ART. XI. An Essay on Medals; or an Introduction to the Knowledge of Ancient and Modern Coins and Medals, especially those of Greece, Rome, and Britain. By John Pinkerton, the third edition, with corrections and additions. pp. 887. Two volumes, 8vo. London

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ART. XI. An Essay on Medals; or an Introduction to the Knowledge of Ancient and Modern Coins and Medals, especially those of Greece, Rome, and Britain. By John Pinkerton, the third edition, with corrections and additions. pp. 887. Two volumes, 8vo. London, Cadell and Davies. 1808.

[pp. 112-131] [original article in PDF format]

  1. MR. Pinkerton's Essay has been known to the public as long as from the year 1784, when it first appeared in one small volume, without the author's name, under the concise and simple title of 'An Essay on Medals.' A second edition followed in 1789, with an additional volume, a lengthened title, a dedication, a large appendix, and some very neat engravings of coins and medals. The third edition is formed upon the model of its immediate predecessor, and excels it chiefly in its more fashionable type and paper, besides some few emendations which were anxiously desired. It should be observed, that the table of contents, even in this third edition, differs but very minutely from that of the first, and were Mr. Pinkerton's work produced by mere intellectual labour, we conceive that he would be in the same situation with Sir J. Reynolds, who confessed that he was rather mortified than flattered, by a comparison of his most capital performances, with his earliest and most unskilful attempts. The knowledge of medals which he possessed twenty-four years ago, has not been so much increased as to afford any triumphant or [112] exulting reflections, excepting on one or two occasions, which we shall notice in their proper place.

  2. Mr. Pinkerton treats his subjects with less pedantic formality, than is often found in writers who are fond of their subject, and who dwell upon every minute charm, with a tedious and laboured eloquence. His preface indeed so clearly exposes the faults of all his predecessors, that he could not fail to observe and shun this disgusting error so common with former numismatic authors. This preface too is cleared of a great deal of gross and abusive language, which disgraced its former appearance. The censures were violent, and had an air of peevishness and contempt, which weakened the force of criticism, while it added nothing to our good opinion of the author's taste and judgment. More indeed might yet be done; and we could wish that a promise which Mr. Pinkerton gives us when just about to enter on a discussion concerning Greek and Roman money, had been more deeply fixed in his remembrance, and, for that purpose, placed in the very title page of his book.

  3. 'In this little Essay the words and phrases certainly, surely, no one can controvert, it is beyond a shadow of doubt, and the like, shall be regarded as unknown to the language, and the terms perhaps, it is probable, it would seem, we may suppose, substituted in their room.' Vol. 1. page 75.—Yet there are to be found in some parts of the work, expressions rather different from what such a moderate temper, as is here indicated, would seem to dictate.

  4. The first section, which details the rise and progress of the study of medals, a pursuit, we are told, 'such as never engaged the attention of a bad man,' is interesting so far as it goes to prove the notice which persons entitled to our reverence and respect have taken of it. Camden, Lord Burghley, and Archbishop Laud, were some of the earliest collectors in England. Politian (whom Mr. Pinkerton calls Agnolo Poliziano) was the first who made a real use of ancient medals by ascertaining from them some points of orthography, and elucidating some passages of ancient authors, which related to particular customs. The celebrated work of Budæus ' De Asse' was written in 1512, and from that time to the present, books on the subject have often appeared at intervals, and the science (as these gentlemen teach us to call it) has constantly been in a state of cultivation and improvement. In the middle of the fifteenth century, there were in the Low Countries 200 Cabinets, in Germany 175, in Italy [113] 380, and in France 200. It was not however before the middle of the seventeenth century, that some very extensive and complete collections were accumulated. At present this country abounds with cabinets of all sizes; Mr. Pinkerton has given us a list of some of the most celebrated, which is lamentably incorrect, especially in stating some eminent medallists of thirty years ago, to be still living. Mr. Southgate, Mr. Cracherode, and Mr. Tyssen, may serve for examples of this negligence.

  5. Indeed we cannot but remark that throughout the whole of this Work, great carelessness is shewn on the part of the author, in not correcting those passages which were merely temporary, and whose date is now passed. For, instance we have the following note, Vol. II. p. 27, which is transcribed verbatim from the edition of 1782, and consequently contains a palpable absurdity. 'The coins of the barons, towns, bishops, &c. of France, are collected in a work by the celebrated Tobiesen Duby, now printing at the Louvre, with 120 plates. His work on the coins of France is also expected to be soon published.' Similar anachronisms are frequent.

