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Tuesday, July 24, 2018


As more and more people are drawn into numismatics, the very first thing everyone seizes upon is "quality" as reflected by numerical grades.

In the modern era - let's say starting with the invention of the coin press in the 17th century, a great uniformity was brought to coinage.  One coin or medal would look substantially like another - except for the state of preservation.

For these modern coins and medals therefore it is logical to seek out the finest numerical grade, reflecting the highest state of preservation.

But before that, when coins and medals were hand struck - the skill of those striking the coin or medal often had more to do with the overall attractiveness of the piece than the overall state of preservation.

This can be seen most clearly in medieval coinage where something might receive a high mint state grade, but because of a blundered strike - or a terribly worn die - is is offensive to the eye.

Many an MS 61 or an AU 55 is far more pleasing than and MS 63 when it comes to, for example the common Chaise D'or.

One simple device in judging such a coin is the face of the King.  A faceless King in MS 66 will never receive a bid from a more sophisticated collector.  A beautifully struck King with a little chatter in the legend might receive an MS 61 and still be considered to be a superlative piece.
France: Phillippe VI (1328-1350) gold Pavillon d'or MS64 NGC

Above are two coins of the same grade but the coin below is so far the superior in terms of strike that they are really not at all comparable.

Going back farther to Ancient Coins - style becomes by far the most important factor to the more sophisticated collector.  Of course, great historical significance plays an important role too.  But treating coins as one would any art work, STYLE must be the first consideration.

But how does one judge style?  Everyone's taste is different.  Graded coins, for example often receive a Fine Style notation, reflecting the judgement of the Grader.  Obviously this person's judgement may be quite different from yours.

To complicate matters, NGC grades style not only on the skill of the dies cutter, but on how well the skill has been preserved on a particular coin.  So State of Preservation and Style become conflated.

To some extent that is fair.  You have to have a well preserved piece to appreciate the style.  And obviously when you're  you're a grader Wear looks ugly. But when you're simply one who appreciates beautiful style, wear may not be so important.

To those who want to learn to appreciate style, Two major consideration will far more important than preservation will always be :

1) How Much Personality shines through the features of a portrait?

Does the King or God or Goddess or Hero appear to radiate human - or divine characteristics?  Do they resonate with our own sensibilities and emotions?  Does the portrait make you feel something - if only a appreciation for timeless beauty?

Ancients:Greek, Ancients: THRACIAN KINGDOM. Lysimachus (305-281 BC). AV stater(19mm, 8.44 gm, 12h). NGC MS 5/5 - 3/5, Fine Style....

Though both these portraits have received fine style designations the portrait above  portrays a noble and beautiful young man (Alexander) at the height of magnetic power.  It is clear why thousands were inspired to follow this hero into battle.  The portrait below, though perhaps rendered by an adept hand  is entirely devoid of human or divine characteristic.

2) How ingenious is the overall composition of the piece?  Many archaic electrum pieces, for example may appear crude but may aslo exhibit a brilliance in using the space of the flan to present a mythic being or scene.  Just as the space on the reverse ot the signed Tetrdrachms, is absoultely brilliantly used though most of the quadriga scenes appear to be nearly identical.

Ancients: SICILY. Syracuse. Time of Dionysius I (405-367 BC). AR decadrachm (31mm, 43.47 gm, 8h). NGC AU 5/5 - 4/5, Fine...

Two very different but brilliant fine style compositions

If you start with these two consideration you will be along way towards generating you own appreciation of style..

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