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Dates on coins


Ætheling
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Not many often stop to consider this but i'll like to throw a crazy thought into the arena just to see what you think of it.

 

We're all used to coins with dates on, infact it seems quite logical and 'natural' to make a point of including the year of issue on a coin. I say 'natural' thusly because of course 'natural' is often that which is merely customary and what you're used to whether it be actually a fact of nature or not.

 

But if you think back to a time before coins had dates, and lets face it they had been produced many centuries without dates, so why did someone stop one day and think, 'oh lets put the year of issue on!'.

 

Afterall the year of issue would be clear to find as such things as distinguishing marks were included within the designs, these mintmarks would tell you where the coin was minted, which dies it came from, and in what time frame it was minted. This information was then recorded within court or manorial rolls or ecclesiastical registers, depending upon whether the mint was a temporal issuing authority or an ecclesiastical one. So if the people wanted to know all this info it was available.

 

Bearing in mind the vast majority of people were illiterate they would probably not be able to read the date on the coin anyhow, they had more important things to do anyhow such as ploughing fields.

 

Adding a date back then would be something akin to adding the month of issue onto a coin now, i.e June 2005 (whether all the coins bearing that were issued in June or not matters little since it could merely be the date the dies were commissioned and first used). I should think you'd all wonder, "well why bother adding the month? What's the point?"

 

Same as a 15th/16th century literate man would think, "why did they put the year on this? As if i need reminding?"

 

 

Oh and one final addition some coins were indeed issued with the month of issue on as well as that of the year. I'm thinking James II Gunmoney but i'm sure there are many other examples.

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Some early 1700s Russian gold coins had dates and months on them, but those are exceeding rare :ninja: I heard that some Irish copper coins had them too.

 

My best guess would be that, dates were placed as a checker against counterfeited coins. In "ancient" times, foreign coins could be considered as major rarieties. Of course, in the course of world coinage, counterfeiting coins existed almost all the time. At best, a counterfeiter or a mint could only hold very few samples of a single coin and counterfeit it, i.e. having very few samples to counterfeit from. But you know, it is probably easier to single out which year coins were much heavily counterfeited, i.e. the Swedish counterfeit copies of the Russian kopeks. There are only about 3 different Swedish counterfeit from out of span of 30 odd years or so in that 5 kopek coinage series...

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Late Roman Empire coins not only used a mint mark, but frequently marked the officina or workshop within the mint that manufactured the coin. Possibily, for accountability and quality control issues. Perhaps dating followed a similar trend.

 

I like coins with multiple dates, like this one. Looks like an 1870, but it's an 1873.

2p4st.jpg

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I think one of the reasons for dating coins was to distinguish their different values. For at the time that placing dates on coins began to be popular the value of a given coin was constantly changing. This was partly due to the fact that those who were striking the coins were changing metal content - weight and purity. So a coin of a given denomination of a certain date range may contain xx silver or gold while the same coin of another date range might contain xxx silver or gold.

 

Now it is highly unlikely that this is the only reason, but I rather think it did play a part.

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Aye but it's got you all thinking now though hasn't it.

 

I mean i really don't know, but now GD brings up that point about dating certain denominations that gets me thinking.

 

Firstly i think the first country to stick a date on must have done it for the novelty value and then they just kinda liked the idea.

 

However with the denomination twist. If i recall correctly in the Elizabethan period (dated coins in England had been around only 10 or so years when Elizabeth I came to the throne and was only used here and there), but Elizabeth I's reign was a very complex one coinage-wise, many coins were near the same size;

 

Halfpennies,

Pennies,

Half Groats,

Threepences,

Groats,

Sixpences,

Shillings

 

All of those coins went up in size by small degrees, indeed the halfgroat-sixpence denominations are confusion itself. The way to distinguish was that Threepences and Sixpences had a rose put behind the Queen's head and on the reverse they were dated. Groats and Halfgroats lacked the roses and were undated. So maybe they used dates to make different denominations easier to identify from similar sized different denominations with exactly the same design.

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Much of what has appeared above is speculation. The coin guys are all close to correct, but most of the above is wrong. There is no point in guessing when the answers are in books.

 

Until about 400 BC, most people did not count "years." They did not even name all of the months or seasons. For thousands of years, Orion and Leo were the only important constellations. As late as 100 BC to 100 AD, the Roman zodiac had 10 then 11 constellations before it had a nice even 12. (The Chinese and Japanese did not even perceive "constellations" but that is another topic.)

 

About 400 BC and forward, two towns in the Greek world, Mytilene and Phokaia agreed to buy silver and gold, mix it into electrum, and strike a common coinage, which (apparently) they sold at a profit. The towns alternated mintmasters each year. Each year a different design was struck obverse and reverse. So, the heads/tails combination "dated" the coins. This was a control in case the minter cheated. It was also the minter's perogative to choose the design, a bit of an honor.

 

Also about 400 BC, the mintmaster's abbreviated name appeared on the coins of Sinope. Although most of the big name towns (Athens, Corinth) kept a very steady kind of coinage, the coins of many other towns show marks (stars, letters, grammatons, etc.) that can only be control marks for the minter or other officials and therefore the year. We date the famous coins of Taras (Tarentum) by what the "Boy on the Dolphin" is holding.

 

By 300 BC these kinds of identifiers were widely used. The coins of Alexander the Great are identifiable as to mint and time by these symbolic letters and ligatures on the reverses.

 

In the Hellenistic age, astronomers put the sun at teh center of the solar system and they mapped the world with a prime meridian running through Alexandria and Rhodes. The "Antikythera device" was a navigational calculator. Calendars were known.

