Featured Three kinds of ancient coins

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by dougsmit, Sep 5, 2018.

  1. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    Every so often I wonder if all our newest collectors are aware of all that exists in the way of options for their hobby. This post is to remind of a fact that I suspect we all know but rarely consider fully. Before there were 'coins' mankind carried on trade using a variety of found objects. A bit later, it was decided to modify some of these objects to certify or standardize them with regard to value or acceptability as money. Finally it was found convenient to produce objects that would be recognized as money and accepted at a 'face' value. These last objects are what I would term 'coins'.

    Some will argue as to the number of separate inventions of 'coins' and whether we can prove that this was an original invention or a modification on a theme seen elsewhere. I will discuss three traditions that I consider inventive enough to be considered original. Your job is to correct where I err and support others that you find worthy of a top level separation.

    #1 China
    Coins as we know them in China developed through a series of money forms that some consider coins and some prefer to call money or objects of trade without allowing full 'coin' status. Early Chinese coins were cast from bronze and often stated the value of the coin for years before it was seen desirable to identify the issuing authority. Collectors today value these according to very minor style differences that separate things that remained somewhat constant for years. Even when it was decided to identify the authority, we see period names rather than personal ID of rulers. Several wrote the names in more than one style script which can be used to separate some coins from others according to place or date of issue. Collectors value the natural look of coin surfaces that add some evidence that the cast items are actually as old as their design would indicate. Obviously there are smaller variations from the norm in Chinese coinage like the occasional use of iron rather than bronze. There were some issues marked and or sized to be larger denominations but round coins with a square central hole became somewhat standard and were traded in strings tied together with materials that rarely survive the centuries. Chinese tradition fans are invited to correct this extremely simplified introduction but I will remind that it was not intended to tell all there is worth knowing but only to allow a beginner to see a coin and say 'Chinese Tradition'. Coins of this style were produced until the 20th century AD when the last square hole cash (by the struck rather than cast) were made.

    #2 Greece
    The Greek tradition of coins followed a period of trading found lumps of precious metal which were, at the end, marked to certify they were not random lumps. Rather than casting from molten metal, the Greek tradition transferred a design to the metal from a die cut in reverse that left a raised design first on one side and later on two sides of a blank prepared to receive the design and become a coin. Early lump shaped coins progressed to be more round but rarely as regular as the cast Chines round coins. The precious metal first used was replaced first by two and later three (rarely four) metals which allowed a large span of denominations that, at least in theory, could be 'worth' more or less the metal they contained. Rarely were the denominations noted on the coin (some were!) but most had some indication of the authority for the issue. Many of the first used a design that could be identified with the Greek city responsible for the coin but this was often augmented with letters abbreviating or spelling out the city or even the magistrate responsible for that coin.

    The Romans conquered the lands of the Greeks and adopted their coinage tradition. In their earliest days, Rome played with the idea of casting large bronze coins in molds with denominations and designs that looked Greek tradition but I am choosing not to assign this short lived period a separate full fledged 'tradition'. Some will disagree.

    Collectors of Greek Tradition coins tend to value eye appeal and detail over style. The accept cleaning as necessary for almost all coins and rely on style and fabric clues to avoid fakes. Great value is placed on the completeness of the design. Many coins were made hurriedly and produced a good percentage of coins that were defective from the start. Wear and corrosion continued to degrade coins making it possible to find hundreds of levels of condition between perfect and unrecognizable.

    Almost every coin made in the last century can be traced to some variation on the Greek Tradition.

    #3 India
    Least common is a coinage style from India where a flat of sheet metal was trimmed to size and struck not by a single die design as on Greek tradition coins but by a series of small stamps that made recesses in the metal. The number of these stamps varied from issue to issue but they tend to be crowded to the point that it is rare to find a coin with more than one complete an clear stamp. Many with have started with five stamps of which none are obvious until you have a little experience with the coins. This feature introduces a feature of desirability to collectors when 'grade' is more dependent on the completeness of the more significant marks than on such things as wear. Most of these silver coins that I have seen seems to be relatively recently cleaned but I must point out that I know so little about these that I am hoping some of you who are into Indian punchmarked coins might step up and make this thread worth reading.

