Featured Coin

A Fourree Mule

Anyone who has been following this series of Featured Coins certainly knows that I find interest in coins in less than perfect states of preservation. This week's coin is even uglier than usual but shows a few points of interest. By the start of the third century AD, fourree coins had a very thin layer of silver. To make a profit, a plated coin had to contain less silver than the solid silver coins. Debasement had resulted in the real coinage being reduced to about 50% silver so the cost of a plated coin had to be kept down by reducing the amount of silver used. This coin shows a very thin layer of silver, or rather, the partial remains of that layer.

The obverse of this coin is a rather normal Septimius Severus Rome mint style for c. 199 AD. Enough legend remains to allow the reading (L SEPT SEV) AVG IM(P XI PART) MAX. The small flan lost the reverse legend at the left but the right side is clearly ( ) MAX TRP II. The partial letter preceeding 'M' and the scene of a horseman spearing a fallen foe suggests the correct reading of the missing portion is (PART). There is a type of Severus (RIC 146, Cohen 763) from this time showing the emperor spearing a fallen Parthian (identified by the pointed cap). The legend on that coin is VIRTUS AVGG and the specimen illustrated in Seaby, Roman Silver Coins, Vol.III, page 48, clearly shows a bearded (Severus) horseman. Our coin, equally clearly, shows the horseman to be a young boy. The legend on this coin makes perfect sense for a reverse of Caracalla who was TRP II in 199 AD. Therefore, we have a coin struck from an obverse die of Severus and a reverse die of Caracalla. The spearing horseman type is not listed in my references for Caracalla in 199 AD. Questions: Is the style on these dies believable as an official mint product? Certainly the work is of high quality. Perhaps the reverse horse is a little better than I might expect from Rome of that day. Does this coin suggest that there is a missing type of Caracalla issued at the same time as the VIRTUS AVGG coins of his father? Quite possibly we should be on the lookout for this coin.

My collection contains several fourree coins of the Severan period that are mules of dies from two rulers or with dates mismatched producing an 'impossible' type. In fact so high a percentage of these coins are mismatched that I am suspicious that the producers of these coins made these errors intentionally so they would be able to spot their 'bad' coins when mixed in with the good. Whether these were produced by moonlighting mint workers or skillfull contemporary counterfeiters it seems likely that the fully silvered new condition coins would have been very easily passed as genuine. We will never know if this was part of official mint policy (perhaps a special issue to pay barbarians who would not know better?) or simply the work of criminals. In either event, these fourrees are collectable ancient coins of considerable interest.

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1997 Doug Smith