Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A "Fun" Coin of Elagabalus

Moesia Inferior Markianopolis AD 218-222
(26mm 11.05g) 4 Assaria
Obv: AVT KM AVR ANTWNEINOC laureate draped bust right
Rev: P CEPG TITIANOV MARKIANOPOLIT L N Hera standing with patera and scepter. (Sergius Titianus, Magistrate)
Ref: Moushmov 656 c.f. , AMNG 903 c.f. Ex Harry Stewart

Here is a Provincial coin of Elagablaus, issued from the city of Marcianopolis. Marcianopolis was a city in Moesia Inferior. It was located near modern day Devnya, Bulgaria. Previously known as Parthenopolis, it was renamed by the Emperor Trajan after his sister Ulpia Marciana. It issued coins from the reign of Commodus (AD 180-192) through about 248 A.D. during the reign of Philip I.

Elagabalus (Varivs Avitvs Bassianvs) was born either in late 204 or early 205 to Julia Soaemias and Sextus Varius Marcellus He entered the service of the Emesan sun-god, Elagabal, (hence his nickname Elagabalus). His bizarre and erratic behavior quickly eroded the support of the people and more importantly his troops. He married a Vestal Virgin, which went against Roman law and tradition and shocked the people of Rome. He also installed the sun god Elagabal above Jupiter in the Roman Pantheon of gods. Coupled with his scandalous sexual behavior, he quickly fell out of favor with the Roman people and was killed by members of the Praetorian Guard on March 6, 222. His body was dragged through the streets of Rome and was eventually tossed into the Tiber River. So much for ol’ Gabby!

Now for the fun part! Some coins are just fun to play with. This coin is one of my fun coins. I don’t normally collect provincial coins, but when Harry Stewart offered this one up at an Ancient Peddler’s Peddlers Market Auction, something about it caught my interest. The portrait of Elagabalus is good, even with the centration dimple, the lettering is clear and legible, the coin is well centered and of good metal. The color and texture of the coin is interesting, at least to me the coin has great eye appeal.

I enjoy handling all of my coins, what better way to enjoy a collection of ancient coins than to hold them in your hands, feel their heft, their texture and imagine the countless hands they have passed through on their way to yours. At least for me some coins for whatever reason are just more fun to hold. This coin is one of them! At 26mm and 11.05g it has a nice heft to it. It has a unique texture that my fingers find interesting. It has a very solid feel to it, heck its just fun to play with! It is often the first coin I hand people when I show them my collection for the first time, (you know, just before their eyes glaze over from boredom!)

Is it weird to have a favorite coin to handle? Perhaps. There are many things to enjoy when collecting coins, so why can't a coin just be "fun" to handle. I’d like to know if others have favorite coins to handle, or am I the only weirdo? (More than likely!) Thanks for reading.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

A “Game” Coin of Domitian

AE As (29mm, 10.35g) Struck 88-89 A.D.. Rome
Rev: COS XIIII LVD SAEC FEC S C Domitian sacrificing over and altar facing left, harpist and flute player facing right, temple in background
RIC II 385a, Sear 2803 ex Mastrario ex Dr Busso Peus Nachf.

I seem to start every blog entry with something like “this is one of my favorite coins”, well, here I go again! This is one of my favorite coins :D The Flavians are one of my focus collections. Although this coin is a little rough, the deep green patina is quite attractive. You guessed it, its even better in hand!

This coin commemorates the Secular Games that Domitian held in October of A.D. 88. The Secular games were held every generation or “saeculum”. A generation was considered 100yrs, but they seemed to be held when ever the emperor wanted a good party! The Secular Games were a pagan celebration held to entertain and appease the gods. The first known Roman games were held in 249 BC, the second in 146, and the third in 17 held by Caesar Augustus. Later games, held in AD 47, 88, 147, 204, 248, and 262, included sports, music, theatre, and circuses. Constantine I finally put an end to the game in the 4th century A.D likely due to his conversion to Christianity.

