Coinage

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Odigan
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Coinage

Postby Odigan » Thu Dec 27, 2018 2:45 am

Coins have come up a few times in the past, and there are of course those who produce their own interpretations of Middle-earth coinage. I am curious, however, as to what those of us here think of as appropriate coins or currency in Middle-earth. Do current commercial offerings meet those expectations? Are there historical examples you think reflect best what would be in use? If you were designing your own, what would they look like?

I personally tend to think of much of the currency as irregular, and something like an Anglo-Saxon silver sceat, like this one from c. 695-715 AD.
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Re: Coinage

Postby Greg » Thu Dec 27, 2018 2:49 am

I still have yet to see anything that mimics the Castar in any way that feels right to me. I agree largely with the look and feel of that coinage, though...most available offerings feel too crisp in image to me. I expect it would largely be traded by weight or size rather than by "type", and so might be cut or shaved to make more exact change. Everything can always be melted down and re-cast.
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Re: Coinage

Postby Elleth » Thu Dec 27, 2018 3:19 am

Oh what a topic. :)

My thoughts regarding the coinage of Eriador are pretty much laid out in the threads Hunting the Castar and What has it got in its pocketses? The "Bree penny project" I referred to hasn't been abandoned: if anything it's grown in the two years since. It's just terribly slow going. Sadly, I can't show off anything at this point. (Hopefully this year though!)

Regarding art style, in my mind's eye the coins of old Arnor are more "Roman" with much deeper relief and more technically proficient engraving - but with a sculptural aesthetic closer to Egyptian. I see the coins from human and hobbit realms floating along the East Road as technically about on a par with 10th c-13th c. hammered silver pennies. Crude compared to those from both earlier and later eras, but with their own charm. Gondor I see as a bit more sophisticated, but still closer to 14 c. Byzantium rather than 17th c. Holland.

Dwarven and Elven are a whole other kettle of fish, and I still don't have a mental image I'm happy with. If I *had* to render Dwarven, I'd probably go with mostly Norse design elements, but with deeper crisper relief. In fact, I just received copies of the WETA take on Dwarven gold from the Smaug hoard for as a Christmas gift. I think those designs are far from perfect, but there's better ideas buried in there than I expected. Not saying I love the designs or think they're "right" - but the thought process there is interesting.

I'm not entirely convinced elves even *use* hard currency as a matter of course, but I'd not be surprised by bullion pieces passing as payment outside of their realms. I can't even begin to think what they'd look like, but I'm still somewhat drawn to the idea of elven metalwork being not unlike the most sublime, naturalistic Japanese tsubas: but moreso.

Regarding current offerings: I think Shire Post's hobbit sixpences (the ones without arabic numbers) are pretty much perfect for "silver pennies" of Middle-earth, and very happily use them. I'm also fond of their "Dale penny" in silver.

No other major company produces fantasy coins as good to my eye: most look like cheap subway tokens to me.



edit: If I was looking "off the rack" and for whatever reason didn't want to go with the Shire Post options, I probably would look at replica Iron Age Celtic and - as you noted - Anglo-Saxon silver pieces about penny-sized. I don't think they're generally perfect for Middle-earth (though some REALLY work for Dunlenders I think) - but unless you've been staring at ancient coins for hours and hours and hours learning all the whys and wherefores, they're a very good middle ground between familiar enough to seem plausible and strange enough not to immediately map to "real world" - if that makes any sense.
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Odigan
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Re: Coinage

Postby Odigan » Thu Dec 27, 2018 11:47 pm

I guess it shouldn't be surprising that we have some numismatics enthusiasts here! While I do like (and own some of) the stuff from Shire Post Mint, particularly the Gondorian penny and the Brass Brumby, for the most part they don't speak to me personally. I think this is the result of a few things:

- Being produced for mass market, they necessarily must have something of a "lowest common denominator" design. I don't mean that disparagingly, only that to have broad appeal they should appeal to the most people, and that tends to fly in the face of what generally appeals to me.

