John Conduitt's Top 10 Ancients of 2020

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by John Conduitt, Dec 4, 2020.

  1. John Conduitt

    John Conduitt Well-Known Member

    This is my first top ten. 2020 was a good year for coins if nothing else. I was trying to think of what else. ‘Working from home’ was about all I could think of, if only because it meant less driving, so I saved money and the environment. But I’ve spent the savings on coins and the environment is suffering from all the delivery drivers getting to my house.

    To make the task easier, and add variety, I picked different eras and regions (although that risks appealing to no-one!). My cut off is the end of the Byzantine Empire (1453). The poll I did last month on the end date for Ancients showed a strong preference for ‘the fall of a Roman Empire’, but it was split on which one. So, I picked the later one to bring another 1000 years of coins into contention. (Did I say I was trying to make this easier?). So, in reverse chronological order:

    10. Vasiliy the Blind Denga, 1433
    Moscow. Silver, 0.6g. Rider with a falcon. Imitation of an Arabic inscription (Metz 11).

    This just creeps into ‘Ancient’ but is old for a Russian coin. The rise of Moscow in the wake of the Golden Horde’s retreat meant coins were struck in Rus’ lands for the first time since the turn of the millennium. The early coins featured blundered Arabic inscriptions in imitation of Mongol dangs. The dang became the denga, which in plural form (dengi) became the Russian word for money.

    For me, this coin represents the start of the Russian state from its Mongol roots. For his part, Vasily II was Grand Prince three times, despite being blinded by his opponents. When he first came to the throne, he was still beholden to the Golden Horde, but during his reign(s) it collapsed and broke into smaller Khanates.

    9. Bohemond III Denier, 1163-1201
    Antioch. Silver, 'C', 18mm, 0.85g. + BOAИVHDVS + AИTI:OCHIA (Metcalf 378).

    Bohemond III’s reign at Antioch coincided with the Crusaders’ struggles with their nemesis Saladin. But Bohemond’s numismatic claim to fame was this Frankish armoured bust, which makes his coins stand out amongst thousands of often poorly struck Crusader deniers. Luckily, he struck a huge number of them. The busts usually (always) carry an indentation from the cross on the reverse, but I think this one suffers less than most.

    8. Burgred Penny, 868-874
    London. Silver, 19.5mm, 1.36g. BURGREDREX+. +BEAGZTA [N]MON | ETA (Beagstan moneyer) (S. 938).

    It’s easy to get a collection of modern, medieval or Roman British coins going without breaking the bank. Even pre-Roman British coins can be accessible. But there are 600 years in the middle where few coins were struck and collecting is more about window shopping than owning: the time of the Saxons.

    The Saxon coins I have are mostly the low-hanging fruit – unattributed primary sceattas, a penny of Aethelred the Unready and the like. But I wanted a mid-Saxon coin with a portrait. Even broken fragments of these can cost many thousands. Burgred is one of the more affordable. He also happens to have a crazed portrait with a legend in an Art Deco style, 1100 years before that was a thing.

    7. Julian Siliqua, 361-363
    Lugdunum. Silver, 17mm, 1.90g. FL CL IVLIA-NVS P P AVG. VOTIS / V / MVLTIS / X, mintmark PLVG. Ex. Spink Auction 2016. Ex. Harptree (Somerset) Hoard, found 1887 (RIC VIII 227-8; RSC V 163b).

    I collect English coins, so my Roman collection features many from the London mint. But the London mint was only operational for 35 years or so, less than 10% of the British Roman period. So, I also collect coins found in England, and if possible, in a hoard. This has the bonus of a provenance going back 1500-2000 years.

    The Harptree Hoard, buried in 383, was a pewter container holding 1,500 coins, 5 silver ingots and a ring depicting Mars. It was found in 1887 by a labourer digging for a spring in the Mendips after a dry summer. The landowner’s family kept most of the hoard until 2016 – 130 years – when it was sold by Spink (helpfully, the auction images are still online The coins covered Constantine the Great (306) to Gratian (383) and included an abundance of Julians (like my coin).