  6. The second section of this work 'On the Utility of the Study of Medals,' might, we think, with equal or greater propriety have stood at the commencement of the first volume. An unlearned reader would sooner have been enabled to satisfy his conscience, if Mr. Pinkerton's arguments are powerful enough to convince him, that his time would not be thrown away in the pursuit of this amusement. It is to the knowledge of history that he considers medals of eminent importance, and our readers will not be displeased to view in a narrow compass, all that a professed and skilful medallist can urge in favour of the importance of his science, as subservient to that of history, which he considers as the most valuable production of human genius.

    'The very basis of history is truth, without which the causes of human action, nay the actions themselves, are disguised, and the instruction arising from the narration totally lost, or converted into an empty chimera. Now the sole evidence we can have of the veracity of a historian consists in such collateral documents as are palpable to all, and can admit of no falsification. Such in modern times, are public memoirs, instructions to ambassadors, letters of state, and the like vouchers: which every person allows to be irrefutable. But as these proofs are subject to innumerable accidents, mutilations, and utter loss, their evidence cannot be presumed to extend to very distant ages. Add to this that, as such vouchers most commonly remain in the country whose actions they import, they [114] cannot be satisfactory to the world at large, without a degree of faith, which to the severe eye of philosophy, will appear too large, Hence monuments of longer duration are required to evince the veracity of ancient history. Such indeed are public buildings, statues, and inscriptions. But the evidence of these testimonies, though it extends to remote ages, does not extend to remote countries, if we except a very few instances of the two last articles. The reader must have, ere now, recollected, from this deduction, that medals alone remain as the principal proof of historic truth, their evidence reaching at once to the most remote ages, and the most remote countries. The vast utility of this study is therefore clear, because it serves as a support to the most important of all human sciences.'—Vol. i. p. 16.

  7. The examples of the importance here alleged, given by former medallic writers, are truly ludicrous, from the consequence attached to the discovery of events, by medals, without which we should have remained in perfect ignorance of them. Such is the birth of Marcus Annius Valerius Antoninus, who is known only by a medal that bears his name. But Mr. Pinkerton has made a more judicious display of the advantages to be gained with relation to history, and he has ingeniously pointed out a distinction between the Tribunitia Potestas given to the Roman Emperors, and their supreme authority: The former being sometimes confided to them before they acceded to the throne, as in the case of Tiberius, who enjoyed the Tribunitia Potestas, sixteen years before the death of Augustus. We have examples also of the utility to be drawn from medals regarding the sciences of Geography and Natural History, the illustration of ancient authors, the fine arts, and that general and elegant kind of knowledge which constitutes a connoisseur.

  8. Mr. Addison esteems the portraits which are to be found on medals, as one of the chief sources of pleasure and amusement to be derived from them, and places it first in his enumeration of their attractions. Mr. Pinkerton appears to think the beauty of design and workmanship which may be observed in ancient medals, more deserving of the first rank, though he assigns an honourable post to the other. We are rather inclined to adopt the opinion of Addison, since a love for portraits of illustrious persons, is so natural and so general, that we conceive (with any but connoisseurs) it is the first passion we seek to gratify in the contemplation of pictures and statues. Admiration of fine workmanship implies a previous acquaintance with that which is inferior, and we doubt not that our rudest English pennies, than which no production of [115]art can be more hideous, were looked upon with no small wonder and delight, by the good people of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. From very early times there have been, at least, attempts at portraits on coins, and it would be difficult to find a very substantial reason, but that of ancient usage, for continuing on current money the portraits and names of sovereigns, whose office only is permanent, while the coinage on every demise of the crown is to be renewed, in order to receive the vera effigies of the new monarch. In earlier times they did not always wait for this alteration, and there are some coins of Edward the Sixth while a mere boy, who is represented with the jolly figure of his bloated and corpulent father.

  9. It is not however only from the medals which contain the real portraits of princes, that this kind of amusement may be derived. Mr. Pinkerton has suggested (and we think with a great shew of probability) that the ideal representations of deities on the ancient medals, may perhaps be copies of the works of eminent painters and sculptors. It certainly appears very likely, that the figure of a Jupiter or a Mars once executed by Praxiteles, would be considered as the acknowledged image of the god, and consequently would be closely imitated by other artists. This hypothesis receives great support from the exquisite beauty displayed on medals, in the portraits of these imaginary personages.

  10. In this part of his work, our author indulges in some severe strokes upon an unhappy class of people whom he calls Antiquists, an expression made for the occasion, and intended to describe those characters against whom 'the ridicule of Scriblerus is particularly shot.' He bitterly reproaches our men of talents, with their neglect of studies most important to their country ; and contrasts our English Antiquists with the Antiquaries of foreign nations, amongst whom, he tells us, the name implies 'a man who illustrates their ancient laws, manners, poetry, but especially their ancient history.' Our species of the animal on the contrary, takes delight in any 'rusty commodity,' but above all in defaced medals, none of which afford him any pleasure, if their portrait, reverse, and legend, be not totally obliterated. His appetite is depraved, his curiosity is childish, and 'mingled with caprice and hypochondriacism.' Such is the true English Antiquist, whose breed, according to Mr. Pinkerton, is confined to this country, where it prevails to the exclusion of the historian, of whom he denies that we possess a single specimen, while the continent abounds in all the varieties of them.

