A History of Pressed Pennies

Since I was young I got excited anytime I’d see a penny pincher machine. Whether it was at the local zoo or while away on vacation, I’d be begging my parents for some extra change so I could take home my very own penny souvenir.

1893_Columbia_Exposition_pennyThe first recorded pressed pennies debuted as an innovative attraction at the 1893 World’s Fair. Also known at the time as the World’s Columbian Exposition, in honor of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus landing in America. Although there are rumors of pressed coins being used as jewelry by a Viennese Jeweler dating back to 1818 in Vienna, Austria. The World’s Fair penny cost a nickel and a coin to be pressed and the coin would be pressed between two industrial-strength rollers by a press operator. Out would come a squished coin in an oval-shape. It bore a stamp that had been embossed by a mold on one of the rollers that read: “Columbian Exposition 1893.”

Since the 1893 World’s Fair pressed pennies have gained popularity across the globe. You can find penny pincher machines everywhere from California to Japan to of course- Austria. Numismatists themselves have created their own following around the pressed penny; labeling themselves as exonumists. The name comes from exonumia coins, coins that are an oddball that don’t fit into standard definitions of money. Other examples of exonumia is arcade tokens, transportation tokens, and wooden nickels.

Pressed pennies continued to be a popular attraction among fairs and exhibitions, often serving as tokens to show you were there and to remember the event by. Around the 1930’s the machines got picked up by many tourist attractions when the owners started to realize the value of providing their customers with a cheap and interactive souvenir. There was a huge rise in popularity in 1980 when the pressing machines were introduced to Disney Parks. The parks got covered in these machines, offering coins for your favorite rides, attractions, and characters.

1818Viennese Jeweler Used Pressed Pennies in Jewelry

In more recent years exonumists have emerged and turned pressed penny collecting into a large hobby among collectors and coin enthusiasts. Collectors prefer to collect and smash pre-1982 pennies because current coins are predominantly made of zinc which makes the pressed penny appear more dark or worn. Exonumists will plan penny-smashing road trips to a mapped out route of machines- spending hours planning and traveling to get that special penny.

If you’re looking to get into pressed penny collecting start like you would with any coin collection: find something that intrigues you. That could be collecting all the pennies from a specific State, or collecting ones from a specific designer/engraver. You can find lists of pressing machines from websites like PennyCollector.com or PressedPennies.com. Or just be on the lookout for a penny presser wherever you go– there is a high chance you will run into them during activities you’d already be doing. Like going to the local amusement park with your family, or visiting the beach. As long as you have a bit of change you are always ready to press your very own new penny!

Another thing one might worry about before becoming an exonumist is if it’s legal; there is a common thought that it is illegal to deface currency. Penny pressing is legal in the USA and UK, but not in Canada. The United States Codes under Title 18, Chapter 17, and Section 331, “prohibits the mutilation, diminution and falsification of United States coinage.” Although, the foregoing statute does not prohibit the mutilation of coins if done without fraudulent intent or if the mutilated coins are not used fraudulently. But in Canada it is stated in section 11(1) of the Currency Act states that “no person shall, except in accordance with a licence granted by the Minister [Minister of Finance], melt down, break up or use otherwise than as currency any coin that is current and legal tender in Canada.” Furthermore, Section 456 of the Criminal Code of Canada makes it a criminal offence to deface circulation coins: “Every one who: (a)defaces a current coin, or (b)utters a current coin that has been defaced, is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.” So enjoy your penny pressing collecting — as long as you’re not in Canada! Or come visit us here in the States and collect some of our beautiful coins.


If there is a specific pressed penny you’ve always wanted then check out our ebay store for our collection of exonumia coins.

Thanks for Reading!

Love and Lead: A Story of Love Tokens

Alfred Lord Tennyson said it best,“‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”  Love is an experience that transcends time and space. Love is also a double-edged sword. It can be as excruciating as it is exquisite; but most who have loved and lost would probably be willing to take that risk once more.  Love is just that good, and inspirational. From the arts to pursuits of passion, scientific endeavors to astounding physical feats, love is a motivational force behind expression and manifestation. In numismatics, one expression came in the form of love tokens.  Not to be confused with any token of love, which can be a variety of collectible items; a numismatic love token is a very specific object.  According to the Love Token Society, an authority on the subject, ‘love tokens’ are coins from circulation that have been smoothed on at least one side, and engraved or pinpunched by hand to convey affection.  

