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Author Topic: Modern Sestertius and Double Sestertius  (Read 3867 times)
Rupert
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« on: August 09, 2006, 03:55:17 pm »

I got me a fascinating coin these days which led me to post it here as an example how Roman antiquity worked its way into more modern times, and how ancient and new mingled.

Up until the 18th century, the English penny was a silver coin, though seldom minted; thus there was a shortage of small change leading to many privately issued tokens. Trying to relieve the shortage, and using state-of-the-art technology, the state made a treaty with Matthew Boulton, owner of the private Soho mint in Birmingham, to produce 480 tons of pennies and 20 tons of twopences for 1797, at the whopping weight of 1 oz. (28.35g) for the penny and 2 oz. (56.7g) for the twopence! Boulton had the first steam-powered coin presses, constructed by James Watt himself.
The types were adopted directly from Roman times, with the laureate and draped bust of the monarch on one and Britannia sitting on a rock on the other side. Okay, it's not an emperor but a king now, and Britannia's attributes have changed (from standard and spear - Mars - to trident and olive-branch for Minerva and Neptune), but these are minor matters.

The huge copper coins were produced in the same quantities in 1798, but bearing the date 1797. So there were about 34,406,400 pennies and about 716,800 twopences struck. They were nicknamed "cartwheels", it's easy to see why. Even today, they aren't rare; many survived being used as 1 or 2 oz. weights in shops and kitchens. What I'd like to know (and maybe our British friends can tell us) is: Why do very most of these pieces have such BIG edge knocks? As far as I know, the metal isn't (harder) bronze but (softer) copper, but this can't be the whole explanation: what did people do with these coins? Did kids have games those days in which pennies were thrown against the wall, or something similar? I'd be very interested in a plausible explanation for this phenomenon. EF coins with nice edges do occur too, but are MUCH more expensive than the 10 Euros I paid for my twopence "double whopper".

Rupert
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« Reply #1 on: August 09, 2006, 04:21:33 pm »

I must get one of those; it's a classic. The old Soho mint is about a mile and a half away; I used to go past it on the way to work at one time.
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Robert Brenchley

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« Reply #2 on: August 09, 2006, 04:32:57 pm »

I forgot to add the measures of the coins:
The penny is 35 mm in diameter and 3 mm thick, the twopence is 41 mm and 5 mm thick! That's impressive. I read that, apart from some emergency coins when they made pound coins of silver in a besieged city, these were the biggest and heaviest British coins ever.

Rupert
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« Reply #3 on: August 10, 2006, 02:12:02 am »

I'm speculating, but perhaps the edge knocks are due to the weight of the coins? if something that size was dropped, it would be much more likely to be marked than a normal-size coin. If they were used as weights, they'd have been kocked around more than they would as coins, as less care is taken of such objects.
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Robert Brenchley

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« Reply #4 on: August 10, 2006, 01:32:10 pm »

The similarity between Roman coins and British pre-decimal coins has always been interesting to me.  When I was young (too young to have money of my own) I could look through peoples' change and find half a dozen different monarchs and many coin designs.  The latin inscriptions were interesting .. things like DEI GRA BRITT OMN REX FID DEF IND IMP.  Why should these inscriptions have been on the coinage?  Hardly anyone understood latin.  They can only have been there because the Roman coinage was still, even then, a model which inspired recognition and trust.

At that time I didn't realise how completely this was the case, because I had no idea that Britannia was a typical Roman-style personification.  Even when I learned some latin, I didn't understand that the double T on BRITT indicated a plural.  (What are "all the the Britains," anyway?)

DEI GRA = by the grace of God (or anyway, ordained by the Archbishop of Canterbury).
BRITT OMN REX = King of all the Britains.
FID DEF = Head of the established Church of England.
IND IMP = Emperor of India.

On the cartwheels above, Britannia sits on a rock with Neptune's trident and a Union Flag shield, and there is a ship in the distance.  "Britannia rules the waves" - sea superiority in war and trade was crucial to the Empire, and the Union was strong in defence.  She holds an olive branch, very much in the Roman tradition of peace through strength.

So you can see why I enjoy working out the meanings of all those Roman legends and imagery - not just what they say or look like, but what they really meant.

The halfpenny below could have been one of those I saw back then.  (Not a great specimen, but I happened to have it nearby.)  George the 5th, 1931.

Bill
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« Reply #5 on: August 10, 2006, 01:54:52 pm »

I think it was not so much the recognized Roman coins inspiring recognition and trust - but that Latin was the "secret" language shared by the European clergy and that it was also for centuries associated with education and knowledge. I think the coins use of latin was more driven by the power of the church in monarchies of Europe early on and then just maintained as a recognized form of coin minting text - even into the US.