  11. As Mr. Pinkerton has told us, a little above, that of all the [116] productions of human genius, history is of most importance and utility to mankind, it is not a little afflicting to find ourselves so grievously deficient in a point of so much consequence. We confess that we were in the habits of reading the works of certain natives of this land, with a persuasion that they were really very excellent histories, and we did feel some little national pride, when we reflected on what had been done towards the illustration of our ancient laws, manners, and history. But the opinion of Mr. Pinkerton is announced with so much authority, with such oracular dignity, that we fear to draw the thunder upon our heads, by acknowledging the idols of our former worship.—No! Never shall Mr. Pinkerton reproach our audacity in boasting that England has produced antiquaries as formidable as Muratori, Leibnitz, Montesquieu, and Du Bos, whom to our utter confusion he draws up as in defiance of all the force we can assemble.

  12. The fifth section of the Essay relates to the metals which at different times have been used in coinage; and the respective purity of various standards is amply discussed. Our present money of gold continues at the standard which was fixed by Charles II. at the introduction of guineas. It contains two parts in twenty-four of alloy, or in the language of goldsmiths and medallists, the guinea consists of gold twenty-two carats fine, to two carats alloy; and this is the utmost degree of purity at which gold is ever found in its natural state. The earliest Grecian and Roman money was of a much purer standard, and this might have contributed to the uncommon delicacy of workmanship displayed by the ancient artists, since gold is malleable in proportion to its fineness.

  13. The most interesting part of this section perhaps is that which confutes those Antiquaries, who pretended to discover medals of the celebrated Corinthian brass. Mr. Pinkerton clearly demonstrates the absurdity of this error, in his remark that this metal is only found in the imperial Sestertii and the Dupondiarii, that these coins were in currency worth about a penny and twopence, while they are of considerable weight, so that had there been even a small proportion of gold or silver, they must have been of great value. The deception appears to have been caused by a mixture of zinc with the copper, which gives several different hues in proportion to the relative quantity of either metal. The most beautiful is that of the composition now called prince's metal, which is the identical Corinthian brass of the early medallists. Upon the whole we think Mr. Pinkerton has clearly established, that [117] the real Corinthian brass was never used for the purposes of coinage.

  14. Hitherto, our author tells us, he has considered Greek and Roman coins only as medals; he is now to regard them as money, and to assume the language of commerce in exclusion to that of taste. A knowledge of this subject is unquestionably to be regarded as of use to the reader of ancient authors, but we can hardly consent to Mr. Pinkerton's proposal of ranking it with the sciences of geography and chronology. To be in perfect ignorance of the relative value of ancient monies, would certainly envelope most ancient authors in obscurity; but every school-boy has a general notion of the talent, the as, and the sesterce, and this is about as much as is requisite for all but medallists to possess. It is indeed with very great difficulty that we can attain to a profound acquaintance with this subject, and all its minute parts. Controversies without end have increased its intricacy and perplexity, and every fresh author makes it his first care to attack and expose his predecessors; while none are capable of establishing a system perfectly beyond the reach of critical objection. It is curious to observe the pains, which writers on ancient money have taken, to torture the meaning of authors when it interfered with their own favourite hypothesis. Gronovius for instance maintained that the sestertius was always of silver. A passage of Pliny expressly declares it to be brass. The Commentator exclaims 'Urit me, fateor, hic locus,' but he is far from giving up his opinion. With similar pertinacity several authors have asserted the tortoise to be a symbol peculiar to Peloponnesus. In consequence they have attributed a great deal of the earliest Grecian silver, which bears the tortoise, and , to Ægium, a small town of Achaia, while it is evident that they were the coins of Ægina, an island to which the badge of a tortoise was as appropriate as to Peloponnesus.

  15. Both these errors are refuted by Mr. Pinkerton, who in despite of Gronovius has established, with every appearance of probability, that the sestertius was latterly a brass coin. Yet he has stated this matter with so little perspicuity and arrangement, that it is extremely difficult to discover what it is that his quotations are intended to prove. To a very peculiar stile, he has added the embarrassments which arise from a total want of order, method, and closeness of argument. In one instance he has given us a mathematical demonstration—and we heartily recommend to him an assiduous perusal of Euclid, as well as a servile imitation of [118] his stile, until he has formed one of more elegance, and of equal convenience to his readers. At present few will be inclined to undergo the labour necessary to arrive at his recondite meaning.

