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Light Smoothing Yay or Nay?


David Atherton

Smoothing   

25 members have voted

  1. 1. Light smoothing of the fields?

    • Yes
      17
    • No
      8


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Recently, Aaron Berk on his Ancient Coins Youtube Podcast stated light smoothing on bronze coins doesn't bother him at all. He equated it as part of the cleaning process. 

So, I was wondering how everyone here felt about it. Light smoothing of corrosion or patina in the fields as part of cleaning the process, yay or nay? 

Edited by David Atherton
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I remember that.  He said, "Who cares?"  He also mentioned that he was not referring to the egregious type of smoothing.  There's also the rabbit hole of where removing the dirt and smoothing begins.

I prefer none, but as long as it's not that rosy, worked-over look, I can live with a little.  Here's an example of too much on the reverse.

Domitian-81-96-AESestertius-35mm_21.16g-RIC702-IOVIVICTORIF-VGSavoca.jpg.5303060282ecb7759a8edd2beb271b49.jpg

TrajanDecius-249-251-AESestertius-30mm16.08g-RICIV126d-VFnicegreenpatina.jpg.5548ea5f0f81638cc955545ad4831c30.jpg

This one appears to my untrained eye to have some, but not egregious.

Trajan(98-117)-AEDupondius-28mm_12.58gRIC428AbundantianiceaquapatinaSavoca.jpg.6313d512ab7a152c330059025fd0567c.jpg

Unless I'm mistaken, this one has little or none.

 

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Posted · Supporter

Interesting way to put it. A little hard for me to answer since I don't know much about cleaning ancients, but I would imagine that some 'smoothing' would be inevitable on some coins as the dirt and deposits are removed. So, I voted 'yes'.

Personally, I'm with Aaron Berk on this one. I don't mind coins that are lightly smoothed.

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13 minutes ago, Nerosmyfavorite68 said:

I remember that.  He said, "Who cares?"  He also mentioned that he was not referring to the egregious type of smoothing. 

I was going to link the video in the OP so folks could hear his own explanation, but couldn't remember which episode it was (I think it was in January).

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2 hours ago, Nerosmyfavorite68 said:

There's also the rabbit hole of where removing the dirt and smoothing begins.

Yes, this is certainly a rabbit hole. A rabbit hole of "what is the definition of smoothing?". And, "what is the definition of tooling?". I'll just say this. I don't mind, if some of the patina is removed, as long as patina is not removed in such a way, that the coin is made to appear to have details, which may not have existed in the original coin. For example, carving legend letters out of the patina, with an appearance which may not have existed in the original coin. Or, carving device details out of the patina, with an appearance which may not have existed in the original coin. And, of course, removing any of the metal, which is underneath the patina, is something which is unacceptable, to me.

I'm never quite sure, what anyone's definitions of "smoothing" or "light smoothing" or "tooling" are. Therefore, I answered "No" in this thread's poll. If a coin is ever advertised as "lightly smoothed" or "lightly smoothed fields" or "smoothed" or "tooled", I won't buy the coin, because I don't know what the seller's definitions are.

Edited by sand
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heh, everyone has different definitions of "light". 

I've cleaned a good handful of coins in the last few years. I have a soft spot for corroded coins. It's not their fault. Shuold they be permanantly left with growths and buboes all over them because of how they were in the ground, or what their poor metal composition was?... I don't think so. Without willfully chiseling into them, coins should be allowed to have dirt and rock encrustrations removed off, so they reflect what their intended look is, not just what a 2 week soak in some DI water and a toothbrush can accomplish.

Reforming facil features or legends then.. no no no. 

It can be a very fine line with certain coins. Usually the more expensive, the more criticism the coins gets.. which is why i like Byzantine bronze.. 😉

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I voted no, although I would buy a smoothed coin. My preference is for the coin to come out of the ground perfect with no need for attention at all. From there, it's a sliding scale until eventually, it has been smoothed too much and I won't buy it. Would I prefer they didn't clean it? It depends what it looks like. I don't mind encrustations but that is also on a sliding scale. So who cares? Well I do, as one of the many factors to weigh up. It's the same as 'harshly cleaned'. Maybe it needed it, maybe it didn't, but I can't tell now it's done.

