"common" yet rare

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Valentinian, Oct 13, 2019.

  1. Valentinian

    Valentinian Supporter! Supporter

    Sometimes RIC lists a coin as "common" yet the type is actually rare (even though RIC didn't make a mistake). Here is how that can happen, discussed in the context of RIC VI which covers the reform of Diocletian through the second tetrarchy, that is 294-313.

    This coin is both "common" and "rare," each in its own way. This coin which arrived yesterday illustrates the point.

    Constantius I. Augustus of the second tetrarchy, 305-306.
    29-27 mm. 8.74 grams.
    FIDES MILITVM AVGG ET CAESS NN, Fides seated left, holding standard in each hand
    AQS in exergue
    RIC VI Aquileia 62, page 320. "C"

    RIC says this is "common," so how can it be rare?

    Here is how. Pay attention to the distinction between "types" and "varieties."

    Different designs get different RIC numbers. Every change in obverse legend gets a new RIC number. Different mints have different RIC numbers. Every change in control mark gets a new RIC number (different officina numbers do not). RIC assigns rarities to individual RIC numbers which are detailed in a way most collectors would call "varieties" rather than "types," where a "type" is determined by the reverse design and legend, not counting mintmarks or control marks. Mintmarks and control marks make "varieties" and distinct RIC numbers. That means a single reverse type can be associated with many RIC numbers, sometimes several at a given mint and from a dozen mints (RIC VI covers 16 mints, not all in operation all the time). So it is easy to see a type can be common and a variety rare. Sellers often say a coin of a common type is "rare" by citing its RIC-number variety rarity as opposed to its type rarity.

    The case above is not that case; it is the inverse--the variety is "common" but the type rare. A particular variety is, by RIC's definition, "common" by being in every major national collection. This does not necessarily imply very many of that exact variety are known. And, if a type is issued at only one mint for a short period of time and quite rare with only one or two varieties, it is possible that the type is rare yet major museums all have one of that variety (after all, the collectors who donated their coins to the museums sought unusual types). So, the variety can be "common," but there are so few varieties that the type is rare.

    According to RIC VI, the precise Constantius variety above is in the major museums. But the legend was issued only at Aquileia (not a dozen mints like most follis types of the period). Furthermore, the legend is more often accompanied by Fides standing, whereas this one is seated. Failmezger's excellent book "Roman Bronze Coins: From Paganism to Christianity, 294-364 A.D." lists all the coins by type (not by variety). His Type 44 has the legend and Fides standing. This type with Fides seated is not noted. RIC VI has 727 pages and you can imagine how easy it would be to overlook the distinction between "stg." and "seated" on a rare type listed at only one mint. This type is rare, although glancing at its number in RIC would show "Common". By the way, there are no coins of this type (for any emperor) on vcoins or MA-Shops as I write.

    Can you show us something related? Maybe a type that is rare but the RIC variety is not?
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  3. Finn235

    Finn235 Well-Known Member

    I used to be awed by finding a "rare" variety until I realized that rarity in terms of minor features doesn't amount to a hill of beans.

    Two examples that immediately spring to mind (and mine aren't the best examples but I hope you get my point) are the oh so common GLORIA EXERCITVS single standard AE4, home to some important rarities for someone like myself who wants a coin of each emperor as Caesar *and* Augustus

    Constantine II, Augustus, Alexandria mint, S-R flanking banner, no mintmark (This particular type is rare, plenty of others are listed as "common" - but honestly how often do you see Constantine Jr as Augustus?)
    Constantine ii augustus gloria exercitus.jpg

    Constans, Caesar, Rome mint, mintmark R*T (listed as R5?)
    Constans caesar gloria exercitvs.jpg

    Both of course were sold to me without proper identification and for minimal cost. Neither emperor is rare in his own right, and the type is perhaps the most common singular type of ancient coin aside from the Chinese Wu Zhu. That's where most people stop, and most don't realize their lack of a Constantine II Augustus or a Constans Caesar until they look more closely through their collection.
  4. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    This one falls under the RIC is wrong when it claims it's common category:

    Faustina Jr IVNONI LVCINAE dupondius.jpg
    Faustina Jr, under Marcus Aurelius, AD 161-175
    Roman orichalcum dupondius; 13.23 g, 25.1 mm, 6 h
    Rome, AD 161-175
    Obv: FAVSTINA AVGVSTA, bare-headed and draped bust, right
    Rev: IVNONI LVCINAE, Juno standing left between two children, holding a third child on left arm
    Refs: RIC 1650; BMCRE p. 541, *; Cohen 137; RCV 5298; MIR 18.

