Celtic Coins

Celtic coins are artistic monuments - astonishingly modern - and you will see in them lines and forms that were collected by surrealist painters and writers, like André Breton, whose collection of Celtic coins was much admired by Picasso.Celtic coins are often made of bronze, sometimes of silver and gold. They are often common and are to be found for sale at a hundred francs ( twenty dollars ) upwards. Sometimes they are so rare and important that the prices are very high. The most expensive was sold for four hundred thousand francs ( seventy thousand dollars ) ; it was the gold 'stater' struck, just before his defeat, by Vercingetorix, king of the Gauls, who was besieged by Julius Caesar. Only four examples are to be found outside of museums and this was one of the finest. Celtic coins picture animals, gods, humans. The horse and the boar are frequently depicted for they were the companions of the soldier and of the hunter . The eagle also quite often features. It is difficult to distinguish between gods and men, for these coins rarely have a legend and the faces of our ancestors, represented on coins, could be those of men or of gods, without our being able to differentiate . The symbolic stars are often present, especially the sun and the moon with imaginary animals, half-human, half-beast like the representations of Taranus and Belenus.

How were Celtic coins made?
Celtic coins were produced in two ways, conventionally described as struck and cast. Both methods required a considerable degree of technical knowledge to ensure successful results.The process of striking a coin began with the production of a blank. This was probably formed in a clay mould, but it is still uncertain how the metal alloy was placed in the mould. It probably wasn't poured in, which would make precise weight control difficult, but perhaps put into the mould in powder or nugget form, or possibly as sections from carefully measured ingots.

After the metal had been heated in the mould it would have to be flattened before striking. The temperature at which this could be achieved would be influenced by the composition of the alloy. The flattened blank or flan would then be placed on a concave obverse die - to keep the blank in place - and struck with the convex reverse die, as the diagram below shows. The dies tended to be much bigger than the area of the flan, so that often only a part of the design shows on the resulting coin. Celtic dies were made of iron and/or bronze. They are extremely rare, since they were clearly carefully looked after while they were in use, and thus very rarely lost, and they were often used to destruction.. The quality of engraving on many dies is superb, and it is difficult to imagine how some tiny details were engraved on dies just a few millimetres in diameter. The engraving ability of the moneyers was matched by their control of the weight and alloy of the coinage. They were capable of producing thousands of coins deviating just a few milligrams each side of the intended weight, and they could make subtle alterations to the quality of the alloy, masking a decrease in the precious metal content.

Most gold and silver Celtic coins also occur as plated forgeries. They were produced by coating a base metal core with gold or silver alloy before striking took place, either by dipping the core in molten alloy, or by hammering a thin layer of gold or silver around the core until it bonded with the base metal. Dies used for genuine coins were sometimes also used for plated examples; alternatively, dies could be faked by making a cast from a mould bearing the impression of a genuine coin, or by pressing a genuine coin into soft metal which was then hardened to form a die; sometimes the design of a coin was simply copied onto a new die, resulting in the reversal of the correct image. The production of cast coins required very different techniques. The cast coins from south-east Britain were produced by pouring molten alloy into a set of moulds joined by runners, which were broken apart when the metal had cooled. The breaks were not always neat and often parts of the sprue - the joining portion between the coins - remain attached to the coin itself. The earliest examples of these coins in Britain have relatively fine images, which were presumably made by pressing a coin into the mould. As this process was successively repeated, the quality of the image being reproduced became ever worse, eventually becoming a featureless blob.

Gold Gallo-Belgic Stater
Ambiani Type E Stater (c. 57-45 B.C.)
In terms of English coins this is as old as you normally find. It appears on page 1 of Seaby's excellent "Coins of England" book. The coin depicts a disjointed horse with pellets above and below. The obverse is blank on this particular stater.


Celtic Silver Coin
This is a silver coin of the Celtic leader Tasciovanus. The obverse has the word VER in beaded circle which refers to Verulamium (St.Albans) This coin was minted between 20 BC and 10 AD. The reverse shows a horse.



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