The love token tradition can be traced back to the late 1500’s in France, when triezains (a set of thirteen personalized engraved coins that remained currency) were bestowed to

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Seated Liberty Love Token

newlyweds as a blessing.  Since then, this tradition has evolved to suit the times and cultures that acquired a taste for the trend. Queen Victoria, for example, made it fashionable to wear your heart on your sleeve, by finishing your daily attire with tokens of your love, or loss as it were.  US citizens revived the practice when sweethearts were separated, sometimes forever, during the Civil War, and World Wars I, and II. Mariners of the past also created love-token-forget-me-nots prior to setting sail, perhaps never to return.  Though sentiments are similar, these tokens are as unique as their authors, despite borrowing symbols and themes to convey their love.Throughout the course of time, several themes have appeared on the faces of these tokens.  A handshake typically indicated the intention of marriage. Lovebirds illustrated fidelity.  Cupid’s bow and arrow implied infatuation. Initials would often appear in interlocking patterns.  Flowers, horseshoes, landscapes, and all manner of design have at one point appeared on a love token.  Of all the themes and designs to appear on the face of these tokens, there is a haunting poem that represents the double edge of love’s sword.  This poem appeared on love tokens during the Georgian era in England, and it goes like this, “When This you see, Remember me, Tho’ many leagues we distant be.”  There are variations to the wording, but these coins are specifically known as ‘leaden hearts’, and they were made by criminals within the English realm that were sentenced to “transportation” by Crown Justices and local magistrates.  

Leaden hearts bring humanity to those criminals, mostly petty but some hard, who were recorded impersonally in the annals of history.  They were most often created around the time of sentencing, and customarily included the name of the prisoner; the name of their love; the length of the sentence; a popular poem or variation of the one above; or images of their choosing.  These criminals would give these leaden hearts to those they cherished before being shipped off to penal colonies in America and Australia.  The sentence of transportation was typically given in lieu of being publicly hanged, drawn and quartered; or later simply hanged in the gallows.

The largest known collection of leaden hearts belongs to the National Museum of Australia.  In 2008, they purchased a collection of 307 tokens from collector Timothy Millett, who had been amassing leaden hearts since 1984.  Millett also sold the museum the accompanying documentation and artifacts for some of the pieces that verified the identities of the convict-artists.  They have a catalog of 314 tokens available at their website for public viewing.  The museum beautifully displays both sides of the token and, when available, the associated artist’s information and story.

One English penny in the collection jumps out at the viewer.  On one side it bears the name “Frost”, and on the other the word “Charter”.  This leaden heart obviously doesn’t demonstrate the passions and longings of romantic or familial love.  Upon closer investigation, however, it reveals the love of human-kind by a long ago espouser of human rights— John Frost.  

John Frost was a Welshman born on the 25th of May, 1784, in Newport, Monmouthshire.  He was born to successful innkeepers, but was orphaned to his grandfather when his mother passed away.  Apprenticed at 16 to woolen drapers and merchant tailors in Cardiff, Bristol, and later London, he returned to Newport at age 22 to start his own business as a draper and tailor.  He was a well-respected community member and family man with eight children. He was known to be of high intelligence, well-spoken, compassionate, just, and eventually, a revolutionary in his own right.

Despite his honorable reputation, Frost was imprisoned briefly for six months under the charge of libel.  He had made statements rightfully claiming malpractice against a Newport lawyer, Thomas Prothero, who was well connected to powerful industrialists and land owners at the time.  Once released from jail, the Thomas-Paine-inspired-Frost would aggressively pursue Prothero’s friends and allies with factual accusations of mistreatment of the greater community.  He became increasingly more politically active, and in 1835 became a Councillor and Magistrate for Newport, then went on to be an Improvement Commissioner, and Poor Law Guardian of the community.  In 1836 he was elected Mayor of Newport.  He sought political reform and aligned himself with the Chartist movement and their six points.  He even professed his support of universal suffrage, and its importance in political reform.