Beside the brilliant patina, I like this coin because, at least in my opinion, it represents one of Domitian’s more interesting reverse types. This coin shows the emperor performing his duties as Pontifex Maximus, the supreme head of the state religion, sacrificing in front of what is probably the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus. Looking at the reverse I can almost hear the music played by the musicians, smell the smoke from the altar and hear the sounds of the crowd. Even though the portrait of Domitian on the reverse is tiny, I can recognize Domitian’s face. Coins like this one provide a glimpse of daily life in the Roman Empire, a snap shot in time! We can read about history, we can read about the Secular games. We can understand why they were held, we can know when they were held. In this coin we have tangible connection to that history. We can read that Domitian sacrificed at the games, but with this coin we can see it! If we let our imagination work a bit, we can imagine the coin circulating, much like commemorative coins today. We can imagine the ancient Romans looking at the reverse and remembering the games, much as we might look at a Bicentennial quarter and remember that time in our lives.

I won this coin from one of Joe Mastrario’s (Imperator Coins) e-bay auctions. I won it way too cheap (sorry Joe!) A good buy makes a coin more enjoyable! On top of that it is ex Dr Busso Peus Nachf, and came with the auction ticket. It’s fun to know a coin’s history.

So, I have a cool coin with great “eye appeal” that lies within my collecting focus. It has an incredible green patina that is much better in hand. The imagery on the reverse is interesting and provides us with a unique snapshot of life in ancient Rome. On top of that it was won from an honorable dealer and friend (thanks Joe!). If we use our imagination, we can see how in nearly 2000 years the basic function of coinage, and folks reactions to the imagery on coins hasn’t changed that much. That might lead us to the conclusion that people really haven’t changed that much in 2000 years. One of the reasons that I enjoy collecting ancient coins is the very tangible connection with the past. This coin is an attractive and excellent example of that connection. How could I not enjoy this coin? Thanks for reading!!!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

An “Ugly Duckling” of a coin

AR Denarius. Marcus Porcius Laece 125 B.C. Rome (16mm, 3.58g)
Obv: LAECA Helmeted head of Roma right, ? (XVI monogram) in right field. “sexy” Banker marks on face and right field
Rev M. PORC Libertas in fast quadriga right, crowned by Victory flying left, ROMA in exergue. Bankers marks
Sear 146, RRC 270/1, CRR 513, RSC Porcia 3
Ex Vel Garnet collection

This rather rough but interesting coin, this “ugly duckling”, is one of my favorites for a couple of reasons. First, it was a Christmas Gift (2006) from my wife. It was the first coin she ever bought me. She has told me that I’m hard to buy for. (I don’t think I am!) I suggested that she pick out a coin she liked on Vcoins and make that my gift. She enjoyed the experience and has since given me other coins as gifts. It’s fun because I never know what I’m going to get! My two sons have also purchased coins for me (with Mom’s help!), it adds to the enjoyment of my collection.

Another reason I like it is that it is so ugly it’s beautiful! It possesses a certain “eye appeal”. We all enjoy pretty coins, nice fully struck, centered and detailed beauties. I enjoy the less than pristine examples also. I appreciate the nice ones for their beauty, the ugly ones I enjoy for their “character”. This denarius has character! The wear, scratches, banker marks and tarnish are all badges of honor this coin has earned in its 2000+ year journey. I can imagine the coin in a busy market place, the merchant and the coins owner transacting business, the coin changing hands, the cautious merchant punching the coin to make sure it’s good. I look at the coin and I can imagine it happening!

I also enjoy the history of it. It was minted by the moneyer Marcus Porcius Laece. Here we are 2000+years later and we know his name because it is there on the coin. How cool is that! Seaby notes "This moneyer was a descendant of P. Porcius Laeca, praetor in 195 BC, who proposed and carried the Lex Porcia de Provocatione. This granted the Roman citizen residing outside the city right of appeal in criminal matters against the magistrates acting in their military capacity and is commemorated by the reverse type." Ahh yes, propaganda, “Hey look how cool my ancestor was, I’m just as cool.” What good is being a moneyer if you can’t toot you own horn a bit? Little has changed in the world of politics in the last 2000 years!