  16. We do not see any necessity for adopting Mr. Pinkerton's objections to the computations of Arbuthnot, against whom he urges no very important authorities. Nor can we immediately subscribe to his notions, respecting the reducing of all Asiatic, African, Grecian, and Sicilian coins, to three standards. Perhaps we differ from him, because he will not allow himself to be clearly understood; but he is so sparing of proofs for the foundation of his new doctrines, that we must still consider ourselves as entitled to retain our former opinions. We should, for instance, wish to be instructed why Mr. Pinkerton supposes the Eubœic talent to be so called from 'Eubœa, one of the quarters of the city of Argos.' We desire to have some good reason for estimating the Attic drachma at ninepence English, which, Mr. Pinkerton simply tells us, is 'the best medium value.' He consequently reckons the lesser Attic talent at 225 pounds sterling, while Spanheim would teach us to regard it as worth only 187 l. 10 s. 0 d. sterling. And we do not exactly concur with his supposition that the Roman sesterce is to be valued at 8 l. 6 s. 8 d. which former writers, and especially Spanheim, would appear to reckon worth only 7 l. 16 s. 3 d. These may perhaps be thought trifling variations, but with medallists, a very minute error often occasions a very fierce controversy.

  17. We heartily sympathise with our author in the feelings which he expresses in his good-humoured conclusion of this division of his work.

  18. 'So much for this dry, but necessary subject; which is so dull that one might go to sleep over it, were it not at the same time so embarrassed as to keep one awake from pure vexation. However, I hope it is, that by removing many embarrassments, I have at least contributed to procure my reader a sounder nap, than some former writers on these matters have done.' vol. 1. p. 199—We must certainly give Mr. Pinkerton credit for understanding his subject well. But at the same time we regret that he has not adopted a sort of language which would more readily enable his readers to participate in his knowledge. Respecting the 'Conservation of Medals,' people are apt to believe that modern antiquaries cherish a strange affection for dirt and rust, which formerly had peculiar charms for the connoisseurs. Our author exposes this vulgar error, when he assures us that a coin must at least be in good preservation to secure the attention [119] of the present race of collectors. He also shews us that the celebrated rust of ancient coins is really of considerable beauty, and of some use; and we shall be glad to lay before our readers the following very accurate description of it.

    'This fine rust, which is, indeed, a natural varnish not imitable by any effort of human art, is sometimes a delicate blue, like that of a turquoise; sometimes of a bronze brown, equal to that observable in ancient statues of bronze, and so highly prized; and sometimes of an exquisite green, a little on the azure hue, which last is the most beautiful of all. It is also found of a fine purple, of olive, and of a cream-colour, or pale yellow; which last is exquisite, and shews the impression to as much advantage, as paper of cream-colour, used in all great foreign presses, does copper-plates and printing. The Neapolitan patina is of a light green; and when free from excrescence or blemish, is very beautiful. Sometimes the purple patina gleams through an upper coat of another colour, with as fine effect as a variegated silk or gem. In a few instances a rust of deeper green is found; and it is sometimes spotted with the red or bronze shade, which gives it quite the appearance of the East Indian stone called blood-stone. These rusts are all, when the real product of time, as hard as the metal itself, and preserve it much better than any artificial varnish would have done; concealing at the same time not the most minute particle of the impression of the coin.'— Vol. I. p. 203.

  19. The portraits to be found on coins, and the reverses, form two brief sections. They might well have been enlarged, and we could wish to see them illustrated with plates. In both points the Grecian workmanship claims a decided pre-eminence. The earliest portraits are those of the kings of Macedon, which are distinguished for grandeur of design and boldness of execution, not less than for their antiquity. The symbols which decorate the ancient reverses have often been described before, and particularly by Mr. Spence in his Polymetis; for the common attributes of gods, heroes, &c. appear nearly the same in larger works of art, as on medals. It is by the legends chiefly that we derive exclusively from medals several curious particulars, and this subject Mr. Pinkerton has treated more at length: In his appendix too he has given us tables of abbreviations that occur in Grecian and Roman legends, which may be of considerable use to those who are inclined to indulge in conjecture at the meaning of letters, and who are apt to be guided by fancy rather than judgment.

