Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ancient 'love tokens'

In the 19th century coins were often used for engraving. They are called 'Love tokens' by collectors and there is even an eBay category for collectors of such items.

Ancient coins were sometimes modified in similar ways. They seem to be very rare, I've only found a few references to them. In the academic literature I found a short piece from Schweizer Muenzblatter vol 19 1969 p. 14, “Amulettarige Uberarbeitung eines spatromischen Follis” and a three page article in English by Brooks Emmons Levy, “Another Converted Roman Coin?” (Schweizer Munzblatter vol. 32 (1982), p. 40.

The first article features a Roman follis, the second a 30mm provincial from Antioch featuring MĂȘn.

Ken Steiglitz illustrates a Ptolemaic coin with similar modifications on his web site. I also found a Bosporan coin with similar mutilation in an old CNG catalog. The coin pictured above comes from FORVM.

I would be interested in seeing pictures of similar coins, or speculation on the why this was done. It strikes me that the few examples I've found come from very different times and places, but have similar grooves. This could be because grooves are the easiest thing to cut, so everyone who mutilates a coin naturally does grooves.

FORVM attributed my coin as being from the Amphipolis mint. I don't know much about Alexander bronzes, does anyone know if this is correct? What is the diagnostic?


lwht said...

The reverse of the coin is typical of bronzes usually attributed to a non-specific “Macedonian Mint”, rather than Amphipolis specifically. I’m not sure of the basis on which the latter attribution could be made for such a worn bronze issue.

The grooves cut in the obverse look relatively fresh compare to the overall worn state of the coin. To my eye at least, the overall design of the of the grooved obverse has “Celtic” overtones. I speculate that the worn coin found its way into a northern Celtic frontier area and the grooves, which appealed to local aesthetics, may have been made as some sort of means as re-validating the worn bronze coin for local circulation.

RJO said...

I seem to remember a webpage with a number of defaced coins that the author believed had been carved with early Christian symbols (effectively cancelling the emperor). I don't recall where this was, but perhaps you have seen it or someone else will remember it.