Old Money
Ancient Greek and Roman
Coins and Artefacts



A NOTE ON ANCIENT
COIN DESCRIPTIONS.

Generally speaking, most ancient coins are described to a basic standard. Unfortunately not everyone uses the same standard and not everyone is entirely accurate or consistent in their descriptions or measurements. With the coins on this site there will be, with occasional exception, a description of the obverse depiction and any legend, and a description of the reverse and any legend thereon. For a Greek coin the place of origin of the coin will be stated, and for a Roman coin the emperor or other personality will be indicated. A date, where known, will be indicated. The denomination of the coin, where known, will be stated, and where not known a suitable and commonly accepted term describing the denomination will be indicated.

How comprehensive any description may be will necessarily depend on the value of the coin in question. Simply, it is not economically justifiable to spend a lot of time describing a coin worth just a few dollars, but it may be moreso for a coin worth many hundreds or several thousand dollars.

The weight of a coin will, more often than not, be indicated as well. Diameters will rarely be indicated, as there is an expectation that the purchaser will have done at least some homework (as is essential when undertaking ANY venture, old or new) and therefore will have some idea as to the approximate size of the coin in question. Having said that, when a diameter is given it will be the mean diameter (because ancient coins are not known to be perfectly circular and there will always be some minor variation) and it will generally be measured from 12 o'clock to 6 o'clock. Where the coin is distinctly oval in shape the diameter of the (visually) longest and shortest axis is sometimes also given.

Many denominations tend to have a general size range. For example, a silver antoninianus will neither be 10mm nor 40mm (they should be in the range of about 20-25mm, depending on the issue). If they are a little larger than usual then expect to see the statement "large flan" or similar, if they are a little smaller than usual expect to see the statement "small flan" or similar. A quick review of the most basic reference books will give a broad overview that will be easily picked up by most people and, hopefully, will be retained forever. Buy a book or two to get started and familiarise yourself with the basics therein.

Please do this: READ THE BOOKS - after all, that's what they are there for.

Weights also give a good guide as to the size of a coin. For example, a bronze or silver coin weighing a mere one (1) gram simply will not be very large at all (so it would not be at all wise or logical to expect it to be an inch [25mm] in diameter). It is essential to familiarise yourself with the denominations of coins and related information.

To quote the eminent Barry Murphy [Moneta-L Digest 3664] "The most important piece of information is weight. All coins should be weighed. Weight determines denomination, can be used as a gauge of authenticity and should give a good indication of the coins size. A silver coin that weighs 0.75 grams is not going to be quarter size. Everyone should develop a good idea as to how big a denarius is, how big a sestertius is or how big a trihemiobol is. A denarius isn't going to be 30mm, a sestertius won't be 10mm. Whether a denarius is 19mm or 20mm is really unimportant." (for those among us who are not in the U.S.A., or not familiar with U.S. coins, a quarter is a coin of about 24mm diameter)

Photographs (in the form of electronic scans, usually jpeg's) are provided for good reason and for the benefit of the viewer and purchaser. Carefully examine the coin shown thereon. Most of what is needed to be known about the coin may be gleaned from the image, and will be mostly confirmed in the description. Ideally the purchaser will not *need* to read the description at all, except for perhaps the weight of the item or for cursory confirmation of what may be seen on a scan. The type depicted will be discernable, the extant legend will be visible, the level of wear will be apparent if not obvious, as will any problems, damage or defects. If you cannot see it, do not assume it is there, and vice-versa.

Having said that, allow me to explain how coins will most often be described (obverse and reverse): Where a legend or ethnic is present, or meant to be present on a coin I will most often indicate what is meant to be there (where known). I will separate that which is visible or discernable from that which should be there though it may be worn, off the flan, or obscured, by enclosing the latter in square brackets. For example, If the legend meant to be present reads "IMP C M AVR PROBVS P F AVG", but for any number of reasons not all of the legend is present I will generally write "[IM]P C M AVR PROBVS P F A[VG]" (indicating that the first two letters 'IM' and the last two letters 'VG' of the legend are known to be present on the die and are meant to be there on the coin, but are not visible or struck-up on this particular example). Similarly with mintmarks, field marks and exergual marks (note that some marks are not supported by text symbols and may be indicated verbally; thus: {wreath}, {rising sun}, {captive}, etc.). For a lesser value coin I will sometimes include the whole legend, without necessarily indicating that some of the legend may not be visible. Compare the accompanying text with the picture of the coin to remove any doubt as to what is or is not visible. Where any of the above is not specifically indicated use the following guide: If you see it then it is there, if you don't see it then do not assume that it is there, and do not expect it to be present.

Figures (Gods, deities, people, etc.), creatures, buildings and scenes will be described simply and straight-forwardly. Only where it is exceptional or significant or of some other importance will minor details be expanded upon. Elaboration of the minutiae will most often be left for the enjoyment of the purchaser. For example: a radiate crown shown on the head of a Roman Emperor will be described simply as that, however the number of rays shown on the crown will not be described; the number of layers of bricks in the wall of a so-called 'camp-gate' will not generally be noted; nor will minor decorations on the thrones or chairs shown on various coins be detailed; etc. These little pleasures are left to the purchaser.

When describing a Greek or Roman Provincial bronze coin the symbol "" will be used to indicate the coin is one of the many alloys of copper, such as bronze, brass, orichalcum, leaded-bronze, and others. Silver and Gold will be indicated overtly, with silver coins of low percentage silver still being referred to as such as long as they retain a predominantly silver appearance. The term 'billon' (not bullion or billion as I have seen incorrectly stated elsewhere), the debased alloy of low-percentage silver, may be used from time to time, though mostly in relation to the coinage of Roman Egypt. Base metal coins that, when they were made, were coated in a thin layer of silver to give the impression of a silver coin will be referred to as 'silvered'.

I am very much in favour of the (Confucian?) adage which goes something like this: "if you give a man a fish he will eat for a day, if you teach a man to fish he will eat forever" (Chinese proverb). I will gladly give direction, but anything more than that will rightly be left up to the purchaser. I will happily offer my services as a tutor in ancient coins and ancient history but the fees are necessarily significant.

On a more personal note, I find it distasteful to be sent a rather demanding email asking a question that will invariably be answered almost immediately by typing a few simple words into a search engine such as "Google," or by turning a page or two of a basic reference book - especially when that person has not even had the courtesy of establishing any sort of relationship first. I am happy to help where I am able, but not in such a way that I am left feeling that advantage has been taken of me.

I wish you well in all your collecting pursuits.             - Walter Holt, M.A.


Constructive Comments or Suggestions Welcomed
Walter Holt's Old Money - Email

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