  20. We next arrive at a chapter concerning Medallions and Medalets. The former term includes all those productions of the [120]ancient moneyers, which are of a size beyond that of any current coin. Medalet is a word from Mr. Pinkerton's own mint. He acutely remarks that we have such words as ringlet and bracelet, and therefore why not medalet? Nay, in another part of his work (vol.ii. p. 152) the little sovereigns of Ireland are termed kinglets. In short, medalet means a little medal, as bracelet, we suppose, means a little brace. Medallions are very rare and extravagantly valuable in the eyes of a collector. The late royal cabinet of France (which Mr. Pinkerton with his usual inaccuracy speaks of as now extant) contained nearly twelve hundred,—a number far surpassing that of any other collection. There are medallions both of Greece and Rome, the former of which are most rare when of an age prior to the Roman empire. Under medalets, our author classes the missilia and various sorts of tickets. Upon the whole they appear to be a series, little deserving the deep attention of a connoisseur, though in a few instances there may be found some interesting specimens. The contorniati are nearly similar. Mr. Pinkerton supposes them to be tickets for places at public exhibitions. There is certainly every reason for adopting this conjecture, and less credit is due to its author, than he appears to claim; for it would seem obvious to every intelligent medallist, though it may not have occurred to some of the dullest whom he quotes. These pieces abound in types which evidently relate to the theatres, and those few which exhibit any legends at all, most clearly demonstrate the purpose for which they were used. One mentioned by Mr. Pinkerton presents an actor declaiming, with the legend 'Petroni placeas.'—the design cannot be mistaken.

  21. We have now two sections, wherein the Greek and Roman coins are considered simply as medals. The first contains a discussion concerning the origin of coinage, which Mr. Pinkerton is willing to ascribe to the Lydians upon the authority of Herodotus. He seems to have omitted to observe, that according to Herodotus, the Lydians first coined 'money of gold and silver' , which expression perhaps may imply the previous use of some other metal. The author himself tells us that the earliest coins of the north of Europe were of copper. Britain in the time of Caesar used brass and iron. The first Roman coins (those of Servius Tullus) were large masses of brass, and it seems that the least precious metals were generally the first made use of as a medium of exchange. Mr. Pinkerton has repeated several times over his ideas about the first coins, but this observation seems to have escaped him.—These two sections, and the [121] following, upon other ancient medals, contain much information, but it is of a miscellaneous nature, and the subjects are so ill arranged, that we can hardly pretend to state with much precision what it is that the author proposes to teach us. There are some attempts at ascertaining the relative antiquity of coins by their types, and the objects they represent; but it would be very difficult to form any regular system, because coins had been used long before any figures existed on them. But this is a subject which the Abbé Barthelemi has discussed at greater length; and Mr. Pinkerton has only given us an abridgement of his treatise.

  22. There is nothing in this Essay on Medals more disgusting to those who take pleasure in order and regularity, than the confusion in expression which pervades the whole book. Throughout the first part of it, the author very absurdly uses the terms coin and medal as synonymous. At the commencement of the sixth section, he tells us that he is about to consider coins as coins, for a short time, but that afterwards he will again confound them with medals; and this he contrives to do so effectually, that he is actually obliged to usurp the word medallion, and invent the word medalet, in order to express what every clear-headed antiquary would have simply called medal. He now tells us that having happily got rid of his discourse on money, he begs leave to consider Greek and Roman coins 'merely as medals in a cabinet.' The sestertius is again denominated 'a medal,' and we suppose that he would apply the same term to the iron rings which the British, according to Caesar, coined instead of sesterces—pro nummis. We now began to hope that Mr. Pinkerton would rest quiet in the enjoyment of the chaos he had created, and that we should only have the trouble of finding out whether he was speaking of coins or of medals. But lamentably were we deceived. The second volume commences with the stale remark, that till now coins and medals have been regarded as synonymous, (which is not true) but that henceforth 'the word coin only is used in speaking of common cash; and that of medal supplies the place of the term medallion.' So that after three hundred and seventy-one pages of confusion he at length discovers, that coins and medals are not in fact the same things, and that a term of which he was pleased to pervert the meaning, was equal to conveying all the ideas which it was intended to represent, and to 'supplying the place' of what he had substituted in its room.

  23. This point being, we hope, finally settled, we enter upon the second volume of the essay, which is devoted to modern coins and medals, especially those of Great Britain, their rarity, prices, &c [122] and an appendix, consisting of three separate parts. With the ninth century, or the empire of Charlemagne, commences the series of modern coins, but previously to the beginning of the sixteenth century, we find in them little to admire in point of elegance, though we may sometimes observe designs of moderate ingenuity. In execution, there is more to surprise than charm us. The gold penny of Henry the third is really the performance of an artist tolerably skilful: yet the silver coins of the same sovereign present us with a portrait of such rudeness, that it is far inferior to the heptarchic pennies. The same remark may be applied to the English and Anglo-Gallic gold of Edward the third, when compared with the execrable workmanship of his groats and pennies. For these inconsistencies it would be difficult to account: Mr. Pinkerton has not assisted us with a single conjecture, for he has not noticed the subject.

