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Author Topic: Calico and Roman Avrei  (Read 7298 times)

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Offline jmuona

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Calico and Roman Avrei
« on: March 15, 2010, 08:11:07 am »
I bought Calico's books on Roman aurei finally from CNG last January. Naturally, one of the first things to look at was Otho's coinage. I was a bit surprised to see that at least two of the coins shown were actually denarii, ie. the Vesta and Ceres reverse PONT MAX ones, the former originally from a Tkalec sale and the latter from CNG in the 1990's.
It is well-known that aurei and denarii were minted with same dies at the time, so one might say this is not really a problem. However, genuine VESTA reverse aurei are not known at all, so this is a mistake.
I wonder have others observed this kind of "short-cuts" for other emperors in the book? It is posssible that this practice is mentioned somewhere in the book, but even then I find it strange - after all, other known coins are illustrated as drawings, even though a denarius would have been readily available.
s.
Jyrki Muona

Offline curtislclay

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Re: Calico and Roman Aurei
« Reply #1 on: March 15, 2010, 10:53:28 am »
I think the author's stance was: if an aureus is reported to exist but I can't find a picture, it is OK to illustrate a denarius instead or to invent a drawing of what it might have looked like!

The correct approach would of course have been to illustrate only existing aurei in a book on aurei, thereby calling attention to those reported pieces of which no illustrations were available, and encouraging the reader to investigate the reliability of those reports and to ask himself whether such an aureus really ever existed.

As to the PONT MAX Vesta piece of Otho, Cohen 6 reports it from the old manuscript catalogues of the Paris collection, so my presumption would be that such a piece indeed once existed, and was melted down in the great theft of 1831. That doesn't guarantee that the coin was authentic, so other questions need to be investigated, for example: does a Mionnet cast of this aureus exist? (Probably not, or Giard would have illustrated it in his Paris catalogue.) Is the coin recorded in Caylus' illustrations of the Roman gold series in the French collection of c. 1760? Exactly what manuscipts in Paris describe the coin, with what words and of what date? Finally are there known old fakes of this type in gold, raising the possibility that the Paris specimen was such a fake?

Calicó's book is a useful assemblage of images of aurei, but not a serious attempt to document all coins of that denomination. The decision not to specify the source of each illustration is an immediate giveaway of this lack of seriousness!

A couple of later coins wrongly illustrated by denarii, and this at a time when dies were no longer shared between the denominations because aureus dies were always broader and in higher relief than denarius dies: Macrinus 2931, 2939, 2942, 2943, 2953; Soaemias 3046; Maesa 3050; Sev. Alex. 3072 (apparently), 3088, 3105, 3126, 3145; Mamaea 3151, 3152; Max. Thrax 3160, 3165; Paulina 3166; Maximus 3167; Gord. I Afr. 3169, 3170; Balbinus 3173 (here stated: "photo is of a denarius"), 3174; Pupienus 3179.
Curtis Clay

Offline Andrew McCabe

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Re: Calico and Roman Avrei
« Reply #2 on: March 15, 2010, 04:32:31 pm »
I bought Calico's books on Roman aurei finally from CNG last January. Naturally, one of the first things to look at was Otho's coinage. I was a bit surprised to see that at least two of the coins shown were actually denarii, ie. the Vesta and Ceres reverse PONT MAX ones, the former originally from a Tkalec sale and the latter from CNG in the 1990's.
It is well-known that aurei and denarii were minted with same dies at the time, so one might say this is not really a problem. However, genuine VESTA reverse aurei are not known at all, so this is a mistake.
I wonder have others observed this kind of "short-cuts" for other emperors in the book? It is posssible that this practice is mentioned somewhere in the book, but even then I find it strange - after all, other known coins are illustrated as drawings, even though a denarius would have been readily available.
s.
Jyrki Muona

It's really not acceptable to illustrate a purported coin with something else - a line drawing is OK, but something else that gives the impression of being the actual coin crosses boundaries. Because the coin may not in fact exist.

It is a shame to have to point it out, but Xavier Calicó Estivill has not only done this elsewhere, but to a worse degree: He illustrated the following book:

http://www.numismaticaherrero.com/documentos/f.f.c.htm

with large numbers of Photoshopped made-up pretend-photographs of coins that never existed. He took text descriptions of Roman Republican Silver coins, and, not having a photo to hand, made up a photo using a similar variety of the same series, cutting and pasting symbols, letters etc... but... in the wrong place. Net result, one has no idea whether or not any of the coins illustrated actually exist.

