My Favorite Coin

An Unusual 'Emesa' Mint Denarius of Septimius Severus!

If forced to choose among all of the coins I have ever owned this would be my #1. I'm sure that this opinion is shared by absolutely no one else but that is of no importance; I like the coin. Actually I'm glad there is so little demand for this coin since in over thirty years of collecting I have never seen another specimen of this coin offered for sale. I bought this coin for $13.50 (a rather high price in 1963) from a dealer who is still in business today but now charges more for coins a lot less interesting. In 1972 hard times forced me to sell my collection but I could not find a dealer who considered this coin worth even as much as I had paid. I kept this coin and two others that I alone considered special. How I wish I had never sold the others.

Septimius Severus - Silver denarius - early 194 AD - 'Emesa' mint
IMP CAE L SEP SE - V PEPT AVG COS I - Laureate head right
VICTOR IV-ST AVG - Victory walks left holding wreath and palm

The reverse of this coin shows Victory walking to the left and bears the legend VICTOR IVST AVG. The type was copied directly from an issue of Pescennius Niger who regularly used the appellation Iustus or the Just. The mint workers issuing the type for Septimius Severus probably met with some censure since the type was soon modified to read VICTOR SEVER AVG replacing the title of Pescennius with one more appropriate for Septimius. As is appropriate for my favorite coin, the obverse die used here is my favorite die. This die clearly shows the dating device to be COSI or consul for the first time. Roman mints never indicated the numeral for the first consulship dating but would have simply used COS with no numeral. The first issue of coins from the 'Emesa' mint used the same legend (IMP CAE L SEP SEV PERT AVG) used at Rome in 193 AD. In 194 the 'Emesa' mint alone added COSII to the end of the legend. Since the VICTOR IVST AVG reverse is used with both of these obverses it must have been issued very near New Years 194AD. Recent scholarship now suggests that the COSI coins were not issued in 193 AD but seem to fit stylistically with COSII coins of early 194AD. There are several dies with this 'error' and space does not seem to have required the omission of the last numeral. I really know little more about this subject than when I first published this coin in 'The Voice of the Turtle' in 1966.

This die is known used with at least nine different reverse types. This raises the question of how obverse/reverse die pairs were selected at the mint. Traditional numismatic wisdom suggests that a die pair was used together until one die failed and was replaced by a new die. Could this die have outlasted so many reverses? More likely is the possibility that some mint practice changed die matchings for some reason other than die failure. One suggestion (the one I prefer) is that obverse and reverse dies were secured separately each night making it more difficult for one die worker to have access to a pair for 'after hours' striking. Every day, dies were reissued to striking teams at random. Proper understanding of this situation will require a study of the die wear patterns and the links between coins of the COSI obverses and other obverse varieties in use at the mint at the time. This is a die study I have not undertaken. The rarity of these coins will make their study difficult.

This obverse die is also special as an example of the difficulty some mint workers had adapting to the Latin legends. This die shows PEPT for PERT: an error confusing the Greek letter rho for the Latin 'R'. Looking closely at the S's in SEP and SEV and comparing these areas to the same letters on another coin from the same obverse die brings to light another matter of interest. This die was retouched after it was originally engraved. The cutter originally used the Greek sigma form 'C' rather than the Roman 'S'. The letter beginning SEV appears to be a 'C' on the FELICIT TEMPO coin (smaller photo and left side of the close ups) but has clearly been modified into an 'S' on the VICTOR IVST AVG coin (right side of close ups). The 'S' in SEP appears to have been retouched (from 'C' to 'S') in all coins of this die. Some examples seem to show the S/C correction in SEV better than others. Even the FELICIT TEMPO example seems to show a trace of the 'S'. Could, perhaps, the reworked areas have worn or become filled so that the die was reverting to its earlier state as it wore? The retouched letter shows (1>) a ghost of the left side of the 'C' and (2^) that the bottom part of the 'S' is considerably more deeply cut in the die (therefore, raised on the coin) than the rest of the letter. Determining, with certainty, the order of striking of these two coins would answer this question but the difference between the quality of strikes and preservation of the two coins makes this difficult for me lacking expertise in signs of die wear progression. Our final photo shows the comparison between the S of SEPT and the S of SEV on the two coins. Why would the one letter have been corrected and the other left alone? For that matter, why was the 'C' error corrected but the 'P' for 'R' not? The coins asks questions about mint practices that I am not prepared to answer.So, why is this my favorite coin? It is a probably unique combination of individually rare dies. It was one of my first ancient coins and has been living in my bank box for about thirty-nine years (In truth, before taking the close ups shown here, I hadn't seen the coin itself for a year but that is the blessing of having photos). It asks several questions that have not yet been answered and it is the coin that really got me interested in studying the coinage of Septimius Severus.


After owning this coin for over half my life and probably wishing that it were unique, I learned that several other examples of the type have entered the market. One even made its way into my collection. The condition is lower due to surface roughness and flan damage, the centering is not as good and the dies are not as interesting as the ones that made 'My Favorite Coin'. PERT is spelled correctly and I see no recutting of the C's into S's. Actually the coin has less wear but it is hardly an upgrade even though it sold for a bit over ten times the price I thought exorbitant in 1963. What this coin does show is that there were enough of these made that more than one die set was used. Other collectors have reported to me examples of VICTOR IVST coins with all of the other obverse die variations known for the early period of this mint. A lifetime of looking has a way of turning something unique into something just a little rare. A couple other variations on this theme made it into my page The Bride but I do not own them all and have not actually handled the ones not illustrated on that page. Does this affect the status of this coin as my favorite? Not really. This coin still introduced me to a degree of coin study that you might term 'numismatics' and, as such retains the title "My Favorite Coin" (at least for the time being).

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1997 - 2011 Doug Smith