So, this one little “ugly duckling” has brought joy and learning to me at several different levels. I have a special gift from my wife. That gift bears the marks of its journey through the centuries, sparking my imagination. The coin itself tells me who caused it to be made. I learn the story of his ancestor, and see that human nature hasn’t changed all that much over the centuries. This one ugly duckling sure is a swan in my eyes!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Moneyers Dupondius of Augustus

Orichalum Dupondius (28mm 11.36g) Struck 18 B.C. Rome C. Asinius Gallus Moneyer
Obv: AVGVSTVS TRIBVNIC POTEST Legend in oak wreath

Rev: C . ASINIVS IIIVIR A A A F F around S C

c.f. RIC 372 Ex. William C Boyd Collection, Baldwins Auction (196) 9/26/2005

I purchased this coin about a year ago from Vcoin dealer York Coins. It is from the Willam C. Boyd Collection, unfortunately the collectors tag was missing. As far as I can see, this coin is unlisted in RIC. I did find another example on coin archives and it appears to be a die match. Here is a link to the Coin Archives entry http://tinyurl.com/38q24s Below is a picture of that coin.

The coin was minted by C. Asinius Gallus for Augustus. He was one of three moneyers at that time, the other two were C. Cassius Celer, and C. Gallius Lupercus. The reverse legend of III VIR A A A F F is an abbreviation of tresviri aere argento auro flando feriundo which translate loosely as "three men for striking (and) casting bronze, silver (and) copper (coins)" The moneyers were part of the college of magistrates known as the Vigintisexviri which means “26 Men”

The Vigintiseviri was made up of six boards:
* The Tresviri Aere Argento Auro Flando Feriundo these were the three aforementioned moneyers
* Decemviri Stlitibus Iudicandis, a board of 10 men who judged lawsuits including those that dealt with whether a man was a free man or a slave
* The Tresviri Capitales, These three men handled the police functions of Rome. They ran the prisons and handle the execution of criminals
* The Praefecti Capuam Cumas The two Praefecti sent to Capua and Cumae in Campania to administer justice there.
* The Quattuorviri Viis In Urbe Purgandis, These four magistrates managed the road system in Rome
* The Duoviri Viis Extra Urbem Purgandis, these two magistrates handle road maintenance on the road system outside of Rome

So, here I am as an ancient Roman coin collector. I purchase a coin that catches my eye, a moneyers dupondius of Augustus. In researching my purchase I find that the coin is unlisted in RIC. So I hit the net and find another example that happens to appear to be a die match. Then I decide to learn about the name on the coin, C. Asisnius. (Gallus). I read through my limited reference library and research him on the net and learn about the
Vigintisexviri and the various boards it’s composed of. I also learn that C. Asinius Gallus was friend of Augustus, However, he was no friend of Tiberius, and went out of his way to make things difficult for Augustus’ successor. Finally weary of him Tiberius had him arrested. He died three years later while still in custody.

All of this from wanting to learn about one coin. It is one of the “fringe benefits” of collecting ancient coins. If we take the time to study our coins, it’s amazing what roads they will lead us down. When I first started collecting ancient Roman coins, I knew very little about the Roman Empire. As my collection expands, so does my knowledge of the Roman Empire, and the ancient world in general. They go hand in hand. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Monitor Calibration

A lot of us like to take and share pictures of our coins. For me it’s another enjoyable part of the hobby. Monitors are the big variable when sharing photos. How can we be sure our photos look the same on another persons monitor? When we look at an image someone else has made, are we really seeing the image the way the person who made it intended? It’s a problem that bothered me for a long time. I would manipulate my images until they looked good on my monitor. But when I printed them or ordered prints, they weren’t even close! Lighter, darker, bluer, greener…you name it! What’s a fellow to do?

Calibrate your monitor, that’s what! I’m not going to pretend that I know all the ins and outs of color management. Folks that work professionally with digital photography, graphic designs, and printing press operations will be we aware of it and can probably ridicule this article endlessly!:D Those of us that need a crash course in gamma, color temperature, luminance, and other technical stuff should have a look at this webpage: http://www.normankoren.com/makingfineprints1A.html It does a good job discussing the concepts involved. The Quick Gamma Utility mentioned on the page is an excellent and easy to use tool to adjust your monitor’s settings by eye. Once you have things adjusted to your liking, you can configure Quick Gamma to load your adjustments at Start Up.

If you have Photoshop or other Adobe product, you probably also have the Adobe Gamma Loader installed. It can be found in the Control Panel. Using the Wizard, you can calibrate your monitor by eye in just a few minutes. The Adobe Gamma loader allows you to save your adjustments and can be configured to start at start up and load the settings.

