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The Art of Silverwashing: "There must be some value in there somewhere"


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We all know about Silver coins, they've been used for thousands of years, even since the dawn of coinage. We all also know about Copper and Bronze coins. They're Silver's less popular cousin, having much less value overall. Then, what happens when the treasury runs out of silver for whatever reason and the government is left with only Bronze and Copper? (Definitely not stolen by government officials)

Well... It's time to start washing those Coppers with some Silver. Let the people think nothing happened to the coins, even if the silver starts peeling off for some reason after several transactions. 

This said, ancient people often hoarded these Silverwashed coins, perhaps for times when there wasn't enough Silver even to hide the fact there was no silver. This means that many have arrived to our days with their silvering intact, left for us to marvel at the apparent lack of value, yet still valued by collectors!

Post some of your favourite Fully or Partially silvered coins in this thread for everyone to enjoy!

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This one is my only fully Silvered coin. A deal found on Ebay. It shows Emperor Aurelian (270-275), one of the ancient masters of Silverwashing. On the reverse there's Sol Invictus, his primary God, with the inscription ORIENS AVG. The mint mark: SXXT, shows us where the coin comes from and its actual value from. In this case it comes from the Second Mint at Ticinum and it's valued at a 20:1 ratio (XX to I), showing that there was around 5% silver in the coin if counting the silvering layer shown in the picture. Truly, an improvement from previous emperors.

What's your favourite Silvered coin?

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I have one that's mostly silvered, from about the same time. It might not have made sense to hoard these, but 50 years later people were hoarding masses of bronzes, which makes even less sense.

Probus Antoninianus, 277

image.png.a5ce9d9a565f7fb3b9bf695a0c4a21d2.png

Lugdunum. Bronze, 24mm, 4.18g. Radiate and cuirassed bust right; IMP C PROBVS P F AVG. Mars walking right, holding spear and trophy; MARS VICTOR / II in exergue (RIC V, 38). From the Pamphill (Dorset) Hoard 2011.

Edited by John Conduitt
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Many collectors don't understand the "silvering process" on late Roman coins 🤔. The silver we see on late billon tetradrachms, radiates, & Diocletian era nummi wasn't applied to their surfaces, rather it was achieved  by a process that is usually referred to a "pickling". The silver surface on these coins can't be peeled off, it can only be worn off. The pickling process is a chemical procedure applied to coins of low silver content. The annealed planchets are given a bath in a tartrate-salt solution & later a bath in dilute sulfuric acid. This treatment will remove the copper from the surface leaving a thin layer of silver that can be worn off or removed by corrosion. The coin pictured below is a late billon tetradrachm of Philip II, with a silver content of about 16.5%, it has been "pickled" to give it the look of fine quality silver. The coin has some dark incrustations but the surface is also porous, revealing the true color beneath the surface when the photo is enlarged.

81823650_RomaE-Sale82Lot977McAlee1064c(2).jpg.84895b8010588a8050aa57b7960e12b1.jpg

The nummi pictured below are about 4-5% silver, & they have also been "pickled" 😎.

1648067990_NGC2491170-013AlKowskyCollection.jpg.c626c92069339ea21347f8ded1752aac.jpg

609372004_2491170-023AKCollection.jpg.afcee522950c56bdf2eae4e84c0c5138.jpg

233661372_2491170-022AKCollection.jpg.ce8bf2163da77801310f6e9bc2c147f1.jpg

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Aurelianus of Aurelian Serdica 274-275 AD, Obv Bust right radiate draped and cuirassed Rv. Female presenting wreath to Aurelian RIC 310 Estiot 1049  4.24 grms 22 mm  Photo by W. Hansenaurelian3.jpg.3e71399338de53dabe2ccf4a9700d56e.jpgThis coin features the title of "Invictus". I am sometimes curious about these large hoards that show up at this time. There is some debate as to the value of the Aurelianus hover one intriguing theory is that they were basically 1/20 of an silver antoninianus of roughly the same weight. 

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My favourite silvered.....

Probus

Obv:– VIRTVS PRO-BI AVG, Radiate, helmeted, cuirassed bust left, holding spear and shield, decorated with emperor riding past row of soldiers with shields
Rev:– ADVENTVS PROBI AVG, Emperor riding left, right hand raised, left holding sceptre; at foot, captive
Minted in Lugdunum (IIII) Emission 5 Officina 4. End A.D. 277 to Early A.D. 278
References:– Cohen 69. Bastien 256 (2 examples). RIC 64 Bust Type G (S)
An obverse die match to the plate example in Bastien

RI_132ma_img~0.jpg

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Here are some partially silvered GENIO POPVLI coins from the Trier mint.