  24. In the beginning of the second volume, however, the author offers some remarks respecting the valuation of ancient money. He observes that the Saxon penny does not weigh three of our modern silver pennies, and that according to several authors, a penny under the heptarchy was equivalent to five shillings at present: yet the penny was the only coin, and it can hardly be conceived that even if it were cut in four parts, people would not have required a smaller coin for the common purposes of traffic. We may judge of the inconvenience by imagining a piece of 1 s. 3 d. to be the lowest piece of money now current. Our author supposes the value of the Saxon penny to have encreased little more than threefold; but on this topic he is much too concise, and we regret that he has looked upon the matter as foreign to his design; and has accordingly proceeded to the consideration of all modern coins in every quarter of the globe, but still merely in the light of 'medals in a cabinet,' in which point of view the modern coin of foreign nations has very little claim to interest us. The Roman denarius has apparently been the model, upon which the early coins of most countries in Europe were formed. In France and Spain, however, gold seems to have been the first metal adopted, and the solidus and tremissis were the objects of imitation. Nevertheless we shall scarcely find any European language that does not possess some corruption of the word denarius. The French denier, and the Spanish dinero (which now means money in general) are sufficient to prove the use of it even in those countries where gold had been the first production of the mint. In the time of St. Louis, denier had become a term common to all sorts of coin in France, as penny was in England, so that a gold piece [123] of that sovereign which bore the image of the Agnus Dei, was called Denier à l'Aignel.

  25. Mr. Pinkerton has divided this section into two articles, in the second of which he treats of modern medals properly so called. We are rather surprised at the ease with which he is satisfied respecting the gold nobles of David II. of Scotland, being in fact medals. It seems to us very improbable that gold medals should be struck of a king while a captive in England, by English artists, above a century before any other medals were struck in Europe, and of a metal but just then introduced into England for the purposes of coinage. We are well inclined to believe that these pieces are not actually mentioned in any act or proclamation: but from this, we think, can only be inferred that they were not used as current money. From the essay before us we derive one brief hint towards the unfolding of this mystery. Mr. Pinkerton mentions in his appendix, No. IV. p. 439, the following two statutes.

    ' David II. 1347. c, 35, Ordaining English money to be received in Scotland, as (at) its value in England.

    '1365. c. 38. Ordering a new coinage, equal to the English in weight and fineness; with a notable sign upon it, to distinguish it from all other money.'

  26. Now if the Scotch Coin was really to be made in every respect equal to the English, which these words seem to imply, it does not appear to us at all extraordinary that it should have been the intention of David to imitate the noble of Edward III. Allowing this, it is probable that pattern pieces would be struck, even in this early age, for though we know of no pattern pieces of such antiquity in England, it is because the English coin was original: but this in Scotland being merely an imitation of Edward the third's money, the artist would perhaps be required to give a specimen of his abilities in copying workmanship superior to his own. It is we think by no means surprising that the coinage, of which these pieces are patterns, should not have been completed. A thousand causes may be assigned for the Scottish monarch laying aside his intention of introducing the noble, and perhaps the poverty of his kingdom at the time might have been the most powerful objection. If Mr. Pinkerton's plate of David's noble be correctly engraved, we have to inform him that there is a very evident and essential difference between the two specimens of it which he mentions, so that they could not have been the production of the same mintage. If this remark has any [124] consequence at all, we are of opinion that it rather goes to corroborate the notion which we have ventured to adopt in opposition to Mr. Pinkerton. We have said so much upon the subject, because we thought the question, whether such a kingdom as Scotland, under such a reign as that of David, was to have the credit of inventing medals a century before any other country in Europe, might be of as much interest and importance as most topics which form the subject of antiquarian discussion.

  27. Mr. Pinkerton proceeds to mention the most celebrated medals of different countries, and gives some remarks upon them, their comparative ingenuity, beauty, &c. from the work of Luckius, which he informs us has become very scarce. It were to be wished that he had pointed out the precise observations taken from that book, for it seems that in some instances it is Mr. Pinkerton's opinion that is submitted to us instead of that of Luckius. We are sorry to find him again differing from Addison regarding the propriety of poetical legends on medals, such as that upon the victory over the French fleet in 1693. 'Non illi imperium pelagi.' Our author's principal objection to such legends is, that no examples of them are to be found on ancient medals. But the case is not parallel. We do not quote contemporary poets, which must have been the case, with the ancients, had a victory of Augustus been commemorated on medals by a quotation from the Æneid. As to the other classes of medals which Mr. Pinkerton (after Dr. Coningham) censures, viz. the impious, the jingling, the intricate, and the abusive, it is almost needless to say that we perfectly agree with him.

