In any event, thanks to Jeff Noonan for
identifying and naming this phenomenon and inspiring this essay.

All of us have probably observed it in others, even if we are not aware of it in ourselves. We
have watched someone else sitting at a dealer’s table, mulling over a potential purchase,
justifying and rationalizing until the decision is made. Some of these potential buyers maintain a
constant patter of verbal interchange with themselves and with the dealer, while others, such as I,
contemplate the purchase in silence. The painful part, handing over the wad of greenbacks or
writing out the check, is mercifully over in practically no time, and the coin is now his/ours. We
then relive the many times we have gone through the exact same sequence of activity in adding a
coin to our collection. Into a secure place in the coin bag it goes, along with assorted other things
that have attracted our fancy at the show. When it’s time to go home, the coin bag is kept close at
hand, just in case we have an opportunity to cop a quick glance at our new treasure while sitting
at a red light or other suitable time. The bonding continues…

It seems that the return to the home domicile is always accompanied by many distractions:
wife and kids to greet, mail to sort through, dog to wrestle with, voice mail to triage, weekend
“work” emails (don’t those guys ever take a day off?) and plumbing emergencies to handle. “Oh,
and your Mom called, twice. She didn’t say what she wanted.” As we go about the fulfillment of
these obligations, we do not forget that a fresh bonding session eventually awaits us. But it may
be hours before we can get back to the coin cache, or, if it was a Sunday show, maybe days.

Ah, finally, it’s Wednesday evening, the most urgent obligations of the work week have been
dispatched, the kids are off to jobs and music lessons, we’re caught up on at least some of the
reading material, and find ourselves in the sole company of Fido, now fed and pottied and
contentedly chewing on a rawhide bone. We remember the treasures we brought home from that
now long-ago weekend coin show. We rescue the coin bag from behind some things that have
accumulated in front of it: our bowling bag from Monday evening, our briefcase containing work
we really should be doing instead of looking at coins, and our son’s guitar case that he just didn’t
have time to put away. But once we dig into the special compartment reserved for the latest
acquisitions and carefully draw them out, we know we’re in for a pleasant evening.

Old copper coins are such easy things to bond with! Perhaps more than any other early
American coins, they have both the look and feel of times gone by. The fact that they were used
by rich and common people alike adds to their appeal. Far from being flashy, they look humble
themselves, sometimes worthy of our pity as much as our admiration. Unaffected by the current
spot price of bullion, they have to stand entirely on their own merit. But there was that something
about these coppers from the show that especially attracted our attention, so we afford them extra
time. We wonder if Lady Liberty feels the same about us as we feel about her.

When I have several new coins to look at in a single session, I like to get them all out and
arrange them in some sort of symmetrical pattern on the top of my desk and under the bright
lamp. I try to include some of my older acquisitions so that they will all get to know each other
better. Doing so emphasizes the spectacular range of colors that old copper takes on, and the less
attractive ones are somehow acquitted of the charges against them and validated by their
acceptance into the company of the nicer pieces. After all, they might just have feelings, and I
wish all my coins to feel good about themselves while they are in my custody.

So, I bond with them. The more I do it, the easier it becomes, for me and for them. As coins
become harder and harder to locate and buy, the realization grows that I might be coming closer
to the time when new purchases are fewer and farther between, all the more reason to fall more
deeply in love with the ones I have managed to make part of my life. At some future time each of
us will purchase our “last” coin, usually without knowing that it is our “last.” Perhaps more true
than with any other series, we buy our coppers less for financial gain, and more for highly
emotional reasons. Thus should we gather our coppers while we may, and make it a point to find
the time to spend with them and strengthen the bond we have made with them across the

Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of United States Half Cents

In last week’s post, “An 1809 Half Cent from eBay“, I mentioned as my attribution guide “Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of United States Half Cents”. Published in 1983 and weighing in at almost seven pounds (!), this book is an excellent update to the original half cent book by Roger S. Cohen, “American Half Cents, the Little Half Sisters”.

The main strength of this book is of course the illustration and description of each known variety, organized by date and cross referenced to earlier works. Each variety commands multiple pages and plates. Not only are the variety markers described but die states are also illustrated along with easy to follow descriptions. Breen also provides rarity ratings for each variety and die state, condition census information, and auction appearances for the finest known specimens.

Breen’s chapters on minting technology, the literature that was published prior to this book, and the history behind the half cent are excellent reading, even if some of the information is out of date. Breen wrote in a very readable and conversational style, to the point that you can envision a sly sideways glance that would probably follow a particular statement.