I presume Aaron is speaking in comparison to other things that might get written on a slab, like tooling. Compared to that, no, I don't care about light smoothing. Although I would also buy a 'lightly tooled' coin if that just means someone was a bit heavy brushing between the letters and there were no other better examples.

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I don't have much to add to what I posted in December on this subject. All the links still seem to work.

https://www.numisforums.com/topic/5514-defend-it…/page/2/#comment-72026

"Some of you might find it interesting to read the views of one dealer on acceptable vs. unacceptable practices with respect to painting/repatination, smoothing and tooling, etc., using Judaean coins as an example. It's on the defunct website of Fontanille Coins -- a once well-known and reputable dealer, apparently -- so the link is through the Wayback Machine: https://web.archive.org/web/20190915164751/http://www.fontanillecoins.com/tooling.htm.

In general, he views cleaning and what he calls "repatination" as acceptable, and tooling (beyond mere smoothing of the fields) as unacceptable. Here is one of his statements:

"Repatination is an improper word that does not consist in removing the original patina in order to replace it by a new and thus fake one. It simply consists, after a coin has been cleaned, in adding a layer of bright substance in the background in order to enhance the patterns. The silver coins do not need repatination because they are naturally bright, but the bronze coins, when cleaned, are generally covered by a dark patina and they need repatination."

It would seem that as long as the repatination is removable, it's OK in his view. So he would probably endorse adding "desert patina" like a certain dealer named "A." does. He also seems to think some smoothing is OK -- but not tooling.

Here are links to two threads on the FORVM discussion boards commenting on Fontanille's views, one from 2013 and one from 2015:

https://www.forumancientcoins.com/board/index.php?topic=91927.msg573789#msg573789

https://www.forumancientcoins.com/board/index.php?topic=101965.msg628053#msg628053

As far as I'm concerned, so long as what somebody does to a coin beyond cleaning is removable and disclosed, it becomes a matter of taste as to whether it increases or decreases the value, and whether it's acceptable or unacceptable. Personally, it's not to my taste. I don't like the way applied desert patina looks -- perhaps because it's so strongly associated in my mind with "fakeness." So I wouldn't buy a desert patina coin from "A.", disclosed or otherwise. And I don't like "painted" coins either. But at least processes like that can be reversed.

Smoothing of the fields of bronze coins also doesn't bother me that much, as long as it doesn't touch the actual devices (if I'm using that word correctly) or legends on the coin. In any event, it's such a common process that I'm sure I've bought coins that are smoothed. 

As far as I'm concerned, though, actual tooling (re-engraving) of the designs or lettering on ancient coins transforms the coin so much that it's no longer an actual "ancient" coin in any genuine sense. It may be attractive as an objet d'art, but it might as well be a restrike or reproduction, even though it's on the original flan. It's no more the original coin than a "hobo nickel" is the original nickel.

I'm not sure I agree with the author of the essay on Fontanille Coins that smoothing by itself is a type of tooling. I view them as fundamentally different in kind as well as in degree.

As far as I know, tooling is not so easy and not so much a concern with silver denarii and antoninianii, which is one of the reasons I focus more on such coins in buying Roman Imperials, and avoid bronzes unless they're from a dealer whom I trust to recognize and disclose tooling."

Just one caveat to the opinion I expressed that smoothing of the fields on ancient bronzes doesn't bother me as long as it doesn't affect the devices or the lettering. I think that even if it doesn't affect them, if the result is fields as smooth as glass surrounding devices that remain noticeably rough, pitted, or even corroded, the contrast between the two can make the coin look rather absurd -- too much cognitive dissonance! -- and the the smoothing was excessive and overly obvious.

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22 minutes ago, DonnaML said:

I'm not sure I agree with the author of the essay on Fontanille Coins that smoothing by itself is a type of tooling. I view them as fundamentally different in kind as well as in degree.

