Using antiquarian, Latin-language catalogs

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Roman Collector, Sep 19, 2019.

  1. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    I enjoy looking up Roman coins in antiquarian catalogs. Do they offer accurate information not found in the standard references, such as Sear, BMCRE, Cohen, or RIC? Not usually. However, they are useful in terms of tracking down hybrids, erroneously cataloged coins in RIC, and counterfeits by comparing their listings with the more modern sources.

    But I like to read them simply because it's fun and it keeps my Latin skills up somewhat. Three classic references are available online and you can join in the fun: Banduri,[1] Sulzer,[2] and Wiczay.[3]

    Banduri is the oldest, published in Paris in 1718. Anselmo Banduri (18 August 1671 or 1675 – 4 January 1743) was a Benedictine scholar, archaeologist and numismatist from the Republic of Ragusa. The Byzantine Empire was the focus of his scholarly and ecclesiastical interests and his coin catalog reflects this. Its two folio volumes on the imperial coinage begin with Trajan Decius and end with the last of the Palaeologi, spanning the period from AD 249-1453. It contains a long Latin introduction and a comprehensive bibliography. It is published in two columns, arranged chronologically and by denomination. It cites numerous European collections in existence at the time but does not number the coins. It is the only one of the three catalogs discussed here that gives detailed descriptions of the obverse portraits. It uses few abbreviations, making it easy to use. It notes numerous varieties of obverse and reverse inscriptions, often notes mint- and officina-marks, though scholarship had not yet developed to the point that the meanings of these marks were understood.

    Sulzer's catalog is that of a single collection, assembled by Swiss physician, mineral collector and numismatist, Johann Kaspar Sulzer (17 June 1716 - 10 April 1799), and published in 1777. It begins with Greek coins and its Roman section covers the period of the Republic through the reign of Tiberius II Constantine in the sixth century AD. It is arranged chronologically and by metal and coin sizes, corresponding roughly to denomination. The collection contains next to no gold issues. The coins are numbered, for ease of reference.

    Wiczay's catalog, like that of Sulzer, is that of a single collection, assembled by Count Mihály Viczay de Loós et Hédervár (July 25, 1757 – March 18, 1831). Wiczay was a member of the old noble Viczay (Wiczay) family of Hungary. In addition to being a numismatist, he was an amateur archaeologist and collector of antiquities, which he displayed in a museum on his family's estate in Hedervar. His catalog is the most difficult to use. It is published in two columns, arranged first by metal and then chronologically and by denomination within each section devoted to the particular metal. It uses abbreviations extensively and numbers the coins intermittently, expecting the reader to count coins in between listings (easier demonstrated than explained). Perhaps the most difficult feature -- and very important -- to note about Wiczay: it uses heraldic directions rather than the traditional numismatic ones, so when, for example, he says "portrait left" he really means "portrait right"! This goes for all the reverse descriptions as well.

    Let's examine how a single coin is listed in each, using this Antoninianus of Trebonianus Gallus as an example:

    Trebonianus Gallus APOLL SALVTARI antoninianus.jpg

    Here's the listing in Banduri:

    Trebonianus Gallus APOLL SALVTARI antoninianus Banduri listing.JPG
    It notes the obverse inscription: IMP CAE VIB TREB GALLVS AVG, but it was unknown at the time that this inscription was unique to the Rome mint, so he does not mention the city where it was struck. He then describes the obverse portrait, "Caput Treb. Galli radiatum, ad humeros cum paludamento," which is translated "Radiate head of Treb. Gallus, from the shoulders, with paludamentum." He does not mention the direction of portraits as a general rule, particularly right-facing ones. Next comes the description of a type with a misspelled reverse legend. He describes the reverse as "Apollo nudus, vultu dextrosum converso stans, lauri ramum demissum tenet dextra, citharam humi positam sinistra," which is translated "Nude Apollo standing facing, head (to his) right, holding a laurel branch downward in the right hand, lyre positioned on the ground in the left hand." After this listing, he lists the type with the APOLL SALVTARI legend, followed by the description "Typus ut supra," "type as above." Lastly, he cites four collections with specimens of the coin.

