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References Explain How Coins Dated
By Edward E. Cohen & Robert A. Levinson, World Coin News
December 19, 2013

This article was originally printed in World Coin News.
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We were gratified to read about Richard Giedroyc’s interest and tutorial on early dated coins appearing in the “World Coin Clinic,” December WCN. The article quoted liberally from Albert Frey’s nearly 100-year old book, Dated European Coinage Prior to 1501, and David Cervin’s slightly revised 1978 edition.

We have written to introduce the readers to our recently published (2011 and 2007) books that vastly extend the field of early-dated coins and correct many errors in Frey’s book: (1) Dated Coins of Antiquity (DCA) and (2) Early Dated Coins of Europe, 1234-1250 (EDCE). Googling these titles will bring up the many dealers selling these books. Covering the period well before modern numerals, DCA catalogs more than 6,000 ancient dated coins including photos of most dated types. EDCE easily doubles the listings by Frey, corrects over 100 major errors in Frey (many misreading medieval dates) and shows photos or drawings of nearly all of the approximately 1,200 early dated coin types.

An unanswered question at the heart of Mr. Giedroyc’s essay is “what is a dated coin?” Numerous articles have posed the closely related question, “Why put a date on a coin?” Most suggest that the mint used a date to monitor quality control, manage the workmanship or protect its product from counterfeiting. In truth, mints started placing dates on coins because they could. Three required technologies for recording a date on a coin coalesced between 600 and 500 B.C. in the Greek and Phoenician world: the means to measure time, a process for counting, and a notation to record the date.

People had useful calendars by 2500 B.C. – well before the development of coins in the 700s or 600s B.C. The Greeks received the alphabet from the Phoenicians about 800 or 700 B.C. Besides starting to record their great epics with an alphabet, the Greeks applied the ordering of the letters in developing rudimentary techniques for counting both time and money about 500 B.C., the time coincidental with the start of dates on Greek coins. The Phoenicians perfected their own number notation, based on counting fingers and toes, by 600 to 500 B.C. and started dating their coins in 393/392 B.C.

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Zankle in northern Sicily struck the first dated coin in 494/493 B.C. using Greek letters. An example from DCA for year (4), struck 491/490 B.C., is shown in Figure 1. The scourge of Roman numerals littering the titles of emperors and pretenders of Rome began on coins in the first century B.C. Following a dearth of numeral-dated coins in western Europe beginning in the third century A.D., the Arabs re-introduced Roman numerals to Spain on their dated gold solidi using the Anno Hegira (AH) calendar (such as ANNO XCIII for 93 A.H. – 712 A.D.).

Early medieval Indian civilization perfected our modern numerals (called positional numbers) over a 200-year period starting about 500 A.D. The first dated coin using positional numerals is a relatively common small silver coin of northern India, 418 A.H. (1027 A.D.), using the Hindu-Arabic style of numerals. The famous 1424 St. Gallen coin, cited by Mr. Giedroyc, is the first A.D. dated coin using an early form of Arabic (western) numerals of Europe. The photograph from EDCE appears in Figure 2.

All coins cited in Frey and Mr. Giedroyc’s essay plus thousands more are shown in DCA and EDCE and World Coin News readers will find them to be very useful.

Edward E. Cohen, Author, Dated Coins of Antiquity, Pennsylvania,

Robert A. Levinson, Author, The Early Dated Coins of Europe 1234-1500, Los Angeles,

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