For all its positive points there are a couple of drawbacks. Breen’s habit of speculating when source material is lacking or absent is apparent, though this doesn’t detract from the attribution portion of the book. In addition, the auction records and rarity ratings are somewhat dated. One needs to keep in mind that this book was published almost 30 years ago. Subsequent discoveries and new attributions change these statistics over time.

All in all, “Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of United States Half Cents” is an outstanding attribution guide and an entertaining read. It’s also one of the more affordable numismatic volumes at around $50 for a new hardcover copy. If your interest in these fascinating early American coins is new, or if you are a long time collector, this book should be the foundation of your half cent library.


An 1809 Half Cent from eBay

As a break from my usual posts, I thought it might be fun to present a coin and explain my thought process when I was contemplating the purchase. A perfect opportunity presented itself when I recently purchased an 1809 Half Cent that had some problems off of eBay. I’ll also tell you that I overpaid. The best part is I would do it again in a minute. Here’s why!

I was browsing through some early copper auctions on eBay and came across this coin. It was listed with no attribution and no reserve. The seller also made no claims to its grade, rarity, or originality. The seller did however have many previous coin sales and a great satisfaction rating. She also offered a 7 day, no questions asked return service. These are all “must- haves” for me when I decide to turn loose of my cash for something I can only judge by a photo, which in this case was large and of good quality.

From that photo it was obvious that the coin had been cleaned. The surfaces were unnaturally red for a 200 year old coin that had seen a substantial amount of circulation. If you focus on the actual wear present on the high points of the design (hair curls, leaves of the wreath) you can see that the coin is around a low to mid VF. There’s also a scratch traveling diagonally through the I and B in LIBERTY which is fairly well hidden, ending in the hair.

So why did I buy this coin? Well I just happened to have a copy of  “Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of United States Half Cents” (see the Resources page for a link). Breen describes 6 distinct varieties for the 1809 Half Cent, ranging from Rarity 1 (Common, more than 1250 known) to Rarity 6 (Very Rare, 13 to 30 known). From the diagnostics on this coin I attributed it to be the Cohen-2 variety. The ES in STATES is punched higher than STAT and the date is punched close together and straight rather than having the 1 and 8 spaced wide apart. This particular variety is listed as a high Rarity 3, nearly Rarity 4 in the Breen Encyclopedia. A fairly scarce variety!

With shipping I ended up paying about $35 too much if this had been a common variety. But even after knocking the grade down to a Fine-12 for the problems, once I took into account the scarce variety designation, I figure I made a good purchase. In time this Half Cent will tone to a more natural color and I can live with that for the price paid. Knowledge is power!

A World War I Widow’s Gift

Around 1979 or 1980 I traveled to Pensacola, Florida to spend some time with my aunt. She lived in an apartment complex and in the center was a pool for the use of the residents. I remember spending every spare minute either in or next to that pool. Of course it was a huge draw to a 10 year old midwestern boy, but the people who converged there every day were also very interesting.

One particular day I was playing in the pool and all of a sudden I see two huge men that I automatically recognized from television. They were professional  wrestlers who I watched virtually every Sunday. But wait, these guys were deadly enemies, bashing each other with chairs, microphones, announcers, whatever they could get their hands on, every week that I tuned in! How could they possibly be sitting here laughing and drinking beer together? This was very confusing.

But the most interesting person at the pool that summer was a very old woman who always sat in the shade covered to her neck in a big white bathrobe. She never got in the water or took in the sun. No one paid her any attention, no one seemed to notice her. Except my aunt.

So one day my aunt introduced us. The woman, Mary, was very friendly and told me all sorts of wonderful stories. During one of our visits I told her I liked old coins. Mary said she had some old coins her husband brought back from Europe a long time ago and, if I would like to see them, she would bring them to the pool tomorrow. I couldn’t wait!

Tomorrow came and I almost couldn’t stand to wait until the afternoon when Mary usually came to sit beside the pool. When I saw her walking to her table I saw she had a little black box. She emptied the box and out fell coins from Germany, France, Belgium, Russia and places I never heard of! And then she told me a story that any ten year old boy would love.

Mary’s husband had served in World War I in 1917 but for reasons I can’t remember, didn’t return until 1919. They weren’t married until after he returned. The coins had a gruesome history. It seems soldiers didn’t receive their military pay at the front for months at a time. And so, to get by, it was necessary to go through the pockets of the fallen. This box full of coins had come from the corpses of her husband’s enemies because he couldn’t bring himself to take from his allies, even though the money was no longer of use to them.