    Did you notice? I gave one example coin from each of the three traditions but I did not give ID for that particular coin. The purpose of this post was to enable the most amateur amateur to explain why these coins are so very different one from the others in ways that associated them with their individual tradition. Those who like to ID coins are free to practice on these three. They are not difficult ones. I'm sure most of you have a coin that does not seem to fit this plan. In most cases I will probably consider these not fully 'coin' by my hard line definition but there are always exceptions to very rule. Again leaving the full ID to those who want to do it themselves, I will show some coins that some will consider variations that I could have mentioned BUT remember I never claimed to make this post everything you need to know but only Kindergarten, day one.

    The photos below are for optional play if you choose to play. How do they fit or not fit my three Traditions? Can you guess why I thought they were appropriate here? Feel free to add a coin photo that I should have added (if I owned one to add). Post, with photos!, what you believe makes this thread better.
    g10075fd3359.jpg g20460bb1133.jpg g30920bb1867.jpg ks0020bb2286.jpg ou4375bb2790.jpg oi3200bb2696.jpg
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  3. ominus1

    ominus1 Well-Known Member


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  4. CoinBlazer

    CoinBlazer ad astera per aspera

    Well Said!!!!!!
    Very educational.
    Appreciate it
  5. Al Kowsky

    Al Kowsky Supporter! Supporter

    Doug Smith, excellent article! It looks like you touched all the bases before sliding into home plate. Many coin collectors are apprehensive about getting into ancient coins because they are so different from modern coins that are much easier to evaluate. When new collectors realize the wealth of information on ancient coins & how over-valued modern coins are by comparison they may get their feet wet. Collectors of ancient coins are a different breed. They are driven by history, artistry, craftsmanship, & eye appeal. Rarity & investment potential, factors that drive many collectors of modern coins, are less important to collectors of ancient coins.
  6. Gavin Richardson

    Gavin Richardson Well-Known Member

    I often find that I have to know a little something basic about a topic before I cultivate an interest in knowing more. Doug's post nicely offers some of this kind of "pre-venient" knowledge, especially with respect to those square coins of India. It's just enough to make me care a bit and be curious.
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  7. tommyc03

    tommyc03 Senior Member

    Wonderful write up, great photos and very much appreciated.
  8. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo Temporarily Away Supporter

    Okay I'll play! I'll start with the ones I *think* I know the most about.

    It seems that there is some disagreement about whether these early "coins" of Magna Graecia should even be considered coins (I believe this is a drachm of Metapontum with some nice reverse doubling :)).

    One theory I have read is that these are actually festival tokens that were made specifically for regional festivals hosted by the poleis of southern Italy and would have served more of a religious function instead of an economic one. Some of the reasons I have heard that make these strange as ancient coins go is that they are thin and large diameter in a time when most metal meant for exchange was thick and irregular shaped with a small diameter. The later coins of Magna Graecia from these same cities would soon become thicker and smaller.

    The incuse design is also a distinguishing feature. The alignment is usually so good that some have suggested these were struck with hinged dies. Your double struck example seems a hit against this theory.

    Since these may not be coins they may not fit into the Greek tradition as you have outlined.


    This one is cool because it should get credit for two traditions that were developing a great geographic distance from one another. It was struck by the Persians to meet the needs of the Greek population of coastal Anatolia and apparently found its way through the Persian Empire (probably as bullion) to the opposite end of thier empire in India were it was reused in the Indian tradition through the use of the punches as you have outlined.

    As such it belongs to both the Greek and the Indian tradition.

