ACTA ACCLA, March 2003

My First Ancient

Richard Baker

Bronze Centionalis of Valentinian II
Bronze Centionalis of Valentinian II

Emperor Valentinian II nominally ruled the Western division of the Roman Empire from 375 CE (when he was 4 years old) until 392 CE when he was killed (by strangulation). This coin measures 22 mm by 21 mm and 4.6 g and dates from the 4th emission - between August 9, 378 and August 25, 383. Obverse: Helmeted bust of Valentinian II right, with legend DN VALENTINIANVS PF AVG. Reverse: Valentinian II standing on galley, advancing left, victory at the helm, with legend GLORIA ROMANORUM. The CONĪ” in the exergue indicates that the coin was issued by the Constantinople mint (fourth officina). Roman Imperial Coinage vol. IX, Page 225, #52 (B), Cohen 22.

I remember my first Ancient coin as if it were yesterday. Ah, smell the nostalgia! Or was that flowers? It was around 1960, about a year before my Bar Mitzvah. For all of you out there with a pen and paper or calculator I will save you the time and tell you that I am a youthful (or is that immature?) 54! I had been collecting American coins for several years and, though still interested in them I was also collecting "foreign" coins. Mostly those mixed in inadvertently in change. My father had been a waiter at the Brown Derby in Hollywood for many years. Every week we would sit down together and go through a large glass jar filled with his "change" tips, which he always kept separate from the bills for the express purpose of us looking at it together. We would spend a good couple of hours at the kitchen table sifting through the pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters and half dollars. Those were the days when you could find Indian Head pennies, Liberty Head nickels, Barber dimes, Liberty quarters AND Liberty half dollars!! Occasionally there would be the oddball Canadian coin or George V or VI British penny. There were even Italian, French and others that my father brought home by telling people he was collecting them for me. That's also where my Movie Star Autograph Collection started but, that's another story. Every Saturday my Mother and I would go to lunch and then the movies. Remember the days of the theatre screen advertising that "new" luxury they were so proud of? No, not Cinemascope but, tah dah...Air Conditioning!

Each weekend we either went to Downtown Los Angeles or to Hollywood for the movie. This one particular Saturday we were going to the "Hollywood Theater", which was several doors down from the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue. We were a little early and, we actually hadn't gone to lunch yet. We stopped by the theatre first to find out what time the pictures started. Yes, that's pictures...plural! You know, two full length movies, one or two cartoons and the "trailers" for the next weeks feature movies. You DO remember two movies don't you?? How about one adult, one child, a drink and two boxes of Candy...all for under $5.00!!! Well, to continue with coins, among other things. Two doors down from the theatre was a coin and antique shop that was owned and run by an old German gentleman. Considering all the Nazi memorabilia and pictures of good old Adolph I use the term "gentleman" extremely lightly! That's when I saw her...err, I mean that's when I saw it, yah it! It was in a glass case among other "old" coins. It was about the size of a nickel and had a rather irregular, ragged flan. That's what first drew my attention to it.

I had no idea "who" was on the coin, only that it intrigued me. It had a rather youthful male portrait facing right, with chubby cheeks and a full, petulant mouth. Upon his head was a plumed Roman helmet, streamers flying behind. There was also the top of a round shield and, a small little hand holding a pointed spear. I wondered why so young a person was all "dressed up" for war? The reverse had what I assumed was the same young boy standing in a boat, one foot on the edge of the railing and wearing the same helmet, a cuirass (I recognized it as body armor from watching all those movies like "The Robe" and "Ben Hur" but didn't know what it was called at the time), with a cloak flying behind. Behind him and seated in the boat was a figure of a man with "wings"? Below was, CON and a pyramid (delta). I don't know why but I just HAD TO have it! It cost $2.75. That was what my lunch usually cost at the Cafeteria we went to before the movies. I looked at my mother with that look that is somewhere between a puppy dog and a prayer. She gave me the choice; it was my decision, lunch or the coin......well I guess you know how the story went. It was a start for me into the world of Ancient Coins and I have been collecting them now for over 42 years! I still have the coin. It is a centionalis of Valentinian II.


ACTA ACCLA edited by Michael J. Connor.