Where to get Roman sprintia "prostitution" coins?

Discussion in 'Coin Chat' started by armoblog, May 22, 2010.

  1. armoblog

    armoblog Junior Member

    Hey guys,

    I'm fascinated by coins used by Romans (and others) to pay for sex acts, which are depicted on the coins with their values on the other side. What's a legitimate source for these? How much can I expect to pay? (pardon the pun)

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  3. Billyray

    Billyray Junior Member

  4. Gao

    Gao Member

  5. Bart9349

    Bart9349 Junior Member


    There are no official Roman coins with that description, only tokens. I don't know where you can find the token you are looking for, but here is an article about that very subject:


  6. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    Huh, didnt know those existed, pretty damn interesting. Shame they arent common.
  7. Eduard

    Eduard Supporter**

    Auctions by the major auction houses ocassionally carry Spintriae (Spinks, Kuenker, Gorny & Mosch, Sothebys, Peus, NAC). Check which auctions are coming up at www.sixbid.com

    Most but not all spintriae depict erotic scenes (I believe). As others have mentioned, these are desirable numismatic items (pardon the pun), and are auctioned for high prices.
  8. swhuck

    swhuck Junior Member

    Brothel tokens exist from the American West as well, although I've never heard of any that are graphic. Of course, I'd never heard of a sprintia before, either.
  9. Info Sponge

    Info Sponge Junior Member

  10. Ardatirion

    Ardatirion Où est mon poisson

    I wrote my undergraduate thesis on Roman tokens, and am working towards getting it published. These views of the spintria are sorely outdated. They cannot be brothel tokens - the primary source for this interpretation was Eckhel (1793), who based his interpretation on the numbered scenes in the Lupanare (brothel) in Pompeii. But the numbers on the frescoes do not correspond to the numbers, and the scenes even have different numbers on the tokens. They cannot be game tokens, either. No known Roman games use these numbers. Some have tried to interpret them as tickets for the Colosseum, with each number representing one of the vomitoria. But the numbers on the tokens and the number of vomitoria do not match either.

    If I recall, there is a publication coming out sometime next year that interprets the whole series as gifts given to legion commanders. First, the series of tokens with busts of Augustus were given. Then, the military men themselves parodied the official gifts with the erotic types.

    Here's my example of the Augustus type, to appear in the upcoming publication. It is from the earliest issue, and is the only known from this issue with the number V on the reverse.
    AE Roman Tessera, 1st cent. AD
    4.245g, 21.2mm
    laureate bead of Augustus r., FEL below
    V in dotted circle surrounded by wreath
    cf Buttrey 5 (not listed with V)
    Alegandron, TIF, vlaha and 2 others like this.
  11. GeorgeM

    GeorgeM Well-Known Member

    Interesting thread. Here's another on the same topic:

    As others have written, I don't think the "number on reverse = price" theory holds a lot of water, but I still like to think that these may have functioned as brass checks. Is it possible that the numbers on the backs indicated the room number within a brothel?

    Apparently, numbers found on these range from 1 to 11, with higher numbers being less common. Would this conform to the average size of brothels in the Roman empire? Were these generally small operations with fewer than 10 working women at a time (akin to a modern day strip club) or were they larger operations akin to a 19th century wild west cathouse?
  12. Conder101

    Conder101 Numismatist

    Only as saloon tokens for the bar associated with a brothel. There are no American tokens good in the brothel itself.

    There are a lot of FANTASY brothel tokens though.
  13. GeorgeM

    GeorgeM Well-Known Member

    There's some debate about that. Upton Sinclair described Brass Checks in NY at the turn of the 20th century, which at least suggests that the system may have existed in other places.

    Also, Mustang Ranch crib tokens are well known (although those post-date what most of us mean when we refer to "the West").
    Last edited: Jun 1, 2014
  14. Ardatirion

    Ardatirion Où est mon poisson

    Interesting. Can you post Sinclair's description?

    (FYI, it should be in public domain now)
  15. GeorgeM

    GeorgeM Well-Known Member

    Actually, Sinclair never sought a copyright on the work, so that it would spread more quickly:

    ""The man paid his three dollars, or his five dollars, to a cashier at the window, and received a brass check; then he went upstairs, and paid this check to the woman upon receipt of her favors."
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2014
  16. Conder101

    Conder101 Numismatist

    In other words it is a description from a work of fiction.
  17. desertgem

    desertgem MODERATOR Senior Errer Collecktor Moderator

    I appreciate the scholarship that has gone into the history of these and similar tokens. We have had similar questions on the forum before, and often posters used illustrations and descriptions or youtube that were not to the rules limitations. We do not want to have such as we seem to have more young people as members recently. I am sure you will make good decisions in your post. Thanks.
  18. GeorgeM

    GeorgeM Well-Known Member

    He was an investigative reporter. I think you misunderstand what the book was about.
  19. GeorgeM

    GeorgeM Well-Known Member

    Here's a link to "Is that a Spintria in your pocket, or are you happy to see me?"

    Brass checks are mentioned in passing; from the footnotes:
    "Bartholomew Lee (Lee 1983, 143) records the use of brothel tokens in 19th-centuryAmerica being, for example, ‘commonly issued in Denver for $1 or six for $5’. He does not say by whom they were issued, but notes their utility in keeping track of services provided by individual women, and as being more secure than cash kept on premises"
  20. GeorgeM

    GeorgeM Well-Known Member

    Btw, I've finished putting together another presentation for my local coin club on this topic: "Dirty Money - Raunchy Spintriae, Brass Checks, Brothel Tokens, & other mediums of exchange"

    As our club is of mixed gender & has two ministers in it, I'm doing my best to filter the imagery. My rule of thumb is that if you can legally show it on a mudflap, it's probably safe for the presentation.

    If you'd like to help me proofread it, just send me a private message & I'll be happy to e-mail you a (16mb large) copy.
  21. GeorgeM

    GeorgeM Well-Known Member

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