    6. Constantinian Imitation Follis, 335-339
    East Anglia. Bronze, Commemorative Series, 14mm, 1.20g. Roma, VRBS ROMA. She-wolf suckling twins Romulus and Remus, PLG. Ex. Nether Compton Hoard (Adrian Marsden, “Contemporary Imitations of Constantine’s Wolf & Twins Coinage” in Treasure Hunting, June-July 2001, p. 29, style 2/b. For prototype, compare RIC VII 242).

    If you collect British Roman coins, then you might have a few barbarous bronzes. These were common in Britain, particularly in the 280s (Tetricus I and II) and in the 330s (the Constantinians, after the London mint closed in 325). This is one of 22,670 mid-Constantinians buried c339 in Nether Compton, Dorset and found in 1989. (I also have a Delmatius from this hoard – so 0.01% of it is mine!).

    This coin is good quality for a barbarous bronze and is unusual in that it can be shown to have been struck in England (in Boudica’s old stomping ground). It's also small. It has the quality of one of those grains of rice on which people write the complete works of Shakespeare. How did they get that on there, with 1700-year-old technology and no help from the professionals?

    5. Antoninus Pius As, 154-155
    Rome (or possibly Britain). Bronze, 8.63g. ANTONINVS AVG PIVS P P TR P XVIII. BRITANNIA - COS IIII, SC in exergue (RIC III, 934; BMC 1972; C 117).

    As a collector of British coins, I couldn’t pass on one of the first representations of Britannia. (Hadrian gave us the first). These were possibly struck both in Rome for use in Britain, and in Britain from dies made in Rome – the smaller, lighter (8.8g) and stylistically inferior coins perhaps being the British ones. It’s my avatar!

    4. Cantii Thurrock Potin, 100-50BC
    Kent. Potin, 15mm, 2.83g. Head of Apollo. Stylised bull butting. (Transitional variety between S 62 and S 63).

    These pre-Roman British potins were the first coins made in Britain. Despite being named after a find spot in Essex, they were all cast in Kent. They were based on the Apollo and bull hemiobolion from Massalia (now Marseille), and gradually evolved into abstract designs we’d now call ‘Celtic’. This coin is mid-transition, where you can still make out Apollo and the bull. I wrote about them here:

    3. Phraates II Chalkous, 132-126BC
    Ekbatana. Bronze, 15mm, 1.68g (Sellwood 16.29; Shore 56).

    I have a growing collection of Parthian silver drachms, and beautiful coins they are too (particularly for their age and price!). But if the similarity of the obverses is part of their charm – placed in a row they resemble a cartoon police lineup – the reverses, invariably a seated archer, can be a bit repetitive. It’s a different story with other denominations but they are often in rough condition.

    When I saw this chalkous (there were 48 chalkoi to the drachm) with a clear portrait and an elephant reverse, I knew it would do a good job of mixing things up. Elephants were a symbol of kingship and were used by the Parthians in battle against the Romans, something the Sassanids took up enthusiastically.

    2. Attica Tetradrachm, 454-404BC
    Attica, Athens. Silver, 24mm, 17.19g. Athena and Owl (Kroll 8; HGC 4, 1597).

    Back to the familiar with a bump. I really like Attica Owls, but I can’t afford them, particularly as they don’t fit in my collection. But this year I got one. Athena has no crest, which made it cheaper – better a nose than a crest, I always think. There’s a nick in the reverse field, again bringing it into my price range, but at least it’s not on the owl.

    1. Italian Bronze Formatum, 600-200BC
    Cast cockleshell, central Italy. 53.39g.

    Ok, not a coin, but interesting and attractive. The Romans came late to coins and bronze in any form was valuable. It’s portable and easy to store (well, the alternative was livestock). Trade was done in lumps of bronze (now called ‘aes rude’), but it was perhaps easier to exchange useful objects like axe heads or those formed into shapes like ingots (‘aes formatum’). Some were stamped, perhaps to indicate weight (‘aes signatum’).

    The shell shape is interesting because it’s not a usable item like an axe head, and because real shells may have originally been used for exchange. It may have been votive, but it seems the association between shells and money was strong. Later many coins featured shells in their designs or were even the shape of shells (e.g. aes grave sextans).

