Monday, 22 February 2016

18th & 19th century Celtic coin illustrations

This clip of a plate from an eighteenth century edition of William Camden's Britannia reveals its own age far more that the age of the coins. The heads portrayed would seem more typical of eighteenth century tokens than Celtic coins and the the applied and uniform beaded borders bear no resemblance to virtually any beaded borders on Celtic coins. As an example of eighteenth century illustration it is not bad, but the artist made no attempt to even mimic the styles and appearance of the original coins

While Charles Knight's Old England: a pictorial museum of regal, ecclesiastical, municipal, baronial, and popular antiquities, is thought to have been published around 1860, the clip from one of its illustrations to the left is most likely very early nineteenth century and possibly pre-Regency. It lacks the charm of the Camden illustration, and although it does a better job of showing what the coins look like, the cross-hatched fields give a certain amount of flatness and confusion to the images. I tried to make the illustration a little more interesting by giving it a background to match the colour and texture of one of the blog elements

Things improve considerably in this clip of an illustration of some of the Coriosolite coins from the Jersey 5 hoard, discovered in 1820 and published as Les Médailles Gallo - Gaéliques. Description de la trouvaille de l'Ile d' Jersey par Le Baron de Donop in 1838,. Donop recreates what is seen although he sometimes confuses striking faults with aspects of the design. In his book he tries to interpret the art but with little success, finding eastern influences that do not exist.

Finally, we come to the illustrations by F. W. Fairholt, FSA in the book that marks the real start of British Celtic coin studies: The Coins of the Ancient Britons, 1864, by John Evans, FSA, FGS who was also one of the fathers of modern archaeology. I photographed the illustration of one of the coins in his collection this morning. My copy has neither foxing nor yellowing to the plates.

Evans, Plate D4 coin
photo:  © Trustees of the British Museum
While not perfect, there is no difficulty in matching  the actual specimen from the the illustration to the actual coin now in the British Museum. (I rotated  the obverse quite a bit to give it a closer alignment to the illustration). Fairholt omits die flaws and sticks to what is part of the design. In the twentieth century, coins were usually photographed in black and white because of the fugitive nature of the dyes in printer's inks, but in the digital age, pixels do not fade and colour is more possible to use.

John's Coydog Community page

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