After a hiatus of a dozen years, this last Friday and Saturday (17–18 September) saw the resumption of the Coinage of the Americas Conference (COAC) series at the American Numismatic Society. Since the mid-1980s, COACs have been one of the leading venues for the presentation of academic research pertaining to numismatics of the Western Hemisphere. Previous conferences, and their published proceedings, have covered topics on colonial and federal coinages and medallic art in the United States.
Thanks to the sponsorship of the Resolute Americana Collection and the Stack Family, ANS Assistant Curator Dr. Jesse Kraft’s efforts to revive the series this year were successful. Along with conference co-organizers Scott Miller (ANS Fellow) and Patrick McMahon (MFA Boston), Dr. Kraft decided to commemorate the sesquicentennial of Victor David Brenner’s birth with two days of papers devoted to the artist’s life and works.
Born in 1871 in what is now Lithuania, Brenner initially followed in the family business of jewel engraving before immigrating to the United States in 1890. After studying in both the United States and, most notably, in Paris with famed French medallic artist Oscar Roty, Brenner quickly positioned himself to become one of the foremost medallists working in New York City, the center of US medallic art. Brenner’s most well-known artwork is, undoubtedly, the Lincoln Cent of 1909, which remains in production today; with over 450 billion examples produced in the 112 years since it was introduced it is the most reproduced piece of art in human history. While it is known that Brenner created a significant body of work beyond the Lincoln cent, much of his other work has been overshadowed by this single piece.
Many of the papers in this year’s COAC sought to explore the full range of Brenner’s work, and these efforts were quite informative. By the end of the conference, the trajectory of Brenner’s career, before his life was cut short in 1924 by cancer, came into clearer view. Always pushing himself to obtain greater skills, Brenner explored a number of techniques and styles in medallic art production, more perhaps than many of his contemporaries, designing over 200 medallic works of art throughout his 35-year career. At the same time, towards the end of his career he seemed to have been making an attempt to move decisively away from medallic art towards larger bas-relief and sculpture in the round. His largest artwork, and one of his more successful, is the Mary Schenley Memorial Fountain in Pittsburg, PA, also known as “A Song to Nature”. Significantly, his career path was, in many ways, opposite that of his contemporaries: he began as an engraver of small objects moving towards larger sculpture while others started with larger works before attempting medallic art. Curiously, however, after his success with the 1909 Lincoln cent, Brenner’s career never really took off in the way that those associated with the doyenne of US sculpture Augustus Saint Gaudens did; indeed, Brenner was never part of the Saint Gaudens circle. To the end, Brenner remained something of a struggling artist, designing and producing a number of different sculptural objects, including bookends and wall fountains, many of which were only recently identified and attributed to Brenner by some of the conference speakers. The proceedings of the conference are expected to be published by the ANS in the coming year. In the meantime, a video recording of the conference will soon be available on our YouTube channel. A list of the speakers and their papers can be found here.
One final note: this year’s COAC also marked a significant change in the way that the ANS will, in the future, host and present conferences. After a substantial investment in new equipment, and thanks to the efforts of Ben Hiibner and Alan Roche, this year’s COAC was a fully hybrid event, simultaneously live and virtual. Those unable to attend in person were able to participate both as speakers and audience members via Zoom. Such hybrid events will continue to allow us to reach a greater proportion of our membership as we resume our usual schedule of events, talks, and conferences.
The Latin legend RAVIS which occurs on the reverse of this imitative denarius (Fig. 1) has long been associated with the Latin name of a Germanic tribe, the Eravisci or Aravisci. Other legends that appear on imitative denarii that have been associated with this tribe are RAVIZ, RAVISCI, or IRAVISCI (Fig. 2). These coins present several similarities to the Geto-Dacian imitations of Roman currencies, which I have already addressed here.
The Eravisci were a Celtic tribe living in the northeastern part of Transdanubia, i.e., the part of Hungary lying west of the Danube (Pliny, Natural History 3.148) (Fig. 3).
In the last decade of Augustus’s reign, this region became part of the Roman province of Pannonia with the name of Pannonia Inferior (Fig. 4).
There are only guesses as to when and from where the Eravisci arrived in that region, but their presence in the area was known to the Roman historian Tacitus (Germania 28). He writes that the Eravisci moved to the right banks of the Danube from the territory of the Germanic tribe of the Osi, in the area of the Rába River (Tacitus, Germania 43) (Fig. 5).
This event might be dated to around 45–44 BC and might represent a terminus post quem for the beginning of the coinage issued in the name of the Eravisci.
Eraviscan coins are all imitations of Roman coinage, mostly Republican denarii struck in the 80s and 70s BC, but also some Augustan denarii. For what concerns Roman Republican denarii, the four main reverse types imitated the issues of L. Papius (RRC 384/1, 79 BC), Cn.Cornelius Lentulus (RRC 393/1a, 76-75 BC), C. Postumius (RRC 394/1a, 74 BC), and L. Roscius Fabatus (RRC 412/1, 64 BC) (Figs. 7–10).
Also, the denarii issued by P. Crepusius (RRC 361/1a, 82 BC) and by L. Manlius Torquatus (RRC 295/1, 113–112 BC) were used as prototypes to the so‑called DOMISA, DVTETI and ANSALI issues, possibly featuring the names of local chieftains (Figs. 11–13).
The largest number of finds was recorded within the primary settlement zone of the Eravisci, which according to written and archaeological evidence may be placed within the modern counties of Pest, Fejér and Tolna in modern Hungary (Fig. 14).
However, die-links between different issues (most notably the ones bearing the names of DOMISA, DVTETII and ANSALI ) were noted for the first time by Robert Freeman. This element hints at a very coordinated production for these imitative coinages. Moreover, the different degree of wear evident in die-linked specimens suggests an effective circulation (Figs. 16–17).
The R. B. Witschonke Collection at ANS provides further examples of die-linked specimens, which which also show different degrees of wear (Figs. 18–20).
In sum, it seems very likely that the Eraviscan imitative coinage was a) produced in a somewhat coordinated fashion, as suggested by the numerous die-links; b) a relatively limited phenomenon in terms of chronology and volume of issues, since so many die-links are discovered in a limited sample; c) not (only) a prestige coinage since several specimen appear considerably worn.
The production and circulation of imitations of Roman Republican denarii among the Eravisci thus suggest the existence of an (at least partly) monetized economy, which probably came into existence in the decades leading to the creation of the Pannonian province in the late Augustan Age. Eraviscan imitative denarii are therefore part of a tale of partial cultural and economic convergence toward the Roman world that took place in the course of the second and first century BC in the Mediterranean world at large as a consequence of the Roman expansion. This very topic has been addressed in a three-day international conference held in March 2021 and the coins just presented add further nuances to this fascinating process.