Just one caveat to the opinion I expressed that smoothing of the fields on ancient bronzes doesn't bother me as long as it doesn't affect the devices or the lettering. I think that even if it doesn't affect them, if the result is fields as smooth as glass surrounding devices that remain noticeably rough, pitted, or even corroded, the contrast between the two can make the coin look rather absurd -- too much cognitive dissonance! -- and the the smoothing was excessive and overly obvious.

The problem is, if a coin has rough surfaces, it's generally rough on both the devices and fields. If you only applied smoothing to the fields, you would have a very unnatural look. You would definitely have to work on the devices as well to give the coin a unified appearance. As far as I'm concerned, smoothing is fine if and only if it removes dirt and mineral deposits. The patina itself, regardless of its condition, should be left alone.

Case in point. Here's an as of Domitian, quite rough. There's no way you could just smooth the fields without also tooling the devices, or the coin would look half-baked. But as far as I'm concerned, I LIKE this kind of look in an ancient bronze. It looks rugged and, well...ancient, as it should.

 

domitian.jpeg.03c0e5db33835854a1bf27862874d713.jpeg

Edited by JAZ Numismatics
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4 minutes ago, JAZ Numismatics said:

The problem is, if a coin has rough surfaces, it's generally rough on both the devices and fields. If you only applied smoothing to the fields, you would have a very unnatural look. You would definitely have to work on the devices as well to give the coin a unified appearance. As far as I'm concerned, smoothing is fine if and only if it removes dirt and mineral deposits. The patina itself, regardless of its condition, should be left alone.

Case in point. 

 

domitian.jpeg.03c0e5db33835854a1bf27862874d713.jpeg

See the last paragraph I added to my comment from December, making essentially the same point.

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, JAZ Numismatics said:

The problem is, if a coin has rough surfaces, it's generally rough on both the devices and fields. If you only applied smoothing to the fields, you would have a very unnatural look. You would definitely have to work on the devices as well to give the coin a unified appearance. As far as I'm concerned, smoothing is fine if and only if it removes dirt and mineral deposits. The patina itself, regardless of its condition, should be left alone.

Case in point. Here's an as of Domitian, quite rough. There's no way you could just smooth the fields without also tooling the devices, or the coin would look half-baked. But as far as I'm concerned, I LIKE this kind of look in an ancient bronze. It looks rugged and, well...ancient, as it should.

 

domitian.jpeg.03c0e5db33835854a1bf27862874d713.jpeg

I used to agree with all of what you say, but ...

What got me thinking about this more seriously was a recent coin I added.

 

 

V182.jpg.1c893feeec51a1c8dee8edf99f18e043.jpg
Vespasian
Æ Sestertius, 23.86g
Rome mint, 71 AD
Obv: IMP CAES VESPASIAN AVG P M TR P P P COS III; Head of Vespasian, laureate, r., with aegis
Rev: PAX AVGVSTI; S C in field; Pax stg. l., with branch and cornucopiae
RIC 182 (R3, this coin). BMC -. BNC -.
Ex Harlan J Berk BBS 225, 30 November 2023, lot 9. Ex Curtis Clay Collection. Ex CNG E93, 7 July 2004, lot 83.

Not described in the HJB catalogue as 'smoothed', but the earlier CNG listing mentions 'light smoothing'. I suppose after hearing Aaron B's opinion on the matter I now know why it wasn't mentioned!

This was the first coin I have knowingly purchased that has smoothing (almost certainly there are others unknowingly so). The above coin is provenanced to the Curtis Clay Collection and cited by RIC ... if it's good enough for them, it's good enough for me! This coin, and Aaron's comments made me rethink my opinion on the matter. I don't believe the above coin is egregiously smoothed, but then again I have no Idea what it looked like before hand. Possibly, the smoothing was part of the cleaning process since most of the black patina is still intact. At any rate, I voted yes. IMHO, a little smoothing is acceptable with these big bronzes, otherwise you will have precious little to collect!

Edited by David Atherton
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