What is the difference between silver and white gold?

White gold is a mixture of pure yellow gold and other white metals, to give it a white presence very much like silver. White gold is often coated with a metal called Rhodium to strengthen and give it an extra shine and long lasting quality. On the other hand, Sterling Silver is pure silver that is mixed with copper to make jewelry, and has a shiny white look like white gold. This is an affordable alternative to white gold, although it does need polishing more often.

The determination between white gold and silver isn’t as easy of a choice as it once was. Many people today are choosing the exquisite look of silver even when they can afford gold, and others who thought they couldn’t afford gold are choosing the pure, shiny gloss that only white gold can offer.

A lot of people actually question what the difference is between the two. Due to their similar looks, it’s obviously tough to tell the difference between silver and white gold at first glance. They’re so comparable, it’s possible to think they are the same thing, or made of similar materials, when this could not be further from the truth! But, before you make a decision it’s important to weigh out the pros and cons of white gold vs. silver before deciding on one or the other.

Silver is a shiny, white precious metal that’s often mixed with copper when making jewelry, also known as sterling silver. Mixing pure silver with other materials gives it the strength to ensure it won’t be too soft to create beautiful jewelry pieces. Sterling Silver is the least expensive of the white metals. It’s usually stamped “925,” which means 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% other metals.

White gold is created by combining pure gold and a white metal such as nickel or palladium, which gives the unique shiny white look to the regular gold. Many people have concerns about whether white gold or silver products contain nickel, since it’s such a common source of sensitivity. Nickel is the main metal people are allergic to, and jewelry that contains this can be very irritating to the skin and cause itchy and painful reactions. It’s important to ensure that if you have sensitivities to nickel, that any piece of jewelry you buy will be nickel-free.

There is a material called Rhodium, which is a precious metal often used for plating white gold jewelry, because of its alluring finish and how it gorgeously sets off the white gold. The Rhodium plating is perfect to include with the white gold; however this finish does wear off over time and require re-plating occasionally.

Silver – Has a very shiny and lustrous finish, Is an affordable and beautiful budget-friendly alternative, Substantially lower price than white gold, Tends to be much softer than white gold and can change shape over time, Silver also shines brightly when new; however this will need to be cleaned more frequently to maintain its lustrous look, because it often tarnishes.

White Gold –Has a beautiful mirror-like white shine, from its Rhodium plating, Is a great choice if you have a higher budget and want a fine quality material, Considered an investment, since it’s a very high quality and damage-resistant material, Has a more durable, hard finish that’s able to hold more intricate details, Stays shiny for a long time, needs re-plating with Rhodium every couple years or so.

One of the biggest differences, when you’re weighing white gold or silver, is clearly the price. Silver is a much cheaper material, and is quite beautiful if you are on a budget and looking for quality elegant sterling silver jewelry. White gold costs $23.86 per gram, while sterling silver costs only $0.59 per gram. So when you’re making the difficult decision between white gold vs. silver, cost is definitely a major deciding factor for most people. But you might be surprised by a beautiful piece of white gold jewelry you absolutely adore. And while it might be a stretch to afford gold, it’s definitely worth the higher price tag for white gold to invest in a lasting, beautiful quality piece.

At the end of the day, whether you choose white gold or silver, knowing and considering these different characteristics of these two metals will help you decide which option is going to give you the gorgeous piece of jewelry you’ll be proud to wear and enjoy for a lifetime.

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.

Peso_Mexicano_1921

 

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.

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.

Game of Thrones and the Coin Technology of Westeros

 

 

Game of Thrones, like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, has a world so dense with detail that it feels real. The world of Westeros even has its own coinage, and those coins can speak volumes about that world. (For the purposes of this post, all references to specific coins are to replica coins based on the TV show.)

 

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Copper star of Robert Baratheon

There are 8 denominations of Westerosi currency. The halfpenny, penny, halfgroat, groat, and star are all made of copper, while the stag and moon are silver coins. The only Westerosi gold coin (at the time the story is set) is the dragon. There are 2 halfpennies to the penny, 2 pennies to a halfgroat, 2 halfgroats to a groat, and 2 groats to a star.

