Featured When is a variant not just a variant? Faustina II CERES seated denarii

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Roman Collector, Mar 29, 2018.

  1. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    I wanted to show off a coin purchased in Frank's latest auction and to offer my thoughts about classification of ancient coins. Feel free to post whatever you feel is relevant, of course!

    Collectors of modern coins, as you know, put a great deal of emphasis on minor varieties, such as a coin with a small date versus one with a large date or a quarter with Lady Liberty fully clothed verses a quarter where Lady Liberty is experiencing a "wardrobe malfunction." We ancient coin collectors, knowing that each die was hand-engraved, know that no two coins are alike and small variations in design--unless they distinguish one mint from another, for example--rarely mean anything. The concept of variety collecting in ancients is a rather loose one.

    But when is a variant not just a variant? In my opinion, when the two "varieties" actually represent two separate issues. As a case in point, I'd like to present a denarius of Faustina Junior I acquired in Frank Robinson Auction 104:

    Faustina Jr CERES denarius type 1.jpg
    It seems straightforward enough, and RIC, Cohen, RSC, and Sear list no variants of this coin. It is RIC 669, Cohen 35, RSC 35, RCV 5249.

    However, I shall call this type 1.

    I purchased this coin even though I already had an example of a Faustina Junior denarius with CERES seated left reverse:

    Faustina Jr CERES denarius type 2.jpg
    This is also cataloged as RIC 669, Cohen 35, RSC 35, RCV 5249.

    I shall call this type 2.

    But even a cursory look at the coin reveals some differences between type 1 and type 2:

    The obverse has a different bust style. It is on the basis of this bust style that Tameryazev & Makarenko assign different catalog numbers to the two coins. The hairstyle on type 1 is described as "waved and fastened in a bun behind the head." In addition, the empress typically wears a strand or two of pearls in her hair. It is assigned #159. The hairstyle on type 2 is described as "braided and fastened in a bun behind the head." It is assigned #160. They make no comment about the differences on the reverse. Note that in addition to the braided style on type 2, the bun on the back of the head is large-sized.

    The reverse has differences in not only the style of torch held by Ceres, but the orientation of it. It is on the basis of this reverse style that the BMC distinguishes between the coins. The torch in type 1 is short and cradled transversely in her left arm; moreover, some of Ceres' clothing drapes over that arm, dangling behind the cista mystica on which she sits. The BMC describes this reverse as "Ceres, veiled and draped, seated left on chest, holding two corn-ears upwards in right hand and transverse torch in left hand." It is assigned catalog #s 81-84. The torch in type 2, on the other hand, is long and vertically oriented and rests on the ground. There is no fold of drapery behind the goddess. The BMC describes this reverse as "Ceres, veiled and draped, seated left on chest, holding two corn-ears in right hand and vertical lighted torch in left hand." It is assigned catalog #s 79-80. From the BMC collection online:

    Type 1, BMCRE 81:
    Faustina Jr CERES denarius type 1 BMC 81ff.jpg

    Type 2, BMCRE 80:
    Faustina Jr CERES denarius type 2 BMC 79f.jpg

    I did an examination of all examples of this coin at acsearchinfo, CNG archives and Wildwinds, as well as all for sale at V Coins and have determined that the bust type with the pearls and the waved hair ONLY appears in conjunction with the reverse type with the short, transversely-oriented torch reverse type with Ceres' drapery falling behind the cista mystica, and the bust type without the pearls and with the braided hair ONLY appears in conjunction with the reverse type with the long, vertically-oriented torch resting on the ground and without a fold of drapery falling behind the cista mystica.

    In other words, there is no "cross-pollination" between the obverse and reverse variants. This strongly suggests these coins were issued separately, either at two different mints or at two different times. And since we believe all of Faustina II's denarii were struck in Rome, this leaves two different times. I argue that type 1 was issued years earlier.

    It's difficult to assign a date to Faustina II's coins; indeed, for most of them, all we do is divide them between those issued under her father, Antoninus Pius, and those issued by her husband, Marcus Aurelius. The bust on type 1 appears on the following denarii, all issued under Marcus Aurelius and bearing the obverse inscription FAVSTINA AVGVSTA:

    CERES seated l., FECVNDITAS standing r., HILARITAS standing l., IVNO seated l., IVNONI REGINAE seated l., IVNO standing l. without a peacock at her feet, IVNO standing l. with a peacock at her feet, IVNONI REGINA standing l., LAETITIA standing l., SALVS seated l., SALVS standing l., VENERI VICTRICI standing r., leaning on a column, VENVS FELIX seated l., and VESTA seated l.

    She typically appears youthful on issues with this hairstyle. For example:

    Faustina Jr LAETITIA standing denarius.jpg

    Unfortunately, we are not able to accurately assign a date to coins bearing this bust style.

