Robert Scot, was born in Scotland in 1745. After training as a watchmaker, engraver and receiving an education from the University of Edinburgh, he immigrated to the United States. In 1775 he resided in Fredericksburg, Virginia where he engraved currency plates for Virginia State currency. In 1780, he moved to Richmond and assumed a role as engraver to the State of Virginia, where he worked under Governor Thomas Jefferson. In this capacity, he engraved the dies for the Virginia Happy While United medals given to Native American chiefs as tokens of peace.
After the British burned Richmond in early 1781, Scot moved to Philadelphia where he established himself as an accomplished engraver. During the next 12 years, Scot would be responsible for engraving currency, maps, and scientific illustrations and is the probable engraver of The Great Seal of The United States. He also established himself as an American patriot. In November of 1793, he was commissioned engraver at the Philadelphia Mint. In that capacity he produced designs for the Flowing Hair coinage, Draped Bust coinage, and the 1795 and 1796 Capped Bust gold issues. He also engraved the dies for the Thomas Jefferson Indian Peace medal and the Thomas Truxton medal. In 1807, assistant engraver John Reich was hired and assumed the lion’s share of the work thereafter; however, Scot would retain the main engraver position until his death. As the engraver of the United States’ first silver coins, Scot’s legacy remains in our nation’s coinage to the present day. Outside of his work within the Mint, his book engravings helped a burgeoning publication industry within the United States throughout the 1790s.
From the dawn of civilization humankind has bartered and traded with neighbors to better their status. The early mediums of trade are now artifacts and in the present day they are the focus of bartering rather than the means. The field of numismatics – the study of coinage – which focuses on these archaic forms is colloquially known as Ancients. Ancient coins provide collectors and historians with a link to the mythologies and stories of the past. The coins of Classical Athens revere the patron deity Athena, and include her animal companion and modern symbol of wisdom, the owl. This is but one of thousands of designs attributed to this specialty. While the sheer scope of ancient coinage may be daunting to the uninitiated, with some insight and organization the field becomes more manageable. To assist in this organization, ancient coins are typically divided into three categories; Greek, Roman and Byzantine.
Coinage included in the Greek category was not necessarily minted within the area we now know as Greece, nor does it fall into one particular time period. The easiest definition of Greek coinage is anything that was minted before the rise of Rome or that was minted outside of its borders during its duration. From many different kingdoms and city states, from Asia Minor and the Middle East to the British Isles and for about 1,000 years, coins were minted with images of Greek deities, heroes and creatures from their mythology. Whether the coins can be traced to the trading ports of Ionia, the artistic triumphs of the Hellenistic cities of Athens, Corinth and Magna Graecia, or to the revolutionary conqueror Alexander the Great, they all offer deep historical interest with many holding great value to collectors, scholars and museums. Some of the most renowned ancient coinage hails from the city-state of Syracuse on the island of Sicily. The standard style for the larger silver pieces of Syracuse features a charioteer driving a quadriga while the winged goddess of Victory (Nike) flies above and crowns the driver or horses. The reverse design for these usually displays the river deity Arethusa surrounded by small dolphins indicating her immersion in water. These large Decadrachms exhibit some of the most well executed classical engravings found on coins.
At the greatest extent of the Roman Empire the Mediterranean Sea was sometimes called the “Latin Lake,” as the Romans controlled the entirety of the land surrounding it. This level of influence over the world also manifested in their coinage. That influence persists to this day as the iconography, words and even titles of a great deal of modern coinage owes something to the Romans. Most Roman coinage features the bust of an important individual (the personification of Rome or later, the Emperor), while the reverse usually shows a quick bit of propaganda (the empire’s latest military victory is a frequently encountered design). Coins featuring the Emperor’s likeness and a reminder that he personally supplied Rome with grain from Egypt went a long way to securing the approval of the populace. The coinage of Rome also allowed for far-flung provinces and outposts to feel connected to the hub of the Empire, and indeed a great many citizens and subjects only glimpsed their emperor as he appeared on coinage. The people of the empire also learned about the emperor’s glory and renown by examining the coins, which occasionally showed the enemies of the empire and rebel kings kneeling in subjugation. The grandeur of Imperial Rome created a numismatic legacy that allows collectors today to connect with that storied past. The collecting of Roman coins has spanned many centuries and has inspired passionate study and research. Like the coinage of the Greeks, the coinage of the Romans offers many avenues for collecting and research, keeping the coins in constant demand.
