Numismatic fun: A Quietus Tetradrachm

I’ve written before about the fun of collecting Roman coins. The realm is really so rich, with so many fascinating byways.

One is that there are coins of guys who don’t appear on the regular list of Emperors. These were “pretenders” or “usurpers” or rebels, typically military commanders who’d make a brief grab at power — typically fatally unsuccessful. One way to cloak themselves with legitimacy was to issue coins with their portraits. Generally of course these are rare, but many are reasonably obtainable.

One such rebel was Macrianus. This was in the “East” (Asia Minor and the Levant); for about a year, 260-261 AD. He didn’t actually take the purple himself, but had his two young sons crowned instead — named Quietus and Macrianus Junior. With coins issued for them. Fairly rare, but not prohibitively so.

In the early ’70s, there were some interesting ads in a coin paper, with an address in Manhattan near where I was doing some regulatory hearings. So I went there, the guy had a loft, and it turned out he was Robert Bashlow — yes, the one responsible for the well-known 1961 “Bashlow restrikes” of the Confederate cent. He was quite a character and had tons of intriguing stuff, which I would sort through, during lunch breaks. In one batch of junk I found a rather low grade Roman coin on which I could read the name “Quietus.” This was before I was really much into ancient coins, but I did recognize this as rare, and bought it. (Bashlow tragically died not long after in a Spanish hotel fire.)

Some decades later, we visited Ephesus, and there were the usual guys hawking fake coins to tourists. I waved them away, but one got the idea I knew coins, and insisted he could show me good stuff. He led me into the recesses of his shop, and produced a little group carefully wrapped in tissue paper. Most of these were fake too, or else too poor to be worth anything. But one was a Macrianus! Genuine and in decent condition. He quoted 100 Euros. I said no and walked away, but he followed and continued to dicker. Finally, on the steps of the tourist bus about to depart, I bought it for 50. I’m not sure if he really knew it was rare. I made some money selling it.

Meantime, for my own collection I’m a real condition snob, and over time have managed to get several types each of Quietus and Macrianus in really excellent preservation. They go for some hundreds.

Those coins are antoniniani, which were the main “workhorse” coins of the Roman Empire in this period. The Romans also controlled Egypt, and the coinage system there was separate and very different. Its principal coin was the tetradrachm. It had started out, in Greek times, as a sizable silver coin, but by the Third Century had diminished to a smaller thick bronze coin (inscribed in Greek). It’s a very nice continuous series of coins that ran into the beginning of the 400s; my collection is fairly comprehensive on them.

Macrianus did have control of Egypt for a brief time, so tetradrachms were issued for his two sons. They are rather more rare than the Roman-style antoniniani. I have had a nice Macrianus tet for quite some time, but Quietus seems somewhat tougher, and had eluded me. A definite gap in my collection that begged to be filled.

Victor England

Classical Numismatic Group is a coin firm specializing in ancients, and the biggest such. It was founded by Victor England, a good guy I’ve known for over 30 years, always a pleasure to deal with. I visited their Pennsylvania offices, a great place, during our Gettysburg trip; bought from Victor a wonderful lot of 50 late Roman bronzes, in superb condition — after my careful cleaning. Anyhow, CNG runs frequent internet auctions. I always bid, though it seems pretty futile, as they’ve built a gigantic clientele, so coins get bid up high. Still, I persist, on the outside chance of getting something cool. Usually I do snag at least one lot — of no consequence.

Recently they had a special sale of a large collection focused on coins of the Valerian-Gallienus period — which included Macrianus and Quietus. One lot was a pair of their Egyptian tetradrachms; the Macrianus fairly nice except for some nasty looking green crust spots on the reverse that I thought I could ameliorate. The Quietus unfortunately was pretty rough. Well, I got the lot for what I felt was a very good price of $140 (plus 18% buyer fee). So I unleashed my restorative skills on the two coins, and was able to make the Quietus, if not superb, at least minimally passable for my snobby collection. It does have a good sharp obverse inscription and portrait detail.

I’ve reproduced here CNG’s original sale photo, above, with the Quietus being the lower coin; and the same (at left) after my cleaning. I enjoyed adding this to my collection.





2 Responses to “Numismatic fun: A Quietus Tetradrachm”

  1. Basil Demetriadi Says:

    I enjoyed reading this. You have a talent for writing clearly and making the subject attractive to the reader.

  2. WK Says:

    Very nice work, Frank, and a very interesting bit of history.
    It makes me wish that after his departure, the US would mint a coin with a Trump likeness, donning a dunce cap!

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