My first experience with uncleaned coins.

When buying uncleaned coins you never know what you’ll get. Most times the coindealer will give an indication of what you can find: late Romans, Byzantines, Greek,… but you’re never sure! It took me quite a while before I found a dealer who sells Macedonian uncleaned coins. Really, you don’t find those easily! Most uncleaned coins can be bought for about $5 but the dealer I found had put his price on $12. And I was quite happy with that! The higher the price, the higher the quality that can be expected. Uncleaned coins are nothing else than coins that have passed the hands of a dozen dealers and nobody wanted them. This means that “quality” is relative but nonethless important. It’s better to spend a few more dollars for “acceptable” coins than ending with slugs. “Acceptable” is ‘good’ to ‘fine” for cheap uncleaned coins.

I decided to buy three coins and hoped to obtain at least one fine example. I opened the big white “first class mail international” enveloppe and was thrilled to see those Macedonian uncleaned coins. At first I was very happy with them. After a closer examintation, however, I noticed that these coins where no “uncleaned coins” but rather over-cleaned coins! See for yourself:

 

 

The first and second coin is obviously a “Philip II” horse-type coin. The third is probably Greek. I softly soaked them in demineralised water but nothing really changed, except for the third coin. The metal is so corroded that pieces fell of. I decided to keep them as they are and did not treat them any further. The unidentified Greek coin has severe bronze disease and is untreatable in my opinion. Especially because I’m unexperienced with bronze disease.

Neverthless I’m happy with them because I always have liked those horse-type bronze coins! But… next time I’ll just buy a cleaned coin.

 

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Minting ancient coins

Historians and archaeologists have gathered knowledge about how coins were minted in ancient times but many things are still unknown or unclear. What we know is that the Greek and Roman coins were hand-made by hammer. The obverse was engraved in an anvil and the reverse on a hammer or a second die. The striker used this hammer to smash the flan or upper-die and thus the coin was created. Evidence showed that the die on the hammer was worn much faster than the anvil. Assumed is that about 20.000 coins were struck per day per workplace. Ofcourse this number can vary greatly depending on the material of the coins (bronze, silver or gold), the experience of the engraver and probably much more unknown factors.

To enlight some uncertanties and increase our knowlegde a group of international archaeologists started an experiment: they will try to recreate the process of minting in ancient times. They have chosen to use the “eagles” of Alexandria as bronze coin and the owls of Athens as silver coin. These videos are very interesting and explain some things much more in detail:

Video 1: The eagles of Alexandria  / Les aigles d’Alexandrie (french and english available)
Video 2: Making a mint / Frapper monnaie (french and english available)

 

Critical questions:
1. They don’t seem to heat the flans before striking which is quite strange. Evidence shows that the flans were most likely heated which is very logical: a heated flan will result in a better quality and will prolong the average life of a die.

2. They use iron dies but it’s questionable that the eagles were struck with iron dies. In the 4th century BC bronze dies were more probably used.

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My first silver drachm! (Price 1799)

Besides the fact that I just love those bronze shield/helmet coins, another reason why I collect bronze coins of Alexander is the price. Silver drachms or tetradrachms are much more expensive (a factor of 5 to 10). But sometimes you just have to be lucky as I was a few weeks ago. A german coindealer of whom I bought coins before had a sale on ebay and I was quite lucky to “win” this coin for a very good price (read: cheap).

Thanks to FedEx it only took two days to bring this coin from Germany to Belgium – faster than I expected! I was very excited for my first drachm and holding it in my hand was beyond expectation. This coin is, in my opinion much more than my bronzes, a real piece of art. Every time I look at this coin it gives me thrills. I know this is not the most fine example but I’m personally very happy with it.

This type is listed in “the coinage in name of Alexander the Great and Philip Arrhidaeus” by M.J. Price as #1799. It was probably minted in Colophon. In Price we read: “Colophon is one of the most productive drachma mints of Alexander coinage. Unfortunately the attribution relies on the suggestion that Colophon had been a productive mint in the Persian period*, and on the assumption that autonomous issues believed to have ended with the coming of Alexander would have continued at the same mint in the form of imperial Macedonian drachmae.” (* J. G. Milne, Colophon and its coinage: a study, 1941). This type of coin is believed to be from the final years of the fourth century BC and means it’s most likely minted after the death of Alexander III.

 

 

 

Macedonian Kingdom
Alexander the Great
Colophon
(Price 1799, Müller 1547)

 

Obv.: Head of Heracles wearing lionskin looking right
Rev.: Zeus seated left, one leg behind, holding eagle and sceptre ; ALEXANDROU at right; wreath at left; N beneath throne

 

 

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Demetrius II: Mionnet Vol I, 888

This is my third bronze “shield/helmet” and the most beautiful I own at this moment. It’s a “very fine” example with very attracting monograms.

Just as my previous coin  this coin was minted in Sardis/Sardes (see: price 2605 var.)and it has the kerykeion/caduceus monogram on both the obverse and reverse. However this coin is from a ruler that lived long after Alexander the Great, it still has the letters “BA” (basileus Alexandrou, “of king Alexander”).

Beneath the helmet the monogram of the ruler is only partially shown (in green on the picture). At first I thought that is was from Demetrios Poliorketes because his monogram is a big H with a delta above and a P beneath the horizonal bar. It was, again, Dane from wildwinds.com who helped me and learned me that Demetrius II has a similar monogram: a big H with a delta above and nothing beneath the crossbar. So on this coin the monogram itself can’t tell which ruler minted this coin. Considering that coins of Demetrios Poliorketes have a very different style, we can conclude that this coin is from Demetrius II Nicater (“victor“) who ruled the Seleucid empire. The coin is listed in Mionnet Vol. I, 888.

