As the old saying goes, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." To most coin collectors, condition is everything. This week's featured coin has a number of shortcomings that would make it perform poorly in sales rooms but it is still a beautiful coin to me. Frequently overlooked by beginning collectors is the matter of style. The obverse die used to strike this particular coin is my personal favorite portrait of the young Caracalla Caesar.
In 196 AD, Septimius Severus decided to sever ties with Clodius Albinus who had been named Caesar (heir apparent to the throne) and replaced him with his elder son who is known today by his nickname Caracalla. The portraits of the eight year old boy on his first coins frequently show an awkward child of no particular physical beauty. On a few dies, however, the celator captured a likeness with an air of nobility appropriate for a future emperor. Of those dies, this one stands out with the large well modelled head that uses every bit of the space available.
In fact, most, if not all, ancient coins are available in a range of styles. Skill varied greatly between the master celators and the cutters who must have been employed simply to keep up with massive demand for dies to strike a large issue of coins. When auxiliary mints were used, the style was often distinctively non-Roman in flavor. Even when there was only one engraver at one mint, some dies turned out better than others. Coin collectors and dealers value their holdings for being well struck, unworn and pleasantly surfaced. For some of us there is another consideration: Style. Agree?
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© 1997 Doug Smith