He was an intelligent and successful man, but he made a mistake that would alter the course of his life forever.  He devised an insurrection of the political establishment of Newport, in what became known as the Newport Rising.  This insurrection did not go as planned and Frost, unfortunately and unintentionally, got 25 of his fellow Chartists killed, 45 wounded, and many more imprisoned.  He was captured and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. This actually marked the last time in British history that this sentence was given out. The sentence was later commuted to transportation due to public outcry and threat.  He was sentenced to life in modern day Tasmania in 1840, and carved his leaden heart sometime after.  In 1856, he was pardoned and he lived out the rest of his days in Bristol lecturing on the hardships of convicts, and delving into spirituality.

This is perhaps the most glorious story tied to a leaden heart.  Most leaden hearts were carved by petty thieves who were caught red handed simply trying to survive abject poverty.  They were carved by oppressed people with tough lives who were struck with the realization they would never see their loved ones again.  Though most love tokens across time and space are sweet sentiments that celebrate the positive side of love, leaden hearts are the love tokens that blatantly express the other side of the emotion. Though a sense of sadness comes with most leaden hearts, there is great history and humanity behind them.  That potent combination gives these specific love tokens great value to numismatist collectors and history buffs alike, and will for generations to come.

-Rachael S.

 

Thanks for reading!  For beautiful, historic, and collectible coins visit The Stamp and Coin Place eBay store now!  Want to find out about your wheat cents?  Download our app Lookzee to image your coins beautifully and learn more!  Available now at The iOS App Store and Google Play Store.

 

How Mexico’s Remarkable Peso Revolutionized the World

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

 

In honor of the holiday, let’s take a moment to learn about and celebrate Mexican coins.

 

Both pesos and dollars originated in the Spanish dollar of the 15th-19th centuries. The word “peso” was originally used to refer to pesos oro and pesos plata (gold and silver weights, respectively.) In fact, the literal translation of peso is “weight.”

 

Peso was the original name of the legendary Spanish “pieces of eight” coins issued in Mexico, sometimes called Spanish dollars. Each peso was valued at 8 reales; the escudo coin was worth 16 reales. These coins were widely circulated in the Americas through the mid 1800’s; America accepted them as legal tender prior to the Coinage Act in 1857, and Canada did the same until 1854. The first American dollar coins were not minted until 1792, and their value was set to approximately match the Spanish dollar.

 

The first decimation of the peso occurred in 1863, with the issue of centavo coins, each valued at one hundredth of a peso. The first peso denomination coins were issued in 1866, though reales denominated coins were still issued until 1897.

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The gold content of the peso was cut nearly in half in 1905, but the silver content was unchanged until 1918, while other coins were debased. Silver coins, except for the 1 peso, were limited to token issues, and several varieties of centavos were issued in bronze, nickel, and other metals.

 

CaballitoOne of the most striking of Mexican coins was created during this period: the Caballito. It bore the Mexican coat of arms on the obverse with its now-familiar eagle and snake motif, with the legends, “Un Peso” and “Estados Unidos Mexicanos.” The reverse showed a woman on horseback reaching out a hand as if in proclamation, and the date. These stunning coins, minted in .903 silver, were minted from 1910 through 1914. After 1918, all silver coins declined in both weight and fineness, culminating in the last minting of silver 100-peso coins in 1977.

 

In 1993, a new currency was introduced: the nuevo peso. The new peso, written as N$ and designated MXN, equaled 1000 of the original MXP pesos. The Bank of Mexico began introducing bimetallic coins in 2003. There are 32 coins in this series: one for each Mexican state, and one for the Federal District. Each coin bears Mexico’s coat of arms on the obverse, with the state’s coat of arms on the reverse. They are rare in circulation, but remain a popular novelty coin. Collectors have been encouraged to acquire full sets, but as the coins are high in price, this has not been as successful as hoped. The coins also have a bullion version, with a gold outer ring instead of the aluminium bronze of the standard coins.

 

AUPeso.jpgMexican bullion coins are available in several weights, in both .999 fine silver and fine gold. On one side, a winged Victoria strides across a landscape, with the volcanoes Popocatépetl and Iztaccihuatl in the background. The coat of arms of Mexico is shown on the other side. Newer versions show Victoria at a different angle, and the Mexican coat of arms on the reverse is surrounded by other coats of arms from Mexican history.

