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Old School Die Engraver from Alexandria, circa AD 300


CPK

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You know how it is, when you're browsing a coin auction or store, and a coin suddenly "jumps out" at you? You immediately recognize it as something special. Well that is what happened to me the moment I saw this one come up on @Victor_Clark 's VCoins store, and it did not take long for it to hop from my wishlist, to cart, to mailbox!
 
ConstantiusfollisHercules.jpg.139309f46e1ef584b8002c2e39079d9e.jpg
 
Of course, what grabbed my attention on this coin was the absolutely extraordinary portrait of Constantius I. Far from the heavily stylized, enforced uniformity one usually sees on Tetrarchic folles, the portrait on this coin shows realism, proportion, and a sensitivity reminiscent of the coinage of Hadrian, Trajan, or even the Flavians. It's a relic of a bygone era - a throwback to the high Empire of the 2nd century, a time irrevocably lost through the crises of the mid-late 200's AD.
 
What makes this coin even more amazing to me is that it came from the mint at Alexandria, Egypt. Now I've nothing against the Alexandrians but you have to face it, by the time of the Dominate the portrait style was distinctive and about as far from proportioned realism as you can get! Even the better mints such as Aquileia or Ticinum rarely, if ever, turned out a portrait to match this one, nor did other Alexandrian coins of this same issue (RIC VI 40). The only other RIC VI 40 I could find that is remotely similar was an obverse die match from the British Museum. It would appear that this obverse die is something of an engraver's anomaly. --EDIT-- I should have looked more closely - the BM coin is not a die match, although the portrait styles are very similar. Same engraver, perhaps?
 
It makes me wonder, who was this die engraver, and was he consciously trying to imitate the artistic style of days gone by? Did he have an older piece from the 2nd century, kept either as a curiosity, good luck token, or maybe even as part of a collection? Did anyone else in antiquity notice the break from the standard local style? The speculation is interesting if nothing else.
 
The reverse is also fascinating, and an unusual one amid the sea of “Genius” types. It’s also a fitting type for Constantius, as Caesar to Maximianus Herculius. The reverse alone makes this coin something special, quite aside from the obverse.
 
All in all, a beautiful coin which will remain a favorite in my collection!
 
 
 
Edited by CPK
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Great coin. Yes, a throwback individual who may have been doing some of the better style tetradrachms recently like Domitianus. Or maybe a celator who wasn't paying attention in art class when the instructor was teaching the new tetrarchic style.

Edited by Ancient Coin Hunter
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3 hours ago, CPK said:
You know how it is, when you're browsing a coin auction or store, and a coin suddenly "jumps out" at you? You immediately recognize it as something special. Well that is what happened to me the moment I saw this one come up on @Victor_Clark 's VCoins store, and it did not take long for it to hop from my wishlist, to cart, to mailbox!
 
attachFull1572380
 
Of course, what grabbed my attention on this coin was the absolutely extraordinary portrait of Constantius I. Far from the heavily stylized, enforced uniformity one usually sees on Tetrarchic folles, the portrait on this coin shows realism, proportion, and a sensitivity reminiscent of the coinage of Hadrian, Trajan, or even the Flavians. It's a relic of a bygone era - a throwback to the high Empire of the 2nd century, a time irrevocably lost through the crises of the mid-late 200's AD.
 
What makes this coin even more amazing to me is that it came from the mint at Alexandria, Egypt. Now I've nothing against the Alexandrians but you have to face it, by the time of the Dominate the portrait style was distinctive and about as far from proportioned realism as you can get! Even the better mints such as Aquileia or Ticinum rarely, if ever, turned out a portrait to match this one, nor did other Alexandrian coins of this same issue (RIC VI 40). The only other RIC VI 40 I could find that is remotely similar was an obverse die match from the British Museum. It would appear that this obverse die is something of an engraver's anomaly.
 
It makes me wonder, who was this die engraver, and was he consciously trying to imitate the artistic style of days gone by? Did he have an older piece from the 2nd century, kept either as a curiosity, good luck token, or maybe even as part of a collection? Did anyone else in antiquity notice the break from the standard local style? The speculation is interesting if nothing else.
 
The reverse is also fascinating, and an unusual one amid the sea of “Genius” types. It’s also a fitting type for Constantius, as Caesar to Maximianus Herculius. The reverse alone makes this coin something special, quite aside from the obverse.
 
All in all, a beautiful coin which will remain a favorite in my collection!

CPK, Nice score 😊. A good numismatic comparison for portrait accuracy would be the famous Arras Gold Medallion struck at the Trier mint. The head on your coin compares favorably to the head on the Arras medallion 😉.