I preferred the Quick Gamma utility. In my opinion it allows for greater fine tuning and is easier to use. When using Quick Gamma, it’s important to make sure the Adobe Gamma Loader (or another program that adjusts your monitors setting) doesn’t load at start up too, or the two will both try to adjust your settings. Either program will provide you with decent results.

Beyond Visual Calibration

Recently I wanted to make sure my adjustments were really accurate, so I invested in the Datacolor Spyder2Express Monitor Calibration system. It is a software/hardware package that can calibrate your monitor accurately (and easily) in a few minutes. You can read more about it on their website: http://spyder.datacolor.com/product-mc-s2e.php

I purchased mine at http://www.newegg.com for $69 + shipping and it has been worth every penny! Installation was a snap, and the calibration process is just as simple. It only allows you to calibrate to a color temp of 6500k and a gamma of 2.2, but that is the most common Windows setting, so it should be adequate for most folks, and will be a good match on other monitors calibrated to the same standard.

I have used the Spyder2Express for about a month now and I couldn’t be happier. The pictures on my monitor now match what comes out of my printer perfectly. Today I received a batch of prints I ordered, they too match perfectly. In the past I couldn't say that. I was never quite sure what I was going to get, a nice feeling at Christmas, but not when you are shelling out money for prints!

So take a few minutes and calibrate your monitor. You can achieve great results by eye, using the tools I mentioned earlier. If you want to be even more accurate, then perhaps the Spyder2Express is for you. Either way it will likely improve your monitors performance, which is important, after all your monitor is your window to the digital world! Thanks for reading!

Friday, February 29, 2008

Natural Beauty

Have a look at this coin

AR Denarius (18mm, 2.85g) Struck A.D. 222-228 Rome
Obv: IVLIA MAMAEA AVG Diademed, draped bust right, hair waved and tucked at back of neck
Rev: VESTA Vesta, veiled, standing left, palladium in right hand, vertical scepter in left
RIC IV ii 360

It’s a pleasant example of a relatively common denarius of Julia Mamaea, mother of Severus Alexander. It’s a bit porous and has a “desert patina". The coin without the “desert patina” would be attractive enough. The portrait is of good style and the reverse is also pleasing. What more could be said?

At least to me, the porosity and the red clay patina add another layer of interest. For me the porosity adds some character and interest to the coin, helping me appreciate its sheer age. (Julia is lookin’ good for being 1800 years old!) The red clay adds some highlights to the coin. On the reverse it helps bring to life the figure of Vesta. On the obverse it has an even bigger impact. The tiny bit of clay in the eyes animates the expression of the portrait. The coin just wouldn’t be as interesting to me without these random and natural enhancements. Julia Mamaea isn’t in my collecting area, but the coin had such eye appeal I had to have it.

One of the things I love about ancient coins is the variety. Even in the same issue of a coin you will find a ton of variations. Portraits can range from the sublime to the down right goofy. Minting errors, engraving errors, and the flaws in the flans also add other elements of interest.

So the title of this post was “Natural Beauty” what do I mean by that? Well, on top of the aforementioned minting process variations, the “man made” elements, coins are subjected to natural processes as well. Patina, the encrusting of dirt, leeching and crystallization are some of the processes that work on the coins over the centuries. They can have a profound effect on the appearance of the coin. They can make a run of the mill “Fel Temp” into a visually more interesting and beautiful, (or in some cases, entertaining) coin. Here is an example of a common Votive coin of Constantius II.

AE 3 (15mm) Struck 347-348ad Antioch
Obv: DN CONSTANITIVS P F AVG Diademed bust right
Rev: VOT XX MVLT XXX Vows in wreath. SMAL(gamma) in exergue.

It’s a common enough issue and all indications point to a coin in nice condition under the dirt. It would clean up nicely and easily in just a short time. However I won’t clean it because, at least to me, it is more interesting the way it is. The earthen highlights on the portrait are appealing to me. I fear the coin just wouldn’t be as “pretty” if it were to be cleaned.