The Christian successors to the Roman Empire are known as the Byzantines and their coinage began with reforms initiated by the emperor Anastasius around the year 500 A.D. in the city of Constantinople (present day Istanbul). The Byzantine era continued on until the fifteenth century when the empire was finally conquered by the Ottoman Turks. Byzantine coins were issued over a long period of time and offer a great opportunity, as there is a great wealth of gold Solidi coins to be collected. With biblical iconography included on nearly all coins, the Byzantine series shows the clear passage of history in Europe from the polytheistic pantheons of Greek and Roman gods to the dawning of the Judeo-Christian era.
Collectively these three fields comprise the field of ancient coinage as the numismatic world understands it. All three groups share similarities, but each possesses its own nuances. Some collectors find a broad swath to collect while others specialize, but all certainly appreciate the wealth of history these coins represent. Each coin potentially tells a story of the local people and their beliefs, a tale of conquering armies, or displays a symbol of faith. These stories continue to influence the world we live in and collecting these pieces of history can enrich your appreciation and understanding of the modern world.
The rich numismatic history of China spans nearly four millennia and encompasses much more than just coins. Some of the earliest mediums of exchange included cowrie shells and bone or bronze imitations thereof during the Shang Dynasty (ca. 1766-1154 B.C.). These were highly regarded and valuable objects. Other means of currency included cast ingots called Sycee from a multitude of localities in various shapes, sizes and metals. Other cast monies came in a plethora of shapes and sizes from cash coinage to spades to knives primarily in bronze, but some made from iron as well. The earliest collectable banknote of the world also hails from China. Produced during the beginning of the Ming Dynasty (A.D. 1368-1644) these were made from mulched mulberry bark in multiple denominations, though the only readily available denomination is the 1 Kuan or 1,000 cash (the largest denomination from this series).
It wasn’t until the middle of the 19th century that the manufacturing of coins began to change, with modern minting equipment being installed at the Hong Kong mint while under British administration and the adoption of the decimal system. The Hong Kong mint produced its own coinage from 1866 to 1868 and operated at a loss, after which it was shut down and the minting equipment sold off. Near the close of the 19th century provincial mints began producing coinage of a somewhat standardized design based on the weight of a Tael and its derivatives.
The obverse motif depicts a stylized Chinese dragon among clouds with English legends of the province name above and denomination below. The reverse consists of Manchu and Chinese characters stating the era, province and denomination. Each mint made its coinage distinct. At the time the Kwangtung mint was opened and in full production, it was one of the largest mints in the world. After the revolution of 1911 coinage moved away from the provincial mints and toward one central mint at Tientsin, Hupeh Province. Throughout the 20th century improvements and declines in the political and economic sphere, are reflected in the coinage. Issues depicting the self-proclaimed Emperor Yuan Shih-kai and national hero Dr. Sun Yat-sen (among other national and political figures) can be seen on numerous different types and denominations struck in gold, silver and copper alloys.
In the 36 years before the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War (known as World War II in the west), there were two major political parties, the Kuomintang and the Communists. Both issued coinage while fighting against each other, but set their differences aside after the Japanese invaded the Manchurian Provinces in northern China and installed a puppet government. During this time the national capital moved from Beijing to Chongqing, then still part of Sichuan Province. After the war, fighting between the Kuomintang and Communists continued resulting in the Kuomintang fleeing to Taiwan where they set up a provisional government. Before the Communists gained total control they established the People’s Bank of China on December 1, 1948, which began issuing a unified currency, the Yuan (the precursor of the Renminbi). Prior to Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward, national coinage began production in 1955 and is still issued to the present day.
The last decades of the 20th century to the present saw the production of coinage not intended for circulation though retaining legal tender status. Special Mint and Proof coinage was issued as singles and in sets. The quantity of Modern commemoratives and other special issues is staggering and these are very heavily collected. The more recognizable issues of this series depict iconic Panda’s (1982-present), Lunar Zodiac animals (1981-present) and mythical Chinese Unicorns (1994-1997). These are struck in Gold, Silver, Platinum, Palladium and Copper alloys in various weights and denominations.