 

 

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Reverse of gold dragon of Joffrey Baratheon

The lower denominations are very basic, but the silver and gold coins get more complicated. There are 7 bronze stars to 1 silver stag, and 7 stags to a moon. 30 moons make a gold dragon. (7 is the most significant number in the state religion of Westeros.)

 

 

While most of Westeros uses this system, the “ironborn” under the rule of House Greyjoy, generally do not use currency (though women are sometimes allowed to use coins), preferring instead to “pay the iron price” and take what they need in battle. Their house motto, unsurprisingly, is “We Do Not Sow.” This is somewhat similar to the non-Westerosi Dothraki, who do not use coins or currency of any kind, but instead have an economy based on raiding and gift-giving. (There is a replica Dothraki coin with the imprint of Khal Drogo, but this seems inaccurate with regards to the description of the Dothraki culture in the books.) Also, while the denominations remain consistent, some houses do strike their own versions of these coins, though the vast majority from the ruling House Baratheon in King’s Landing.

 

 

Coins of House Stark

Coins of House Stark

House Stark in the North produces their own currency, including a halfpenny and silver stag, with the imprint of Eddard Stark. It is not surprising that the line of the old King in the North would have a mint, though no information is given as to where the Stark mint might be. It is never mentioned in any of the scenes at Winterfell, and it seems that a mint would be a good place for any of House Stark’s enemies to attack first. An army cannot march far without money for food and supplies. (More interestingly, there are some replica coins with the imprint of Robb Stark, though it is unclear when he would have had time to have new coins minted while building and leading his army.) These coins look more crude in design than other Westerosi coins, though they are contemporaneous with the bronze star of Robert Baratheon; however, House Stark is known for valuing its long history, and it might be expected that they would not keep up with the minting technology in use in King’s Landing.

 

 

Game of Thrones Silver stag coin

Obverse of silver stag of Aerys II Targaryen

Many Westerosi coins are beautifully crafted, but the silver stag of Aerys II Targaryen, known as the Mad King, is simple and somewhat crude, especially compared with the coins of King Robert Baratheon, produced some 20 years later. Aerys II let Westeros fall into chaos, consumed with his own paranoia and greed.

 

 

Game of Thrones silver stag coin

Reverse of silver stag of Aerys II Targaryen

It’s certainly possible that minting technology declined during his reign; given that the Targaryen dynasty had been considered to be in decline for several generations, it could be reflective of a gradual loss of technical skill, which is reinvigorated with the Targaryen’s defeat and the rise of House Baratheon.

 

 

Game of Thrones Daenerys coin

Reverse of mark of Meeren of Daenerys Targaryen

Perhaps most unusual of all are the replica coins for Daenerys Targaryen. Exiled beyond Westeros when the rest of her family was killed during Robert Baratheon’s rebellion, Daenerys hatches dragon eggs and takes control of armies and entire cities as she prepares to retake the Iron Throne of Westeros. Her coins have some real-world counterparts, in that several of them appear to have been struck to commemorate a specific conquest or victory (see this coin of Marc Antony and Cleopatra.) However, the coins do seem a little unusual in that they each celebrate a different title, such as “Queen of Meereen” and “Breaker of Chains.”

 

 

Game of Thrones Daenerys coin

Obverse of mark of Meeren of Daenerys Targaryen

The most used image on her coins is, unsurprisingly, a dragon. The dragons have always been the symbol of House Targaryen, and Daenerys uses it both to establish herself as a ruler in the Targaryen line, and to remind all who see the coin that she controls the power of literal dragons. Coins have always been one of the most effective ways to make a political statement, especially in the days before reliable mail systems and phone lines. Coins can travel great distances in trade; a coin that commemorates a victory can spread the word of a triumphant ruler very quickly indeed.

 

 

Though the world of Game of Thrones is fictional, much of it was based on real world history, especially the Wars of the Roses and other long-standing feuds. It’s no surprise that the fictional currency of this world tells us so much about its history.

 

 

[All photos credit of Shire Post Mint, used under Fair Use.]