Offline areich

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Re: Calico and Roman Avrei
« Reply #3 on: March 15, 2010, 04:39:18 pm »
That is incredible!
Andreas Reich

Offline Volodya

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    • Imitations of Roman Republican Denarii
Re: Calico and Roman Avrei
« Reply #4 on: March 15, 2010, 04:56:16 pm »
That is incredible!

I'm always happy to cut and paste my, ahem, unfavorable Celator review of the horrible horrible horrible FFC, if anyone's interested. One of the minor campaigns of my numismatic life is to damage this atrocious "book" in any way I can!

Phil Davis

Offline areich

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Re: Calico and Roman Avrei
« Reply #5 on: March 15, 2010, 05:08:42 pm »
I would like to read it.
Andreas Reich

Offline Volodya

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Re: Calico and Roman Avrei
« Reply #6 on: March 15, 2010, 05:14:38 pm »
OK, twist my arm...  (Sorry about the formatting; I'm far too lazy to change every line!)

The Other Side, by Phillip Davis, from The Celator, Vol. 17, No. 4,
January, 2003.

In a previous incarnation, I managed a custom photo lab and digital
retouching studio. This was a few long years ago, in the days of Shima
Seiki work stations, when retouching was still expensive art and
magic, before any Joe off the street with PhotoShop and a smidgen of
talent could enable his dearly departed grandmother to knit demurely
in front of the Eiffel Tower. I used to fantasize about asking one of
our artists to create a transparency of an Otho sestertius for me as a
joke. I would have sent 8 X 10 glossies of this to various dealers and
publications and created a sensation, as no one in the coin world yet
knew a pixel from Pixodaros. That was then, and we were far too busy
stripping menthol cowboys into blue-green meadows to indulge my
pipe-dream. Now all the Joes are in fact off the street and at their
computers, madly remaking the world. Images of ancient coins are just
so much putty in their busy little hands.

There is, unfortunately, a point to these musings. I recently took a
careful look at a new Spanish catalogue of Roman Republican denarii,
Catalogo Monografico de los Denarios de la Republica Romana, by Jose
Fernandez Molina, Manuel Fernandez Carrera, and Xavier Calico
Estivill. The authors abbreviate this FFC, and I'll do the same. FFC
is billed as a readily available alternative to the out of print Roman
Silver Coins I, and purports to provide photos of all varieties of
Republican denarii, not merely the main types. Some of these
illustrations are reproduced from Crawford, or from an earlier
catalogue by Calico and his brother, and many others are picked up
from NAC sales. Quite a few however are of otherwise unpublished
pieces in the authors' collections, so FFC seemed to be a useful
addition to a Republican library.

The book is organized according to Babelon's "unscientific" but
time-honored and easy to use family arrangement, with the addition of
consecutive numbering. I've no objection to this system, which
sometimes reveals significant patterns within the Republican coinage
which are obscured by modern chronological arrangements. The recurring
elephants of the Caecilia gens are a dramatic example. Nor do I mind
the decision, presumably dictated by space and interest, to exclude
bronze, victoriati, and the entire pre-denarius coinage, although a
listing of the denarius fractions would have been welcome. The photos
themselves are a bit flat for my taste, but reasonably sharp and
clear. Prices are given in Euro, for VF and EF specimens. These are
intriguing, if sometimes open to debate.

I was dismayed however to discover that many of the photos in FFC have
been doctored, in PhotoShop or something like it, to illustrate
varieties of which the authors could not locate actual coins.
Sometimes the retouching is obvious, and adjacent entries clearly
derive from the same original, a control mark or legend having been
moved or changed on one photo without other alteration of the coin. In
other instances, a more serious effort has been made to make the
original and the created coin appear different. The size of the flan
is varied, scratches are added or removed, the contrast or density of
the photos modified. To my knowledge, this procedure is without
precedent or parallel in other numismatic works, whether intended for
collectors or scholars. Originally I thought these changes were made
without comment, but a rereading of the prologue shows that the
authors do briefly mention this methodology, saying (a paraphrase of
my poor translation) "we have permitted ourselves to modify coins in
the few cases where we regrettably can't find originals."
Excluding the two immense and complex Calpurnia issues, Crawford 340/1
and 408/1, which the authors understandably do not attempt to
exhaustively illustrate, FFC contains 929 listings of Republican
denarii. A quick survey of only the Republican section of the book
(which also includes Imperatorial and Augustan denarii) finds 44
certain examples of modified images, over 4.5% of the total. I'm sure
there are others I missed, and that the real percentage is higher.
Each retouched image implies an unretouched original, but the authors
nowhere indicate which is which, so the unaltered image cannot be
distinguished from the altered one, and both are in doubt. Thus,
almost 10% (or more) of the illustrations are of "coins" which may or
may not have any existence in the real world. One might question
whether this really constitutes only "a few," but more important is
the propriety of the procedure itself.