- A lack of emotional investment. That is, while I appreciate the skill and energy put into other's designs, they are someone else's vision, and so rarely align with my own.

- That vision is vague. I will admit, coins in ME are something of a "I'll know it when I see it" sort of subject, and I am less willing to just accept something as being of ME simply because it is labelled as such.

Being from New England and having grown up around every living history village selling sets of replica coins including pine tree shillings, I do always snicker whenever I see the Shire coinage from Shire Post. It's clever and fun, but I just can't see it as Middle-earthy. I also definitely don't think of Elves as using coins, the idea just seems weird to me. :)
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Re: Coinage

Postby Elleth » Fri Dec 28, 2018 1:10 am

That's fair - we all have our own mental image, after all.

I think the sixpence works for me simply because it follows the same pattern of English medieval hammered pennies generally. That's probably why the "Pine Tree Shilling" thing doesn't bother me: both SP and the Mass colonists drew from the same wellspring. And since of course Hobbits like trees..

While I don't think the Brumby is the direction I'd have gone for the Rohirrim (I'd stick closer to Anglo-Saxon models) - I do still think it's quite a pretty coin. I see why you like it. :)
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Re: Coinage

Postby Odigan » Fri Dec 28, 2018 11:34 pm

Elleth wrote:While I don't think the Brumby is the direction I'd have gone for the Rohirrim (I'd stick closer to Anglo-Saxon models) - I do still think it's quite a pretty coin. I see why you like it. :)


Oh, I agree. To reiterate, I like the design for what it is, but aside from having a horse on it, it doesn't strike me as inherently Rohirrimic.

We can look at historical coinage and say, "Oh, that's Anglo-Saxon/Roman/Byzantine/whathaveyou," but we can do so because we have an associated body of cultural art and style into which it fits. Creating a singular object that exists aside from an established, recognizable culture (as in fantasy), yet is recognizable for what it is on its own, means it has to be something of a caricature. One must be able to look at it and see that it has Tolkien-ish writing, for example (even when text may not be appropriate) and thereby know it is of Middle-earth. By the very nature of having to be unique enough to convey the idea of what it is, it stands out as not ordinary enough to be what otherwise should be an ordinary item.

This is what I meant by the "lowest common denominator" effect on design. I think you could make a coin that was very believable as a Middle-earth artefact, but the average person would have no better chance of being able to identify it as such than they would of knowing any other historical coin from another. So that creates a marketing conundrum which is totally understandable.
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Re: Coinage

Postby Iodo » Sat Dec 29, 2018 1:13 pm

Odigan wrote:Coins have come up a few times in the past, and there are of course those who produce their own interpretations of Middle-earth coinage. I am curious, however, as to what those of us here think of as appropriate coins or currency in Middle-earth. Do current commercial offerings meet those expectations? Are there historical examples you think reflect best what would be in use? If you were designing your own, what would they look like?

Middle earth appropriate coinage, especially dwarven coins, is something I've never managed to find commercially available. The WETA treasure of Erebor coins are quite like what I'd imagined them to look like, the problem is there gold and wouldn't be carried by a common traveler, if they made smaller denominations that would be amazing. There's plenty of generic fantasy versions out there (https://www.gdfb.co.uk/larp-coins-dwarves-30413-p.asp) but none of them say middle earth to me.

It's because of this problem that a while ago I had a go at designing and making my own coin stamps, only problem is I didn't get very far because college assignments got in the way, then the project got forgotten about and left in a supermarket carrier bag at work, I'll share some of the designs when I can get them (when I go back to work in the new year) :mrgreen:
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Re: Coinage

Postby Odigan » Sun Dec 30, 2018 2:08 am

Iodo wrote:There's plenty of generic fantasy versions out there but none of them say middle earth to me.


I think this is the sort of stuff that Elleth kindly likened to "subway tokens." There's a lot of them out there, at all level of quality, but it seems we all agree they're not quite what we have in mind.