TheArrasGoldMedallion52.88gmTrierMint.webp.edd01df459cf540ff772ebbc3ec391d3.webp

Pictured below is the only nummus of Constantius I that I have from the Alexandria mint. It's an earlier strike than your coin (AD 297-298), with a completely different portrait. Being an earlier strike than your coin, the engraver probably had no accurate model to work with & made this stylized, generic portrait.

AMCC3Lot311230_00.jpg.82ff9429ebd58385d5014700b665f3a6.jpg

ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT. Constantius I as Caesar, AD 293-305 (struck 297/8). AE Nummus: Officina #3, 10.40 gm, 27 mm. RIC Alexandria 27a. Ex Caesar Augustus Collection; Ex Incitatus Coins; Ex AMCC Auction #3. This coin has the unusual obverse inscription beginning with "FAL".

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10 hours ago, CPK said:

You immediately recognize it as something special.

The OP coin is a beauty! Congratulations.
Here is Constantius of mine from Alexandria:
ConstantiusGPRmmALE18107.jpg.b5b0a4ad5d3c4f6e6ca6911945087ff1.jpg
Constantius as Caesar
Alexandria
27-24 mm. 11.42 grams.
FL VAL CONSTANTIVS NOB CAES
Note the curls in his beard. Curls only appear on coins of eastern mints.
S in left field A over P in right field
ALE in exergue
RIC Alexandria 35a "c. 302-303"

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On 8/2/2023 at 3:24 PM, CPK said:

Oops. Accidentally quoted myself when I meant to edit..

@CPK, this is when I could wish there was an imogee for 'been there, done that.'

But I have to wonder why no one has stated the obvious (...maybe because that's exactly what it is?).  On a prosaically technical level, the relief on your, right, amazing Constantinus Chlorus, along with the famous medallion cited by @Al Kowsky, is the starting point of their dramatic departure from the other coins of the Tetrarchy. 

Regarding the frankly flat style of the entire period, I have trouble assigning special blame to the Alexandria mint.  One phase of the trend from higher to lower relief starts as early as the interval between Valerian and later issues of Gallienus, and is perpetuated through most of the Illyrian emperors, right up to Diocletian.  Yes, it's more subtle than the examples from Alexandria, but you can see it beginning as early as that.    

Edited by JeandAcre
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A comparison of the 3 portraits together is rather interesting 🤔. Note that the CPK example was struck later than the other 2 coins. Aside from the style differences, note that the 2 earlier examples have unusually thick necks. You would expect the CPK example with the higher relief & more realistic portrait to be an earlier strike, but that is not the case....

3follesAlexandria.jpg.e0a87d569f5be12ee2fff7a2e5ed1abe.jpg

                                c. AD 304/5                                                                           c. AD 297/8                                                                 c. AD 302/3

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54 minutes ago, Al Kowsky said:

A comparison of the 3 portraits together is rather interesting 🤔. Note that the CPK example was struck later than the other 2 coins. Aside from the style differences, note that the 2 earlier examples have unusually thick necks. You would expect the CPK example with the higher relief & more realistic portrait to be an earlier strike, but that is not the case....

3follesAlexandria.jpg.e0a87d569f5be12ee2fff7a2e5ed1abe.jpg

                                c. AD 304/5                                                                           c. AD 297/8                                                                 c. AD 302/3

 

 

Interesting! And compare these to this portrait, struck a decade later. This portrait style is very common on these late 3rd early 4th century Alexandrian busts. To my eyes, this style - the shape and presentation of the bust - has clear connections to old Egyptian art from before the Hellenistic era.

33692.jpg.81b4fd30b3b7eb8ebc10e78054c2e470.jpg

"LICINIUS I. 308-324 AD. Æ Follis (23mm, 5.18 gm, 12h). Alexandria mint, 2nd officina. Struck 312-313 AD. IMP C LIC LICINNIVS P F AVG, laureate head right / GENIO AVGVSTI, Genius standing left, holding head of Serapis and cornucopiae; */N/(palm-branch)-B//ALE. RIC VI 160a. EF, gray and brown patina, traces of silvering remain."

https://www.acsearch.info/search.html?id=33692

The mint at Alexandria seemed to be remarkably inconsistent in portrait style.

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My favorite coin from the Alexandria mint is pictured below ☺️. I won the coin at auction about 9 years ago & paid the hefty price of $193.88 for it 🙄. The coin was struck c. 304/5, & has an unusually fine depiction of Jupiter holding Victory who presenting him with a wreath in one hand, & with the other hand he holds a long scepter. 

3807482-003AKCollection.jpg.2afc5947879c949ee081bcbb13fea95f.jpg

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