Coins are Art, perfection is in the eye of the beholder.

An Imperial Bronze coin exemplifies the skill of a ‘master’ engraver, such wonders are pieces of beauty that will last in history forever.

There are coins that create dreams when you see them and as you touch them, they speak to you “I am beautiful, love me, own me and look after me”. This is part of the obsession of a collector, the emotion, the vision of the individual who wishes to have in his collection a piece of history. The collector enjoys studying history to know what was his past then he will have a wider spectrum of the future.

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The Roman Empire – In the name of Agrippa as after 37 AD. Æ A wonderful coin found in the banks of the Tiber buried in clay in Rome. Well centered with full borders. One of the finest known, the coin is in a natural, exceptional state of preservation and an untouched specimen still displaying some dried clay.

M AGRIPPA L – F COS III Head l., wearing rostral crown. Rev. S – C Neptune, cloaked, standing l. holding small dolphin and trident. C 3. BMC Tiberius 161. RIC Gaius 58. CBN Gaius 77. Struck in AD 38 under Caligula in honour of his grandfather Marcus Agrippa,
ex Baranowsky – Rome

To have these thoughts about a Roman Bronze is a rarity, as it is hard to find authentic coins in a state of preservation that really means a ‘natural’ bronze Roman coin. (Just washed to take away the earth or mud or clay) With Gold or Silver it is far easier – here we only need to be careful about whether the coin is genuine.

Over the last 50 years as I remember Gold and Silver were plentiful in the trays at Leu Numismatics in Switzerland. Bronze choice pieces were always in a small box in the back office tucked away. Although these bronzes coins were struck in vast quantities and used by the ‘plebeian of the Roman Empire’ by the millions they were the most difficult coins to find in wonderful condition. These Bronze coins could not be enjoyed by everybody as quality pieces in a wonderful state of preservation were always very rare. This story of availability was the same everywhere, Ed Wadel, Spinks, Herb Kindler kept such pieces in a small black box and the list of dealers goes on.

A Roman Bronze in wonderful condition is a piece of miniature art from the early time of the Imperial Roman Empire. These Sestertii, Dupondius and As are creating more and more interest from collectors. These Bronze pieces compared to Gold & Silver are a ‘wonder’ in themselves to have survived 2000 years, being in a base metal that readily reacts with the elements in the Earth’s atmosphere and chemicals in the earth. This is truly a miracle.

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The Roman Empire Claudius, 41 – 54
Dupondius circa 50-54, Æ 18.21 g. TI CLAVDIVS CAESAR AVG P M TR P IMP P P Bare head l. Rev. CERES – AVGVSTA Ceres, veiled and draped, seated l. holding ear of corns and long torch; in exergue, S C. C 1. BMC 197. RIC 110. CBN 222. A bold portrait struck on a full flan and with an untouched olive-green patina, good extremely fine

A few years ago, I had a discussion with the late Dr. Leo Mildenberg of Leu who was my mentor with reference to Roman Bronzes and considering what happened in the past and what is for discussion in the future. During the last 100+ years there has seen a changes in fashion in the early Roman Bronze coins. Until +/- 1900 most bronzes were acquired by collectors and institutions were natural coins found in the earth, washed and brushed and put in their trays. 1900-1920 saw the change to coins having their fields ‘smoothed’ to enhance the portrait and the portraits ‘tooled/re-engraved, smoothed’ to meet the collector who loved to know it was from Roman Imperial period and wanted a good looking coin. A hoard/collection as the Bolsena with 4’000 Roman Imperial coins came to the market in 1906 in untouched condition gave a great opportunity to create these changes. Then up to late 1980’s it was a sleepy market that was woken up in the 80’s with tooling & smoothing of bronzes from places like Bulgaria took place ruining so many coins and it has carried on until today to meet the high demand for attractive bronze coins.

The effect of the earth and atmosphere on base metal coins over 2000 years and taking into account the effect on coins found in volcanic earth, in the river or in ground of different acidity/alkalinity, it creates a characteristic patination over the centuries.

An important part of collecting coins is the grading, this reflects value when linking the coin to rarity and provenance.

One of the greatest challenges is grading as more and more we rely on auction house experts to give an accurate description which can offer a different opinion because grading is subjective, specific to the individual and thus influences the pricing a coin whether as buyer or seller.

The most desirable pieces of Roman Bronzes are as usual the most difficult to find, we could call them the ‘natural untouched coin’ (definition of this coin being the only things allowed would be washing in clear warm water, light brushing and the removal of dirt or other soft material to the patina level only). The early Imperial Bronzes especially are a wonderful piece of art from the past. So little exists in the original state of preservation from the Roman Empire.

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Nero Sestertius ex Leu, Athos D. Moretti Collection
A coin with a true medallic portrait

A consistent grading guide would assist taking into account all known factors of rarity and preservation of a piece – the purpose of this article is to start a discuss on a systematic methodology to grading to minimize the variance to a minimum when collecting and pricing of Roman Bronze coins, Sestertius, Dupondius and As.

These Bronze Coins were struck in vast numbers, many millions all over the Roman Empire. The coins were fashioned to form an easy way of transacting trade and services. They were in fact also like newspapers of today as they told stories of the emperors, showed themselves their achievements the deity’s they worshipped, they were in fact a ‘propaganda’ for the powerful Roman Empire.

Photos do not show the patination colour in a constant way – lighting, depth of field, angle can create an image that is correct to the lens but fails all tests when held in the hand. What we look for is a coin that comes from the earth or hoard or burial tomb that has attached to it encrustations, earth, clay from the river, from when the coin was lost, buried or found in any natural place.

Roman Bronze Coins can be re-patinated, smoothed, tooled to enhance different parts of the portrait & reverse content of the coin and even re-built therefore requiring the maximim care in the description when being sold. Caveat Emptor (Let the buyer beware.) A warning that notifies a buyer that the goods he or she is buying are “as is,” or subject to all defects.

Geoffrey Cope

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