 

Today, the peso is third most-traded currency from the Americas, the most traded Latin American currency, and the eighth most traded currency in the world. It served as the model for multiple world currencies, including the Straits dollar, Hong Kong dollar, Japanese yen, and Chinese yuan, largely due to the trade and influence of the Spanish empire. 19th century Siam briefly used the Mexican peso as legal tender, when an unexpected flood of foreign trade caught the government mints by surprise.

 

According to Collectors Weekly, “Of the coins from the early days of the Republica Mexicana, escudos and reales minted in the 1820s are in particularly high demand. […] Other Mexican coins of note include round lead centavos issued by the state of Durango in 1914 and rectangular copper Oaxacan centavos from 1915.”

 

Mexican coins are among the most popular in the world, and are an excellent starting point for beginners, as well as a good investment for more experienced collectors.

 

Image and share your Mexican coins with us through the Lookzee app to celebrate Cinco de Mayo with us! Now available on Google Play Store and App Store.

How Fourth-Graders Turned Their School Closet Into An Archaeological Dig

 

Students at the Children’s Workshop School in New York City have created a fantastic project: Closet Archaeology!

 

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A display of some of the coins found by the class. Photo from Closet Archaeology Instagram.

A few years ago, student Bobby Scotto, already a budding numismatist and archaeology enthusiast, began pulling small items out of the crack between the floorboards in the closet of his classroom. Mostly wheat pennies, Bobby’s treasures attracted the notice of other students, who also began examining the floorboards.

 

Rather than directing the students back to the original schoolwork, teacher Miriam Sicherman found ways to incorporate the exploration into her curriculum and the whole class began researching and developing good recovery habits and documentation of finds. Sicherman even brought in a working archaeologist to discuss how she preserves finds to make sure as much information about each find is retained. The students have learned to document where and when each item was found, the condition it was found in, and more. They have also learned how to research their finds and put them into historical context.

 

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Alan Lederman’s long-lost money

And what finds! Apart from dozens of old coins of many varieties, they have found baseball cards, candy wrappers, a 1921 Red Cross pin, and more. They actually managed to track down the original owner of an envelope with $2 in it that came out of the floorboards: Alan Lederman, who attended the school when it was P.S. 61. Alan said, “I did remember that we would bring in to the teacher a dollar or two every week and then around the winter holiday we would get back a nice lump sum amount for holiday presents. P.S. 61 was fine, I still remember several of my classmates there.  I really don’t remember losing the $2. But as I recall, a slice of pizza was about 15 cents to 25 cents at that time, so I guess I could have had a lunch or two for the $2. I was stunned to learn that someone had found the money after all those years. And it was amazing that they had simultaneously found a composition by my then classmate Jane Itzkowitz, who I remembered from so long ago. And it was amazing that Miriam was able to track down two of my other P.S. 61 close classmates. One is now an official of the Consumer Products Safety Commission, and one is a Professor at the University of Washington. I was then able to track down recent YouTube videos they made. It was amazing to see them again on the screen!”

 

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Alan Lederman’s envelope from 1959, which held the $2

Teacher and overseer of the project, Miriam Sicherman, said, “My students pursued a project that was invented by them, and through that, they came to see the world as a place where something interesting might be hiding around every corner. Teachers always want to cultivate curiosity in their students, and in this case, the students were nurturing their own curiosity. At first, my role was mostly to stay out of their way, and let them develop that curiosity as well as the technical skills of extracting artifacts through the gap in the floor. As the project progressed, I helped logistically in terms of creating time in our schedule, scheduling excavation sessions in other classrooms, obtaining storage materials, contacting experts for their advice, and teaching them some basic online research skills. I tried to facilitate rather than to direct the project.”

 

When asked about how the project helped her students better understand history, she elaborated, “I have often seen kids connect more viscerally to historical artifacts than to other sources of information, like informational books. I often take students on field trips to places like the Wyckoff Farmhouse Museum (a Dutch farmhouse in Brooklyn that was built in the 1650s and has many artifacts) or the African Burial Ground, which has many replicas of skeletons and artifacts. Kids love learning from these objects–guessing what they are, comparing them to what we use nowadays, and imagining the people who once made or used them long ago. When it came to our project, this interest was magnified because the kids themselves had discovered the artifacts–they weren’t chosen by a teacher or museum guide; they were unmediated by adults. So this made the kids even more curious and engaged with the background of many of the artifacts.”

