Lead used for die starters?

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by kirispupis, Mar 3, 2021.

  1. kirispupis

    kirispupis Active Member

    Hello everyone! As I previously mentioned, I'm getting started in ancient coins so I have a lot to learn. Not too long ago, there was an Aquilia Severa denarius at auction. This was an extremely high coin on my list (seriously, why isn't there a movie about her?) and I'd bought from that auction house before and had nothing but very positive experiences. However, the stated weight of 4g seemed way too high.

    I contacted the auction house to ask whether they'd misstated the weight, and they responded that they hadn't and the coin was indeed genuine. The weight was due to a high lead content in the coin, which they stated was commonly done for the first few coins for a die.

    For me, that explained why the coin didn't seem in the best condition, so I put a low bid in that predictably didn't win. I later won a much better condition copy from a different auction house for the same winning price.

    However, I'm still wondering how common these "die starters" are. Are there collectors who focus on them? I searched and found no articles discussing this, but I'd appreciate any references/links.
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  3. Roerbakmix

    Roerbakmix Well-Known Member

    Interesting; never heard of this. Could you share the photos of the coin? The weight is indeed high for a denarius. If the coin was misidentified antonianus, 4gram is not uncommon.
  4. medoraman

    medoraman Supporter! Supporter

    I have never heard about it either. I would do a sg test on it, that might shed more light. They never tried to make every weight perfect, they were given X pounds of silver and were expected to deliver X coins. Sometimes a heavy one could sneak through, as well as light ones.
  5. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    I have reservations about the coin below having a high degree of lead. For one thing it's awfully heavy for a coin of hers & this period, and it does have a bit of a "thud" when you drop it onto a solid surface.

    Plus note the strike of the coin is strong compared to usually worn dies many of hers can have.

    I've never had it tested & I know it's real.

    I have no great interest in her but I bought it for the weight among other reasons.

    Salonina (254 - 268 A.D.)
    Billon antoninianus
    O:CORN SALONINA AVG, diademed and draped bust right, crescent behind.
    R: CONCORDIA AVGG, emperor and empress standing confronted, clasping hands.
    Syrian mint, 258 - 260 A.D
    Göbl MIR 1691p (Samosata), SRCV III 10630 (uncertain Syrian mint), RIC V-1 63 (Antioch), RSC IV 31

    Very heavy!
    Theodosius, ominus1, Bing and 3 others like this.
  6. kirispupis

    kirispupis Active Member

    Here's a photo of the coin in question (auction house's photo).

    It's listed at 20mm, 4,07g. The splotch next to the eye is what put me off from bidding higher. The one I wound up buying was listed at 18mm, 2,81g.
  7. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    There were no antoniniani issued for Aquilia Severa, I believe.
    ominus1 and galba68 like this.
  8. David@PCC

    David@PCC allcoinage.com

    I think what the op is talking about is a trial strike. It's possible it could be made of lead or commonly an oversized flan of bronze. I would classify these as the same collectability as errors. If that is what it is, the auction should have disclosed that.
  9. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    I have an Elagabalus denarius that weighs 3.97 g., the heaviest Imperial-era denarius I have that was issued after Augustus and Tiberius. (I have a lot of Republican denarii that weigh that much or more.) So it's unusual, but not impossible, for a denarius to weigh around 4.0 g. even in the twilight era of the denomination.

    Elagabalus - bearded with horn - jpg version.jpg
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2021
  10. Ignoramus Maximus

    Ignoramus Maximus Well-Known Member

    I'm no expert, but a trial-run with leaded flans for new dies seems an unlikely explanation to me.
    There is what looks like a die-break on the neck of Aquilia on the OP coin's obverse.
    So: a die-break on a new die???
    ominus1, Scipio and DonnaML like this.
  11. Scipio

    Scipio Well-Known Member

    Never heard of “die starters” or seen a coin listed that way in an auction
    ominus1 likes this.
  12. kirispupis

    kirispupis Active Member

    Note that the auction never listed this coin as a "die starter". I received that information from someone at the auction house when I inquired about the unusual weight.
    ominus1 likes this.
  13. Scipio

    Scipio Well-Known Member

    Ok but it is quite weird no book I’ve read reports such thing
    red_spork and ominus1 like this.
  14. Nicholas Molinari

    Nicholas Molinari Well-Known Member

    Never heard of that before.
    ominus1 likes this.
  15. kirispupis

    kirispupis Active Member

    I did just find this article. It does mention the use of lead for trial strikes, though for Greek coins and not Roman. It also mentions ancient counterfeiters using lead.
    Theodosius likes this.
  16. David@PCC

    David@PCC allcoinage.com

    Roman's did use trial strikes, but they look nothing like the coin you pictured.
  17. Numisnewbiest

    Numisnewbiest Well-Known Member

  18. medoraman

    medoraman Supporter! Supporter

    Fascinating. Now, this as a trial strike I would believe. I still would suspect the OP's coin could very well just be a heavier than average silver coin, but only a sg test will say, (not for sure, but an indication).
    DonnaML likes this.
  19. Fugio1

    Fugio1 Supporter! Supporter

    Right, a generally accepted theory is that weight uniformity was loosely controlled in the mint by weighing a fixed quantity of silver flans to reach an average aim weight across several similar sized flans.

    So for example to get to a 1 lb batch of 96 flans at about 3.5g per flan, a significant deviation will be found in the weights of individual flans. An outlier like this is unusual but well within observed deviations.
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2021
    Scipio, DonnaML and red_spork like this.
  20. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter Basileus Megalos

    Pretty interesting and something that I had never heard of before.
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