Thursday, 19 March 2015

New Coriosolite stater variety revealing design evolution

New Corisolite variation
Citation: Hooker, Series X, Group C, Coin 9.1
photo: Robert Kokotailo
No, it is not from the latest Jersey hoard but was purchased as stock by my friend Robert Kokotailo of Calgary Coin. I had identified it for him as a new variety, but I think it is best to give such things a fuller treatment after they have been sold to avoid any accusations of conflict of interest.

Were you to use my expert system instead of my book to discover its place in the chronology you would attribute it to Series X, Group B, but I am giving it to the earliest (so far!) reverse die of Series X, Group C, instead. With a coin that exhibits the characteristics of an obverse die of one group and a reverse die belonging to another group, the normal description used by numismatists would be a mule. However, this particular coin is a transitional piece.

Obverse (or "anvil" dies) last longer than reverse (or "hammer' dies) because the coin blank acts as a buffer which absorbs some of the energy from the strike of the hammer. When you see ancient dies, they are usually of a rather short "sugar-loaf" shape. In our rather messy world, discoveries are often forgotten and I had the great pleasure, as a kid, being able to hold the earliest known (then, at least) English coin die (the hammer die of a Henry II Tealby penny). No wonder that those coins are very weakly struck, it was at least four times longer than it should have been for a proper strike. It was owned by a collector in Prittlewell, Essex but the British Museum had seen it, and were very interested in acquiring it. Where it is now, I have no idea. It was not considered to be a forger's die, but a genuine die that had been stolen from the mint. It was recovered from the Thames near a bridge and was perhaps thrown in the river by the thief in a moment of panic. It was from part of the estate left to the collector by one of H. G. Wells' brothers along with many other objects in the collection.

Although an obverse die is most often earlier than the reverse die of the same coin, there are some exceptions: most commonly seen when the obverse die finally wears out (reverse die can sometimes break, rather than just wear out), the Armorican Xn Series of staters and quarters had a series of die links all over the place, including some dies that had been cut by the same person who had produced both Coriosolite (Series X) and some Veneti dies (the Coriosolite dies being very slightly later). I have concluded that the reason for the erratic die links in Series Xn is that they had obtained dies from itinerant die cutters rather than hiring them to produce the entire coinage. You see damaged dies being reused rather too long, and the dies are sometimes crazed which would cause them to eventually break at such weak spots.

The dies are very close, in their evolutionary chronology, to Coin 8 of my Group B, especially where the pony's head is set forward of its neck. This feature continues on Coin 9, which I placed as the earliest reverse die of Group C found in the La Marquanderie hoard. However, the lips of the obverse head are V-shaped instead of the stalked lips that do not meet that are seen on the obverses of Groups A and B. This is thus typical of Group C.

Furthermore, the beaded decoration in front of the nose on the obverse of the new variety is fully integrated into the top of the nose, as it is starting with the first coin of Group C (9) in my book. The design of the driver and the pony's head both seem to be identical, in the new variety, to Coin 9 as the line that forms the front of the mane and continues to the end of the pony's nose is a reconstruction made by Rybot (being identified as such by the broken line).

Not only does the new variety omit the curl which hangs from the reins on Coin 9, but the die cutter had already decided to introduce a curve to that part part of the design, in the reins, themselves. Perhaps he thought that this made the reins look slack and so abandoned that design on the next die, or it might have been that he was just dissatisfied with it for compositional reasons. We cannot go back and ask him to clarify that decision! Still, being able to penetrate so deeply into the thought processes of someone who died more than two thousand years ago and left nothing else to us about his identity and life. or even if he was a "she" instead of a "he" is one of the most satisfying byproducts of the method I developed nearly thirty years ago, and the experience of writing this post brings me back to that golden time when I would write while my baby daughter was napping in her crib and Celts, long dead, were sharing their thoughts with me.

If you have downloaded my book from you could add this coin image and its description to just before Coin 9 by cut and paste as the book is Microsoft Word (.doc). Perhaps add it as an "insert" so that the pagination and index remains correct. I am not changing the earlier version on my web site as the entire site is archived because I wanted it to remain as it was before the death of my wife, Carin Perron.


  1. Hi John,

    What do the images mean?

    Bob Van Arsdell

  2. Hi Bob,

    For this type of Coriosolite stater, it is the lyre symbol beneath the pony which I am most confident in my interpretation:

    Its ancestry goes back three thousand years earlier to Newgrange in Ireland where variations of it are associated mainly with the roof-box where the first rays of dawn of the winter solstice enter the inner chamber. The same meaning appears in the same place on the coin in Series Y but it is depicted as a boar (night, winter, death -- virtually a universal symbol) which stands on a base line from which rises a pellet-in-circle sun symbol.

    The nose on the obverse is of similar shape to some Megalithic symbols found in Brittany, and the triple spirals at the ear position on the obverse formed of interlocking S shapes refer to the "transmigration of souls" in ancient Celtic belief. The triple spiral at Newgrange is related, but one can only speculate as to whether they believed the same thing, or it represented the cyclical nature of the universe. One rock engraving at Newgrange convinces me that they were aware of what later was called the Metonic Cycle which reconciled solar and lunar time. While, obviously, solar imagery is vitally important at Newgrange, Lunar cycles were very important to Neolithic peoples, raising the mythological importance of women at that time and was often symbolized by the snake which sloughs its skin in a mythological connection to the moon's repeated cycles (Joseph Campbell).

    The Metonic Cycle is also confirmed by Diodorus quoting the 6th cent BC Hecataeus:

    "Opposite to the coast of Celtic Gaul there is an island in the ocean, not smaller than Sicily, lying to the north, which is inhabited by Hyperboreans... Apollo visits the island once in the course of nineteen years in which period the stars complete their revolutions."

    And Strabo and others who reported on the travels of Posidonius, tell of an island off the Armorican coast peopled by priestesses (again, hinting of Neolithic origin) who worshipped a god at a temple that was roofed. It was their custom to unroof it once a year, insisting that it be roofed again before sunset. It seems likely to me that this was also at the winter solstice (but the summer solstice is also a possibility).

    The cross in front of the pony on C, de B's Class V might just be an ordinary Celtic cross (four seasons, like the four-string lyre), but the fact that one end is pointed makes me think that they found a connection between the cross and the chariot pole intersecting with the swingle-tree of the chariot rig.

    The god on the obverse, although often referred to as Ogmios, finds no strong evidence for its attribution as Ogmios was mainly a god of eloquence who led men through strands from the god's mouth attached to their ears and was a conflation of Herakles and Hermes (Lucian's Herakles as told to him by a Celtic bard at Massalia). As Ogmios was "an old man" Lucian used the story to prop himself up as an aging orator. I do think, though, that a variation of Hermes is intended (if not "Father Dis" as spoken of by Caesar).

    The so-called "whisks" (Rybot) around the head are, I think, "formal" symbols of vegetal fertility and their beaded lines are also used as garniture on other Armorican symbols.

    The message to the troops who were paid with these coins was "Be heroic in battle and if you are killed, you will be of high status in subsequent "reincarnations". The cosmic symbolism being "as above, so below" which was later important in imitative magic.

    Giot, in is book on Brittany, said that in the 1st cent BC, the area was inhabited by about a 50/50 split of recent Celts and earlier descendents of the Megalithic period. Coriosolite imagery addresses both of these peoples.