 

The students continue to make discoveries, and have even ventured into the closets in other classrooms. Bobby continues to be interested in numismatics, history, and archaeology, and hopes to be able to add metal detecting to his skills soon. You can follow the Closet Archaeology project on their Instagram.

The Teacher on the Morgan Dollar

 

 

The face of Liberty on one of America’s most popular coins is that of a devoted teacher and education advocate.

 

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When Congress passed the Bland-Allison act in 1878, the Treasury began buying silver to mint into new coins, and began to search for a new silver dollar design to be stamped onto the newly-minted silver dollars. The silver dollar had not been minted for domestic use since 1873, and the Seated Liberty design had begun to feel outdated.

 

 

 

Anna_Willess_WilliamsGeorge Morgan, newly appointed to the Philadelphia Mint in 1876, began taking intensive art classes; in 1877, he began work on the designs for the new coins. Morgan’s friend, artist Thomas Eakins, encouraged him to use Anna Willess Williams, an art student from Philadelphia, as a model. Morgan considered her profile to be flawless, and was struck by her “crowning glory” of golden hair.

 

Anna was an art student herself, and agreed to sit for the design of Liberty on the new coins. However, she insisted that her name be kept secret, as she had no desire to become famous as a model of any kind.

 

Though she had been guaranteed anonymity, Anna Williams’ identity as the “Silver Dollar Girl” was outed by a reporter in 1879. She was flooded with letters and visitors, to her great distress. She was offered a role on stage that could have made her a great deal of money, but rejected it in favor of a teaching position at $60 a month.

 

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When it became known that she was engaged in 1896, interest in Anna Williams was revived. However, the marriage never took place, and Anna preferred to spend her time talking about her role as the supervisor of kindergarten schools in Philadelphia. She retired from her post when she suffered a bad fall in December of 1925, and died of a stroke the following April at the age of 68.

The Liberty on the Draped Bust: Ann Willing Bingham

 

 

Bust_dollar_obverseThe Draped Bust coin obverse design, in use from 1795 to 1807, was designed by Mint engraver Robert Scot to replace the Flowing Hair design, which was almost unanimously disliked. Though it cannot be conclusively proved, it is likely that Ann Willing Bingham, a socialite and considered one of the most lovely women of her day, was the inspiration for the Liberty on this coin. She was the subject of many portraits painted by Gilbert Stuart, who created the image that Scot used for his engraving of Liberty on the Draped Bust coins.

 

Stuart_annewillingbinghamAnn Bingham was a regular correspondent of Thomas Jefferson, as well as other luminaries of the American Revolution. Her letters were influential in convincing Jefferson of the need for the Bill of Rights, which would offer much greater protection to the citizens of the newly formed country than just the Constitution alone. Jefferson proposed the Bill of Rights to Madison, likely leaving her name out, and Madison drew up the document which was adopted by Congress.

 

bingham_anne_smOn a personal level, she often matched wits with Jefferson. Consider this passage from a letter from Bingham to Jefferson, dated June 1, 1787: “I agree with you that many of the fashionable pursuits of the Parisian Ladies are rather frivolous, and become uninteresting to a reflective Mind; but the Picture you have exhibited, is rather overcharged. You have thrown a strong light upon all that is ridiculous in their Characters, and you have buried their good Qualities in the Shade. It shall be my Task to bring them forward, or at least to attempt it…The Women of France interfere in the politics of the Country, and often give a decided Turn to the Fate of Empires. Either by the gentle Arts of persuasion, or by the commanding force of superior Attractions and Address, they have obtained that Rank and Consideration in society, which the Sex are intitled to, and which they in vain contend for in other Countries.”

 

She loved the intellectual life of the European continent, and tried to recreate it in her Philadelphia social circles. Members of the Federalist party, like Alexander Hamilton, and other founding fathers, including George Washington, were regular visitors for friendly debates and discussions.

 

Abigail Adams wrote about her, “[Mrs. Bingham is] the finest lady I ever saw. The intelligence of her countenance, or rather, I ought to say, its animation, the elegance of her form, and the affability of her manners, convert you into admiration.”

 

After the birth of her third child, Ann fell very ill (probably with tuberculosis), and set sail with her family for the more favorable climate of Madeira. She never reached it: she died en route in Bermuda, at the age of 37.