California Gold

 

The story of the California Gold Rush is one of the best known in American history. It’s quintessential to the ideals of taking advantage of opportunity and working hard to climb the economic ladder. Of course, most of those who rushed to the California gold mines went broke instead of striking it rich, but hundreds of tons of gold were uncovered over the course of the rush. What happened to it as it entered the economy?
GoldNuggetUSGOVThe Gold Rush changed San Francisco almost overnight. From a little town of 850 in 1848, it grew to over 20,000 by 1850. (Native American populations, however, dropped drastically: from 150,000 in 1845, to fewer than 30,000 by 1870.) On Liberty Street Economics, James Narron and Don Morgan write, “Carrying a small amount of gold in a glass vial, Brannan strode up and down Montgomery Street in San Francisco, then just a sleepy hamlet, extolling the great wealth that could be readily plucked from the foothills outside Sacramento. A kind of madness seized the 850 residents of the city, and as the San Francisco Chronicle noted on May 29, ‘the field is left half plowed, the house half built, and everything neglected but the manufacture of shovels and pickaxes.’”

 

 

800px-SanFranciscoharbor1851c_sharpThe influx of people as well as the high demand for mining supplies, drove the cost of goods up to exorbitant heights (in fact, shop owners were more likely to profit off the rush than the miners.) Only 2 years into the Gold Rush, it was cheaper to send laundry to Hawaii for cleaning than to have it done locally. Miners had to extract several ounces of gold a day simply to keep themselves supplied with food and equipment. One in twelve died, and many left. Eyewitness accounts talk about the harbor clogged with ships left to rot because the passengers and crew had all gone to the gold mines. A mercury rush a few years earlier combined with a common way of using mercury to mine gold had left many miners with brain damage and in too poor of health to leave. Despite the dire situation, individuals and mining corporations continued to pull gold out of the streams and mountains. The United States had moved from a bimetallic standard to the gold standard in 1834, and the the influx of gold from California acted like “a monetary easing by a central bank, with more gold chasing the same amount of goods and services.”

 

Some gold left the United States via immigrants, particularly workers from China. Some Chinese workers melted down their gold and shaped it into common household items, like pans, darkening them with soot to disguise them on the return journey. Anti-immigrant sentiment was high, and since fortune seekers from many nations poured into a city that was not prepared for them, tensions raged. The Foreign Miners Tax of 1850 called for a monthly tax of $20 on every foreign miner, a price many could not pay. (The Chinese Exclusion Act was put into place in 1882, halting immigration from China and preventing immigrants from becoming citizens. Chinese Americans were not allowed to become citizens until 1943.)

 

5_Dollars,_Norris,_Gregg_&_Norris,_California,_1849_-_National_Museum_of_American_History_-_DSC00220As people and gold continued to flow into California, it became a center of national and global attention, achieving statehood only 2 years after the first gold was found. As the wealth continued to flow from the mountains, the need for a local Mint was obvious. The private company Norris, Gregg & Norris produced the first coins from California gold, but shut down within a year.

 

 

John Little Moffat moved to San Francisco from New York and began an assay business, as well as producing gold bars. However, the bars did not circulate, and he realized the need for coinage. They follow the pattern of the official gold coins, but also bear the legend SMV (Standard Mint Value.) Other minting companies followed suit, but Moffat was easily the most successful. These early California gold coins are rarities, and bring excellent prices when they go up for auction. (Some of the first gold from California actually ended up in Utah, carried by Mormon troops, and was used to create currency for the Utah territory. These are also rare and bring high prices.)

 

In 1850, the Treasury Secretary set up an assaying authority with the power to buy gold. Seeing the success of Moffat’s company, the federal authorities brought him into the operation. A skilled watchmaker from New York, Augustus Humbert, was also brought on board and was largely responsible for the shape of the first octagonal California gold coins. Ursula Kampmann writes in Coins Weekly that “These ingots and the ‘ordinary’ US coins could circulate simultaneously, but the former were no official means of payment. The problem of these specimens was that they had too great a weight. Compared with the official 10 and 20 $ dollar coins below weight, they contained much more gold – which was a nuisance to the banks who couldn’t get rid of their own currency anymore. Consequently, they took revenge by exchanging the ingot with the too big intrinsic value with 3 % discount only. That, in turn, made the ingots become much less popular; Moffat & Co. was forced to produce their old 10 and 20 $ dollar coins instead again, this time on behalf of the US government.”