The vast field of Chinese numismatics encompasses many different methods and technologies of manufacture. Recognizing this helps to understand the complexity of the different series, from cast Sycee ingots to modern commemoratives. Collectors of Chinese numismatics items tend to specialize in their fields of interest, though some branch out and collect related areas. Whether you have one item or an entire collection, if you would like to learn more about the value and history of what you possess, contact one of our Foreign Numismatic Specialists.
Throughout history and in every corner of the globe, people have used some form of exchange with an inherent or agreed-upon value to form systems of trade and economic structure. Everything from humble carved stones to large pieces of precious metal emblazoned with works of great artistry has been used. The study and collecting of these objects makes up the field of world numismatics. However, numismatics is not just about a coin as a physical object but also encompasses all of the fascinating things coins can tell about the people who used them and the world in which they were used. Coins tell us how people bought their daily bread, how soldiers were paid, what government they lived under and served, and what they held most sacred. Coins tell us what victories had been recently achieved, how long monarchs reigned and show the decline of kingdoms and empires. Even the manner by which they were produced portrays the onward march of technology and an ever-increasing level of sophistication. It is these insights into history that drive the interest and passion of the coin collector. Numismatics has been the hobby of kings and the profession of laymen. With the entire world as a field of study there is a multitude of niches and facets in which to immerse yourself. While the vast panorama of world coins may seem daunting at first, there are major themes seen on coinage and simple methods of determining the origin of world coins.
Coins of Europe are frequently encountered due to a centuries-long production span and worldwide spread through colonialism and international trade. Coin collecting has been a pastime in Europe since the Renaissance and as such thousands of different types are sought after; the most spectacular and rare pieces can realize millions of dollars at auction. As with many technological and artistic traditions the minting and design of coins in Europe borrowed from the Roman Empire, specifically the use of a ruler’s portrait for the obverse (“heads”) side and varying imagery on the reverse (“tails”) side. Though this style was not universal, a vast majority of coins utilized this format and also integrated lettering in Latin using abbreviations to extol the titles and holdings of the personage in whose name it was struck. Starting in the 15th century of the Christian era numeric dates began appearing on coins making for even easier identification, although this was not universally adopted until a few centuries later. By using a combination of the monarch on the obverse and whatever date is on the coin you can begin to narrow your search to where that monarch ruled and had coinage minted. Certain areas can certainly be more difficult to identify than others, the various Italian and German states specifically leap to mind, but overall the major powers of Britain, France, Spain and even Scandinavia and Russia used essentially this format. As always there are exceptions. For example, in the cantons of Switzerland where there was no ruling monarch, coins were minted with icons or heraldry of the canton alluding to their places of origin.
The coinage of the New World, due to its mass colonization by European powers (particularly Spain), has a numismatic legacy very closely tied to its forebears. Through vast explorations and system of colonies, Spanish conquistadors and their successors discovered rich veins of precious metals throughout what would become known as Latin America. Wherever they established regional capitals, mints were built to produce coins in the name of the king who ruled the land from afar. These mints were identified by a specific monogram or mintmark. No other colonizing power produced coinage in the New World as zealously as the Spanish. From Mexico all the way down to Chile, the continents were dotted with mining and minting operations striking coins in silver and gold, most of which were loaded onto galleons and shipped back to Spain. Most well known of the coins produced was the 8 Reales referred to in literary works as the “Piece of eight.” The early 8 Reales, the gold 8 Escudos and their fractional denominations were cut from the ends of rolled bars of refined metal, adjusted to ensure they were of a proper weight and were then struck with two dies. One side showed the arms of Spain and the other a large cross. The somewhat irregular and sometimes lumpy looking pieces are known as “Cobs” from the phrase “Cabo de Barra” or “End of the Bar.” During the first half of the 18th century more advanced minting technology was brought to the New World mints and they began striking Columnarios. These were also known as Pillar Dollars as they featured the crowned Pillars of Hercules and two half globes alluding to the now worldwide empire that Spain had established. These coins were a more standard round shape and thickness and were of far nicer artistic quality than earlier pieces. After roughly a half century, the Columnarios were phased out and replaced by the style of European coins discussed above; a bust of the monarch is seen on one side with title and legends surrounding, and the arms of Spain on the other side. This style of coins persisted until the opening decades of the 19th century when Spain began to lose its New World colonies and the fledgling independent nations minted coins in their own right. These nations adopted different motifs and styles based on regional affinities but common among nearly all of them is the symbol of liberty. Sometimes this is in the form of a female, sometimes in the icon of a Phrygian cap. Identification of these coins is made easier by the use of Spanish rather than Latin in the legends and inscriptions, and the tendency to use the new country’s name on the coins. It would be wrong to assume that the entirety of New World coinage can be traced to the Spanish. Portuguese kings established a huge dominion in what is now Brazil and struck vast quantities of silver and gold coins at the mints of Bahia and Rio de Janeiro that are similar to the European format. The Caribbean is numismatically rich and offers some of the most interesting coinage found in the New World. While coins were not locally produced on the various islands, coinage from other colonies was altered by punching holes in the coins to lower their intrinsic value and keep them from leaving a particular island.