Those of us that enjoy ancient coins, do so for a multitude of reasons. For me it’s the history, and the connection to the past, but it is also the variety. Modern coins are massed produce and lack the “human touch” of ancient coins. Each ancient coin is a handmade piece of human endeavor and a work of art in its own right. Let Mother Nature work on the coin for a few centuries and you can end up with a true “Natural Beauty”. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Provenance, Another Connection With The Past

Here is one of my favorite coinsAR Denarius (18mm 3.06g) Struck A.D. 92, Rome
Obv: IMP CAES DOMIT AVG GERM P M TR P XII Laureate head right
Rev: IMP XXII COS XVI CENS P P P Minerva standing right on prow, brandishing spear and holding a shield, owl at her feet

RIC-II 172 C. 281 Ex William C. Boyd Collection Baldwin’s Auction (42) 9/26/2005, Purchased by Mr. Boyd from London dealer W.S Lincoln Dec. 1898

The coins is a beauty, I love the old cabinet toning. The reverse is especially nice, right down to the owl on the prow and Minerva’s gown flowing behind. All in all it is a very nice example of a relatively common ancient coin.

So what makes it so special to me? You guessed it, provenance! I value that old collector’s ticket nearly as much as the coins itself. It adds a whole new layer of flavor to my enjoyment of the coin. The coin comes from the William C. Boyd (1840-1906) Collection. Mr. Boyd was a London business man and avid collector. His interests weren't just in coins, but also included butterflies, moths, and Neolithic and Paleolithic stone implements. He was a collector’s collector! He was a member of the Royal Numismatic Society, and was it Treasurer at the time of his death. Mr. Boyd purchased this coin from W.S Lincoln in December of 1898. (W.S Lincoln operated a shop on Oxford St at the turn of the 20th century. He and his brother Edgar sold coins, stamps, coin cabinets and produced some numismatic references)

When we handle ancient coins, we cannot help but feel a connection to the past.
Who made it, who spent it, what was it spent on? We can imagine legionnaires, gladiators, and senators handling our coin, the mind boggles! However, when a coin has a recorded provenance, we know for certain who had the coin for a period of time. In my coins 1900+ year journey, I have no idea where it was until December 1898 when it magically appears from the past!

Now when I handle this coin, not only do I imagine legionnaires, gladiators and senators, I imagine Mr. Boyd. I can see him in his study, carefully filling out coin tags. I see him pulling trays from his coin cabinet and peering at a coin with a magnifying glass, struggling to make out a legend or other detail. I am the caretaker of a coin he was once caretaker of. The coin spent 1800 years getting to Mr. Boyd, and took a little over 100 years more to find its way to me. From a business man in 19th century London, to a lumber yard manager in 21st Century Michigan. As separated as we are through time, and location, we have this coin in common. Two collectors handling, studying and enjoying the same coin at different times in its journey. Of course I didn't know Mr. Boyd, but perhaps though this coin I can know him a little bit. How cool is that! Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The One That Started It All!

Welcome! I thought the best way to start my blog would be to share the coin that started me down the road of collecting ancient coins. Here is the coin that hooked me!

AR Denarius(18mm, 3.08g ) Struck ?
Obv: IMP CAESAR VESPASIANVS AVG Laureate head right
Rev:PON MAX TR P COS ? Vespasian seated right, holding branch and scepter RIC hmmm... not sure!?

Not much to look at. Pretty rough actually, can't even fully attribute it, (if you can, please e-mail me) What makes this coin so special is that I found it in my very first batch of uncleaned coins back in 2000. The entire lot was pretty rough, and didn't yield much. In fact I was pretty disapointed in the whole experience and probably would have gave up the hobby before I had really started. I decided to give this "zapping" thing a try. I built a simple zapper and hooked up the worst looking coins in the bunch. After a few minutes I could start to see details poking through the crust. Not believing that I could have anything worth much I hit the coin with a brass brush, then would zap it a few more minutes, and hit it with the brush again. The coin looked more grayish black than silver, until the last time I hit it with the brass brush. I saw the glint of silver and immediately regretted using the brass brush so vigorously! I soaked it in distilled water for a few days, then gave it a brief bath in lemon juice. You see the results!

Hindsight tell me that I could have done a much gentler job of cleaning, this little coin suffered greatly under my newbie fingers. However, had it not been for this one coin, I doubt I would have continued in the hobby. I kept the coin at my computer desk for several days just so I could gawk at it. I have much nicer coins in my collection now, but none mean as much to me as this little beauty! Thanks for reading!