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Happiness of the Public

According to this US Inflation Calculator, which must be good because it was ranked highest by Google, if I purchased a coin in 1978 for $80 – today it would cost me $344.97 (if it just kept up with the rate of inflation over the last 44 years). If I held the $80 in cash – the buying power today would be equivalent to $18.55 in 1978 dollars – or about 76% of its value eroded by inflation.

Clearly hanging on to cash is not a great idea – better to own something. So why not ancient coins – after all they have aesthetic value, they have some intrinsic value, they have educational value. Which brings me to my latest coin, a comely Julia Mamaea, mother of Severus Alexander, RIC 335, with wonderful iridescent toning a little encrustation on the obverse but otherwise a nice EF coin, 3.20g, 20mm, that is ~1800 years old celebrating "Happiness of the Public" which may have been Julia Mamaea's effort to reinforce harmony, abundance, and happy themes in AD 228 after the decision she made to kill her son's father-in-law (Sallustius) and exile his wife (Orbiana).

Both obverse and reverse looking fairly good style to me (it’s a few hundred years outside of my ancient comfort zone).

Julia Mamaea, Augusta, AD 222-235, AR Denarius (20mm, 3.20g, 6h), Rome mint, 9th emission of Severus Alexander, AD 228

Obv: Draped bust right, wearing stephane

Rev: FELICITAS PVBLICA, Felicitas standing left, legs crossed, holding caduceus and leaning on column

Ref: RIC IV 335 (Alexander), iridescent toning, a few small deposits on obverse, otherwise EF, ex. Miguel L. Munoz collection June 1978.

“Mamaea secured for Alexander a wife from the aristocracy. Although he loved the girl and lived with her, she was afterward banished from the palace by his mother, who, in her egotistic desire to be sole empress, envied the girl her title. So excessively arrogant did Mamaea become that the girl's father, though Alexander esteemed him highly, could no longer endure the woman's insolence toward him and his daughter; consequently, he took refuge in the praetorian camp, fully aware of the debt of gratitude he owed Alexander for the honors he had received from him, but complaining bitterly about Mamaea's insults.”
-Herodian (c. AD 170 – c. 240), Book 6 Severus Alexander

Mamaea had Sallustius, Orbiana's father, killed and sent Orbiana into exile in Libya. Alexander was apparently not happy about this, but his mother ruled the empire and he was an obedient son. Herodian is hostile to Mamaea - he probably would have praised a male ruler for similar decisions to protect his control from a potential usurper.

This coin came with an interesting blue ticket identifying it as from “The Munoz Collection” from a Sale in June 1978.

This sale happens to be documented at archive.org – with a full catalog and prices achieved. This coin went for $80 as item #2898. It isn’t photographed – most of the lots aren’t but the catalog description is a match (although the RIC number cited is wrong - RIC 332 is FECVNDITAS seated left).

Regarding the collector/numismatist whose coin this was – based on the description in this catalog, he was an admirable collector, an ANA recognized author of over 50 articles, generous, scholarly, and systematic, who focused on the coins of Mexico but apparently also had some nice ancients.

“Rare coins can be owned and admired by a single collector…. or can be shared with the world through exhibits, lectures, and research.Those numismatists that enrich the hobby by sharing their enthusiasm and knowledge are truly what coin collecting is all about. Miguel L. Munoz was just such a collector.”
-The Munoz Collection, 1978

All of this leaves me quite pleased with my purchase of this coin a couple of weeks ago for $82.18 cents – with postage…which brings me to the topic of “investment”. The price paid in June 1978 can be found in the same catalog. It sold for $5 over the bottom of the estimate range of $75-100. It was sold next at a Heritage Auction for $94 in Lot 1171 (aka #64081) in Auction #231634 in August 2016.

Using this S&P 500 Return Calculator, which must be good because it was ranked highest by Google, with reinvested dividends and not considering inflation, if I had invested $80 in the S&P in June 1978 and held on to it until Feb 2022, I would have today $11,683.97 about 9% return annually. Clearly my coin didn’t keep up with the S&P 500 for investment return, but it was about as good as cash - still worth 80 (inflation eroded).

I can hope that the next 44 years will be different - as interest in ancients grows and supply declines. For another cautionary tale, look at Athenian Tetradrachms and changes in prices as new hoards were discovered. I won't consider my collection an investment; and I will enjoy the dividends in the form of entertainment and education. This coin comes with history of Severan Empress Julia Mamaea and her son Severus Alexander, and perhaps, there is some chance, however low probability, that I will make 14,604% return in the next 44 years.


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