 

765px-Photograph_of_several_San_Francisco_Mint_employees_near_the_top_section_of_the_Corless_Engine_on_the_first_floor._-_NARA_-_296572Moffat departed his company in 1852, and the firm was established as an official assay office of the United States. However, it closed late in 1853, when the new San Francisco Mint was expected to begin producing coins a few months later. Unfortunately, the mineral shipments needed to create alloys didn’t arrive in time for the Mint to keep to its original schedule, and opened in April of 1854. Just over $4 million face value in gold coins were minted during its first year of operation, making 1854 S mint gold coins rare and highly desirable to collectors and numismatists.

 

Over time, northern California settled down and became much like any other part of the States, with its own industries and exports. But the legend of the California Gold Rush was cemented into national memory, and the state still enjoys the golden glow of the promise of a better life.

 

Pompeii and the Coins That Survived Vesuvius

 

“The coins archaeologists find,” writes Emma Watts-Plumpkin in the March 2004 edition of World Archaeology, “are those that have been lost or purposely hoarded away. The Pompeii collection is quite different from coins found elsewhere.” Pompeii has fascinated the world since it was uncovered in the late 1700s, and the coins found in the ruins are no exception.

 

The story of Pompeii and its sister city, Herculaneum, are known. In August of 79 CE, Mount Vesuvius exploded violently (as it had done before, wiping out a much earlier Roman settlement), burying both cities in ash, pumice, and lava. While many inhabitants escaped, those who waited too long were trapped in the cities. In many cases, the bodies were covered in fine ash, producing the famous molds which reveal extraordinary details of the victims.

 

 

 

Many inhabitants tried to take their valuables with them. Wealthy families and individuals have been found with jewelry, statues, bags of coins, and more. Even the underclasses and slaves took the coins they had, usually bronzes and coppers. A fused mass of coins was found at the edge of the ancient beach in Herculaneum; many residents fled there in hopes of boarding boats to escape, but were incinerated when the first of many pyroclastic flows (12 surges in total, by the time the eruption calmed) raced down the mountain. Over the course of hours, 75 feet of rock and ash covered the city, freezing it in time.

 

800px-View_of_vesuvius_over_the_ruins_of_pompeiiAfter the eruption, some residents did return to try to salvage what they could. Emperor Titus declared Pompeii an “emergency zone,” and even sent funds for rebuilding. But too much had been buried, and within a few decades, both towns were gone from local maps. Statius, a Roman poet, wrote “When this wasteland regains its green, will men believe that cities and peoples lie beneath?” A few centuries later, new farms and vineyards had been planted in the fertile volcanic soil over the city.

 

In 2016, four skeletons were found in the ruins of a shop near Pompeii’s Herculaneum gate. While the site had been looted, several gold coins were recovered. It’s likely that other coins were initially present, and were taken by the looters who tunneled in.

 

Approximately 1500 coins have been recovered from an insula (a Roman city block) by a research team from the University of Bradford. The insula contained two large houses, as well as shops and even bars. The coins studied by the Bradford team are unusual in that they show coins in circulation up to the moment of catastrophe, not buried with the dead, hidden in a hoard, or otherwise intentionally collected. As such, most of them show extensive wear, as they were in circulation up until the very moment of disaster.

 

mapThe Pompeii copper coins show a strong local economy, as the coins are mostly crude copies of Massalian (modern day Marseille) and Ebusian (modern day Ibiza) coins. Very few of the coins come from Rome itself, though a few early Imperial Quadrantes have been found, with more expected to appear as the mass of coins is separated. The pseudo-coins, as they are known, seem to have been locally made and circulated mostly around the Naples Bay area. No coin-minting equipment has yet been found in Pompeii or Herculaneum, but such a find may turn up in future excavations, or simply have been damaged beyond recognition. Watts-Plumpkin writes, “In all likelihood, these ‘pseudo’ coins were just for use in the local economy. The fact that so many have been found bears out the degree to which the people of Pompeii were involved in local trading. The large numbers of local coins also suggests that the Pompeiians may have been using a largely monetised economy rather than other forms of barter. That far fewer coins come from further afield, for example actually from Ibiza or Marseilles, suggests that the people of Pompeii were not engaged in very much monetised longer-distant trade.”