Traditions often get lost and found where the original origins are forgotten. Not many knew of Roman coin printing into the dark ages - yet the tradition outlasted the origin when latin was preserved in the church.
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« Reply #6 on: August 10, 2006, 02:52:06 pm »

Latin was still widely used by the educated minority well into the era of the bronze penny, and explicit or implicit parallels between the Roman and British empires were often drawn; both liked to see themselves as 'civilised' nations in contrast to the 'barbarians' they conquered, and the British were particularly keen on seeing themselves as bringing the benefits of civilisation to the 'barbarians'. Rome was constantly portrayed as having done the same when I was a kid, though doubtless the academics had a rather more rounded understanding. After marrying someone from an ex-colony and seeing the other side of the story, I tend to be rather cynical about such claims!
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« Reply #7 on: August 10, 2006, 09:47:09 pm »

Latin was still widely used by the educated minority well into the era of the bronze penny, and explicit or implicit parallels between the Roman and British empires were often drawn; both liked to see themselves as 'civilised' nations in contrast to the 'barbarians' they conquered, and the British were particularly keen on seeing themselves as bringing the benefits of civilisation to the 'barbarians'.

Yes, this was clearly the sort of coin a successful empire ought to produce.  An empire with the "white man's burden," as it was known.  No doubt it was purely coincidental that "bringing the benefits of civilisation" to the unenlightened savages and natives also enabled the empire to make free use of their natural resources and accumulated wealth!  See, they did have a lot in common with the Romans.

That's not just latin - it's numismatic latin, with its use of abbreviations and spacers, its list of titles, and its deeper meanings.  (FID DEF and PON MAX have a lot in common.)   The design has many other parallels, too.  The placing of the monarch's head and the legend; the dotted border; the personification on the reverse.  Monarchs elswhere, Kaisers and Tsars, were still titling themselves after the manner of the first Roman emperors, so maybe coins like these had a resonance elsewhere in the empire, not just at home.

Bill
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« Reply #8 on: August 19, 2006, 12:49:35 pm »

I think you ought to explain the FID.DEF.
I will do it then:
In full it is the Defender  od the Faith; FIDEI DEFENSOR.
Curiously enough this title was bestowed upon King Henry VIII by Pope Leo in 1521 because of his merits in respect to the Holy Roman Church (he had written a book).
It stands to reason the pope revoked the title in 1533 when Henry started his own Anglican Church. The British Parliament, however found the title rather appropriate for the leader of the COE and reinstated it.
It was not until 1714 when George the First from the House of Hannover put the actual text on a coin.


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« Reply #9 on: August 19, 2006, 01:29:20 pm »

Iromnically, Henry's book was an attack on Martin Luther, and a defence of the Roman church, hence the title the Pope granted him. They're still putting it on coins now; looking at a 2005 two pence I have in my pocket, the obverse inscription is ELIZABETH . II . DG . REG . F .  D . 2005. Elizabeth II, by the grace of God queen, Defender of the Faith.
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Robert Brenchley

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Rupert
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« Reply #10 on: August 19, 2006, 01:55:45 pm »

By the way, is Queen Elizabeth, that boulder of stability in our fast-lived time, the only monarch still to bear the D.G. (by the grace of God) title?

Rupert
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« Reply #11 on: August 19, 2006, 02:04:14 pm »

I grew up in England, and collected pocket change (which still went back to 1860 or so in the 1970's) as a kid. I recently bought a young victoria penny partly for sentimental value and partly to show the Roman heritage.

It should also be noted that the pre-decimal coinage was referred to as LSD - pounds, shillings and pence, with the £ pound symbol just being a fancy L. The origin of LSD was libra [pondo], solidus and denarius, and although pennies were called pennies, the d symbol is what was used for prices: 6d, 3d etc.

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Rupert
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« Reply #12 on: August 19, 2006, 02:15:37 pm »

What a Neoclassical beauty! Yes, the UK was the last resort for this traditional monetary system (1 pound = 20 shillings = 240 pence) which originates from Carolingian times and was also the main currency system in medieval Germany, most of the time, however, with only rather shabby pennies (Pfennige) minted.

Rupert
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« Reply #13 on: August 19, 2006, 02:24:19 pm »

It was a system used throughout Europe: in Holland we had the 'gulden' abbreviated f = florin
divided into 20 (!) stuivers and each stuiver was divided into 16 penningen or 8 duiten (doights) or 4 oorden. This system was abolished when the Netherlands were occupied by the French in 1795.
 And of my first visits to England I remember ladies in a supermarket, handlebar of the cart in one hand, and a special kind of calculator in the other, trying  to figure out how much money they had spent. It was virtually impossible to add up more than five items and know how much to pay!