    It appears to be much scarcer than RIC would imply. RIC says 1650 is "common."


    I can find several examples of the corresponding sestertius, RIC 1649, but not a single example of the dupondius is to be found among the 31575 Roman imperial coins at The Coin Project, and only two are to be found at acsearchinfo. CNG has never sold one and none are for sale at V-Coins. The British Museum does not have an example in their collection. I've only been able to find four other examples online after an exhaustive search:

    There this one at OCRE, from the Münzsammlung des Seminars für Alte Geschichte der Albert-Ludwigs-Universität. It's a double-die match to my coin.


    This is the Wildwinds example; same obverse die as mine and the above example; different reverse die:


    One recently (Feb. 25, 2018) sold by Leu, with dies unique to it.


    And another recently (April 2, 2019) sold by Noble Numismatics. It's an obverse die-match to my coin but was struck with a unique reverse die.

    Faustina Jr IVNONI LVCINAE dupondius Noble Numismatics.jpg

    These are the only examples I can find after an exhaustive internet search.
  5. randygeki

    randygeki Coin Collector

    A common type is the Falling Horseman FTR's but is has a lot of rarities.
    Spiral shield

    Rare mint

    Rare Emperor (especially for this mint)

    Rare rev. legend break (according to RIC)
  6. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    I believe this is my rarest official FH:
    Constantius Gallus, Amiens

    This is second?
    Constantius Gallus, Trier - This coin is 25mm in diameter which would make it AE1 but we really need to gauge coins on the design or dot border size rather than the flan.
  7. Finn235

    Finn235 Well-Known Member

    Outside of my LRB's, I do have this Marcus Aurelius
    M ANTONINVS AVG GERM SARM, laureate head right
    TR P XXXI IMP VIIII COS III P P, Jupiter seated left, holding Victory and sceptre.
    RIC 381

    Despite being called common, I cannot find a single other example of this coin anywhere online. Furthermore, the TR P XXXI + IMP VIIII combination is apparently rare in itself; Aurelius must have received his ninth acclamation very shortly before his 32nd TR P year, that is, October or November 177. As pointed out on another forum, the abrupt end of Jupiter's staff into the final stroke of VIIII indicates that no dies were even made for 381, and this coin was made by a re-worked die for 371, the same type but with IMP VIII. It is therefore possible that only a handful were ever made, as the reverse die was clearly near the end of its life on this coin.
  8. zumbly

    zumbly Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana Supporter

    Another case of RIC being apparently wrong on a coin being "common" is this Valerian antoninianus. The type is in fact common for Trebonianus Gallus, but for Valerian, I've found no other examples in acsearch, wildwinds, coryssa, OCRE, the British Museum collection, or in the Cunetio and Normanby hoards.

    Valerian - Apollo Salvtari 1903.jpg
    Billon Antoninianus. 2.82g, 20.5mm. Rome mint, AD 256-257. RIC 76; Cohen 28; Cunetio -. O: IMP C P LIC VALERIANVS P F AVG, radiate, draped and cuirassed bust right. R: APOLL SALVTARI, Apollo standing left holding laurel branch in right hand and lyre resting on rock in left.
  9. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    My best example of the rare/common coin is the Septimius Severus / INVICTO IMP type which is very common from the 'Emesa' mint. There are several variations that are less common.

    C/V in INVICTO


    The rarest of the bunch is the INVICTO IMP struck at Alexandria. This is the only one I have seen. I feel lucky that the MP of the lower right reverse legend shows to confirm the reading.
  10. maridvnvm

    maridvnvm Well-Known Member

    Following on from Doug's examples with more of the same common type......

    I will start and repeat the most common variation (though in uncommon condition). I have at least half a dozen of this variation though the rest are not worthy of sharing....


    Doug's AVG II C, INVICTO IMP TROPAE sits somewhere in the chronology of these issues....

    AVG, INVICTO IMP TROPAEA II (not in main references, two examples known to Curtis Clay, one is his collection, the other in mine)

    AVG, INVICTO IMP TROPAEA (same obverse die) - RIC 356
    AVG COS II, INVICTO IMP TROPA.., (Curtis Clay knows of three examples, two in his own collection (one of which is ex-Kelly) and mine, all three from the same reverse die but all from different early style obverse dies)
    This one would be an unremarkable COS II variety if it wasn't for the SP instead of SEP in the obverse legend (only known example). Does this count?
    And just to show that it's not just Emesa and Doug's enviable Alexandrian.... The same type turns up for Laodicea. It doesn't appear in any of the major references .