  28. British coins are justly considered by our author as most interesting to his readers: there are, however, so many works concerning them which treat the subject more correctly, and at greater length, that we do not feel any necessity for enlarging upon this part of Mr. Pinkerton's Essay. One or two observations we are compelled to offer. He tells us, vol. ii, p. 82, that 'It is a vulgar error, to suppose Egbert either first king, or really king of all England, yet he and his descendants were chief monarchs:' this is rather obscure, and we suspect that Mr. Pinkerton means to say, that he was not the only person who had the title of king, i. e. that Egbert allowed to the petty sovereigns of Northumbria, Mercia, and East Anglia, the privileges of calling themselves kings, and being tributary to him. We cannot, however, discover why this should invalidate Egbert's title.

  29. P. 86. Edward the third is said to have first coined the groat. We did not suspect the author of so much negligence. Every [125] writer on the subject mentions the well-known groats of Edward the first, and there can be no question of their authenticity.

  30. Testoon he tells us is derived from tête or teste, because it has the head of the Sovereign. We could wish to be informed whether Henry the seventh, who invented testoons, ever coined any silver money which had not his head.

  31. P. 104. The town pieces of Charles the first's reign are 'recommended to the supreme scorn of the reader' very unjustly. They were long the current coin, and the only copper coin, of the realm, and the meanest of them is more interesting than any of the Contorniati, to which a section of this essay is devoted.

  32. The twenty-shilling pieces in silver of Charles the first are not siege-pieces, as Mr. Pinkerton calls them. p. 109. They are of fine workmanship, and are totally distinct from any obsidional money. He can tell us, perhaps, at what siege they were struck since all the real siege pieces bear the name of their place of mintage.

  33. The account here given of the coins of Scotland and Ireland is more valuable than that of the English, because on these topics there is a greater deficiency of books. Mr. Pinkerton's history of them is sufficiently exact, and as copious as the design of his work would allow.

  34. The ensuing section on the progress of British coinage relate chiefly to the workmanship of it, on which our author has found more to say than we expected, and of a different nature: for after numerous observations on the coinage of different ages, he favours us with some proposals of his own, which we shall present to our readers after some remarks which we are obliged to make upon certain parts of the treatise.

  35. P. l6l. The revival of the use of the mill in France, an. 1645, is ascribed to ' the taste for medals instilled into Louis XIV.' In 1645, Louis XIV. was but seven yeare old.

  36. P. 172. The author supposes that the largest gold coins of Oliver Cromwell, which are called fifty-shilling pieces, were only patterns 'struck in large,' for forty shillings. He ought to have observed that these coins are of the same diameter as the pound piece, and that it is their thickness which adds the value of thirty shillings, that thickness, however, being only so much as to allow of the legend on the edge. So that whatever is their value it could not have been diminished had they been brought into circulation.

  37. P. 174. The author has satisfactorily proved that the money of Oliver Cromwell was at least intended for currency, though [126] from its great beauty it might often have been judged fitter for the cabinet than the purse. He has also observed that from the great plenty of commonwealth money, there was little occasion for that of Oliver to be in general use. We cannot, however, fail to express our surprise that he has no-where noticed the eighteen and nine-penny pieces of the protector, which certainly have strong claims on the attention of a medallist, because excepting in the obsidional coinage of Charles the first, we have no pieces of similar value.

  38. We have next a detail of the process of coining as it is now practised in most European mints, and which (though at the Tower it is made a great secret) is related in the Encyclopedie, whence our author takes it, and in many English books. It is not within our limits or design to compare this method with that of Mr. Boulton, and there is perhaps no other point of view in which it would be interesting to our readers. Still less are we inclined to enlarge upon the ridicule which Mr. Pinkerton casts on the coinage of our present Sovereign, and on the proposed improvements of Lord Stanhope. The gross and disgusting faults of both are evident to the most unskilful observer, and though we must heartily desire a reformation of our money, we will for the present forbear to expose ' the nakedness of the land.' The rest of Europe is at this period not much superior to us, yet no Englishman can compare the coins of George the third, and Charles the second, without a blush for our national genius. The emendations of Mr. Pinkerton, however, are not such as we would wish to see adopted. We agree with him that the attiring of his Majesty in Roman armour and a laurel crown is absurd. He should appear, on his coin, in that costume in which he performs the most august functions of royalty, and we could wish to behold on modern money that 'Sovereign Type' with which his hallowed predecessor, Edward the Confessor, first ennobled the coin of his realm. For the remainder of Mr. Pinkerton's suggestions, we will faithfully submit them to our readers, with an idea that at least they cannot fail to be amusing, if they should not be found to merit the applause and admiration of the public.

