TALE OF TWO COLLECTORS

Numismatists always assume that collectors are people who are interested in collecting coins for the pleasure of the activity. There are plenty of reasons to collect coins, but try to explain this to the non-collector.

A while back I picked up a group of Byzantine minor coinage at one of our club meetings. They were types I either didn't have, or were better than the ones I did. In either case they were worth keeping and adding to my collection.

Normally I would attribute them as soon as I could and input them into my computer list. But this group seemed different for some reason, somehow alive. I left them on my desk for a week or so and just looked at them. I wondered why they came to arrive in my possession after so many years of wandering the world.

The six coins were from a small hoard found in Carthage. While three of them were minted there, the other three were minted in Alexandria, and Constantine in Numidia. Of Maurice Tiberius there is a ten nummia and a five nummia. Heraclius accounts for a half-follis, and Constans II comes in with a twelve nummia from Alexandria, and a half-follis and a ten nummia from Carthage. All in all they were coins that didn't have a lot of luster, but seemed to be worth saving for some individual for they were all buried together. Who could have saved such a group, and for what purpose? My mind started to wander as I looked them over. I couldn't help but think of what a Carthaginian at the time of Constans II would have been doing with these coins so that they would have been hidden away? How would they have come by them, why were they collected?

I can almost visualize his steady course down the streets to the market. A trip punctuated by greeting friends, neighbors, merchants, and the local priest, probably Monophysite and not Orthodox. He kicks up a small cloud of dust with well worn sandals. The warm North African sun is just beginning to work it's way up to it's zenith, but now there is just enough dew on the ground to keep the small dust clouds down.

Arrival at the market is always exciting no matter how many morning trips are made. Shopping for food and other necessities is important, so is the procurement of the news and gossip of the day. There are rumors of a new military expedition into Italy led by the Emperor Constans himself. Although now not as important as it once was, Rome is also on the list of cities to be tended to by the Emperor in his attempt to reassert Imperial control over the region. But, those are matters for others more important than he to worry about, his life won't change regardless of the outcome.

The market is full of the rich sights, smells and languages of the Empire, and is truly the center of life for the old city. Wonderful silks brought from the Far East, along with other cloths and dyes being sold by Arab merchants; sturdy wools, and fine transparent linens waiting to be made into clothes for the cities masses. Silks of the finest quality reserved for the very rich and politically strong. Fruits from figs to oranges, common wines and expensive, all finding ready buyers. Oils for cooking as well as for the relief of aching muscles: wondrous spices to tempt the palette, and enchant the nose. Perfumes to anoint the chosen and myrrh to minister to the dead, all available to those with the ability to purchase.

From booth to booth he goes making his choices for the household. Haggling is expected, and he performs like a maestro, after all he has been dealing with merchants for as long as he can remember. Buyer and seller know each other's weaknesses, and when the deal has really closed, for him it is the most important part of each day's journey to the market.

With the shopping done and the basket full of fish, vegetables and other household necessities the walk back begins. It is punctuated by more neighborly greetings as well as the exchange of the obligatory gossip and news updated by the visit to the market. The sun is also much higher and the heat of the day is setting in. The rest of the day's work will be done under Sol's unrelenting gaze.

The return follows the same route as it does everyday, and will never change. It's not as if there is any real choice governing the events of his day. His journey to the market is the only real time where freedom is at least seemingly real.

The six copper coins were husbanded well. Because of shrewd bargaining, five were enough to take care of the day's needs. One extra would find it's way into the secret place where the others are kept, and who knows, could one day buy freedom for the tired slave.

The story of two collectors converge, the slaves need for the coins and my interest in them. Two distinctly different interests entwined in one small collection called a hoard. Collecting coins is not always as simple as it may appear.


Copyright © 2001, 2002, The Willamette Coin Club. All Rights Reserved.