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Gold Rush

While this post will start in "modern" times with a "modern" coin, I will ask the reader's patience...eventually it will go back to "ancient". Although it doesn't have an emperor's portrait, this coin certainly brings to mind coins of ancient Rome, with its seated liberty, pileus and wreath. With pleasant toning that I would consider "old cabinet", and an interesting history, it didn't seem completely out of place.

United States, AR half dime, Arrows, AD 1853.

On January 24, 1848, James Wilson Marshall, accidentally discovered gold in the American River near Coloma, California. Accidentally, because he was building a sawmill for John Sutter, not looking for gold. This triggered the gold rush which changed the relative pricing of gold and silver. The result was that silver went up in value so much that coins were soon worth more than their metal value, so people began to hoard them and melt them down.

Public Domain photo of Sutter's sawmill circa 1850 via Wikimedia Commons.

After debating the risks of "debasement" and "fiduciary coinage", Congress eventually passed a new Mint Act to lower the weight of silver coins by about 6.9% (Feb 21, 1853). Older coins would be recalled and reminted at a lower weight. The arrows were added to recognize the change in weight. This is not a rare coin - the mint issued ~13M of these. For dimes there are both "hubbed" (fixed arrow position) and "unhubbed" (varied arrow position) dies as the mint added arrows to existing dies. I haven't found any comparable information for half-dimes.

Here are a few ancients that illustrate the persistent themes on this coin.

Although it isn't Liberty - for me this ROMA is the most reminiscent of the seated Liberty on the half-dime.

Gordian III, AD 238-244, AR Antoninianus, Rome, AD 240, Roma seated left on shield, holding Victory and scepter.

There are many representations of ROMA to choose from - my favorite is this anonymous, Roman republican denarius - a restful scene with two birds and the she-wolf and twins (Romulus & Remus).

Anonymous AR Denarius. Anonymous AR Denarius. Rome, 115-114 BC.

Liberty (Libertas) was popular during the Roman republic, and is especially well known from the EID MAR denarius of Brutus that celebrates the assassination of Julius Caesar. This coin from Brutus, also highlighting Libertas, on the Obverse.

Q. Servilius Caepio (M. Junius) Brutus AR Denarius. Rome, 54 BC.

Here's another Roman Republican Libertas with pileus (liberty cap) behind. The liberty cap granted to freedmen in ancient Rome was confused with the Phrygian cap and adopted as a symbol by French and American revolutionaries. (See: A Coin for Independence Day, and Ancient Symbols).

L. Farsuleius Mensor, 76 BC, AR Denarius, Rome mint

The wreath framing the reverse of the half dime looks a bit like the one on the reverse of the this Cappadocian coin minted in the name and type of a Seleucid King.

Kings of Cappadocia, Ariarathes VII Philometor, circa 107/6-101/0 BC, AR Tetradrachm, in the name and type of the Seleukid King Antiochos VII, Mint A (Eusebia-Mazaka), issued circa 107/6-104/3.

It is perhaps worth contrasting the Liberty of the Republic (US and Rome) and the Generosity (Liberalitas) of the Emperor in the later Roman period.

Roman Empire, Hadrian, 117-138, AR Denarius, Rome, struck 119-125.

As far as I know - generosity of the government has not been a theme explored on US coins....although there have been several rounds of checks issued during the COVID pandemic with this theme, not to mention other stimuli by the Federal Reserve.

But perhaps I am overdue to get to the theme of "Gold Rush", chosen for the sake of this ancient coin, my first gold solidus. An obvious problem buying gold coins is that it takes new skills in photographing gold...a work in progress.

Anastasius I, 491-518, AV Solidus (20mm, 4.36g, 6h), Constantinople mint, 4th officina (Δ), struck 492-507

Obv: DN ANASTA SIUS P P AVG, helmeted and cuirassed bust facing slightly right, holding spear and shield

Rev: VOCTORI A AVGGG Δ, Victory standing left, holding long voided cross; star to right; CONOB

Ref: DOC 3d

For those who study Byzantine coins, Anastasius is interesting as the one who reformed the bronze coinage introducing coins of 5, 10, 20, and 40 nummi (the follis is the 40 nummi coin) in copper that are marked with the numerals appropriate for their denomination: Є, I, K, M. This new bronze coinage would last more than 350 years. Dumbarton Oaks and other Byzantine numismatic references start with Anastasius.

Anastasius was selected by the widow of his successor as the next emperor. He was sixty year old Miaphysite heretic, believing that Jesus is one nature - μία "one" plus φύσις "nature" - which conflicted with church position that Jesus is one person with two natures. Interesting to note that the church agreed a concordance in AD 1990 with some careful wording. His reputation as a good administrator worked in his favor and Zeno's mismanagement disqualified his brother and other aspiring relatives (Isaurians). However he would still need to spend energy in the first 6 years quelling their uprisings.

The solidus was not a new denomination under Anastasius. CONOB abbreviates CONSTATINOPLE (the mint) and OBRYZUM, Latin taken from Greek Ancient Greek ὄβρυζον‎ meaning pure gold. The little delta at the end of the reverse legend is the officina (4).


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Alfred Kowsky
Alfred Kowsky
May 12, 2022

Sulla, another excellent article 🙂. Collectors of ancient coins can quickly spot the influences of ancient coinage on modern coinage, after all symbolism really doesn't change much with time. This is especially true with American coinage of the 19th & early 20th century. J. B. Longacre's $20 gold coin is a great example. His simple yet beautiful depiction of Liberty / Libertas endured for over 50 years.

The beautiful depiction of Liberty striding forward on the Saint-Gaudens $20 gold coin was directly inspired by the Hellenistic Nike of Samothrace. Both of these coins are in my collection 😎.

May 12, 2022
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Wonderful coins as always, Al! The eagle a popular theme for millennia as well. Here's one with a cornucopia, standing on a club, with a two headed axe, from Bruttium (a region approximately today modern day Calabria, Italy) during the 2nd Punic War: the Brettii sided with Hannibal against Rome.

Bruttium, i Brettii, c. 214-211 BC, AE, (g 9.86, 21mm)

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