[IMG]
Galerius as Caesar, AD 293-305.
Roman silvered billon follis, 8.62 g, 27.2 mm, 6 h.
Trier, AD 302-3.
Obv: MAXIMIANVS NOBIL C, laureate and cuirassed bust, right.
Rev: GENIO POPV-LI ROMANI, Genius standing facing, head left, wearing modius, naked but for chlamys over left shoulder, holding patera and cornucopiae; S/F//IITR.
Refs: RIC vi, p. 196, 508b; Cohen 65; RCV 14348.
Notes: Some numismatists postulate that the S F in the fields of these coins from Trier is an abbreviation for SAECVLI FELICITAS.

[IMG]
Constantius I, Caesar, 293-305.
Roman billon follis, 9.95 g, 26.6 mm, 11 h.
Trier, AD 296-97.
Obv: CONSTANTIVS NOB CAES, laureate head right.
Rev: GENIO POPV-LI ROMANI, Genius standing left, modius on head, naked but for chlamys over left shoulder, holding patera and cornucopiae; A/Γ//TR.
Refs: RIC vi, p. 183, 218a; Cohen 61; RCV 14035.

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  • Benefactor
Posted · Benefactor

I always found these interesting, it's like history now is repeating itself. If you check out Martin Armstrong's blog Armstrong Economics he has very descriptive explanations on the ancient monetary system and how the economics indicators and principles then are still relevant today, and how if we only look back at the what the causations were then we could better appreciate and respect the natural cycles we still see today.

Here are the silvered follii that I have pictures of. I always wondered how they actually silvered them, anyone that knows please share.

1-3.jpg.285c283520feb665239a78f441a13746.jpg2-3.jpg.211a067282a8d2e08e8fb2b1d7c9c9ef.jpg

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  • Benefactor
Posted · Benefactor
Posted (edited)
4 hours ago, maridvnvm said:

My favourite silvered.....

Probus

Obv:– VIRTVS PRO-BI AVG, Radiate, helmeted, cuirassed bust left, holding spear and shield, decorated with emperor riding past row of soldiers with shields
Rev:– ADVENTVS PROBI AVG, Emperor riding left, right hand raised, left holding sceptre; at foot, captive
Minted in Lugdunum (IIII) Emission 5 Officina 4. End A.D. 277 to Early A.D. 278
References:– Cohen 69. Bastien 256 (2 examples). RIC 64 Bust Type G (S)
An obverse die match to the plate example in Bastien

RI_132ma_img~0.jpg

The Portrait looks so realistic, an action shot really. I also really like the reverse on this, very attractive.

It is truly amazing at how talented these engravers were even during times of financial and political strife.

Just think, the life expectancy of an Ancient Roman would be mid 30s max. As we all know, it is very rare to become an expert at anything prior to at least your early 40s, especially something that takes extreme talent, and typically it is only if you are remarkably dedicated to the trade, the average is possibly more like early 50s.

However, these people most likely worked a higher percentage of their day than the average expert today would. So the probability of becoming an expert at an earlier age due to working more hours a day would likely be offset by the fact that people would most likely succumb to death before they became an expert.

Still, considering the above, and despite the high volume of coins being minted there must have been a very finite amount of engravers of expert level in existence at the time, this chap must have been one of them. This also isn't considering the fact that with age your short sightedness declines. How many of you use a loupe to investigate your coin. Now imagine engraving the die of the coin you are looking at.

I feel like the real expert @dougsmit could offer more insight on this.

Edited by Egry
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This was my ORIGINAL Postumus...

image.jpeg.3964baaf607bfa079d36eb8094641bc3.jpeg

 

THEN, a friend CLEANED it (the ONLY coin in my collection that has been CLEANED!)

We found out that it was SILVERED!  We originally thought it was Green due to the Bronze core.

image.jpeg.0640b43ec182e74e903382ecd653c76b.jpeg

RI Postumus - Silvered 259-268 CE Antoninianus Cologne Oriens ex @TIF

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Wow, there are some truly exceptional coins in this thread! 🤯 

I showed a Gallienus in another thread, so here's a Probus (Asian mint - Saturninus revolt issue[?]), a Maximian (Lugdunum), and an Aurelian (Milan) :

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782291624_maxantlugdunum.jpg.8794457df29b7365e8efdc2d16a75dd7.jpg929550384_aurelianmilan.jpg.9aa985876b46956b57e60915967dd101.jpg

Does anyone have a highly silvered pre-reform Aurelian?  Is there such thing?

Finally, my most highly silvered follis/nummus:

image.jpeg.9a0afc210c871a7cc9bc7dedf1131bca.jpeg

Edited by Severus Alexander
lower-res image (was too large a file!)
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