 

Seleucid Empire
Demetrius II Nicator
Sardis
(Mionnet Vol. I, 888)

Obv.: Macedonian shield; kerykeion/caduceus
Rev..: B-A across upper fields; Macedonian helmet; Kerykeion at lower left; Rose/balaustium at lower right; Monogram below helmet

 

 

Mionnet describers the flower as a balaustium (balaustine), which is the flower of the wild pomegranate. Other workes deccribes it as a “rose”, which isn’t hard to imagine.

 

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The unlisted: Price 2605 var.

My second shield/helmet coin! I was attracted by the beautiful rose on the obverse, together with all the other monograms I wanted to learn more about. In my opinion this coin is in an acceptable condition for any collection. The obverse is better in real but the kerykeion in the boss of the shield is not very clear. The reverse has some wide scratches, maybe from cleaning, maybe from usage, I don’t know.

Kerykeion

Modern image of a kerykeion

I bought it from a German coindealer who had listed it as a coin of Lysimachos, king of Thrace after the death of Alexander the great. Inexperenciend as I was, I didn’t know this was absolutely wrong. It was Dane from Wildwinds.com who pointed it out to me and analysed this coin step by step for me.

Most can be learned from the reverse: the royal title of BA, the kerykeion, a rose and FIΛ (FIL). The royal title needs no further explanation (see my previous post ). The rose is quite simple as well: it’s a clear indication that this coin is from Sardis (a town in Asia-Minor, present Turkey). Not that the rose is the symbol of Sardes (the rose is a symbol for the island of Rhodos) but it’s more likely the symbol of the magistrate. Roses on this type of bronze coins are always indications that is was minted in Sardis. The kerykeion, left of the helmet, is no big surprise too: most coins with a kerykeion on the shield have a kerykeion somewhere on the reverse. The last one is the most difficult: FIΛ.

Sardis on Map

It’s not hard to imagine that FIΛ refers to one of the many Philips (Philippus). First question that arises: which one ? But, oddly enough, according to Price FIΛ was also used for Alexander the great. As I mentioned before, it was Dane from the website wildwinds.com who dug in her huge library of books about the coinage of the Macedonian empire to help me out. Too make a long story short: nowhere this coin is listed. Nor in Mionnet, nor in BMC, nor in SNG Cop and nor in Gaebler II. Conclusion: I’m the proud owner of an unlisted coin! This is far from “history changing” and not that really special but still I’m proud of it. If it shows one thing: even with thousands of pages describing coins we do not know everything!

shield/helmet

Macedonian Kingdom
Unknown ruler
Sardis

Obv.: Macedonian shield; kerykeion
Rev.: B-A across upper fields; Macedonian helmet; Kerykeion
to left; FIL at lower left; Rose at lower right.

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My first love: Price 401A

After I had bought a Thracian and a Corinth coin (which has changed hands of a few famous coindealers, but that’s another story) I fell in love with this coin. It is not “very fine” or an extreme scarce type, but this coin immediately took my attention. (If you are a passionate collector you must know what I mean.) My fascination for this type of bronze coins of Alexander the great started with this one!

I still like the high-relief shield on the obverse, however it is smaller then most other coins of this type. The condition of the reverse is only “good” to “very good” but you can clearly see the BA below the helmet. In my experience this place is less common because most times it’s B / helmet / A. The term ‘BA’ stands for BASILEUS ALEXANDROU (“of king Alexander”). Strange as it may seem,  his successors kept using this term on their own coins long after Alexander’s death.

The goldish color of this coin is typical for bronze and very attractive, in my opinion.

Alexander the great, price 401A

Macedonian Kingdom
Alexander The Great
336 – 323 BC
(Price 401A)

Obv.: Macedonian shield; thunderbolt
Rev.: Macedonian helmet; Πo (?) monogram right; BA below

Bronze 1/2 unit

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Collecting Ancient Coins

First I want to tell something about “collecting ancient coins” in general. Later I will blog about my favourite type: bronze coins of Alexander “the great” III, and successors, the “helmet & shield type”.

When speaking about “ancient” coins it can mean a lot: everything from the first coins in Lydia to the byzantine coins in the 14th century and medieval coins. It can also refer to so called “Judeaen & biblical coins”, which are coins that are mentioned in the bible or from the region of Judea in Israël. Offcourse it could also refer to other ancient nations as the many chinese dynasties.

When I speak to people about my passion there is always one question that arise: Isn’t that very expensive?

Well, if you want to have a museum-quality gold stater you’ll pay most likely a few thousands of dollars. But most ancient coins, especially bronze coins, are sold for around $20 to $200. Silver coins usually cost more as they have a higher intrinsic value. On ebay you can find ancient coins for as low as $10, but the chance on couterfeits is more likely. (Hint: only buy from professional antiquity/coin dealers and always google the name of the buyer to check for counterfeits! There is a huge “black list” on ‘FAC fake report’)

Yet another fact is that the value of a coin, ancient or modern, depends on several things. ‘The age’ is one of the least important. What truly matters is his “scarcity”! In ancient times there was no internet, news paper or other mass-communication so coins were an important way to spread a message, for example to show how wealthy or powerfull your city-state was. Because of this some coins were minted for 200 years, without major changes in ‘images’, at, in some cases, a ratio of 10000 a day. And as there were no banks, people buried their money in order to protect it. When someone died, in battle for example, and he hadn’t told someone where he had put his money… A lot of coins survived to modern times and are not as scarce as some modern coins. Some nice examples are these stories: Alexander coins found in northern Syria and Ancient coins near Ohrid

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