Numismatic and History Discussions > Books and References

Reliability of References for Roman Imperial Coins

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         "As I have stated before in these boards, the BM catalogue of Roman imperial coins, published for Augustus to 238 AD, is immensely superior to the existing RIC volumes covering the same period, and should be used as the primary reference work by all serious collectors of early and mid imperial coins."
         BMC describes the actual coins in one of the world's best collections, and usually illustrates at least the reverse of every type represented in the BM collection.  All types not in the collection are also listed, and occasionally illustrated too.  It is very useful to know that a coin like yours is actually in BM, in one or multiple specimens as the case may be, and to be able to compare yours to a photo of one of theirs; or to find BM doesn't have your coin, so it is probably rare, but a specimen can be found e.g. in Paris or in a particular auction or museum catalogue.
          The early RICs, in contrast, are essentially chronological rearrangements of Cohen's alphabetical catalogue.  Only the Cohen number is regularly cited as authority, not the actual coin that Cohen was describing and usually specifies.   Only a small proportion of the types are illustrated.  So all these RICs give you is a description, a catalogue number, a Cohen no., and a rarity rating misleadingly derived from Cohen's franc prices.  You usually do not learn where an actual specimen of that coin resides, and only rarely is an illustration provided to confirm and clarify the description and to compare with your specimen.
         A new, much better RIC for 69-96 should be coming out in a couple of years, which will completely supersede the first part of the old RIC II.  So that old edition is not a wise purchase at this point.  BMC II, however, is likely to preserve much of its importance and usefulness even after the publication of the new RIC.
         The three new Paris catalogues for 27 BC-98 AD are also very useful.  That is also one of the world's best collections, and the plates illustrate a much higher percentage of the collection than BMC does, and always both obv. and rev.  However, little or no effort is made to include coins not represented in Paris, so the catalogue cannot be used as a corpus describing every known variety.

David Atherton:
Thank you Curtis for the information about the RIC and the BMC volumes. Your post made up my mind, I'm going with the BMC vol.
Maybe in a few years I'll be ready for that new RIC vol., but for now I'll stick with the BMC. :)

       I should mention the one major fault of BMC II:  Mattingly's erroneous attribution of much of the earliest Rome-mint bronze coinage of 71 AD to the mints of Tarraco, Lugdunum, and Illyricum.
       As Colin Kraay discovered and proved in his Oxford dissertation, BMC pl. 31.6-9 and pl. 32-36 (all coins) are mint of Rome, not Tarraco; pl. 37.1-2 and 4-6, pl. 38.1 and 4, pl. 39.8 and 10 are Rome not Lugdunum; pl. 42.7 is Rome not Illyricum.
      It is annoying to have to look in four different places in BMC II for a complete picture of the bronze coinage produced by the mint of Rome in 71!

David Atherton:
Curtis, you were so right!

I've had the BMC II volume for a while and out of curiosity ordered the RIC II from a local bookdealer, and boy...the BMC blows the RIC away!

83 plates of coins in the BMC volume versus the 16 plates in the RIC. Plus the BMC has the better introduction which was worth the hefty purchase price alone!

Anyone out there trying to decide between the two...go with the BMC.

Thanks again for the helpful advice.


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