 

At last date, about 500 of the 1500 coins separated have been identified. The most common is the pseudo-Ebusus design, with a crude image of the Egyptian dwarf god Bes on both sides. These coins are 12-16mm across. Another 45 copper-alloy coins bear the image of Janus, the two-faced Roman god. The reverse of the coin shows the prow of a ship. Some of these coins bear the word “ROMA,” and were made during the Republic. Many of these are found halved, as cutting coins has been an efficient way to make change when softer metals are used.

 

 

 

About 55 of the coins are Massalian in style, though only a few actually come from Massalia itself. Most are the local copies, with a bust of Apollo on the obverse and a bull on the reverse. The best date for these coins is the first century BC; they were in circulation as long as the coin weighed enough to be legal tender.
As evidenced by its coins, gathered up as treasures in the hands of those fleeing the city or left behind in scattered masses, Pompeii was a busy town, much like any other. But its coins still tell the story of daily life in the obliterated city, and there is still so much more to learn.

 

[Featured image credit of The British Museum, used under fair use.]

How Coins Preserved the Memories of an Empire

 

 

TenCommand_055Pyxurz.jpgFans of classic films may remember the dramatic moment in Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments,” when the old pharaoh, Sethi, exiles Moses and commands that his name be stricken from all monuments across the kingdom. “Let the name of Moses be stricken from every book and tablet, stricken from all pylons and obelisks, stricken from every monument of Egypt. Let the name of Moses be unheard and unspoken, erased from the memory of men for all time.” While this kind of extreme erasure was rare, it was practiced by many ancient cultures. Modern historians have termed the practice “damnatio memoriae.” While statues and memorials were the usual targets for defacement, the practice sometimes extended even to coins bearing the name or image of the person to be removed from memory.

 

In ancient Egypt, several controversial rulers, including religious reformer Akhenaten and female pharaoh Hatshepsut, were removed from memorials and sculptures after their deaths. The practice reached a peak in Roman culture, especially during the Imperial era.

 

 

It’s difficult to know who actually carried out the defacements; officially, the Roman Senate would make a pronouncement condemning an emperor or other individual. However, these actions were usually undertaken when a new emperor arose by acclamation or military support. Outside of the main areas of Roman culture, such defacement may have been carried out by soldiers or other officials. In a few reported instances, crowds of civilians swarmed the street to tear down statues of particularly despised rulers.

 

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Defaced coin of Nero. Photo copyright Trustees of the British Museum

The size of the Empire, in fact, is why few coins suffered such treatment, though they were one of the primary symbols of any given emperor. One of the things that binds a nation and culture together is a common currency that can be relied upon across the nation. Defacing coins could lead to questions about their legitimacy as currency, causing coin shortages and economic crises. The simplest answer was for the new emperor to issue new coins with his image as quickly as possible, and put them into circulation across the empire, primarily via payments to the Roman legions.

 

In the rare cases when coins were defaced, it was usually on the obverse of the coin, where the portrait and name of the emperor were found. However, in a few extraordinary cases, the damage was done to the reverse of the coin.
Project Curator of Roman Provincial Coins at The British Museum’s Department of Coins and Medals, Dario Calomino, states, “Some coins struck in Emesa in Syria (modern Homs […] had the image of the altar of the local sun-god Elagabal defaced with an X. We do not know who did this and for what reason. This may have been a way in which opposition to this cult was expressed. But sometimes coins were also mutilated for ritual purposes; they were offered as a gift to a divinity in a sanctuary, and in order to do this they were previously de-monetised, i.e. marked and mutilated to signify that they were no longer official currency, but tokens of devotion.”

 

Defacement of coins did not always originate from Roman decree, though. In some Iron Age coin hoards from what is now Bulgaria, new Celtic designs have been minted over Hellenistic and Roman coins. These Celtic designs were produced in a time of intense battle between Roman and Celtic forces; the effort of minting over coins indicates a strong rejection of Roman culture in its entirety.

