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Roman Imperial coins generally have busts on the obverse that face right. At various times and for various reasons (usually unclear!) the bust of the emperor is shown facing left. These left facers are often scarce or downright rare depending upon the emperor and sought after by collectors.
In early Imperial times, it is believed that engravers would have worked from statues in the round. The engraver may have been free to choose where he worked from, or perhaps several engravers may have been working from the same statue so depending on where one was sitting, the resulting coin bust would have been left or right facing. The reign of Augustus is a good example of this diversity.
Later it is believed that a form of hubbing was introduced where a master-punch would have stamped a not necessarily complete portrait into a series of dies that would then be completed by hand. This would introduce a measure of consistency into the process and presumably right facing busts became the preferred ideal. Why this happened is unclear. It may simply be that, in the same way people read from left to right, they tended to “draw” people from left to right.
By the time of the Severans, virtually all busts were right facing. During the mid third century left facing busts began to reappear but (apart from Probus) in relatively small numbers. This is a rare type for Aurelian.
One reason for showing the bust facing left is to indicate a consular or martial purpose, hence the bust will often be shown wearing consular robes and holding a sceptre or helmeted with a spear and shield. This type is relatively common in the reign of Probus and continues into the Tetrarchic and Constantinian periods. This coin of Probus is a relatively common consular style bust.
Following the currency reforms of Diocletian, left facing busts on the large folles are scarce but at times become relatively common. This coin of Constantius as Caesar is rare and not listed in Roman Imperial Coinage (RIC). It was minted at Trier in either AD 298 or 299 and although not helmeted, is clearly a military bust as demonstrated by the spear and shield. At the time of this issue Constantius was busy resisting an invasion on the Rhine and was himself wounded in action.
Later the left facing helmeted military busts of Constantine from London during the right star issue (c. AD 311) can be relatively abundant comprising around 10% of the issue found in hoards.
All coins shown above are currently offered for sale in the Hookmoor VCoins store and further updates to this blog entry will be made over the next few weeks.
At first sight a nice example of RIC VI (London) 177, Huvelin 51 with a laureate helmeted left facing bust, spear over right shoulder, shield on left arm. But wait a minute – no laurels on the laureate helmet and it’s not a plain helmet either! So a plain band around the helmet ……….
I have seen a couple of other examples of this type of “band” from these issues of London and wasn’t quite sure what to make of them.
Chatting with a colleague last weekend (not many visitors at the Harrogate show because of the snow!) we were wondering whether the engraver may have forgotten to put on the laurel leaves. Then we spotted the second image in a DNW auction catalogue where it seems that just one pair of the laurel leaves has been forgotten revealing the plain band beneath.
Maybe this might just explain these rare plain band types ……..
I had also considered whether it might be a radiate helmet and that the engraver had forgotten to add the sun’s rays. However, on this radiate example below, one can see that the other helmet decoration seems to be planned around the rays. On my original example the decoration covers that part of the helmet and doesn’t take account of any forthcoming rays – forgotten or not.
This blog entry originally appeared elsewhere in May 2010 as “A Unique Dated Coin of Constantine from London!”. Recently, two further examples have come to light and so it was felt useful to post a revised version here.
The second consulship of Constantine and Licinius (COS II) began on the first of January AD 312 and this coin, struck to commemorate it, was originally described by Mionnet and later repeated by Cohen (#397):
“P. M. TR. P. COS. II. P. P. Femme assise sur une double corne d’abondance, tenant un bâton de le main droite; dans le champ, un astre, a l’exergue PLN. (1065; de J.C. 312.) Mionnet P. B. 30 frs.”
Maurice included the coin in “Numismatique Constantinienne” (1908-12) but it was later omitted from RIC presumably because of the incomplete description and doubts as to its existence.
In the 1980s Pierre Strauss rediscovered this coin in the Musée de la Moeda de Lisbonne (“Museum of Money”) and describes it as follows:
Ob. CONSTANTINVS P F AVG Laureate and cuirassed bust right.
Rev. P.M.TR.C-OS.II.P.P. Young person, diademned, sitting left on two entwined cornucopiae. Cloak over left shoulder, horn full of fruits in left arm, right hand raised holding a sceptre. In the exergue PLN, star in the left field. 4.00g. (inventory no. 2952).
A unique coin and a very rare dated type for Constantine that firmly links the star in left field issue to AD 312 but probably raises questions as to when the issue started and how long did it last. One could argue that this dated coin was likely to have been produced in late AD 311 to commemorate the start of the consulship. Other coins of this issue produced to commemorate the victory at the Milvian Bridge (28th October 312) and the return of Rome suggest that it continued towards the end of AD 312. Added to this we have the weight reduction that takes place during this issue. Huvelin includes this coin and discusses the dating of the star in left field and the star in right field issues in her article in Numismatische Zeitschrift.
A further example of this coin was found near Acle in Norfolk (UK) in late 2012 and is recorded on the PAS database here: http://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/534674
As would befit a London bus route, in January 2013, a third example turned up and was discussed in an online discussion group here: http://www.forumancientcoins.com/board/index.php?topic=85446.0
All three coins are from the same reverse die so I would imagine that this unusual type was produced from a solitary die. Formal publication of the Norfolk specimen is expected shortly by Dr Adrian Marsden of the Norwich Castle Museum. However, in the meantime it is clear that the description of the reverse should properly read, “Emperor seated on a curule chair”. A standard type for commemorating an imperial consulship.
Huvelin, H. “Les deux émissions londoniennes”, Numismatische Zeitschrift 1990, p.29-50 pl.VI-XV.
Strauss, P. “Un Nouveau Nummus de Constantin 1st Frappé à Londres”, Mélanges de Numismatique in honour of Pierre Bastien, Wetteren 1987, pp. 181-185, pl.13. (see images above).
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