Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Development of a Collector

Here is a story about a collector which I remembered after a remark was made in the Moneta-L Yahoo group about the ways people begin collecting ancient coins. It recounts the development of a collector, who went from a specialist in very high-grade US coins to a knowledgeable, studious collector of ancient coins, and wrote several interesting articles for the Celator magazine. The remark that caught my attention was:

" I am certain there are some who begin their hobby by purchasing rare and expensive coins."

I responded:


I had a very interesting and mutually rewarding long term relationship with a collector who began collecting Roman coins by purchasing one denarius in FDC condition. This collector had amassed a large collection of US coins that were of exceptional "condition rarity." They were valuable only because of their condition, not for scarcity in other grades.

This collector was quite knowledgeable in his US coin specialty and had a valuable collection. He gradually sold it off at the peak of the market to amass an eclectic, valuable collection of ancient coins, mostly Roman with a few other types acquired after I succeeded in broadening his interests.

This collector was very inquisitive. He took full advantage of my inclination toward educating collectors and my capabilities in researching difficult subjects. Here is one that I remember very clearly:
'UFO' jeton 'UFO' jeton reverse

This jeton from the 1680s is a sort of token that was very common in parts of France in those days. There was then a great shortage of "small change" and almost all of the officially issued copper coins in circulation dated back to Roman times. These French "jetons" were throws that were scattered as a form of largesse by feudal lords, in much the same manner as "doubloons" in Mardi Gras parades.

All sorts of speculative theories were inspired by this jeton, on the premise that it depicts a "flying saucer" or some other sort of UFO.

For example, here are links to some of this speculation:

I really made an impression on that collector when I finally decoded this mystery. The design of that jeton was inspired by a story from the mythical early days of the Roman Republic, and after I came up with the real explanation he shared it with others and it finally reached the Internet: 

The design depicts Numa's Shield falling from the sky, sent by the gods to protect and save the land from disaster.

from Plutarch's Lives, Volume I:

"In the eighth year of Numa's reign an epidemic raged throughout Italy, and afflicted the city of Rome. Now amidst the general distress it is related that a brazen shield fell from heaven into the hands of Numa. Upon this the king made an inspired speech, which he had learned from Egeria and the Muses. The shield, he said, came for the salvation of the city, and they must guard it, and make eleven more like it, so that no thief could steal the one that fell from heaven, because he could not tell which it was. Moreover the place and the meadows round about it, where he was wont to converse with the Muses, must be consecrated to them, and the well by which it was watered must be pointed out as holy water to the vestal virgins, that they might daily take some thence to purify and sprinkle their temple. The truth of this is said to have been proved by the immediate cessation of the plague. He bade workmen compete in imitating the shield, and, when all others refused to attempt it, Veturius Mamurius, one of the best workmen of the time, produced so admirable an imitation, and made all the shields so exactly alike, that even Numa himself could not tell which was the original. He next appointed the Salii to guard and keep them."

The actual ancilia were twelve "figure 8" shaped shields of the type used by spearmen in early Classical times, who fought in line for many centuries before the full development of the phalanx and adoption of the round shield (hoplon). There was a good depiction of this formation in the film Troy.

File:Ancile, Nordisk familjebok.png
"Figure 8" spearman's shield

On denarii of P. Stolo, of the Licinia family [one of the moneyers of Augustus] is a reverse type of the ancilia, between which is the apex, or cap, of one of the Salii, with the legend P. STOLO. III. VIR. 
Article Image

The obverse depicts Augustus with the legend  AVGVSTVS TR. POT.

Such shields of course were not used in the seventeenth century, and what was actually depicted on this unusual jeton was a contemporary buckler: a cavalryman's round shield that had a short spear point protruding from the boss in the center:

All good things must come to an end. This very interesting and studious collector eventually passed away, and his collection was sold at auction. I recognized many fine and rare "old friends" I had supplied to him in that sale.



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