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Test Cuts and Banker's Marks


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In the thread on "Collecting Themes" the question of test cuts and banker's marks came up.


We have the coins. We can see the cuts. We can see the punches. I have posted one with a cut, a stater from Sinope. (see http://mysite.verizon.net/jcarney44/coins/marotta.html and the article "The Crime of Diogenes," The Celator, May 1999). I own another, with a banker's mark, a little quinarius (half denarius), issued by Cato (Marcus Porcius Cato), the Roman republican who took his life at Utica. That banker's mark is not much different from the "chop marks" (or shroff marks) known on Spanish silver dollars and other coins that circulated in 18th and 19th century China. The test cut is another problem, entirely.


I heartily recommend that anyone who thinks they have an opinion on this to first experiment with cutting and stamping coins. It is not trivial. You might think it is easy. If so, try it.


By analogy, there was a project about 20-25 years ago to recreate the voyages of Odysseus and Jason. British archaeologists build exact replicas of ancient Greek ships and got some athletic lads to row them. Well, that worked for about five minutes. Seriously, the best they could do was a 7-minute stint, which required extra guys recuperating to take the place of the guys worn out after seven minutes. Obviously, the Greeks did not do it that way! However they did do it, we don't have the technique today. So, too with test cuts and banker's marks.


That said, we do know a few things. (more later)

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I heartily recommend that anyone who thinks they have an opinion on this to first experiment with cutting and stamping coins.  It is not trivial.  You might think it is easy.  If so, try it.


It's not clear if you're suggesting that people take a chisel to a coin to learn about test cuts. I'd suggest this isn't a good idea, for three reasons. First, doing so with an ancient coin today wouldn't be the same as doing it when the coin was minted, as silver inevitably becomes embrittled over time. Second, doing so with a modern coin would require getting the alloy and thickness right. A 1964 quarter has a lot more copper than most ancient Greek silver coins, and is harder as a result. A silver American Eagle bullion coin is closer, but still much thinner than the vast majority of ancient Greek coins. A modern replica would be closest, provided the alloy was right. Third, test cutting in ancient times was in all likelihood a specialized craft, as was die making and minting. Occasionally somebody writes an article today where he tries to replicate these ancient techniques and then draws conclusions from his efforts. But what's typically ignored is that those who did this in ancient times likely served apprentices before engaging in their craft with hundreds if not thousands of coins. You can't replicate this today unless you do something on a similar scale.

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