[expertly] Tooled and [lightly] Smoothed

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by IMP Shogun, Jul 31, 2021.

  1. IMP Shogun

    IMP Shogun Well-Known Member

    Good morning everyone,

    I absolutely love large bronze coins. For complete disclosure, I also like silver, gold, all kinds of AE and even billon alloy coins.

    I'm having a lot of difficulty identifying coins that are tooled because of general differences of style even within the same reference. Right now it seems price is what I use, if it's too cheap it's probably smoothed and tooled. There are quite a few coin auctions that do not describe this well in the descriptions. CNG and Leu in my experience do the best job of calling out those things that are sometimes difficult to see from pictures until you get it magnified. Roma (a firm I use quite a bit) tends not to at all. Not to mention things like porosity (clearly an issue below), cleaning scratches or other things that may need some magnification to properly identify.

    Probably as likely as Diocletian's price controls working - I'd love to see a standard way of describing what I consider key deficiencies in coins.

    At the risk of breaking a rule, and hurting my own chances of winning, I'm looking at this sestertius of Trajan:


    RIC 459 has at least two obverse bust styles and likely more than that different reverses - specifically the location of the S, to the right or left of the child figure.

    By way of example, the above obverse just doesn't feel right, mostly the S and also the wrist and cloak design on Abundantia (I'm not saying it has to be a die match, clearly is not, a style thing):


    Online Coins of the Roman Empire: RIC II Trajan 459 (sestertius) (numismatics.org)

    I can't tell if the this is a rough cleaning/smoothing job or if it's tooled. It's apparent to me there is smoothing of the patina, I could see it described as lightly smoothed. I'm pretty much ok with that given the price, but tooled I'm going to pass.

    My other guess it's an unlisted variation that looks an awful lot like RIC 460 a Trajan dupondius, copying designs on different denominations is not unusual for this series:

    coin | British Museum

    So Is it tooled?

    If it doesn't feel good, it's not?
    ominus1, eparch, Carl Wilmont and 3 others like this.
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  3. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member

    If I feel uneasy about a coin, I do not feel I have to be able to explain why I feel uneasy, I just walk away. I do not like that coin. Tooled? Fake? Overcleaned? Not the best style? Graders at a TPG have to distinguish. Me? I have it easy.
  4. IMP Shogun

    IMP Shogun Well-Known Member

    I agree, probably why I felt ok sharing it. Thanks Doug.

    ominus1 likes this.
  5. Fugio1

    Fugio1 Supporter! Supporter

    I'm no expert, evidenced by the many smoothed and tooled coins I have inadvertently purchased in my years as a collector, but I see no evidence of device or legend tooling with this Trajan sestertius. The obverse has obviously been smoothed but carefully and expertly so. A coin showing this much surface corrosion would have been processed to make it marketable. This includes surface smoothing. The reverse doesn't look to be smoothed as uniformly as the obverse, except perhaps some slight smoothing in the right field. The reverse surfaces appear uniform from the field outward to the rim including between the letters of the legend. Even expertly smoothed coins will typically show differences in texture between the field and the peripheral legend. Neither side shows any trace of directional lines that are characteristic of an unskilled processor.

    In my opinion, the more distracting issue with this coin is the corrosion, which necessitated some smoothing, not the smoothing itself.
    IMP Shogun likes this.
  6. IdesOfMarch01

    IdesOfMarch01 Supporter! Supporter

    To my eye, the obverse portrait looks as if it's been tooled by a rotary tool (a Dremel) at least in the areas I've circled; I see what appear to be semi-circular marks in these areas:

    Trajan obverse.jpg

    Both the obverse and reverse appear to have been aggressively smoothed as well. Although I'm fairly tolerant of minor smoothing on most bronzes, this coin oversteps that line for me.
  7. Cherd

    Cherd Junior Member Supporter

    I do not have the expertise, nor am I interested in investing the time to develop the expertise to make these kinds of distinctions. Besides, I'm guessing that these types of things probably can't be reliably determined from photographs, especially if a seller is motivated to take photos or modify photos in such a way as to hide them.

    At the same time, I do not want fakes or re-engraved/overly-improved coins in my collection. The solution that I settled upon was to only purchase slabbed coins. This is not an ideal solution, doesn't provide a rock-solid guarantee, and I know that a lot of people in this forum are put-off by it, but for me, it is the only way to go.

