How Were Ancient Coins Produced?
Coins as currency have been issued around the globe since the 6th century B.C. It is up for debate as to which civilization was the first to do so, but one thing is for sure. That is that the process of coin production was very different then than it is now. The metal content within the coins over the years changed along with the techniques, and each nation and civilization offered uniqueness in the overall production process.
The earliest coins dating back to 6th century B.C. have been discovered in abundance to be made of a Gold and Silver alloy known as Electrum. Alloys were often used to minimize corrosion and provide a greater physical strength to the coin. Coins in ancient times were often struck with the profiles of royalty and great leaders, or scenes displaying power. The Lydian stater is one of the earliest coins discovered and is pictured below depicting a confrontation between a lion and a bull.
Some of the coins most appealing to collectors today are those of the ancient Romans. Romans began coin production around 326 B.C. The most prevalent of their coinage is the Denarius, which served as the primary Roman currency for more than 400 years. The Denarius, like most coins of its time, was composed of Gold, Silver and Bronze. Romans used mainly Silver and Bronze in their coinage. The Gold Denarius piece was equal to 25 Silver pieces.
Ancient Chinese civilization used mainly Copper and iron in their coin production. These coins represented several dynasties. They did use Silver coins as well but not to the extent of Copper and iron. Also around this time, the Chinese began to use deerskin notes, an early adoption of a later Chinese invention, paper currency.
During the medieval period, tools, processes and coin demand improved and increased. The system of coin production in England was huge, as there were 25 different royal issuers of coins, more than 200 active mints and more than 1,600 coin types. Coins from this region and others during this time were overwhelmingly produced from Silver.
- Anvil bench
- Obverse and reverse dies
Metal casting and smithing is a staple of most ancient and medieval civilizations. The process is a skill that many spent years perfecting. Coinage requires even more skill and involves a system of artists, apprentices and journeyman blacksmiths. The process would begin with the casting or hammering of oven-heated metal into round blank coins. These blanks were handled with tongs and usually carried by an apprentice to the more experienced striker of the coin. The striker then utilized two dies, typically made of iron or bronze. Each die featured one of the desired coin imprints, one for the coin’s obverse, or front, and one for the reverse. These are the most important tools in the process and carry with them an entire system of artists dedicated to their production, as an experienced blacksmith could use up to 1,000 dies per year.
The blank was placed between the two dies and struck to imprint the design onto the coin. A good smithing operation could produce around 20,000 strikes in one day. Perhaps even more impressive is that at the height of the Denarii, the ancient Romans were able to produce 17 million per year.