 

 

(ac)-Caligula_sester_10It’s impossible to know just how successful any efforts at damnatio memoriae were; completely successful erasure would be undetectable by historians. It’s likely that none were completely successful, given the difficulty of such an endeavor. Many contemporary historians wrote about the emperors who ruled during their time, and coins in particular give us long-lasting records. Even the despised Caligula, whose records underwent the most extensive erasure known, remains one of the best-known Roman emperors in history. Several Caligulan coins have had his name filed down or hammered out, yet remain recognizable.

 

Even the smallest and most ordinary coin can bear a historical record that thousands of intervening years cannot erase.

The Lost (and Found) Treasure Ships of Zhang Xianzhong

 

Sometimes a legend of hidden treasure turns out to be true. For hundreds of years, tales of a lost hoard of gold and silver circulated in the Sichuan Province of China. It was said to have belonged to Zhang Xianzhong, leader of a peasants’ uprising during the final years of the Ming Dynasty.

 

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Shaanxi province

Zhang was born in Shaanxi province; even as a young man, he had an imposing figure and became known as the “Yellow Tiger.” Though he served for a time in the Imperial army that was engaged in keeping rioting peasants under control, he soon defected to the rebel forces, and soon became the leader of his own band of raiders.

 

 

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Sichuan province

Zhang’s entire career is a fascinating story of military success, defeat, and recovery. He surrendered several times, only to rebel and amass an army again. Finally, in 1644, Zhang marched 100,000 men toward Sichuan province. His men blasted a hole through the city walls of Chongqing; some reports claim that Zhang cut the hands off those who defended the city and massacred many inside. Zhang sent word out to the rest of the province that no one else would be harmed if they turned over their officials and surrendered without resistance.

 

Initially, Zhang ruled Sichuan well. Local Jesuit missionaries reported that he “began his rule with such liberality, justice and magnificence by which he captivated all hearts that many mandarins, famous both in civic as in military affairs whom fear was keeping concealed, left their hideouts and flew to his side.” But there was continued resistance to Zhang’s rule; Chongqing fell to Ming loyalists in 1645, and Zhang began a bloody war to stamp out all resistance in the province. Reports of deaths caused by Zhang’s orders vary, but there is no doubt that he had a massive impact on the population. The 1578 census for Sichuan recorded 3,102,073. Less than a hundred years later, only 16,096 adult males were recorded in the province.

 

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Qing army officer

When Qing dynasty forces began to invade, Zhang decided to leave Sichuan, and took the vast treasure he had accumulated with him. In January 1647, while Zhang was fleeing toward Shaanxi, his forces met the Qing forces in Xichong; Zhang was killed during the battle. Some reports say that a trusted lieutenant betrayed him by identifying Zhang to an archer, who shot him as he left his tent.

 

 

 

 

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Gold ingot

For hundreds of years after Zhang’s defeat, stories of his lost treasure abounded. Legends were told of 1,000 ships, loaded with gold and silver, lying at the bottom of the river. Chinese researchers recently confirmed that a newly-discovered wreck is, in fact, one of Zhang’s ships, containing more than 10,000 pieces of precious metal coins and ingots. Seven silver ingots were found during a construction project in 2005, and the site was declared a protected location in 2010, but exploration was halted while experts debated whether there was any merit to the stories of sunken ships. During the interim, treasure hunters began looting the site; while some were caught, there is no doubt that some historic items have been lost.

 

 

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Recovered coins

In January of 2017, excavation of the site began, with pumps working to keep the area as dry as possible. The project is expected to continue into April, and officials are hoping to build a museum nearby to display and preserve the items. Peking University archaeologist Li Boquian said, “The items are extremely valuable to science, history and art. They are of great significance for research into the political, economic, military and social lives of the Ming Dynasty.”

Templar Mystery Unlocked by Golden Coins

 

A hoard of 30 golden coins helped archaeologists to date a recently-uncovered shipwreck in the Bay of Haifa, near the ancient city of Acre. The wood of the ship dated to the years between 1062 and 1250 AD, but there was no way to tell when the ship actually sank until the coins were identified. These coins were golden florins, produced in Florence, Italy, starting in 1252. The ship, then, could not have sunk earlier than 1252.

