A Coin from the 'Bavarian Collection'
Most Ancient coins sold today have been found relatively recently as part of a number of large hoards and the constant searching by metal detectorists in Europe. Other coins have been part of collections for hundreds of years but no records, catalogs or photographs separate them from the recent hoard material. In some cases, their advanced degree of retoning suggests they were not recently cleaned. Most unusual, rare perhaps, are coins that were a part of an old collection and are still accompanied by some 'proof' of their status. The 'Great' collections include a number of famous names from European nobility to President John Quincy Adams. Most of the 'Great' collections contained rare and expensive coins. This week's Featured Coin is evidence that the common man also could form a collection that is 'Great' in its own way.
In 1993, Numismatic Fine Arts auctioned a collection of 3500 coins divided into 352 lots. These lots, some individual coins and some large lots, realized between $39 and $800 so it is obvious that any rarities included were not popular or expensive. The lots were sold complete with the envelope and information tag of the collector who often included the envelope of the dealer from whom he had purchased the coin. The collection was formed in Germany between 1890 and 1930. In January, 1994, Victor Failmezger wrote an article on the collection for the Celator magazine (Vol. 8, No. 1, pp. 14f). He noted that the collector had made many of his envelopes and tags from scrap paper and card stock. Victor even reconstructed a business card from twelve pieces that had been used on the back side for tags. The coin below is shown with an envelope fashioned from scrap paper still bearing part of a German postage stamp. The tag is from a scrap of green cardboard. Whoever the collector, he chose to spend his limited funds on coins rather than supplies.
It is interesting that the collector noted on his envelope the mintmark and field letter information. In fact, the contents of the collection suggested that he believed in collecting these issues by mintmark. Many of the coins from the Bavarian collection that I have seen were in better condition than this one. I believe the collector sought out the best specimen of each variety that he could find or afford but prefered to have an example that was less than perfect to having no coin at all.
At the time the Bavarian Collection was being formed this was somewhat more rare coin than it is today. Recent hoards in the newly 'opened' parts of Eastern Europe have brought to market many of these coins frequently sold as 'by Vetranio'. Following the abdication of Vetranio the mints at Siscia and Sirmium that had been under his control continued to strike their distinctive reverse types in the name of Constantius II. That these issues were not all produced 'by Vetranio' during his period as caretaker-emperor is shown by the fact that these types are also found in the name of Constantius Gallus who was not made Caesar until 353 AD. Of the 'Vetranio' types, the most interesting is this scene of Victory crowning the emperor with the legend recalling the vision of Constantine I before the battle of Milvian Bridge. I remember HOC SIGNO VICTOR ERIS 'By this sign you will be victor', from Latin class as IN HOC SIGNO VINCES 'By this sign thou shalt conquor'; perhaps the 'Bavarian' collector also had this in mind which could explain the word crossed out on the green card. Whatever the exact wording, this refers to the bringing of Christianity to official power in the Roman Empire under Constantine. I also remember being taught that the 'sign' was the Christian cross which is not shown on the coin. The coin type suggests that the officials at the mint believed the sign to be the 'Chi-Rho' which appears on the standard held by the emperor. This coin is not the first use of Christian symbolism on coins but the addition of the legend makes this a most popular addition to a Christian collection.
The Bavarian Collection was just one of thousands of groupings of ancient coins that have been put together and torn apart during the last two thousand years. Whenever possible it is nice to preserve any evidence of the past history of the coins in our collections. I wonder how many of the purchasers of the Bavarian lots in the NFA sale have saved these envelopes? Being part of a famous collection (d'Este or Adams) can add considerable value to a coin. Coins of the Bavarian collection were recently available as low as $10 so the value added to these was historical rather than monetary. I think I would have enjoyed meeting the 'Bavarian' collector.
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© 1997 Doug Smith