A Parthian Fourree

Was this an Accident?

The condition purists among you will be leaving now; this week's Featured Coin earned its place on this page by being imperfect. Followers of this series know I return regularly to the subject of fourree or plated coins and that I am firmly in the camp of those who believe that some fourrees were issued in the official mints right along side of the solid silver coins. Whether this was due to official policy or a mint worker increasing his personal worth will have to be addressed on a case by case basis. Some periods of history seem to have been more 'inclined' toward plated coins than others. During the later part of the Roman Republic there are so many plated coins of good style that it is very much in the interest of the modern collector to learn how to spot them. While fourrees are (in my opinion) very interesting and collectable, they normally sell for a fraction of the price of a solid coin in equal condition.

Conversely, there are periods when most fourrees seen were executed in a style suggesting that they were the work of unofficial or counterfeit mints. Parthian drachms were struck from high quality silver throughout the history of the empire. Parthian drachms did not suffer serial debasement like the Roman denarius. Obviously the worth of the money was taken very seriously by these people who controlled the trade routes to China and the East. Parthians had the reputation of being men of their words. It would seem that counterfeiting or short changing the silver would be particularly serious offenses to a people so jealous of their good names.

Mithradates I of Parthia - Fourree drachm - 21mm, 4.0g
Bust left in nomads cap / Archer seated right
"of the Great King Arsakes"

Our Featured Coin is the only fourree Parthian drachm I have personally seen but hope that this page will inspire some of you to report to me the existence of others. I have heard reports of others that were said to be of poor style. I consider this coin to be of believable style for an officially produced drachm of Hekatompylos. Do you disagree?

Wear has exposed a copper core on the cheek of the portrait and there are a few traces of seams in the silver where layers overlapped. The seams show the flan was prepared by wrapping a thick silver foil around a core with the two being fused by the heat and pressure of striking. This was the common fourree technique found on Roman plated pieces of this date. On both sides there is evidence that this coin was doublestruck. The reverse understrike was offset to the upper left. There is an unexplained round raised area at 1 o'clock on the obverse but I have not identified any trace of an undertype from different dies. I would very much like to be able to show that this coin was overstruck on another coin; it would support my theory and we all like to find evidence convenient to our preconceived notions. Remember I am a hobbyist, not a scientist.

The coin was struck with excessive force resulting in a widely spread flan with a distinct cupping where the flan curled up around the upper die edge. I ask if this force was, perhaps, an attempt to erase the detail on another coin. Roman Republican denarii and Seleucid drachms of this date would be of about this weight and could well include a few plated pieces. Could this be the result of the Parthian mint were converting foreign coins but failing to spot this one as plated? I can only dream. The coin asks a question that may not have an answer but we still can learn from an examination of the matter.

The first step is to gather information. We need to look for any Parthian drachms that appear to be overstruck and see if we can identify a pattern of overstriking as mint policy. Some mints regularly overstruck on earlier coins; others, instead, would remelt old coins and cast new flans. Modern analyses for trace elements sometimes can identify the source of silver even when they have been melted. Can we find evidence of what the Parthians did with foreign coins received? Finding simply one drachm overstruck on a denarius would lend great credibility to my suspicion that this coin was struck on a plated coin without the Parthian mint realizing that they were reminting a 'bad' coin.

Parthian coins provide an interesting variation to collectors of the usual Greek & Roman ancients. While the reverses are usually limited to the seated archer type, these coins provide great variety and opportunities for study. Our footnote coin (Phraates III, Ekbatana mint) is just one example of the unusual portrait styles available in the series. The king appeared in fancy dress and frequently was shown wearing jewelry. A system employing several different mints and legends lacking the names of individual kings provide ample opportunities for study. Persons interested in seeing a few more of these coins may want to visit my specialty Parthian page.

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(c) 1998 Doug Smith