    The decision was based on a lesson that I learned the hard way. I purchased a number of raw Julio-Claudian dynasty coins from various online sources when starting my collection. I was spending a decent amount of money on the coins, and the auctioneer sources seemed reputable, so I assumed that I was getting quality stuff. I made the decision to go slabs for my collection, sent all of the coins to NGC, and all but one of them came back in "Tooled" body bags. It was an infuriating lesson to learn, and almost drove me away from the hobby all-together. But now that I'm giving it another go, it's not a lesson that I'll risk learning again.
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2021
    IMP Shogun likes this.
  8. svessien

    svessien Senior Member

    I hope you got the coin. Watching the auction, it was one of the few lots that I felt went for an ok price. The price levels on most others were pretty ridiculous, IMHO.
    IMP Shogun likes this.
  9. hotwheelsearl

    hotwheelsearl Well-Known Member

    Tooling on this one was pretty egregious, but I bought it anyways. Looking back, I probably should have passed.
    Was advertised by Roma as "smoothed," but it's very obviously device-tooled and field-tooled, in addition to overall smoothing. Yikes.
    Gallienus AE29 SNG BnF 574.JPG
    ominus1 and Bing like this.
  10. Marsyas Mike

    Marsyas Mike Well-Known Member

    I'm no good at spotting smoothed/tooled coins, unless it is a really bad job. The OP looks good to me and I'd be happy to have it, smoothed or not (depending on the price, of course).

    Most of my examples of "smoothed" come from tremendous amounts of wear - this one was almost too bad even for me, but I really like that reverse type.

    Trajan - Sest. ALIM ITAL May 2021 (0).jpg
    Trajan Æ Sestertius
    (103-111 / 112-117 A.D.) Rome

    [IMP CAES NERVAE] TRAIANO AVG GER DAC P[M TRP COS (V or VI) P P], laureate bust r. / [SPQR OPTIMO PRINCIPI] S-C, Abundantia standing l., with corn-ears & cornucopiae, child left, ALIM ITA[L] in exergue.
    RIC 459 (V) or RIC 604 (VI).
    (26.00 grams / 32 mm)
    eBay May 2021
    Notes: "This coin celebrates the Alimentia, a public loan program intended to aid orphans and other needy children. The state loaned money to farmers to purchase land, the interest being used to feed the children. The program was initiated by Nerva and greatly expanded by Trajan."
  11. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member

    You would do a service to others here if you posted photos of the coins that came back 'tooled' to reinforce to point that such things are done and to let us know if these were really deceptive.
    Restitutor, sand, Agricantus and 3 others like this.
  12. IMP Shogun

    IMP Shogun Well-Known Member

    I did not, i like the type but that one just wasn’t the one
  13. IMP Shogun

    IMP Shogun Well-Known Member

    Also curious if they were re-auctioned.
  14. Cherd

    Cherd Junior Member Supporter

    I actually made a thread about the ordeal back when it happened, there are pictures in there:

    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 3, 2021
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  15. ominus1

    ominus1 Supporter! Supporter

    ...ahaha!...that me too bro! :D
    Marsyas Mike likes this.
  16. Cherd

    Cherd Junior Member Supporter


    Are we not allowed to talk about purchase and sale prices or something?
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2021
  17. IMP Shogun

    IMP Shogun Well-Known Member

    I always thing that there is a 30-50% haircut on any ancient coin purchase. Just think how much more publicity the auction gets say vs. your eBay page.

    Over time that should lessen but there really isn’t great liquidity in ancient coins - they are very unique even down to the “light” smoothing each may have and finding that weirdo that likes what I like is probably tough without paying the auction haircuts.
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 3, 2021
  18. Cherd

    Cherd Junior Member Supporter

    That's why I wish that the Buy/Sell section of these forums were more active. We have a nice consolidation of people that at least roughly "Like" the same things. Buying/Selling/Trading amongst ourselves would make a lot of sense as opposed to repeatedly shoveling money into the pockets of these auction sites. Plus, at least in my opinion, it would make transactions more personal, enjoyable, full-filling, and feeling a bit less like a perpetual rip-off.

    Of course, the reason that this will not happen is because the mechanisms would be exploited by scammers. Just like every other aspect of life, the reason that we can't have nice things is because people suck! :mad:
  19. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    There's more dealing between members via PM than you realize.
  20. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member

    As an inexperienced ancient coin buyer, does “tooled” really make that much of a difference in a piece that is corroded and has been processed to get the worst of the crud and raised corrosion spots off of it? It seems to me that the vast majority of these coins have been worked on, by necessity, and that comes with the territory. It is only natural because copper is far more reactive than silver and especially gold.

    A great many of the surviving U.S. early copper coins have been worked on, and they are only a couple of hundred years old. Many of these ancient pieces are close to 2,000 years old and have been in the ground.

    Looking at the coin in the OP, I would say that a lot more of it has been smoothed out in addition to the spots the poster highlighted. This is part of the reason why I stick to buying silver coins when they are available.
  21. hotwheelsearl

    hotwheelsearl Well-Known Member

    Great question. It really depends on if the "tooling" INCREASES the overall grade, not just the appearance.

    Here's an example of a coin that was tooled - fields smoothed, extra folds engraved in the dress, and extra definition added to the letters.

    In US terms, this would be like turning a VG coin into an EF.
    Gallienus AE29 SNG BnF 574.JPG

    On the other hand, here's a coin where cleaning did NOT increase the overall grade, just the overall appearance.
    In US terms, this would be like sending a heavily PVC-damaged Morgan dollar to NCS for conservation. The grade is the same, but it sure looks nicer now.
    Roman Collector, Cherd and Bing like this.
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