    Here's the listing for the same coin in Sulzer:

    Trebonianus Gallus APOLL SALVTARI antoninianus Sulzer listing.JPG
    The coin is noted (not in the photo above) to be of silver. It is assigned a number and the Δ following the number indicates its size. The catalog's introductory material gives this size gauge:


    It next notes the obverse inscription: IMP CAE VIB TREB GALLVS AVG, and describes the obverse portrait, "Caput cum corona radiata," which is translated "Head with radiate crown" He does not mention the direction of portraits, nor does he distinguish between heads and busts. Next comes the description of the reverse legend, "Apoll. Salutari." He then describes the reverse as "Apollo nudus stans d. lauri ramum s. cytheram tenet." There are two abbreviations: d. for "dextra" (right hand) and s. for "sinistra" (left hand). The description is thus translated as "Nude Apollo standing, holding laurel branch in the right hand, lyre in the left." Not as much detail as Banduri, but sufficient to distinguish it from all other coins.

    Lastly, here's Wiczay's description of the coin:

    Trebonianus Gallus APOLL SALVTARI antoninianus Wiczay listing.JPG

    It is listed first under silver issues, and then under Trebonianus Gallus, and then under "Numi Vagi" -- essentially "undated coins" because he lists the various issues chronologically when possible. He lists these undated issues in alphabetical order by reverse inscription and notes the first three of these share a common obverse inscription, IMP CAE C VIB TREB GALLVS AVG. He describes the bust as "Id.," an abbreviation for "idem," meaning "the same" (as a previously described issue). That description (not in the photo) reads "Prot. radiata sm.," an abbreviated form of "protypum radiata sinistrorsum," which is translated "radiate bust left" (remember, it's a heraldic description in Wiczay and means 'to the right' in standard nomenclature). The obverse inscription is followed by listings for AETERNITAS (no. 2506), ANNONA (not explicitly numbered but implied to be 2507) and then APOLL. SALVTARI (implied number 2508). The reverse description of the coin in question is extensively abbreviated: "Apollo nud. st. d. laur. s. lyram ponit," short for "Apollo nudus stans dextra lauri, sinistra lyram ponit," which is translated "Nude Apollo standing, right hand holds laurel, left hand a lyre."

    Fun, isn't it?

    Post comments or any coin you feel is relevant!


    1. Bandurius, Anselmus. Numismata Imperatorum Romanorum a Trajano Decio Ad Palaeologos Augustos. Vol. 1, Montalant, 1718. Available online here: Vol. 1, Vol 2.

    2. Sulzer, Johann Caspar, and Jacob Sulzer. Numophylacium Sulzerianum numos antiquos Graecos et Romanos aureos argenteos aereos sis tens olim Iacobi Sulzeri. Ettinger, 1777. Available online here.

    3. Wiczay, Michael A. and Felice Caronni. Musei Hedervarii in Hungaria numos antiquos graecos et latinos descripsit. Vol. 2, Caronni, Vienna 1814. Available online here.
    Last edited: Sep 19, 2019
    ominus1, Orielensis, Ryro and 9 others like this.
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  3. Suarez

    Suarez Well-Known Member

    Yeah, I'd rather pull my hair out thank you! (but glad there are enough people dedicated to decoding this for the benefit of others)

    User friendliness in numismatic catalogs seems to be an aspect that's downright frowned upon. Like you're not worthy if you don't break out a sweat. I remember when I first picked up a copy of LRBC I thought that Carson actively hated collectors and deliberately obfuscated so only the True Anointed could partake of his wisdom!

    I think in many ways Cohen back in the 19th century was the first to make a concerted effort in making Roman coins accessible to the general public. He was a visionary ahead of his time in this respect.

    Pellinore likes this.
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