Teresa de Francisci: Face of Peace

 

The Peace Dollar is one of the most striking coins the US Mint ever produced. The Liberty on the obverse of the coin is more art nouveau, as opposed to the very classical profiles on other coins. Her face is at rest, and her hair blows slightly in an unseen breeze, while a radiant crown sits on her brow. The model for this particular version of Lady Liberty was Teresa de Francisci, the wife of the sculptor who created the image.

 

220px-TeresadeFrancisciTeresa was born Mary Teresa Cafarelli in southern Italy in 1898, and immigrated to America with her mother when she was four. The Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor made a strong impression on her. She said, “I was, of course, impressed by that statue. I think it’s a wonderful statue, and I think it means a great deal to almost everyone who has come over here from another country. And I’ve been very grateful to this country all my life.” In fact, she often struck the pose of the famous Statue during her girlhood; she would later write about how “heartbroken” she was when other little girls were chosen to be Liberty during school productions, likely due to strong anti-Italian sentiment at the time. She was the first Italian to graduate from her high school.

 

Anthony_de_Francisci_in_his_studioShe married fellow immigrant Anthony de Francisci in 1920; Francisci, though young, was already a skilled sculptor. In 1921, he was invited, with other notable artisans, to submit a design for the upcoming Peace Dollar. He asked Teresa to sit down in his studio, and opened a window to let in a breeze. The resulting head of Liberty is not an exact likeness of Ms. de Francisci, nor was it intended to be so. Anthony de Francisci stated in the Minneapolis Tribune that “the Liberty is not a photograph of Mrs. de Francisci. It is a composite face and in that way typifies something of America.”

 

nnc-us-1921-1-peace_dollar“Anthony was so certain he would lose,” Teresa later said, “that he told his artist friends, ‘I’ll give you a silver dollar if I win.’ Then, when he did win, we ordered 50 pieces from the Mint – and he gave them all away to keep his promise. He never even kept one for himself.” Of course, his design did win, and the Peace Dollar became known as one of the most unique and beautiful coins in United States history.

 

Anthony de Francisci died in 1960, but Teresa lived until 1990, often making appearances as an invited guest at numismatic events. She was happy to have been the model for Liberty, especially given her love of the Statue of Liberty as a young child. She wrote to her brother, “You remember how I was always posing as Liberty, and how brokenhearted I was when some other little girl was selected to play the role in the patriotic exercises in school? I thought of those days often while sitting as a model for Tony’s design, and now seeing myself as Miss Liberty on the new coin, it seems like the realization of my fondest childhood dream.”

New Study Reveals How Spanish Silver Funded Rome

 

 

The Roman Republic was known for its wealth even before it became an Empire. The Punic Wars, though costly, gave Rome a new source of riches: Spanish silver mines.

 

 

218BCMAPMEDITERRANEANThe Punic Wars take their name from the Latin “Punicus” or “Poenicus,” a reference to the Phoenician ancestry of the Carthaginians. In the third century BCE, Carthage and Rome were both major forces in the Mediterranean, and it was inevitable that the two would clash. Rome had the better military, but Carthage had the dominant navy. The conflict began small: a local war between Syracuse and Messina. Messina called the navy of Carthage to help, but betrayed them and summoned Rome to fight Carthage, resulting in the First Punic War. (This backfired somewhat, as the local fight soon escalated into all-out war that resulted in the Roman Republic controlling the Mediterranean and subsuming most smaller nations in the area.)

 

 

Rome defeated Carthage in a significant battle at Agrigentum in 262 BCE, and the Carthaginian leaders changed tactics to avoid land battles, trusting that they would be able to retain their naval domination. Rome built a hundred warships in two months, and developed the corvus, a spiked bridge that could be swung down onto the enemy’s deck, allowing the Roman soldiers to board. Although the corvus was eventually phased out as the Romans began to become better seaman, it was a brilliant tactic to leverage Rome’s infantry. In 241 BCE, Carthage admitted defeat and signed a peace treaty, agreeing to pay a significant indemnity. After the war, Carthage had a massive liquidity problem, and had difficulty paying their debts. Between the first and second Punic Wars, Carthage acquired land in Spain, which included some very productive silver mines.