The rest of the world does not fall easily into one category, but offers a panorama of numismatic interest. Islamic empires in the Middle East conquered great swaths of territory from India all the way across northern Africa to Spain. Everywhere new kingdoms were forged coins were struck. Like it did in Europe, Islamic coinage adopted new styles and forms reflecting different areas and different peoples. While Islamic coins, which bear virtually no images and have inscriptions in Arabic or dialect thereof, can be difficult for even devoted western numismatists to decipher, they have a devoted following among collectors. Additionally, despite being many centuries old, Islamic coins are among some of the most beautiful and high quality gold coins in the world.
Beyond the world of Islam, many places in the world did not produce coins in the sense that we know them until the arrival of Europeans or the modern era. Much of the numismatic legacy of Africa, southeastern Asia and the Pacific coincides with the rise of imperialism and global trade routes. However, these areas have their own fascinating numismatic histories, which go well beyond the realm of typical coinage. The Kingdom of Thailand has a strong numismatic tradition of traded metal objects that goes back easily a millennia with their most common medium of exchange being the “Bullet Money” of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. These pieces were so named as they bear some resemblance to a musket ball, with a piece of metal folded back on itself into a roughly spherical shape and then stamped with dynastic marks designating the king under whom they were made. After prolonged contact with the west, Thai coinage was standardized in the latter half of the 19th century, with the Asian elephant being the central motif on nearly all of their coinage for about 50 years. In modern Micronesia, the tiny island of Yap is home to one of the most astonishing items of currency in the world. Belonging to what is generally known as Odd and Curious Money the traditional medium of exchange on Yap Island was large stones. In fact these aren’t stones at all but a form of quartzite which were quarried on Palau and then brought to Yap where their value was determined by not only their size but by how many people may have died to bring them to the island. Ranging in size from a few pounds to massive multi ton wheels standing ten or more feet high, they might not seem like coins but they were made for the clearing of debts public or private. Yap Stones may be the most well-known currency in the odd and curious category, but that term also applies to shell and tooth necklaces traded on Papua New Guinea, glass beads made in Europe and traded to indigenous peoples of western Africa and North America, boat-shaped silver ingots in China, or thin copper axe heads cast by pre-Columbian societies in Central America. All of these have been identified as items created for the storage or transfer of wealth and/or prestige and offer just as much insight into the humans who created and used them as the finest European gold coin.
While this is but the briefest and most cursory of overviews on world coins, we hope it has opened your eyes to the vast world of coinage enjoyed by collectors. Whether a person is driven to collect by artistic appreciation, historical fascination or just the itch to build a complete set, world numismatics can offer all of that and more. Additionally, the book of world coin knowledge is lengthy but is far from finished, and exciting new information and understanding is uncovered every year. We hope the above information has been helpful in your numismatic inquiry and we encourage you to continue your search for better understanding of your world coins. As with so many quests for knowledge, the journey can be more satisfying than the result. For more information please feel free to contact one of our world numismatics experts through this website.