Author Topic: Celtic - hidden faces  (Read 557 times)

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Offline richtea

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Celtic - hidden faces
« on: December 21, 2017, 09:55:08 PM »
As promised - a celtic post!

Here's a British stater attributed to a chief named Tasciovanous.

The interesting bit is the 'hidden face' on the obverse - a surprised person with a beard, maybe?
Since other celtic coins also have jokes & oddities like this, it seems to be purposeful, not just a happy accident:

It shows two types of wear:

1. The die has been used so much it's worn badly in certain areas, so at manufacture the freshly struck coin was lacking detail. An example is the bottom of the horse's leg, which has gone missing. The tail (curvy indistinct line on the left) also appears detached from the body because the first part of the tail was worn out on the die.

2. General wear and tear. You can see that on the horses head, and also on the wreaths and crescents. The general wear and tear suggests these coins weren't just for show or gifts - they were likely to have circulated for many years.

One of the problems with celtic coins is deciding whether they're real or fake (well, it is for me, anyway - I'm no expert!). The die wear is one very useful way of checking. If you can see the die has the same pattern as an existing published one (i.e. shows similar damaged die areas), you've got half a chance that your coin is genuine.

Struck around 0 BC.
North of the Thames area (north west London-ish up to Oxford) - the tribe were named the Catuvellauni

It has no writing, but inscribed celtic coins were just starting to appear at this point, influenced by the  Roman coins that were probably also circulating, or at least known about. Tasciovanous' later coins had inscriptions. I can't afford them  :(

Ancient British Coins (ABC) 2553
Van Arsdell (VA) 1680

Offline Figleaf

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Re: Celtic - hidden faces
« Reply #1 on: December 29, 2017, 09:33:45 AM »
I am intrigued by the "hidden face". I suppose that at some time, the original Roman design became a symmetric design that fit Celtic culture better than a natural portrait (our member Cavaros worked on how and why Roman coin designs were "digested" into Celtic culture).

The "face" is likely to be a consequence of how the human mind works. If we see an unfamiliar shape, our brain tries hard to fashion it into something familiar. It can even overlook details that don't fit into its interpretation. Compare OCR software interpreting damaged printed letters, coming up with funny guesses. Of course, the Celts may have enjoyed the effect, but that would not have been the intention of the die cutter. For one example among many of a misinterpretation, consider the story of how the Egyptians took a lion for a dog.

An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Offline THCoins

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Re: Celtic - hidden faces
« Reply #2 on: December 29, 2017, 10:22:17 AM »
Great coin ! About the face: interesting that once you have spotted it you can't unsee it anymore.
Agree with Peter that it might not have been intentionally. Similar evolution of coin designs into semi-abstract pictures can similarly be seen in ancient Indian coinage.


Offline richtea

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Re: Celtic - hidden faces
« Reply #3 on: December 29, 2017, 11:03:25 PM »
Thanks, both. I appreciate the replies.

> once you have spotted it you can't unsee it anymore.
Spot on!

As Van Arsdell* says:
'An innovation on the obverse, however, gives us one of the few examples seen on coins of the "Celtic joke". In many examples of Celtic decorative art, a face is hidden in what is otherwise an abstract pattern. The viewer is challenged to find it, and once he does, he never fails to see it on subsequent viewings having become privy to the joke. The first coinage staters all have a pair of faces hidden in the crossed Apollo wreath, made up of a pair of pellet-in-ring motifs for eyes, a pellet for a nose, and a small crescent for a mouth.'

There are plenty of hidden faces on other Celtic coins - but this is probably the most obvious one.
I agree they can seem a bit tenuous. However, if they are abstract, it makes you wonder how they got to that design. Stars, dots, circles, crescents. etc - they can't all be mint marks surely. Or maybe they were the equivalent of the modern-day 'holograms' and other obscure marks on todays coins.

In terms of Roman influence, I'm not sure if this hidden face design is based on a Roman design - maybe Cavaros knows. Would be great to know. I don't know Roman coins well enough to spot their designs in it, unfortunately.

Before 0 BC, a lot of early British Celtic coins were initially based on Philip II staters, but many later ones (0 BC -> 40AD) became more and more Romanised - the closer to the south-east they were made, the more Romanised they became - even though the Romans hadn't yet 'properly' invaded.

So, the age (approx 0 BC) is about right for Roman influences to kick in.


Offline richtea

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Re: Celtic - hidden faces
« Reply #4 on: January 02, 2018, 10:19:36 AM »
And just for amusement, turn the coin upside down, and there's a happier face at the top.
(I've had to enhance the right eye pellet since my coin is quite worn, but you get the idea)