Putting the best face on it, this is a very slippery slope. It's one
thing to create an Otho sestertius as a prank, but FFC would like to
be accepted as a serious handbook for collectors and a valuable mine
of images for scholars. The possibilities of fraud are obvious, even
if no fraud was intended here. That aside, the work is inherently
dangerous, as it presents a false picture of the Republican coinage,
which future collectors are likely to assume is accurate. The authors'
technique results in some serious blunders. For example, an apparent
misreading of Crawford has led the authors to digitally create a
nonexistent variety of Crawford 363/1, L. Censorinus, with the legend
L. CENSOR to the right of Marsyas. They then proceed to number (FFC
889) and describe this fantasy. FFC 976 seems to be a new variety of
Crawford 405/3, M. Plaetorius M. f. Cestianus, with the variant
reverse legend beginning CESTIAN. S.C. rather than CEST. EX. S.C. This
is of some interest, if it exists. There's no way to be sure, as FFC
977 repeats the same coin, with control mark removed and banker's mark
added, and the same variant legend, incorrectly cited as Crawford
405/3a. In another flight of fancy, FFC 720, they concoct an example
of the very rare Cr-353/1b, Mn. Fonteius C. f., with both CF and ROMA
monogram to the right of the head of Apollo. This variety is cited by
Crawford from the Cosa Hoard, and illustrated in the hoard report by
T. V. Buttrey. The authors however appear never to have seen this
illustration, and simply to have guessed at the location of the
monogram. They place it, grotesquely, at the tip of Apollo's nose, not
under his chin as is found on the actual coin. In general, the authors
seem surprisingly unaware of pieces now residing elsewhere than in
their own collections, even if sold in the NAC auctions whose
catalogues they utilized, other than a few very rare items picked up
from standard works.

The authors' stated goal of providing illustrations of all varieties
is laudable, but to me, their method of achieving it is distasteful,
lazy, and intellectually dishonest. The point of such illustration
should be to allow the discerning reader to confirm patterns of style
and fabric distinctive to certain varieties. That is hardly possible
here, where a single coin is repeated as many as five times (FFC 878,
880-83,) with control marks rearranged or changed as needed. It's
clear that the book is worthless for research (a view confirmed
privately by others for whose opinions I have the utmost respect.) I
believe it's of only minimal value to collectors either, except
perhaps as a curiosity. This is a real shame, as the need for a
single-volume replacement for the invaluable but hard to find RSC I is
acute. One can only hope that FFC is an irresponsible aberration, not
the emergence of a new paradigm for numismatic literature.

Offline Andrew McCabe

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Re: Calico and Roman Avrei
« Reply #7 on: March 15, 2010, 05:31:06 pm »
the need for a
single-volume replacement for the invaluable but hard to find RSC I is
acute.


Thankfully, Spink responded to a real market demand and reprinted RSC1. Recall a few years back copies of RSC1 were retailing at $150, and difficult to find at that price. I sometimes wonder how much economic interest a coin seller has in reprinting a few hundred copies of such a reference book to make perhaps £5 per copy profit, but I am very glad they have done so.

RSC1 remains one of my key RR catalogues, as reviewed here:
http://andrewmccabe.ancients.info/Catalogues.html#RSC1

The others being Crawford, Grueber (British Museum) and Sear's History and Coinage of the Roman Imperators, also reviewed on this page: http://andrewmccabe.ancients.info/Catalogues.html

but not Sear's RCV, which has never appealed to me very much except in its single volume version (last issued 1988 and also reprinted by Spink)
http://andrewmccabe.ancients.info/Catalogues.html#HCRI

 

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