 

17159334_1701542823194558_8763100412882119563_o.jpgIn fact, most archaeologists believe the ship sank nearly 40 years later, when the Christian European occupiers fled the city when Egyptian sultan Al-Ashraf Khalil invaded with 100,000 men. International trade through the city abruptly ceased as the European forces struggled to escape the city. A group of Templar Knights found to hold their ground against the invasion, while merchants and civilians escaped. The recently found shipwreck appears to be one of the vessels that fled Acre in 1291.

 

The gold florins are the main link to the Crusaders; witnesses of the Siege of Acre reported that the wealthy attempted to buy and bribe their way to safety with gold and other valuables. Of course, it is not known who was actually aboard the ship when it went down; whoever it was, they succeeded in escaping Acre only to perish at sea, going down with their gold.

A Brief History of Irish Coins

 

 

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Early Gallic coin

The earliest known coins in Ireland were British and European copies of Macedonian coinage from the reigns of Philip II and Alexander the Great. No coins were struck on Irish soil this early, but the copied coins do turn up in hoards and archaeological digs.

 

 

 

Some of this lack of coinage can be attributed to the fact that the Roman invasion of the area did not reach the Emerald Isle, save for a short-lived camp north of Dublin. Roman coins have been found, but only alongside decorative metals and hack silver; the first-century Irish did not use coins as a medium of exchange, but simply as another form of precious metal, similar to the early Vikings.

 

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Silver dirham

After the Romans left Ireland and the British Isles, coins fell out of use for centuries. The Irish retained a high level of technical skill in metal-working, and many beautiful silver and gold ornaments have been founds in hoards dating to this period. Many historians believe that the majority of coins that made their way to the island were melted and used for jewelry and other ornaments. As Ireland began to be Christianized by St. Patrick and his followers, and accepted by “civilized” (usually meaning “formerly Roman”) nations, coins begin to reappear in the Irish historical record, though still mostly in terms of precious metal rather than currency. Coins found from this period include Anglo-Saxon pennies and dirhams from Islamic lands. (Dr. Caitlin Green often blogs about the spread of Islamic coins to Europe in the medieval period. Her blog is highly recommended.)

 

The Vikings brought an increase in the usage of coins (mostly Danish and Anglo-Saxon) when they settled in Dublin and Limerick, but it seems that the Irish usually melted these coins, or saved them for return trade with the Vikings.

 

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The first coins struck in Ireland were the Hiberno-Norse coins produced in Dublin at the end of the 10th century, by Norse King Sithric III (also known as Sithric Silkbeard). These were copies of English king Aethelred II’s pennies. These coin designs quickly degraded until they were barely recognizable, the lettering represented by vertical strokes, and the production of coinage ceased by 1160.
It was the entrance of the Normans in 1169 that brought about the most dramatic change in the Irish use of coinage. When Henry II’s son, John, was Lord of Ireland, he struck silver farthings and halfpennies near the end of the 1100’s, followed by an increased run of coinage when he became king. Dublin housed the primary mint, though other provincial mints were used, as well. At least one purpose of this minting was to funnel silver out of Ireland and into the war efforts of the British king; Irish silver coins circulated in England and on the continent as “sterlings.”

 

Minting continued sporadically for several decades, still concentrated on putting Irish silver intro circulation in British lands. It was not until 1279 that Edward I struck Irish coins of comparable quality with English coins, in silver pennies, halfpennies, and farthings. Again, this silver quickly made its way away from Ireland, further impoverishing the country.

 

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Richard of York, 3rd Duke of York

During the next 150 years, coins continued to be struck and sent away from the island, until the Irish authorities were granted permission by Richard of York to strike lower quality coins to an “Irish standard.” In return, the authorities pledged their support for his effort to gain the English crown. Richard died, and his son became King Edward IV of England. Until his death in 1483, the Irish battled constantly to keep their own coinage, while Edward wanted all coins bearing his name to meet the higher English standard (which would have resulted in still more Irish silver leaving the small island economy). There are 6 different coin designs from this period, and several different weight standards, as well as base metal and bullion issues; modern numismatists are still sorting this puzzle out.