Iodo wrote:It's because of this problem that a while ago I had a go at designing and making my own coin stamps, only problem is I didn't get very far because college assignments got in the way, then the project got forgotten about and left in a supermarket carrier bag at work, I'll share some of the designs when I can get them (when I go back to work in the new year) :mrgreen:


By all means! I'd love to see what you had envisioned.

I was browsing through the Münzkabinett and this late Roman (400AD) coin struck (haha) my fancy.
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Re: Coinage

Postby Elleth » Mon Dec 31, 2018 1:20 pm

Odigan wrote:
Iodo wrote:There's plenty of generic fantasy versions out there but none of them say middle earth to me.


I think this is the sort of stuff that Elleth kindly likened to "subway tokens." There's a lot of them out there, at all level of quality, but it seems we all agree they're not quite what we have in mind.


Yes, exactly!

The distinguishing features of "subway token" fantasy coins are:
* cheap, light alloys like anodized aluminum rather than traditional copper, silver, etc.
* extremely flat relief
* a level of symmetry and detail far beyond what a human can accomplish manually
* (not universally, but commonly): post-Renaissance (usually post WWII) artistic conventions of perspective, symmetry, etc.

Nothing done using those methods will ever really feel "in universe" I think.
You can cheat a bit on some of these: you can get away with comparatively flat relief if you're using real metals and manual engraving for instance.
But some things just throw you right out of the ballpark no matter how well you execute technically: it doesn't matter if you mint a deeply engraved dragon into a sterling silver blank if that dragon has thousands of tiny perfectly rendered scales, and hovers over a castle rendered in post-Renaissance 3D perspective.

Odigan wrote:...and this late Roman (400AD) coin struck (haha) my fancy...


That is interesting. We're sure it's a coin and not a medal of some kind?
How fascinating. :)
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Odigan
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Re: Coinage

Postby Odigan » Mon Dec 31, 2018 9:54 pm

Elleth wrote:
Odigan wrote:...and this late Roman (400AD) coin struck (haha) my fancy...


That is interesting. We're sure it's a coin and not a medal of some kind?
How fascinating. :)


It's both!

There is a class of medallion/coin called contorniates, which are basically commemorative "coins" struck for limited issue, featuring famous emperors and other figures. The one I shared here has Homer on the obverse. These are larger and thicker than normal coins, and in bronze technically worth a double sestertii, though they probably weren't really meant as currency and general circulation. I think they're much like special issue coins today, fancier and collectable, something to give as a gift or celebrate an event, which could be exchanged for money but that's not really their purpose.
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Re: Coinage

Postby Elleth » Thu Jan 03, 2019 12:55 pm

Hunh.. that is fascinating Odigan!

And of course they'd do such a thing. :)

I ran across these the other day, incidentally. They look to be fairly cheap copies of historical coins: I'd bet zinc or aluminum. They don't look exactly like the real things of course, and I'd bet feel pretty light in the hand: but the designs all look to draw from real examples. At least, quite a few of them look familiar.

Anyhow, none of it's high art, but if one is looking to fill a purse on the cheap, one could do worse then their "Celtic" pack or picking and choosing from other lines:

https://www.thebrokentoken.com/shop/gam ... etal-coins
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Re: Coinage

Postby Iodo » Thu Jan 03, 2019 9:44 pm

Iodo wrote:It's because of this problem that a while ago I had a go at designing and making my own coin stamps, only problem is I didn't get very far because college assignments got in the way, then the project got forgotten about and left in a supermarket carrier bag at work, I'll share some of the designs when I can get them (when I go back to work in the new year) :mrgreen:


I've been back to work, and I remembered:
Image
The designs aren't to well thought out, the one with the bow is copied from the shire post mint dale coin and they're over simple, to accommodate my poor engraving skills :P, despite this I did successfully make a pewter coin using a hydraulic press, the problem was it wasn't shiny because I never polished the stamps (it was only intended as an experiment)

This is definitely a project I need to revisit when I get time
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