    That’s it from me for 2020. Next year will have to be less good for coins, but it looks like it might be better in every other way, which is a fair swap. Thank you everyone on CT for a daily education and listening to my ramblings – writing posts here is cathartic. Here’s to a great 2021.
    BenSi, Alegandron, NLL and 45 others like this.
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  3. Cucumbor

    Cucumbor Dombes collector Supporter

    That Burgred penny is really gorgeous, #1 for me

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  4. Cicero12

    Cicero12 Supporter! Supporter

    Number 6 is really interesting. Probably the best imitation portrait I’ve seen
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  5. Al Kowsky

    Al Kowsky Well-Known Member

    John, Your Top 10 shows amazing diversity :D! My eye is immediately drawn to coins 8 & 9 for their bizarre portraits :jawdrop:. Great abstractions on these coins, especially #8. The siliqua of Julian is a very attractive coin too :cool:.
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  6. lordmarcovan

    lordmarcovan Eclectic & avid numismatist Moderator

    Well, now, that's some nice stuff!

    I've been wanting another Bohemond "helmet" denier like that. I used to own one that was not nearly as sharp as yours, but it got stolen. I haven't had another since, but they're definitely on my radar, and I would be proud to own one as nice as yours.

    The Owl is great, and I agree with your rationale on the "compromises" you made for budget's sake. None of them bother me at all and I find the eye appeal of the coin to be quite nice.

    Love that the Antoninus Pius says BRITANNIA on it.

    Yes, the Burgred penny is amazing.

    Your Julian II Harptree Hoard siliqua blows my own Harptree piece right out of the water.

  7. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    My favorites are #10 and #3 but all seem well chosen for understandable reasons. While I like Parthian AE and elephants, that Moscow is exceptional and tops my favorites here.

    I am very weak in later coins but was always attracted to the Bohemond III #9 type which seemed a lot of interest for a low price compared to many medieval silvers. Yours, in addition to the lack of thin flan recess that weakens the bust has what I would call a great face with nose distinct from the helmet. My coin has an eye weakened by the cross print-thru but no nose. I have mine listed as a Class B but have forgotten where I found that or if it is correct.
  8. ominus1

    ominus1 Well-Known Member

    ..very nice coins and very deverse :)
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  9. Romancollector

    Romancollector Well-Known Member

    Great top 10 @John Conduitt !!! I particularly like your siliqua of Julian!
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  10. Ryro

    Ryro They call me the 13th Caesar Supporter

    Thoroughly enjoy the diversity in your collection. So many ancient flavors to choose from:woot:
    But I can certainly see why you picked that formatum shell as your #1:cigar::troll:
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  11. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    I know little and nothing about medieval coins, but every one of them is fascinating to look at. My personal favorites are the imitation VRBS Roma (the best imitation I've seen, I think), and the Julian II siliqua from the 1887 East Harptree hoard -- also the source of my own Valens siliqua, my only known hoard coin.
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  12. Ancient Aussie

    Ancient Aussie Supporter! Supporter

    Yet another truly great top 10 list and yours is no exception, especially love your owl Tet.
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  13. Bing

    Bing Illegitimi non carborundum Supporter

    Numbers 2, 8 and 9 are my favorites, in no order.
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  14. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter Basileus Megalos

    Some nice coins there. The Bohemund piece really stands out. Maybe I'll go shopping for one.
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  15. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    I really enjoy the wonderful variety of great coins, @John Conduitt ! Super
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  16. gogili1977

    gogili1977 Well-Known Member

    Interesting and beautiful coins, my favorites are owl and siliqua.
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  17. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    Wonderful acquisitions for your collection! I like the Julian siliqua very much but, as an Antonine enthusiast, I like the Britannia as of Antoninus Pius most of all.
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  18. robinjojo

    robinjojo Supporter! Supporter

    Wonderful coins! The obverse of the denier is almost modernist in rendering, and the denga is well centered and struck, with a wonderful Russian feel to it.
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  19. Mr.Q

    Mr.Q Well-Known Member

    Thanks for the education. You're top ten is very nice. Thank you
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  20. benhur767

    benhur767 Sapere aude

    @John Conduitt all great coins but I'm in love with that Athenian owl.
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2020
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  21. Spaniard

    Spaniard Well-Known Member

    All lovely coins! Sweet little Chalkous though!
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