    In contrast, the hairstyle on type 2 is the style she had at the time of her death, and is therefore the last hairstyle to appear on her coins. See, for example, these posthumous issues:

    Faustina Jr CONSECRATIO moon and stars denarius.jpg
    Faustina Jr CONSECRATIO flying peacock sestertius.jpg

    Therefore, I argue that the coin I call type 1 was a completely separate issue from type 2, and probably issued some years earlier, and not just a "variety."
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2018
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  3. David Atherton

    David Atherton Flavian Fanatic

    The devil is indeed in the details.

    If there are no shared obverse dies between the two types could that indicate separate officinae within the mint? The Rome mint during Domitian's reign struck a long series of 4 Minerva types. Even though all 4 types were struck simultaneously there are no known obverse die matches between them which almost conclusively proves the reverse types were struck in separate officinae. Could this be the case with the Faustina II Ceres denarii instead of them being struck at different times?
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2018
  4. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

    Excellent discussion and good points, both of you!
  5. These two varieties could have also been from the same mint, however with two different dies. As you said at the top of the article, no two dies are alike, and they are hand engraved. I am still a beginner with ancient coins, so I may be wrong. Your theory of them being struck at different times is also very strong, with evidence of the look and hairstyle. That also makes lots of sense to me.
  6. 7Calbrey

    7Calbrey Well-Known Member

    Speak of the devil @ D.A. I was thinking of posting the same words ( exactly ).
    However I shall say now that such discussions and analyses could be the first steps toward a new stage or level in the realm of Ancient Numismatics. Congrats. Bravo..
  7. randygeki

    randygeki Coin Collector

    Great post and coins. It's kinda nice knowing that we don't know everything about anicents, leaving room for discoveries and new theories.
    Roman Collector likes this.
  8. rrdenarius

    rrdenarius non omnibus dormio Supporter

    Interesting comparison of two similar coins. Do you have any idea how many of either variety would have been minted? How many dies?
    I did a quick look in acsearch (Faustina Jr / Ceres seated). I saw two bronze coins of this type, and one matched each type.

    Quoting Arte Johnson from Laugh In: "Very interesting."
    Arte Johnson - Very interesting.jpg

  9. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    My personal definition of a variation worth noting is one that we have some possible reason to suspect carried some meaning other than some die cutter felt like doing something different that day. Of course we don't always know the meaning of some difference so it is not always certain whether there was one or not. For example, there is the matter of letter spacing. I have no particular fondness for dies that break legends differently unless someone can show there was something meaningful. Below are denarii of Clodius Albinus with the same obverse legends but each is broken at a different spot. Meaningful? Not to me yet. Maybe later if someone shows that the mint had shifts and changed the split at shift change.



    Here is another with DCLODSEPT ALBINCAES just like the first but I see a significant difference since the one below is the ordinary Rome mint style while the first three are from Alexandria. The 'discovery' that Alexandria struck denarii for Albinus is relatively recent (since RIC) but I do see that as a meaningful distinction.

    Another category that pushes a coin over the boring/interesting variety line is demonstrated by the two Emesa Septimius denarii below.
    rg2470b01566lg.jpg The reverse legend above reads SPQR OPTIMO PRINCIPI. Below is SPQR OPTIMO PBINCIPI which I could write off as a spelling problem caused by a Greek speaker who did not know much about the Latin R. However the B spelling variety is ten times as common as the one with a proper R. That makes it worth having both (that and the fact that I am an obsessive collector of Eastern Septimius denarii). rg2460b00500lg.jpg

    Below is another B coin but here Septimius is holding a staff. Is this significant to anyone other than hardcore specialists? Probably not.

    Things like this multiplied by a million major types makes a big difference in your view on just how many ancient coins there are and how many you want to collect.
  10. ro1974

    ro1974 Well-Known Member

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  11. ominus1

    ominus1 Well-Known Member

    there are some beautiful coin variants of her.
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  12. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    That is, of course, a possibility. Why the two officinas would use two completely different hairstyles for the empress is hard to imagine, though. We'll never know for sure.
    David Atherton likes this.
  13. Carausius

    Carausius Brother, can you spare a sestertius?

    Nice discussion. Hoard evidence could shed some light on the timing of the two issues. If there are hoards with one type and not the other, or with both types (with one type generally more worn than the other), then provisional conclusions can be drawn.
  14. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    That's an excellent point and I wish I knew even where to begin to research this. Perhaps @curtislclay has some data or thoughts on this.
  15. ro1974

    ro1974 Well-Known Member

    :) nice coin
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2018
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  16. ro1974

    ro1974 Well-Known Member

    no variants oke nNG9yq4HZLo2b6wL5EwMi3sW8YgqDE.jpg
    Bing likes this.
  17. ro1974

    ro1974 Well-Known Member

  18. George McClellan

    George McClellan Active Member

    The difference means something. Messing with Imperial or Divine images id est grave negotium.
    Roman Collector likes this.
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