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Mystery Coin - Unique?


CPK
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I recently acquired this small coin. According to the seller, it was "unlisted in RIC" - which seems to be accurate; at least I can't find a match on OCRE or wildwinds.com. 

For the obverse, the closest I can find on OCRE from the Treveri mint are numbers 324 and 407. Unfortunately the website doesn't provide photos, and neither are camp-gate reverse types. OCRE also doesn't appear to have any AE coins with four turrets from Treveri. Only 8 coins come up under the search "PROVIDEN-TIAE AVGG camp gate Treveri"; only one (476) is for Crispus, but that one has only two turrets, a star (missing on mine), Crispus facing left instead of right, with a different obverse legend.

Outside of Treveri, RIC VII Arelate 270 is about the closest of all. At least, the accompanying photo is. The description calls for only two turrets whereas the photo has 4. But there is a star above, and the legend is wrong.

Can anyone help me sort out this mess? I thought maybe it was a "mule", but I can't seem to find any reverse type that would fit. Is it a unique type? If so, how ought I to list it? Is there some way to have it assigned a number?

Or maybe I'm just missing something obvious...

Does anyone here own an actual copy of RIC they can look into? If so I'd be much obliged! I know that OCRE is not "official", and I'd like to describe/attribute this coin as closely as possible.

crispus.jpg.4da8e8688d98339d61cc8d36f47149d1.jpg

 

Any help you can give would be greatly appreciated!

 

 

 

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I see nothing like it in RIC. Almost certainly an imitation. For an overview, see P. Bastien (1985), 'Imitations of Roman Bronze Coins, A.D. 318-363', ANS Museum Notes 30, New York, pp. 143-177; pls.41-44.

By special arrangement with the ANS, you can read or download Bastien's article (and other ANS publications) here: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=inu.30000108391198

 

 

Edited by DLTcoins
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I would classify the piece as a "semi-barbarous" coin because it is not a mule, the mintmark PTR. was not used for
the providentiae edition. By the official minted pieces this configuration does not exist.
Is it a unique piece? Until a second one shows up, but keep in mind that museums have 10-100 thousands 
or more unresearched coins lying around in their "reserves", who knows what's in there.

 Here is a Crispus from Arlate, with a simular problem. 

c.jpg.5c78dd56c65be9c0d1711f5283a06442.jpg

 

 

 

 

 
Edited by mc9
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Posted · Supporter
Posted (edited)

Thanks!

@DLTcoins doesn't the style seem pretty good for an imitation? I have a few barbarous coins and they are all immediately recognizable as such by their crudity and style. This one, at least to my amateur eyes, has much more the "official" style than those.

@mc9 Yours is even closer to the coin pictured under RIC VII Arelate 270 - the only differences being head left instead of right, and AVGG instead of CAESS in the reverse legend.

Edited by CPK
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Posted · Supporter
Posted (edited)
10 hours ago, DLTcoins said:

I see nothing like it in RIC. Almost certainly an imitation. For an overview, see P. Bastien (1985), 'Imitations of Roman Bronze Coins, A.D. 318-363', ANS Museum Notes 30, New York, pp. 143-177; pls.41-44.

By special arrangement with the ANS, you can read or download Bastien's article (and other ANS publications) here: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=inu.30000108391198

 

 

Thanks for the link. In skim-reading the article, a couple passages stand out:

 

"Imitations of the coinage of 318 to 330 almost always show a module quite close to that of the original. The study of weights remains to be carried out for the local Gallic workshops. Publications rarely provide details and a census of specimens in public collections would be extremely useful. We shall take account here of two groups of imitations: the 21 specimens of the Chavannes hoard, the average weight of which is 2.46 g, and the 70 specimens bearing the Lyon mark which we have recently collected, the average weight of which is also 2.46 g.

"In comparison, the average weights of the official nummi of the period 318–30 vary between 2.99 and 3.24 g for the mints at London, Trier, Lyon and Arles and, for Lyon, on the basis of 1,435 specimens, from 2.99 to 3.15 g according to the issue." (pages 148-149)

 

A quick search on VCoins of Crispus camp gate types bears this out - most hover around the 3-gram mark. My coin's light weight of 2.12g would seem to indicate the possibility of it being an imitation.

Pierre Bastien speaking on engraving style:

 

"One of the problems which confronts the numismatist is that of defining the imitation, that is, tracing the limits which make it possible to distinguish an official coin from a copy of it. This is not always easy, especially for imitations of the nummi of the reform of 318 and those of the Magnentian period. During these two periods the forgers sometimes engrave portraits of a quality close to that of the originals and some reverses cannot be distinguished from those of the regular coins." (page 168)

 

This would account for the apparently official style of the obverse portrait and the overall quality of the engraving. Bastien also says it's likely some official mint engravers were engaged in counterfeiting activities on the side. Also, the existence of imitation coins struck with actual official reverse dies indicates that mint workers had relatively easy and unsupervised access to some official dies.

So now I'm starting to wonder: if the obverse style is to all appearances "official" (as mine looks, to me), and the reverse may not only be indistinguishable from, but in fact may actually be struck from official dies, on what basis can we delineate official from imitative? It begins to look like a distinction without a difference, for all practical purposes. Or is weight alone enough to judge a 4th-century coin imitative?

Edited by CPK
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Neither die is official, in my opinion.

1. Note that the obverse legend ends CAESS. 

2. In RIC, Trier camp gates always have 2 turrets, never 4.

Bear in mind that Bastien's "first epidemic wave" of counterfeiting extends from c. 318-330. A significant portion of the coins in circulation in Gaul were counterfeits, produced by what must have been well-organized illicit mints. The quality is often quite good. If I remember correctly, Bastien suggests that imitations have on occasion been undercounted in hoards for this reason.

 

Edited by DLTcoins
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16 minutes ago, DLTcoins said:

Neither die is official, in my opinion.

1. Note that the obverse legend ends CAESS. 

2. In RIC, Trier camp gates always have 2 turrets, never 4.

Also bear in mind that Bastien's "first epidemic wave" of counterfeiting extends from c. 318-330. A significant portion of the coins in circulation in Gaul were counterfeits, produced by what must have been well-organized illicit mints. The quality is often quite good. If I remember correctly, Bastien suggests that imitations have benn undercounted in hoards for this reason.

 

My photo may not show it as clearly, but it's CAES. The detail after the S is part of the bust. It's more apparent in hand than the photos show.

For your second point, I'm not arguing but I am curious on what basis is the possibility of having four turrets excluded? After all, the definition of a new type is one that differs from all known ones - naturally it's going to be somewhat unusual.

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23 minutes ago, CPK said:

So now I'm starting to wonder: if the obverse style is to all appearances "official" (as mine looks, to me), and the reverse may not only be indistinguishable from, but in fact may actually be struck from official dies, on what basis can we delineate official from imitative? It begins to look like a distinction without a difference, for all practical purposes. Or is weight alone enough to judge a 4th-century coin imitative?

It's an interesting question that often occurs. The definition of 'official' is apparently obvious but there are many grey areas - ex-mint engravers made coins, and official dies were stolen. Often we can see this was the case, but how many times is it invisible? The issues of Magnentius mentioned are a nightmare because the official coins are so bad it's really not possible to tell them from good imitations. There are limes coins, the status of which isn't certain. Even the crude barbarous issues could be argued to be officially sanctioned. Then there were times mints continued production when they weren't under official control. Is the output of the Gallic and Britannic Empires official?

It isn't just a problem for ancient coins. The exact same problems occurred right into the modern era, such as before and during the English Civil War. With coins like Russian novodels, the mint is its own imitator.

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