 

In Athens, their "New Style" tetradrachms carried the names of officials and also a letter for the month: 12 letters usually with a 13th intercalary as needed. The town of Antioch honored Julius Caesar by restarting their calendar for his entrance to their town. "Star of Bethelem" coins from Antioch give the Caesarion Year in Greek numerals.

 

Romans painted calendars on the walls of their homes, with feasts in red letters. Some feasts were movable. As in olden days, moneyers chose the designs of the coins. Elected annual, these were three young men from good families, but usually only one man's family was honored, though sometimes two. Names were put on coins. We date them this way, and they probably did, too.

 

When the Roman senate granted the "first citizen" his consulship each year, that year was put on the coins: COS III or COS IIII. This is how we date the coins of the Roman emperors. TR P II COS III -- Tripotens 2 Consulship 3. Two hundred fifty years later, the "vote" of the Senate was recorded on the coins of Constantine: VOTA XX -- voted in again for year 20. Mintmarks identified the place. Dozens are known from the time of the Tetrarchy c. 350 AD. As noted here in this thread, even officials were identified.

 

Eventually, all of that mattered very little. With the West under the barbarians and the East absorbed by the hereafter, one year was pretty much the same as the next.

 

Saint Jerome translated the Bible from Greek (and Hebrew) into Latin. He also calculated the Year of Our Lord. Europe knew when it hit 1000 AD: Y1K. People were nice to each other for a whole year, expecting the Millennium.

 

By the 1500s, the year really did matter. The reason why was that banking, trade and commerce, compound interest (a sin!... but, well, it can be explained, you see...), algebra, astonomy and navigation, and more, made one year different and differentiable from the next. As late as the 1700s -- perhaps later -- some coins only gave two or three digits.

 

In China, each reign had a different name, just as we had Franklin D. Roosevelt's "New Deal" and Lyndon B. Johnson's "Great Society" and so on. We date Chinese cash by the name of the emperor and the name of his reign. So, too, with Japanese coins, which carry the name of the reign ("Meiji" "Taisho" "Showa"...) and a number to show the year of that reign, 2005 being Heisei 17. Chinese and Japanese coins also carry Western dates for convenience.

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  Bearing in mind the vast majority of people were illiterate they would probably not be able to read the date on the coin anyhow, they had more important things to do anyhow such as ploughing fields.

 

People who plowed fields did not see coins. People who saw coins were literate. Knights did not see coins. Most knights were illiterate. In the middle ages, coins were an urban medium for bankers and merchants, who were literate and numerate.

 

Adding a date back then would be something akin to adding the month of issue onto a coin now, i.e June 2005...  What's the point?"

 

See my post. The Athenians of 200-100 BC did put the months on coins.

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People who plowed fields did not see coins. People who saw coins were literate. Knights did not see coins. Most knights were illiterate. In the middle ages, coins were an urban medium for bankers and merchants, who were literate and numerate.

 

 

Not entirely correct Michael, whilst this is true for the most part it can be disputed. In his book on English currency (that i've finally started reading) Mayhew stated that within the English context at least there is sufficient evidence to suggest that currency was in wisespread use throughout the land in 1086. The accounts of the Domesday book rate land in not only payment in kind but also in coinage. It appears in some areas people were buying things with money. A sheep generally cost about 4d and pennies were being cut into halves and quarters to make up small change. It would be hard to argue that just the mercantile and urban social groups required money in coin because a farthing was pretty small change, what about a loaf of bread?

 

In the 1380s the Poll taxes were introduced which was basically a people tax. The minumum rate was about 4d (i think per head), hence why it was known as the groat tax and it was paided in coin rather than in kind. So even the feudal vassel working the land would have had to pay four pence to the royal revenue basically for being alive.

 

The Poll tax wasn't popular in the 1370s and 1380 and eventually was a contributory factor to the Peasant's Revolt. When Margaret Thatcher reintroduced it in the 1980s she got pretty much the same response. Since larger poorer families are hit much harder than rich smaller families.

 

So money was certainly doing the rounds throughout all the social groups as far as England was concerned. In Europe it may have differed.

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These days, dates on coins are somewhat arbitrary. In many cases they do not indicate the year of production. Just a few examples from this neck of the woods ...

 

In the Federal Republic of Germany, "Pfennig" circulation coins were made from 1950 until 1996. However, all 1, 5, 10 and 50 Pfennig pieces made before 1966 have the year "1950", no matter whether they were produced in, say, 1952 or 1962. The German 1972 Olympics commems all have the year 1972, except that the first came out in 1970. And even though production of the euro and cent circulation coins started in mid-1998, all German pieces are dated 2002 or later :-)

 

Christian

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These days, dates on coins are somewhat arbitrary. In many cases they do not indicate the year of production. Just a few examples from this neck of the woods ...

 

In the Federal Republic of Germany, "Pfennig" circulation coins were made from 1950 until 1996. However, all 1, 5, 10 and 50 Pfennig pieces made before 1966 have the year "1950", no matter whether they were produced in, say, 1952 or 1962. The German 1972 Olympics commems all have the year 1972, except that the first came out in 1970. And even though production of the euro and cent circulation coins started in mid-1998, all German pieces are dated 2002 or later :-)

 

Christian

 

 

...and, such as the Oak,Willow, & Pine Tree Shiilings in Massachusetts were all dated "1652", though they were thought to be minted from 1652-1682.

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The oldest dated coin I have is a 1480 Belgium Dubbel Vuurijer....On the obverse has the date 1480 with a tilted 4. Interesting!

 

...Does anyone know what the OLDEST DATED COIN is?...just curious.....

....THANKS!.....

 

 

That would depend on how you choose to define - date. If you mean in arabic numerals like 1, 2, 3 etc - going from memory here, I believe it was a coin from Denmark or Norway ( can't remember which ) with a date of 1284. But I'd have to look it up t be sure.

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