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America's Revival of Roman Bimetallic Coinage

Al Kowsky

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There are several forms of bimetallic coinage, this article is only concerned with the type seen in ancient Roman medallions. In order to make these medallions two separate flans were made, one was shaped like an ordinary round flan & the other was shaped like a donut. Both flans had to be machined to a near perfect roundness, & the regular flan had to be slightly smaller in diameter than the inside diameter of the donut shaped flan. The two coins were fused together by pressure exerted during the striking process. What inspired this article was a coin I sold last Tuesday in a Stack's Bowers Gallery auction, pictured below.


Library of Congress, 2000-W, $10 Bimetallic coin struck in platinum & gold: 16.259 gm, 27 mm, 6 h. Both pieces weigh a little over 1/4 oz. (.28 oz.), with the platinum part having a fineness of .995, & the outer gold ring being .900 fine with 10% copper. Mintage 7,261; proof mintage 27,445. PCGS MS70. Price realized $1,800 with the buyers premium. Photo courtesy of Stack's Bowers Gallery. 

This coin was struck to commemorate 200th anniversary of the Library of Congress (LOC). The original LOC was located in Philadelphia, PA & was completely destroyed, along with it's contents, by the British during the War of 1812. A new LOC was constructed in Washington, DC thanks to Thomas Jefferson who sold all his personal books to the U.S. government (6,487) creating a nucleus for the new LOC. The obverse of the $10 bimetallic coin, designed by Thomas Mercanti,  pictures the hand of Minerva holding a flaming torch with the dome of the new LOC in the background. The reverse was designed by Thomas D. Rogers Jr. & depicts a coat of arms in Art Deco style. Both engravers have signed this coin on their respective side. John Mercanti has cleverly united both metals on the obverse with the flaming torch ☺️, something rarely seen on other bimetallic coins. The coin pictured below is a breathtaking Roman bimetallic medallion sold at auction by Chaponniere & Firmenich SA, last May for a hammer price of $102,533 😮. The heavy patina obscures the two different metals, bronze & orichalcum, that must have been eye-popping when it was originally struck 🤩.


ROMAN EMPIRE. Commodus, AD 177-192. Rome Mint: bimetallic, bronze & orichalcum, 60.22 gm, 42 mm. The obverse depicts a masterfully engraved portrait of Commodus. The reverse depicts Sol holding a whip, ready to climb into a quadriga riding on waves & being lead by Phosphorus (Venus, the morning star). Tellus, personification of the earth, is depicted reclining on the ground & holding a cornucopia. Extremely rare. Photo courtesy of Chaponniere & Firmenich SA, Auction 15, lot 51, May 21, 2022.

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I think this style of bimetallic coin was first revived by the Italians, with their 500 lira in 1982.

In the UK, we've had them since 1998, now both for the one and two pound coins. The latest versions carry the design across both metals (one pound and two pounds), which I think is meant to be an anti-forgery feature as it's not easy to achieve.

I'm not sure there have been that many forms of bimetallic coinage. Their manufacture has always been a challenge. The Romans only issued them as special medallions, rather than circulating coins, presumably because it was so time consuming. I don't think anyone else even tried for another thousand years.

Charles I had a go. He made rods of copper with a notch in the side, which was filled with brass. The rods were then sliced into flans, much like Russian wire money.

Charles I Rose Type 3 Farthing, 1636-1637
image.png.193511dab3aa12f37206b725992afa2f.pngLondon Token House. Copper with brass segment, 13-14mm, 1.38g. Double-arched crown, sceptres divide legend, CAROLVS. D : G MAG : BRIT : (Obverse 1). Double rose, privy mark lys on reverse only; FRAN : ET . HIB : REX . (Everson Rose Type 3 164; Peck/BMC Type 1c 309).

Under Charles II, they made tin farthings with a copper plug hammered into the centre. They corroded quickly, so these didn't last past William and Mary. I don't know if there were any more circulating bimetallic coins until the Italians in 1982.

William III and Mary II Farthing, 1690
Tower. Tin with copper plug, 22mm, 5.96g. Large conjoined cuirassed busts right; GVLIELMVS ET MARIA. Seated figure of Britannia facing left, spear in left hand, olive branch in right, shield with Union flag resting at left, legend around, date in exergue; BRITAN NIA. (S 3451).

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