 

Several subsequent monarchs revised the coinage over the next hundred years, occasionally opting for higher standard metal, but always ending up with base metal coins. Notably, Henry VIII instituted the use of the Irish harp on the country’s coins, a practice that would continue almost unbroken into the modern era.

 

gold-pistole-300x143By 1639, tensions in Irish were high, as the British crown and its auxiliaries made more and more demands, including an Irish army to fight a rebellion in Scotland, as well as conflict between Catholic Irish and Protestant England and Scotland. The Irish Rebellion began in 1641; during this time and the subsequent English Civil War, local coinages began to pop up in Ireland, particularly in Dublin. These were crude coins struck from silver plate, often including their weight or value as part of the design. The only gold coins struck in Ireland date to this period: the pistole and double pistole of 1646. The pistole is a Spanish denomination, and Spanish coinage was among the most stable and tradeable at the time.
Regular issuances of coins in Ireland did not resume until 1680; until then, local coinage and tokens were most common. Over 800 varieties are known, and they come from almost every town and village in the small country. The most significant of these are the St. Patrick’s tokens, in farthing and halfpenny denominations. They have no known attributed issuer, and are heavier and were produced in greater numbers than the others.

 

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Gunmoney coin with portrait of James II

Irish halfpennies resumed production in 1680 after Charles II granted a patent to Sir William Armstrong and Colonel George Legg. James II continued the patent, but produced ceased in 1688 after his abdication. When James decided to reclaim his throne, he issued brass coinage (romantically said to be made from melted cannons, but in reality made from common items, such as church bells). These tokens were known as “gunmoney” and intended to be redeemed for real coins as soon as James attained his throne again. James’ campaign failed, though gunmoney was still issued for some time from a mint in Limerick. This issue was halted when William and Mary captured Limerick in 1691; copper halfpennies resumed production in 1692.

 

 

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Irish banknote from the 1830’s

Near the end of the 1780’s, Ireland faced a coin shortage. King George III had become insane and was unable to sign any new coinage into effect; however, the English monarchy had insisted on such tight control of the production of coins that even Parliament could not legally create coinage. The only solution was the creation of tokens, and sometimes even counterfeit tokens. This period also saw the rise of banknotes in Ireland. The Irish bank tried to import Spanish and Mexican pesos, though the price of silver against gold varied too much to establish consistent value for the coins. The bank counterstruck the coins with a six shilling design; this was not a popular move, but did help to ease the economic tension for a little while. Production of tokens continued sporadically until 1813.

 

s-l1600 (1).jpgBy the early 1820’s, both Irish pennies and halfpennies as well as English currency were circulating in Ireland. In 1826, Irish currency was officially ended, and English currency alone was valid in Ireland until the founding of the Irish state in 1928. In 1926, the new Irish Free State established a coinage committee; famed poet William Butler Yeats served as chairman. The committee continued the use of the Irish harp as the symbol of the country, and the best choice for the obverse of the coin.

 

s-l1600The reverse of the coins would be dedicated to Irish animals, in tribute to the country’s largely agriculture. Some suggested Christian saints as the focus for the reverse designs, but it was feared that many coins would be turned into religious medals. Irish sculptors submitted designs to compete for a prize, with Percy Metcalf’s designs winning out. A very few designs by sculptor Publio Morbiducci were produced as well, before Metcalf’s designs became the standard. The coin reverses feature the woodcock (farthing), sow with piglets (halfpenny), hen with chicks (penny), hare (threepence), Irish wolfhound (sixpence), bull (shilling), salmon (florin), and horse (halfcrown). These coins are highly sought after by advanced and casual collectors, as their distinctive designs and charming animals are considered very attractive.

 

A ten shilling piece was introduced in 1966, and commemorates the Easter rising of 1916. It was not a popular coin, and all but 750,000 of the two million produced were melted. In 1969, Ireland adopted a decimal currency; the change was made to coincide with the decimalization of British coins, since both were in wide circulation in Ireland at the time. Both old and decimal currency circulated together for three days until the old coins were demonetized. The new decimal coins also adopted classic Irish designs and animals.

 

In 1999, Ireland adopted the Euro, and began to withdraw pound coins and notes in 2002.