    Edit to add: It's seems the countermarks on this specific example may not be from India (though were similar in intent?). I know that Indian punched Siglos exist and one day I hope to score one. :)

    So... um. Was I close?
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2018
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  9. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    I can have no appreciation for this theory until they explain why the things exist in a full range of denominations from litra to stater. The first ones were thinner and the idea was shelved. I am much more inclined toward the association of the local residence of Pythagoras and his associates who might well have come up with the concept.

    My thought is that the countermarks are a lot like the Indian punches but I believe th reason for this one having so many is that bankers doubted the coin since it was struck sideways on the oval flan and looked 'fishy'. I know little about the Indians but am very happy to have the coin below that shows the same punches as the 'Indiana' shaped one shown above (repeated below) but is round. The things come an any shape with various clip patterns. I seems shape made no difference???

    What about this one? Anyone want to guess the rarity rating of this type? Abundant is more common than Common! I am afraid to buy another punchmarked coin for fear I'll get another GH574 by accident. Is that a weak strike of the note '2' additional mark on the Indiana shaped one?
  10. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter Redditor Lucis Aeternae

    Great write-up @dougsmit - I especially liked your introduction to Chinese coins of which I am not very knowledgeable. Thank you.
  11. randygeki

    randygeki Coin Collector

  12. mrbreeze

    mrbreeze Active Member

    Like the Axum.
  13. dadams

    dadams Supporter! Supporter

    I'm pretty sure I know what your 3 are

    (this one way after yours by about 850 yrs?):

    no silver CS here :(

    and all of your punch marked ones from India are better than mine. I've never been able to identify the punches on this one:
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  14. 7Calbrey

    7Calbrey Well-Known Member

    This very educational thread could have been entitled " History of Coinage "- Chapter I. I have very little knowledge and collector's items of that. So I managed to post an ancient silver Greek Tet which was not struck in Athens or Attica, as well as a photo of a Chinese Key coin that I picked up from Encyclopedia Americana. Both coins are believed to have been made or struck in 5th century BC. AthenOwl340contempor.JPG Athena Tet O.JPG kcoin 001.jpg
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  15. Marsyas Mike

    Marsyas Mike Well-Known Member

    Very interesting overview, Doug. Although I was aware of all three types, I'd never thought about them so systematically. It was very clarifying. Thanks!
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  16. mrbreeze

    mrbreeze Active Member

  17. Deacon Ray

    Deacon Ray Supporter! Supporter

    Thank you for this fascinating and informative essay, Sir! I've been rereading it each time I log into the forum and I see something different each time. :headphone:
  18. medoraman

    medoraman Supporter! Supporter

    I fully agree with your general categorizations Doug, of course. I would add, as color commentary, some more. There were some other "inventions" of coins throughout the world, but for various reasons did not become dominant. In Italy huge chucks of copper started, and in the eastern med copper in the shape of a bull hide predated greek coinage, but both failed in the face of the greek coinage in ease of use. In America, in Central and South America they started down the "Chinese" path of copper spades right before the Spanish arrived. Too many other examples are out there to list them all.

    Point being, it was not unique to these three cultures at all. Many cultures around the world were trying to solve for this, many things were invented around the world, but these three traditions were the ones that "won" and became the dominant themes of coinage for the next 2500 years. By 1900 the Greek coinage won, but that could be more of a function of western colonization of the world more than it being "better".
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  19. Aunduril

    Aunduril Well-Known Member

    Nicely written thank you!
  20. physics-fan3.14

    physics-fan3.14 You got any more of them.... prooflikes?

    I think these fit into his "Greek" tradition, which he defined like this: "lumps of precious metal which were, at the end, marked to certify they were not random lumps." And I think the pictures he shows at the end of the post, with the large copper chunks and the things shaped like dolphins, are both examples of those Italian pieces.

    I am kinda disappointed you don't show any of the Lydian coinage, though ;)

    Your post was very interesting - I don't think I'd ever really thought about the different historical types of coinage like this. And, I've never seen those Indian pieces before - really cool!
  21. SvenE

    SvenE New Member

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