Largest die study ever undertaken

With more than 300,000 specimens analyzed, the Roman Republican Die Project (RRDP) is the world’s largest die study.

Sponsored by the American Numismatic Society (ANS) and funded by the Arete Foundation, a Philadelphia-based grant organization, the RRDP draws from decades of diligent numismatic research spearheaded by Richard Schaefer. The product of decades of work, Schaefer’s collection of Roman Republican dies was then digitized by researchers with the ANS and Brooklyn College. The digitized version of Schaefer’s archive is available via the digital ANS archives, “ARCHER.”

“Since 1995 he has given the project on average one to two hours of his time each day. This means he has spent more than 13,000 hours collecting and analyzing all this material. For each issue of struck coins, Schaefer determines the die links for either obverse or reverse,” reads an article authored by Lucia Carbone and Liv Mariah Yarrow in Issue 3, 2019, of ANS Magazine, which is published quarterly by the society.

“Die links for the other die are also noted when observed. He prioritizes the obverse or reverse for an issue by choosing the die easier to identify. For struck AE, for example, the reverse die is usually much easier to identify than the obverse.”

Schaefer’s far-flung museum colleagues helped to fill additional holes while he “systematically sought out all illustrated auction catalogues, including those not (yet) digitized by online systems such as coinarchives.com and acsearch.info,” adds the 2019 article.

“Schaefer’s meticulous notations on each clipping record the image source, as well as any and all information in the source such as weight, axis, diameter, and his assigned die identifier (a number or a letter).”

AN INTEGRATED SYSTEM

Coinage of the Roman Republic Online (CRRO), an ANS-hosted website serving as an online version of Michael Crawford’s 1974 book Roman Republican Coinage, is now providing the die project with the “second phase of advanced functionality,” according to researchers.

CRRO researchers are integrating the die links established by Schaefer in his archive. Once it’s fully developed, the integrated system “will undoubtedly prove an invaluable asset for researchers,” according to ANS Executive Director Gilles Bransbourg.

The project will help researchers understand the connection between Rome’s different military and domestic projects and monetary production; the accuracy of the figures provided by ancient sources in this regard; the scale of Roman production in comparison to contemporary coinages, especially in the Greek East; and the reliability (or not) of Crawford and other researchers’ production estimates based on hoard counts.

The ANS is seeking a curatorial assistant to help bring the project to completion.

Before Schaefer, the largest die study of ancient Greek coinage – Wolfgang Fischer-Bossert’s study of the didrachms of Tarentum – included about 8,000 coins.

What Carbone and Yarrow call the “first systematic analysis of coin specimens at the level of the die” was conducted in 1869, when Sylvester Sage Crosby worked alongside collector Joseph Levick to study 1793 U.S. cents and half cents. Their findings were published by the ANS in its American Journal of Numismatics in 1869.

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