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« Reply #14 on: August 19, 2006, 03:08:52 pm »

Hi Frans

I suspect your visit was around 1971-72, and that the ladies were trying to work out the prices in this confusing new decimal system that had been foisted on us, instead of our lovely 'real money' of LSD Smiley, and trying to see if they were being ripped off by the 'rounding up' of pennies in the new system, each worth 2.4 of the old ones.

Lots of prices seemed to jump suddenly from the old sixpence (2.5 'New Pence') to four and even five 'New Pence' (nearly ten 'old pence' and an old shilling, twelve pence), a doubling of the price. No wonder calculators were being used to check the prices.

Anyone who had gone through the normal schooling had little trouble with LSD, and even now (showing my age here) I find it quite easy to work out LSD sums in my head.

As an aside, the FID DEF I think is still there because the monarch is still head of the Church of England, and thus defender of that faith. It is still a statement of the status quo rather than a pure anachronism.

Finally, in answer to moonmoths question 'what are all the Britains', the answer I think is that Scotland used to be called North Britain, so England must have been South Britain, and all the Britains are North and South Britain, Scotland and England.

Best wishes

Alan
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Rupert
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« Reply #15 on: August 19, 2006, 03:13:26 pm »

Ah, I see. It was called the LSD system because it could only be understood with enough LSD in your brain. I know that cannabis is legal (or semi-legal) in the Netherlands, but I didn't know that they used to have LSD in the UK!

Rupert Grin

PS: It was much the same with the introduction of the Euro in Germany (which most of us had wished just as little as you had desired the decimal system). Milka brand chocolate (which is what I mainly lived on) rose sharply from 0.99 or 1.09 DEM to 69 or 79 cent (that's 1.35 or 1.55 DEM respectively). That's why Germans called the Euro "Teuro" (from teuer = expensive).
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« Reply #16 on: August 19, 2006, 03:15:20 pm »

And that is exactly why the PONT.MAX lasted until the thouandth birthday of Rome (or thereabouts)

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« Reply #17 on: August 19, 2006, 03:15:57 pm »

Hi,

....and Prince Charles has announced that when he becomes king he wants to be known as "Defender of Faiths", an updating of the title to recognise the modern multi faith society.

Regards,

Mauseus
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Rupert
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« Reply #18 on: August 19, 2006, 03:18:11 pm »

Hi,

....and Prince Charles has announced that when he becomes king he wants to be known as "Defender of Faiths", an updating of the title to recognise the modern multi faith society.

Regards,

Mauseus

I really do like Prince Charles, but I think he may be too optimistic about mankind here.

Rupert
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« Reply #19 on: August 19, 2006, 04:06:09 pm »

By the way, is Queen Elizabeth, that boulder of stability in our fast-lived time, the only monarch still to bear the D.G. (by the grace of God) title?

Rupert

She's probably the only one to abbreviate it as DG; it's DEI GRA on her pre-decimal (ie real) pennies. 'By the grace of God, King', or the equivalent for 'queen' is a traditional way of referring to the monarch, and it appears on the coinage at least as far back as Edward I. Obviously the implication is 'God put me here, so you'd better like it'. Rather a vainglorious claim, but its roots go back as far as divine kingship itself.
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« Reply #20 on: August 19, 2006, 04:16:31 pm »

Dei Gratia used to be a standard inscription on the coins of virtually every ruler, of however minor importance, in Europe in the last centuries. (I dont know if "Emperor" Bokassa used it). But I wonder whether any monarch except Elizabeth II still carries this title on their 21st century coins.

Rupert
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« Reply #21 on: August 19, 2006, 06:14:09 pm »

How I would love to have a young Victoria and a George III.  Those are wonderful coins.  I bet they cost a lot by now.  Pat L.
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« Reply #22 on: August 20, 2006, 01:32:22 am »

Via this link you get an idea about prices and qualities.
http://www.onlinecoins.co.uk/coinsearch.php?country=1&cointype=12


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Robert_Brenchley
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« Reply #23 on: August 20, 2006, 02:19:37 am »

I used to get old Victorias in my change; you can still pick them up very cheaply, in about VG. Better ones don't seem to be any more expensive than ancients, but the difficulaty would lie in keeping coin money back for them!
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Robert Brenchley

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« Reply #24 on: August 20, 2006, 06:21:30 am »

The prices on that site seem a little high.

I still paid about 1130 times face value for my penny ... £4.71 on fleabay.

I'm lusting after a nice gothic florin but that's real money, and a slippery slope!

Ben
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