That summer ended and it came time for me to return to Illinois. My aunt must have told Mary I would be leaving because she came to the apartment and gave me the box full of coins with a Christmas bow on top. 

After 30 years many of those coins have gone to others. A 1868 French 5 Franc piece of Napoleon III was given to a friend. A  5 Kopeck piece issued by Germany during the occupation of Russia in 1916  was a give away for a local coin club. But every time one of those coins left my hands and went to another, I always included Mary’s story.

The Money of King Arthur II: Mercenary Gold


In last week’s post we learned of a 5th century Briton, Riotimus, who was recruited to help defend Roman Gaul from the Visigoths by the Western Roman emperor Anthemius. We have to assume that this arrangement was looked upon by Anthemius as a business agreement between the empire and an army of mercenaries. To think that the emperor of  Western Rome viewed a regional barbarian “King” as an equal, and thus an ally worthy of trade agreements, defense pacts, and other benefits between independent nations, would be hard to justify even though Rome hadn’t had a presence in Britain for almost 50 years.

So what did the payoff consist of? Well, you don’t entice a warlord with 12,000 men at his disposal to cross the ocean with small change. The most likely answer: gold.

Anthemius was fresh to his new post in 468. The worsening situation in Gaul prompted the Eastern Roman emperor Leo I to appoint him emperor of the West in 467, a post that had been vacant since the murder of  Severus III in November of 465. The mints were sure to have begun commemorating  Anthemius’ reign almost immediately after his appointment but this coinage certainly would not have been the most likely to be doled out in payment.

Severus III

In contrast, the gold coinage of Anthemius’ predecessor was relatively plentiful and easily at hand in 468. Severus III was merely a puppet ruler of Ricimer, Master of Soldiers, whose power didn’t extend much past the borders of Italy during his brief tenure of 461 to 465.  Although his legitimacy was never recognized by Leo, Severus did manage to produce coinage at the western mints of Milan and Ravenna during his almost 4 year reign and it is here that we find our first likely candidate for the gold paid to Riotimus and his troops.

Majorian preceded Severus, ruling from April of 457 to August of 461. He was very successful in his dealings with the Visigoths and Burgundians, maintaining an uneasy peace throughout his reign. Unfortunately he was another puppet ruler of Ricimer’s design and, once he had shown a backbone, was eliminated in favor of someone more controllable. Most of Majorian’s surviving coinage are small bronzes, definitely not a respectable payment for an army.

Valentinian III

Now we come to Valentinian III. A ruler over a span of 30 years (425-455) who produced gold coinage at the mints of Rome, Ravenna, and Milan to name but a few. During his reign the Vandals arose as a power in Spain, the Visigoths and Franks were successfully defeated, and the capital of the western empire was moved from Rome to Ravenna. Like most late emperors, he was murdered in what the perpetrators might call a “hunting accident”.

 Years later when it became necessary to pay the British warlord for his services, I speculate that the chest of gold he received contained an abundance of the coinage of Valentinian III from the local western mints. There would be a few from the reign of Severus, Anthemius, and the eastern emperor Leo I. But there is one problem. Jordanes, writing in 551, tells us that Riotimus suffered a humiliating defeat (due to treachery, maybe Mordred?) at the hands of the Visigoths and retreated, never to be heard from again, to the land of the Burgundians. Did he ever return for his chest of gold? You decide.

All photos courtesy of  Wildwinds.com

The Money of King Arthur Pt. I: A Numismatic Prologue

To begin, I should probably define what (or who) I mean by “King Arthur”. Let’s forget about the standard English form of the Arthurian legends. This popular collection of romances was completed by Sir Thomas Malory around 1469 but has nothing to contribute to our quest for the coinage that would have been familiar to the historical “Arthur”.

To make the case for this historical figure, we can start with one of Malory’s earlier sources, Geoffrey of Monmouth. Sometime around 1136 Geoffrey finished his “History of the Kings of Britain”. Now the word “history” in the title should be taken lightly since this History includes early Britain being populated by giants, Trojans, and Saxon eating dragons. But once again we are led to an even earlier source, and here is where things get very interesting.

His name was Sidonius Apollinaris, an aristocrat who lived in south-central Gaul in the 5th century A.D. As luck would have it, Sidonius wrote many letters to prominent Britons and much of his correspondence has survived. It is from these letters that we discover the historical source of Malory’s Arthur.

