For What It’s Worth – January/February/March 2019

At a recent show, a young couple walked by my table and perused the items that I had on display and walked on without comment.  I thought little of it. They returned a while later when no one was at my table and they pointed out the coin pictured below and said, ” Are you saying that coin, is almost 2,000 years old, and that it is genuine? It looks like it was made yesterday.” These folks were new to coin shows and it was a question that deserved some explanation.

The coin in question is a Roman silver denarius struck by the Emperor Antoninus Pius, who reigned from 138 until 161, it was made in honour of his late wife, the deified Faustian the Elder who died in 141. The obverse features a portrait with the legend DIVA FAVSTINA, and as you can see it is in truly remarkable condition. It is what we would describe as Mint State (MS) or, in Europe, Fleur de coin (FDC). This is not a rare coin by any stretch, an average condition example could be purchased for $100 or less. It is quite rare to see one in this state of preservation so it begs the question “How is that possible?”

My explanation was that back in ancient times, there were no banks or financial institutions, per se, so the best method of safeguarding valuables was to bury them. Soldiers going into battle were known to bury their belongings and, if anything happened to them, those items were sometimes found centuries later. Many coin hoards found over the years were buried in pots or jars, often sealed and protected from the elements. Coin hoards can often be dated by observing the coins in the best state of preservation as being perhaps, the most recent.

This particular coin was likely buried around 142 and it had just been struck, it came out of the ground just as it went in. This is how it is possible to find ancient coins in near perfect condition and also accounts for their relative rarity and value. The denarius shown would sell for about $1000.

Happy New Year and Happy Hunting!

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