    PERET .... IMP - II (two examples known from this die pair, Budapest and mine). There are other examples of the same type from different dies on both sides with different legend breaks.
    IMP VIII (as far as I am aware this is the only known example)
  11. maridvnvm

    maridvnvm Well-Known Member

    OK. So I seem to have killed this thread. On the one hand I feel that I should apologise for that but on the other hand, in a quirk of timing, between posting on Monday and today I have bought a different IMP II and an IMP VIII of this type. It has been more than a decade since I bought the IMP II above and over 7 years since I bought the IMP VIII.

    So killing the thread led to the coin gods shining down on me.

    I have already received the IMP II and will share the IMP VIII when it arrives. The IMP II comes from a different die pair to the one posted above. I will refrain from discussing the IMP VIII futher until it arrives.

    Obv:– L SEPT SEV PERET AVG IMP II, Laureate head right
    Rev:– INVICTO IMPER, Trophy with arms below
    Minted in Laodicea-ad-Mare, A.D. 194-5
    References:– RIC -. BMCRE-. RSC-.

    1.75g, 18.64mm, 180o

  12. maridvnvm

    maridvnvm Well-Known Member

    So much for the coin gods shining down. I have been trying to find out what happened to the IMP VIII coin I mentioned above. I must have jinxed it as the seller has managed to track down the item but it is currently in Canada rather then in the UK (the postal service doesn't seem to be able to explain why). I have to wait for it to be returned to the dealer before he can send it on to me. Ho Hum.
    Numisnewbiest likes this.
  13. Numisnewbiest

    Numisnewbiest Well-Known Member

    I'm not nearly experienced enough to start picking away at details about this coin, but it's a very common coin - except in this particular combination of portrait/obverse legend/reverse. In this specific combination, it's not listed in RIC, Cohen 308 or 309, CoinArchivesPro, BMCRE, or CoinProject, and I think I'm done trying to find it anywhere else. I did get it listed at Wildwinds (wedged in there between RIC 727 and 728), just so it's out there for anyone else to match to theirs.

    The examples of this coin in RIC and elsewhere tapdance all around this combination, with either a right-facing portrait or a different legend but with the same reverse. Being a newbie, that's why I bought it, even though it's in rough shape and a very low and common denomination. The reverse seems to be extremely common, but I haven't found another example with a left-facing portrait and the same obverse legend.


    Vespasian As, 74 AD

    REVERSE: PAX AVGVST S-C, Pax standing left, leaning on column, holding caduceus and branch
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2019
  14. Finn235

    Finn235 Well-Known Member

    Here's a recent cheapie pick up from a Savoca auction

    Commodus, Joint reign
    AR Denarius
    L AVREL COMMODVS AVG, Laureate draped bust right
    TR P III IMP II COS PP, Salus seated left, holding out branch to snake rising from altar
    RIC 649

    But uh, where's the snake? Where's the altar?
    Commodus joint reign denarius.jpg

    I could find only one other example missing the snake and altar:

    Perhaps this is an example of "hiding in plain sight" - common denarii often get lumped together in lots and thus impossible to search for?
    Johndakerftw and Bing like this.
  15. Archeocultura

    Archeocultura Well-Known Member

    Nice thread, but Be aware, we could start in the opposite direction. RIC marking as very rare and yet easily available. This goes especially for LRB's from Siscia. Hardly anyone really wants them as they are so plentiful, but browsing through RIC or better, through Helvetica's lists, R4s and R5s abound in Siscia.
    The explanation is simple: the inventory of coins in musea was done many decades ago when the metal detector wasn't yet for public use and Yugoslavia was a stern communist country. In the past 25 years millions of coins have emerged from the former Eastblock countries and have changed the picture completely. The same goes for series from the mid-second century that were shipped almost entirely to the east to pay the soldiers. Some types are not even known to RIC and are now very common.

  16. maridvnvm

    maridvnvm Well-Known Member

    Perhaps the coin gods were not as cross with me as I had worried, though they made me wait. This coin was mistakenly sent to Canada instead of the UK from France and took 5 weeks to make it back to France and then 2 more days to get to me from there.

    So here is me long awaited arrival. It is an eastern IMP VIII issue (allocated to Laodicea-ad-Mare by most references).

    In amongst the IMP VIII series which normally has the obverse legend "L SEPT SEV PERT AVG IMP VIII" are some rare variations with SEVER instead of SEV. We have no idea why they are differtn but they are generally of similar style to examples with the normal legend.

    Septimius Severus denarius
    Obv:– L SEPT SEVER PERT AVG IMP VIII, Laureate head right
    Rev:– INVICTO IMP, Trophy with arms below
    Minted in Laodicea-ad-Mare, A.D. 196 – 197
    References:– RIC -. BMCRE-. RSC-.

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