 

 

800px-Schlacht_bei_Zama_Gemälde_H_P_MotteDuring the interval between the First and Second Punic Wars, Carthage began to build alliances with the Celts in the Po river in Northern Italy. To forestall Carthage building strength in the area, Rome attacked the Po valley and annexed it, renaming it Gallia Cisalpina. The Carthaginian conqueror of Hispania, Hasdrubal, was assassinated around this time, and his brother Hannibal took charge. Rome seems to have believed that their actions in the Po Valley had eliminated any real risk from Carthage and were caught by surprise when Hannibal attacked Saguntum (near modern Valencia in southern Spain) and moved across the Alps. Hannibal scored many victories against Roman forces, but could not take the city itself. Most of his siege engines and elephants were lost in the alpine crossing, and Rome was able to quickly replace any forces lost.

 

 

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Bust of Scipio Africanus. Photo credit Massimo Finizio. Used under CC by SA 2.0.

Scipio Africanus, in the meantime, was almost a mirror image of Hannibal; he could not defeat the Carthaginian in any decisive way, but was able to take control of the Iberian peninsula.This had a two-fold effect, economically: Rome now had access to the extensive silver mines of Hispania, and Carthage’s main source of silver (and therefore cash flow) was cut off. The fighting eventually moved to Carthage’s home ground of northern Africa; eventually, Carthage was able to control only the city itself, its once-great empire falling to the Roman Republic. Scipio Africanus finally defeated Hannibal at the battle of Zama in 202 BCE, ending the Second Punic War.

 

 

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Photo credit Phys.org. Used under fair use.

Recently, a study was made of 70 Roman coins from 310 to 101 BCE; scientists drilled into the rims of the coins to access unweathered heart metal. Isotopic analysis confirms that the lead isotopes in the coins are a match to Spain after 209 BCE. Before that, metal for Roman coins was mined from old Greek sources in the Aegean. Scipio’s advances in Hispania flooded the Roman world with new sources of metal for coins. (Hints of this can be seen in the movie Gladiator: Russell Crowe’s character, Maximus, is a Spaniard in the Roman military, and his breastplate is ornately decorated with silver. In fact, during the movie, Maximus tells a young boy that the name of one of the silver horses on his breastplate is Argento, “silver,” though this is more a reference to the Lone Ranger than to the Spanish silver mines.)

 

Researcher Katrin Westner stated, “Before the war, we find that the Roman coins are made of silver from the same sources as the coinage issued by Greek cities in Italy and Sicily. In other words the lead isotope signatures of the coins correspond to those of silver ores and metallurgical products from the Aegean region. But the defeat of Carthage led to huge reparation payments to Rome, as well as Rome gaining large amounts of booty and ownership of the rich Spanish silver mines. From 209 B.C., we see that the majority of Roman coins show geochemical signatures typical for Iberian silver…This massive influx of Iberian silver significantly changed Rome’s economy, allowing it to become the superpower of its day. We know this from the histories of Livy and Polybius and others, but our work gives contemporary scientific proof of the rise of Rome. What our work shows is that the defeat of Hannibal and the rise of Rome is written in the coins of the Roman Empire.”

 

 

[Featured image is credit Flickr user Hans Splinter. Used under CC by ND 2.0.]

The Sun and Its Coins

 

 

The sun has formed human mythology and symbolism since the beginning of history. It’s no surprise that sun symbols and imagery have appeared on our coins for thousands of years.

 

 

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Karshapana coin, credit of Wikipedia user Jean-Michel Moullec. Used under CC by SA 2.0

Karshapana coins from India date back to the 7th and 6th centuries BCE, and take their value from the person authenticating them. These authentications were punched into the coins, which could be made of gold, silver, copper, or an alloy. Sun symbols are common on these early coins.

 

 

 

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Coin with Helios on obverse, credit of ForumAncientCoins.com, used under fair use.

While the sun was initially associated with the god Helios in the time of Homer, Helios and Apollo merged to become one sun deity, riding the chariot of the sun across the sky each day. Apollo was one of the most beloved and powerful gods, able to provide knowledge and plague, feast and famine.

 

 

 

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Apollo with lyre on Greek coin, credit of ForumAncientCoins.com
, used under fair use.

