Two for the Price of One
Two for the Price of One

a look at overstrikes and doublestrikes

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This page will examine several examples of coins struck more than once and try to see what makes them interesting.

Some ancient coins were struck using an earlier coin as a 'blank'. Sometimes the second strike was successful in erasing the first design making it hard to see that the coin was previously used. Other times, as with our first example, the result was a real mess making it hard to separate what detail was from which strike. That is the fun of the subject for those of us who value overstrikes and related multiple use coins. Our example first served as an AE3 of Constantine II with reverse showing the prince standing holding a spear. That coin was recycled by being overstruck under Magnentius using the reverse with two Victories holding a shield. The illustration shows the coin at the left, an example of the original type at the right and, in the center, the left image rotated to place the details of the undertype in the same orientation as shown to the right. Rotated photos are frequently helpful in deiciphering overstrikes. This overstrike served to update an old coin which otherwise might have been melted down and made into new blanks. I consider this a middle of the road example of an overstrike. Both uses can be identified relatively easily but the result is not very attractive and leaves the question why it was done rather than melting. When I refer to 'value' or 'interest', I am not suggesting the market price for the coin in question. To specialists in such oddities, standard considerations of condition and beauty take a back seat to the oddity or how the item relates to some matter explaining 'why' the coin was overstruck. Our next coin will illustrate an upgrade in one way but not in all respects. Overstrikes tend to be 'one of a kind' items even if you find many examples of the same combination. There will be a lot of difference in terms of clarity and attractiveness based on relative strength of the second strike and the orientation of the strikes.

Our second coin shows hardly any of the undertype but is a very obvious example of an overstrike with a reason. Justinian II cut in quarters larger 40 nummi coins of his father, Michael IV, and used those pieces to strike new 20 nummi. Do the math: Four times twenty is double the original value of the whole. This overstrike illustrates inflation or greed as you choose to see it. One of my old pages saw how Trajan Decius doubled his money overstriking a denarius of Geta producing a double denarius (Antoninianus). While I find this coin reasonably attractive, it gains more 'value' from the fact that this coin was used as the illustration for #1262 in David Sear's Byzantine Coins and their Value. Not all examples of this overstrike as a attractively aligned as this. It might be fun to assemble a set of four making one full circle. Is this the obverse lower right or reverse upper?

Yes, you have seen the next one before. How could I do this page without showing this reuse of an as of Gordian III after many centuries?

Anonymous Class A3 follis (Basil II & Constantine VIII) Christ facing EMMANOVHL IC XC // +IhSUS/XRISTUS/bASILEU/bASILE

overstruck on

Gordian III 238-244 AD AE as Bust right IMP GORDIANVSPIVSFELAVG // Laetitia standing left LAETITIAAVGN SC

While the obverse of this coin is a nearly perfect balance of undertype and overtype, its real point of interest is the ~780 years that separated the two uses. This image really shows how changing the rotation of the coin can emphasize either the Gordian image or the Christ. Wiggling the coin a bit under good light will also make it easier to see some details that might easily be missed. Anyone interested in details with more photos can visit my more detailed page on this coin.

While the most commonly seen overstrikes are most certainly from the Byzantine period, There are many of interest from the Roman Empire. Postumus overstruck many coins from the Antonine period including this sestertius of Antoninus Pius which was doubled in denomination with the radiate crown on the portrait of Postumus. The destinctive outline of Pius' face shows weakly on the obverse above and right of that of Postumus. The original legend was in smaller letters that the overtype so it is easier to separate which letters belong to which strike confirming the ID of the face. Postumus' reverse is clearly the galley sailing left but I am uncertain of the ID of the Pius reverse. Market value is increased by the smooth green patina but the 'interest' of the coin would increase greatly if I could be certain of that reverse type.

Another overstruck double sestertius of Postumus is a bit more unusual since both uses were from that same ruler and both show the same radiate crown denomination. Why was it overstruck? I see more than one possibility. My opinion on the matter would be greatly aided if I could convince myself if the two obverse strikes were from the same obverse die. If they were different, I could accept that the coin might have accidentally gotten mixed into a bunch of older coins to be overstruck or even newly prepared blanks. The question becomes more interesting if the two obverses matched. Relatively recently a theory has been proposed (I first heard it from Curtis Clay) that a striking team consisted of two men with reverse dies alternating on one anvil/obverse. This would allow the reverse punches to cool a bit between strikes and make more efficient use of the more expensive portrait dies. Most of the coins that support this theory show doubling on the reverse but not on the obverse since the coin remained in that die but was struck a second time by the other reverse. Some of the paired reverses in this sort of system could have been the same type making it harder to tell that there were two reverses in use. Here we see the two Victories with shield type under the one Victory advancing left type. It is also possible that an earlier coin made using that same die was accidentally overstruck. This coin is not attractive in a 'beauty' sense and is not high grade but it asks interesting questions that specialists in these things might find appealing.

