Ancient Greek & Roman Coins

Grading and Describing Ancient Coins

Conditions of Manufacture

Ancient coins were struck with varying degrees of excellence. Some mints exercised excellent quality control so nearly every coin was perfect when it left the mint. Others worked in such a haphazard manner that a well struck, well centered specimen is a great rarity. Flan preparation, alloy mixing, die condition and pure luck all conspired to make each coin an individual effort.
The following table addresses conditions that have existed on the coin since the moment of striking. These factors do not change as result of the passage of time but some of their signs can wear away. In low grade coins it is hard to tell the fullness of the strike. Many coins will require separate grading and description for each side.

Conditions of Manufacture

F Well Centered
Titus sestertius
Ancient coins are frequently slightly off center. It can be worthy of note when a coin is struck well centered on a perfectly round flan.

VF Off Center
Alexander the Great tetradrachm
Small degrees of poor centering are not usually noted. However this should be described when important design or legends are lost.

VF Small flan
Septimius Severus denarius
Unofficial mint
This coin was struck on a small flan losing most legends.

VF Bold
Septimius Severus denarius
Laodicea mint
Coins boldly struck on large flans show (very nearly) a full border of dots and every letter is sharp.

VF Boardwalk flan
Numerian antoninianus
This coin was struck with ‘boardwalk’ margins on an oversize flan.

VF Incuse square
Rhodes hemidrachm
Some Greek reverses were made with the design on a square punch.

aVF Wide flan with weak centers
Gordian III antoninianus
Many coins on wide flans were softly struck in the centers (here the ear) due to the excessively thin flan. There was not enough metal for either side.

aVF Flat spot opposite head
Numerian antoninianus
When the flan was thin and hammer force weak there could be a void in the reverse design where the metal went into the portrait. This coin shows a void on the legs of the figure.

F Soft
Vabalathus antoninianus
Antioch mint
This coin shows little wear but has mushy details from a soft strike or a worn die.

VF Ragged flan
Septimius Severus denarius
Some flans were not round and smooth. Some collectors discriminate against these coins. Take care to distinguish this from a chipped flan.

F Squared flan
Marcus Aurelius sestertius
Some flans seem to have been cut from larger pieces and have squared shape. Much legend is lost on such coins.

aEF Normal strike
Septimius Severus denarius
Laodicea mint (early) Fortuna rx.
This coin is well struck on full, normal flan. Design, other than the border, is complete if not well centered.

VF Legend weakness
Allectus antoninianus
There is an area of striking weakness but not to a bothersome degree. Frequently this will show only in a few letters of the legend. Few dealers will bother to mention this condition.

VF Filled die
Septimius Severus denarius
Foreign material in the die could erase some letters and leave others bold.

aVF Minor striking cracks
Septimius Severus denarius
Most coins have one or more minor edge cracks which have little effect on value

aVF Severe striking crack
Gordian III sestertius
Even this severe flan crack does not involve important details but reduces value due to its extreme nature.

VF Die break/crack
Gordian III antoninianus
The line running across the forehead is the result of a crack in the die.

VG Die cud
Aegina stater
More extreme die damage shows when a piece of the die is missing and produces lumps on the coin. To the left of the turtle is a die cud, not a part of the design.

F Uneven strike with flat areas
Constantius Gallus centenionalis
Siscia mint Spearing rx.
This example is unevenly struck to a distracting degree with loss of significant details at the top the Roman soldier’s body.

F Uneven flat strike
Domitian dupondius Barbarous mint
This coin is poorly struck to an extreme. It is half flat but earns points by retaining the face.

F Even flat strike
Hadrian sestertius If the strike is even but just not hard enough to transfer all detail we see the high points (here around ear) completely lacking in detail with good detail on the nearby areas (hair and beard). Wear would have lost detail more evenly across the field. This coin is hard to grade fairly. It looks better than a worn Fine but lacks the detail needed to grade higher.

VF Casting voids
Septimius Severus AE 32
Amasia, Pontus Eagle/Wall rx.
Flan flaws (of manufacture!) detract from the appearance of the coin. The example shows flan casting voids severe enough they were not erased by striking.

VF Flan flaws
Postumus double sestertius
A combinination of a casting void and raised foreign matter inclusions in the alloy ruins this portrait.

VF Crude
Severus Alexander AE20 Nicaea
Some coins are notably more poorly produced than others of their type. Many are from unofficial mints.

VF Flow lines
Septimius Severus denarius
Some dies show lines that radiate out from details. This can be from die wear or striking irregularity.

VF Casting sprue
Istros cast AE14
Coins that were cast rather than struck from dies can show remnants of the sprue where metal entered the mold.

F Flan casting sprue
Alaisa AE22
These can also appear on struck coins made on cast blanks but are often ersaed by striking.

VG Double Struck
Constantius II centenionalis
When a flan shifted between blows of the hammer, doubling resulted. Minor doubling is undesirable but extreme examples are collected as mint errors.

F Overstruck
Heraclius follis
Some coins were struck on older issues often leaving legible parts of the undertype.

VG Flipover doublestrike
Claudius II antoninianus Pax rx.
Even normal ancient coins show variety that would be considered errors on modern coins but sometimes this can be of an extreme nature. These coins were struck twice flipping over between the two strikes.

F Flipover doublestrike
Septimius Severus denarius Mars rx.

F Centration Dimple
Gordian III AE28
Nicopolis ad Istrum
This is NOT a fault. Some Greek Imperial mints smoothed flan surfaces on a machine that left a shallow hole in the center of the flan. These vary in size and depth but must be present on these issues.

F Centration Dimple
Ptolemy II AE46
The same technique was used on some Hellenistic bronzes.

F Brockage
Septimius Severus denarius
If a coin stuck in the reverse die, the next coin struck would show an incuse, reversed design of the obverse

F Clashed dies
Julia Domna denarius Venus rx.
Dies struck without a blank between could damage a die leaving a incuse design along with the normal for the rest of the life of that die.

F Incuse design
Kroton, Bruttium, stater
A few coins were intentionally designed with the design recessed into the coin surface rather than raised. This is NOT a fault.

VF Layout circle
Septimius Severus denarius
Emesa mint Bonus Eventus rx.
Early strikes from fresh dies often show layout lines on which the legends were cut.

F Flan file marks
Alexandria Troas AE20
Some flans were filed flat before striking. A weak strike might fail to erase these marks.

VF Adjustment marks
M. Volteius denarius
To lessen the weight of overweight flans, a scoop of silver was sometimes removed from Republican denarii flans before striking.

VF Serrate edge
C. Sulpicius denarius
Some coins were issued with notched edged to discourage trimming of silver or to show the interior of the coin. This is NOT a fault.

F ‘Bottle cap’ edge
Other fancy edges were cast into the flan blanks for certain issues. This may have been to make counterfeiting more difficult.

These are by no means all of the factors of coin manufacture to consider when grading ancient coins. Please let me know what conditions I should add to this list.
It is hoped that these examples will make you think about what makes a coin appealing,
attractive or desirable and cause you to lighten up a bit when criticising dealers who have to grade using the woefully inadequate current grading system.

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(c) 1997 – 2011 Doug Smith

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