Remember that Sidonius was alive during the time period he was writing about, unlike Geoffrey or Malory who were writing 700 to 1000 years after the events had occurred. With that in mind, Sidonius tells us that in 467 the Roman Emperor in Constantinople, Leo I, appointed Anthemius the Roman Emperor of the West.  After Valentinian III was murdered in 455, western rulers tended to have short life spans and turnover was frequent. Avitus ruled less than a year. Majorian was assassinated 3 years into his reign. And Majorian’s successor Severus III was poisoned 4 years later in 465.

Euric, king of the Visigoths in Spain, took note of this instability and set his sights on the western Roman territory of Gaul.

In 468 Anthemius sought a British alliance to thwart Euric’s plans of conquest. We have an account from a book by Jordanes, who was writing in 551, less than 100 years after these events. Here is a portion of his account, which I am quoting from Geoffrey Ashe’s 1987 book “The Discovery of King Arthur”:

“Now Euric, King of the Visigoths, perceived the frequent changes of Roman emperors and strove to hold Gaul in his own right. The emperor Anthemius heard of it and asked the Britons for aid. Their King Riotimus came with twelve thousand men into the state of the Bituriges by the way of Ocean, and was received as he disembarked from his ships.”

Here is our Arthur, not in name but in title. Many scholars, past and present, feel that this man is the source. 1000 years of elaboration resulted in the ultimate publication of Malory’s “Le Morte d’Arthur”. And if this is so, we need only look to the Western Roman coinage of the period, roughly 425 to 470 A.D., to imagine what the High King of the Britons carried in his pockets.

See the results of my imagination in my next post!

The Abduction of Europa

Mythology has always played an important role in the iconography portrayed on coinage. One very enduring myth that saw widespread representation on the coins of many eras and cultures was the story of  Europa and her abduction by Zeus.

According to Greek myth, Europa was a Phoenician princess, the daughter of King Agenor of Tyre. One day as she was gathering flowers by the sea, the god Zeus looked down upon her and became enamored with her beauty. Zeus disguised himself as a white bull and descended to mix in with King Agenor’s herds. When Europa saw him, she approached and, seeing that the bull was tame, climbed onto its back. Zeus then leaped into the sea and swam to the island of Crete. Upon arrival, Zeus revealed himself to Europa in his true form and eventually fathered three sons with her.

The first mention of Europa in literature can be found in Homer’s “Iliad” which is generally dated to about the 8th century B.C. The myth is mentioned by numerous sources throughout history including  Herodotus, and the Roman poet Ovid.

With regard to coins, the depiction of Europa being carried away on the back of a bull has been a popular motif almost since the advent of coinage as a medium of exchange. Beginning around the 4th century B.C., this scene has been reproduced on coins of Greece, Rome, and Cyprus just to name a few. And being a native of Phoenicia, Europa of course figured most prominently on the coins of that ancient nation.

The above coin is a bronze from the city of Sidon, Phoenicia dating from the 1st century B.C. On the obverse is the Phoenician god Melqart facing right, possibly the Phoenician equivalent of the Greek Heracles according to Herodotus. On the reverse is the famous scene of Europa in a divine halo seated on the back of Zeus in the form of a bull. Below is the name of the mint city, Sidon, written in Greek. There is another line of text below the mint name and a possible date to the left of the bull but I have yet to decipher them.

Geographically, ancient Phoenicia corresponded approximately to the modern day country of Lebanon. It was a powerful seafaring nation in its heyday, famous for its navy, wine, and purple dye. Sidon was known for its skillful metalworkers as early as the 7th or 8th century B.C. Sidon fell under the sovereignty of the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians in antiquity and was conquered by Alexander III the Great in 333 B.C. The Ptolemies and Seleucids followed as Sidon’s overlords until self government was achieved around 250 B.C.

Around the time this little piece of small change was minted, Pompey the Great of Rome recognized Sidon as a sovereign city-state. Representations of the abduction of Europa continued on Sidon’s coins even after it was assimilated into the Roman Empire under the emperor Elagabalus c.218-222 A.D.

You can still find this myth portrayed on modern day coins, such as the 50 cent coin of 1994 from Cyprus. The Abduction of Europa has endured on coinage for over 2500 years and I’m thinking a collection from ancient to modern times would be a very rewarding endeavor!


Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later. I’m in the process of cleaning up the site after someone had a little fun dropping random site links throughout the text. Regular posts will resume shortly. In the meantime, if you should happen to run across any links that redirect to gamer sites, search sites, “You Win!”, etc., please bring it to my attention. Thanks for your patience!