Helios and Apollo are both found on Greek coins. Helios is usually pictured as a bust in profile, with a crown of rays on his head. Coins with Helios on the obverse can be found from the 4th to the 1st centuries BCE. Apollo appears on coins from the same periods, but does not usually have sun imagery on his coins, the artists generally preferring to depict him with his musical attributes, though he is still associated with the sun.

 

 

 

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Iceni coin with sun symbol, credit of Numismantica, used under CC by SA 3.0

During the first few centuries ACE, the Celtic tribes in Gaul and Britain were minting coins with sun and star symbols. Though initially copies of Greek coins of Alexander, the British coin makers gradually stylized the coins and replaced Greek symbols with their own imagery of horses, wheat, and sun symbols. The Iceni, in particular, were known for their distinctive coinage, and were the only British tribe to use their own name on their coins. While the Iceni were initially aligned with the Romans when they came to Britain, a disagreement and assault lead Iceni queen Boadicea to lead the nation in a revolt against Rome. The revolt failed, and Roman control, including Roman coinage, gained strength in Britain, and the sun symbols of the Iceni fell out of use.

 

 

 

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Gold coin of Louis XIV with sun symbol.

Nearly a thousand years later, French king Louis XIV ascended to the throne and reigned for 72 years, the longest reign of any monarch in a sovereign European country. He was known for grandiosity and commissioned many works of art depicting himself as elegantly as possible. He became known as the Sun King, and one of the gold d’or coins from his reign shows a radiating sun on the reverse.

 

 

 

Even today, many countries release commemorative coinage for eclipses or other significant astronomical events. It’s not hard to believe that there will be sun images on coins as long as coins are made.

Summer Reading for Coin Lovers

 

 

We spend most of the year reading things that are “serious,” that are needed for professional development or personal growth. But summer reading is about fun and escapism, and that goes for coin collectors, too. Here are a few of our favorite fun reads that have scenes or themes that may be of interest to the collector (while still being good for the beach or the hammock.)

 

 

download (2)Hild, by Nicola Griffith: This novel of the childhood of the woman who became St. Hilda of Whitby paints a stunning immersive and accurate picture of life in 7th century Britain. Hild is the daughter of a king, who must live in exile after her father is murdered and learn to navigate the intricacies of Anglo-Saxon warlord courts. Of special interest to the collector are scenes in which Hild begins to understand the power of coins over hacksilver, as they are tradeable over long distances and can be sent with messengers. A must-read for anyone interested in Anglo-Saxon culture and currency, or how a society transitions to using coins.

 

 

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The Numismatourist, by Howard M. Berlin: This wonderful guide to coin sites all over the world will let the collector experience the fascination of coin-related travel without leaving their seat. Use this excellent book as a guide to planning future trips, or just enjoy reading about locations that sound interesting.

 

 

 

 

51P1c42DyLLHamilton, by Ron Chernow. Alexander Hamilton was not only the first Secretary of the Treasury, but also one of the founders of the US Mint, though the Mint ended up overseen by Jefferson’s State Department. Our currency and economic system were hugely influenced by Hamilton, and his life is an interesting one; it’s also a good way to put early American coinage into context. (Even if you’re already a fan of the musical, this book contains a lot of stories that never made it into the play.) It’s a large book, but well-written and easy to read.

 

 

Ocean_at_the_End_of_the_Lane_US_CoverThe Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman. Known for his odd and otherworldly storytelling, Gaiman (also author of the Sandman graphic novel series, Stardust, and American Gods) puts his powers on full display in this short novel about childhood, the mysteries of the world, and growing up. An ancient spirit comes to the house of the young narrator of the book, and seeking to ingratiate itself with the humans, enables treasure to be found. An older couple pulls a hoard of coins out of their garden, a little girl is given a mouse-skin purse with a silver coin inside, the narrator wins twenty-five pounds in a lottery. Such ill-gotten gains do no good, however, and the young boy’s world is thrown into chaos. (To find out if it has a happy ending, read the book!)

 

 

781737.jpgModern Coin Magic, by J. B. Bobo. Summer is the perfect time to learn and perfect a few classic sleight-of-hand coin tricks. Coins have been used in alchemy, magic, and prestidigitation for as long as coins have been around, so join in the fun! (Magic tricks should, of course, probably not be performed with high value coins, as its best to keep skin contact to a minimum. But there’s no shortage of low-value coins to work with!)