Interesting coins, unfortunately, are not always found in the best possible condition. I could not resist this $5 offering on eBay even though that is quite honestly too much for a coin with such rough surfaces unless there are extenuating circumstances. On the other hand, this is a great rarity or possibly unique example of a coin of Constantius Gallus Caesar showing him wearing a laurel wreath reserved in his days for the Augustus Constantius II. The coin is a double strike with the right half of the obverse showing the face and legends of Gallus NTIVSNOBCAES while the back of the head, including laurel wreath, was struck by a die for Constantius II Augustus. Most of the left side legend is lost to corrosion but at the very top we can see that the last letter of that poor legend is an N suggesting the full legend once read DNFLIVLCONSTAN(TIVSPFAVG). The double strike was just not quite perfectly aligned as shown by that extra N and the slightly mishapened head of the portrait. This 'close to perfect' alignment almost makes the coin look like something impossible but in fact it is just another mint oddity. In my opinion that renders the coin fascinating, probably unique and a piece of garbage all at once. It gets better. The reverse shows no obvious signs of double striking but has enough roughness that we can not say there was none in the distant past. The mintmark CON remains from the mintmark but the officina letter is lost. In the reverse field we still see the Gamma with dot to the right under the soldier's arm allowing an attribution to Constantinople RIC 106 for the left half and 107 for the right. Is this also a coin illustrating the theory of teams sharing an anvil die but, in this case, having the reverse on the anvil? That would be great to prove but I'm not ready to go that far. I really wish I had this coin before it was harshly cleaned or corroded by being buried in poor conditions. As it is, I can only hope to find some one collector who will want to keep it in as high regard as I do when my time is finished. This is not a coin that will cause feverish bidding in a big name auction. It is, however, the sort of thing that makes me collect coins. Is there a better example? Probably not. Does anyone care? Ditto.

Our next coin for examination may also be related to the team concept or it may just be a simple doublestrike with the reverse rotated between strikes. The obverse shows Arcadius being crowned by the hand of God and shows no sign of double striking. The reverse is mostly quite normal but, at the top, has the mintmark *ANTS repeated upside down. I can not convince myself if the two mintmarks were made from the same die or two different dies with the same lettering. Did the strikers try to correct a poor reverse strike and got confused which side was 'up'? Did the coin remain in the portrait die when the other reverse die handler moved in before it had been removed and replaced with a blank? It is a coin with too many questions and too few answers to be really valuable as an information source. I bought the coin in 1987 from a seller who just considered it defective. The same questions that ended the preceeding paragraph also apply here. There are many better coins to illustrate 'team' striking errors if this is even one so I value the coin much less than the others for that reason. 'Error' ancients need to be 'really bad' to be 'good'. This one is quite ordinary. If that reverse had shown concrete evidence of the second strike being from a different die, the coin would be much, much better in my way of seeing the matter. "Close only counts in horseshoes (and hand grenades)."

Up to this point we have been examining coins that were struch twice using different dies for one or both sides of the coin. These are termed 'overstrikes'. This denarius of Septimius Severus was struck twice using the same die set each time so it is termed a 'doublestrike'. Since the coin turned over between the strikes, it is called a 'flipover' double strike. There is no certain way of telling just how long a time elapsed between the two strikes or whether it was an accident cause by hurried work or an intentional attempt to correct a poor first strike. It could even be the result of a bored mint worker wanting to see what would happen if he did this. The coin is a bit unusual compared to most flipover doublestrikes I have seen in the way it is well centered and nearly duplicates the 'look' of both sides. On each, the obverse die provided detail for the left side of the coin "LSEPTSEVPERT" while the right side came from the reverse die "PATER". One side has more portrait detail while the other side shows a better strike of the reverse design of Mars walking. It can be interesting to compare such a coin with a 'normal' specimen of the same type as shown here below.

Several of my pages posted earlier on this site address other examples of interesting overstrikes and doublestrikes. Those who have not seen them are invited to visit the links below. Odd coins that demonstrate technical matters are of special interest to me. The best ones show some feature of coin production that I have not seen illustrated before. This most certainly is not limited to overstrikes and doublestrikes and was the subject of my old page on the Fabric of ancient coins.

This page is dedicated to all dealers, collectors and friends that have helped in my journey of fifty years as a student of ancient coins.

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