    'Supposing, for the sake of a reverie, an alteration in the British coin upon these principles, the obverse might throughout, as at present, contain the king's portrait, but without armour, or laurel crown, till he wears them. Around would run the illustrious title, GEORGE III. KING OF GREAT BRITAIN AND IRELAND. The other titles, of which the initials cot so awkward a figure upon the reverse of our [127] gold and silver, might be left out of the coin without inconvenience. But the reverses, if historical events are not allowed, in imitation of the Roman, should be varied, in every species, something in this way. The guinea might present a figure of liberty, as the most precious of our possessions, and worthy of the analogy of gold: the legend might be, THE GUARDIAN OF BRITAIN. On the half guinea, suppose an image of Fortitude, THE GUARDIAN OF LIBERTY. The crownpiece might bear Liberty, Agriculture, and Commerce, UNITED TO BLESS. The half-crown—the king, a peer, and a commoner, emblematic of our happy constitution, with the legend, UNITED TO PROTECT. The shilling might be charged with a ship of war convoying a merchant vessel, WEALTH AND POWER: the sixpence with an oak in a storm, STRONGER FROM THE TEMPEST. The halfpenny may remain as it is, with regard to the impression, only doubling the size of the coin: the Britannia should hold a trident in her right hand, and let the other recline upon the helm of a ship, instead of holding both aloft, with impertinent articles in each, a posture very absurd, and unknown to the ancients. What is the meaning of her long spear? What of her olive branch, with which she sits, like an old lady in an old picture with a flower in her hand? The farthing of the size of the present halfpenny, might present an husbandman sowing, with this legend, BY INDUSTRY SMALL THINGS GROW GREAT. But any effectual improvement of our coinage must be left till GOD help us; together with the more important improvement of the police of London, of our waste lands, and of parliamentary representation.' vol. ii. p. 190-192.

  39. The effect of this new coinage would indeed be diverting. We recommend to our readers' attention, the half crown with portraits of the king in his crown, a noble lord in his parliamentary robes, and a trim commoner in his dress coat and Opera hat. For Mr. Pinkerton abhors to see represented 'the thing which is not,' and whatever be the likeness, such must it be delineated on the coin. There would be a curious contrast between the ideal personages of the crown piece, Liberty, Agriculture, and Commerce, and the king, lord, and commoner on the half-crown. But we suppose there is some analogy between them, and we suspect also a sly hint, that lords ought to be farmers, and commoners merchants. How it is that the police of London, waste lands, and parliamentary representation, are connected with an essay on medals, we do not at once perceive: and we will therefore refrain from observations upon them, until Mr. Pinkerton favours us with an essay on these topics, in which we conclude he will intersperse some biting sarcasms on numismatic subjects.

  40. The rarity of all sorts of coins and medals now comes under [128] consideration. Mr. Pinkerton gravely tells us that rarity is caused by different circumstances. Sometimes but few pieces were coined, and sometimes they were called in, &c. He also informs us that very rare coins may become comparatively common, if a large quantity of them be discovered, as was the case with Canute's pennies.—These remarks are new. It is not every one that would think of putting them in his book; and we are convinced that our readers would never forgive our passing them in silence. They remind us of an ingenious Spaniard, by name Pedro Grullo, who compiled a series of observations for the benefit of his country, of which not one can admit of the smallest doubt or question, but on the contrary their truth has been known and acknowledged by every man, woman, and child, from the beginning of the world. The rarity of coins is nearly allied to their pecuniary value, and if we could confide implicitly in the prices given in Mr. Pinkerton's Appendix, we should not stand in need of the assistance which his twenty-first section affords us. But these subjects are merely temporary, and since the date of our author's earlier editions, the prices of coins have varied so much, that we do not perceive any use whatever that can be made of his tables of rarity.

  41. Counterfeit medals and the arts of distinguishing them, we fear, require a greater space than our author has allotted to the discussion of them. It would be curious to discover any good reason for the forger of ancient medals being esteemed a man of ingenuity and merit, while his brother artist who gives his imitations of modern money, is regarded as one of the most formidable of villains. For our own part we see little distinction between the two, excepting that the former flies at nobler game, and exercises a more profitable employment: but with great reluctance should we receive a rouleau of unexamined guineas from the imitator of Otho or of Richard the First. Modern collectors are seldom imposed upon by these fabrications. They are now so well acquainted with ancient workmanship and other particulars belonging to every coin, that they easily distinguish any suspicious appearance which to an unskilled observer would be invisible. The author aptly compares this discriminating power, to the facility with which a shepherd discerns any individual member of his flock, which to common eyes presents no sort of difference from the others. We can only observe here that Mr. Pinkerton resolves all counterfeits of ancient medals into six classes, and that his observations are taken from [129] 'La Maniere [sic] de discerner les Medailles [sic] antiques de celles qui sont contrefaites, par M. de Beauvais.'

  42. Cabinets of medals are we think hardly so subject to strict rules as Mr. Pinkerton supposes, when he divides them into three classes; for most collections are formed according, to the caprice of the owner, and there are few who have made any series the exclusive object of their search. Of complete collections (which pretend to contain the coins and medals of every age and country) we know of none in England that nearly attained their end, but those of Dr. Mead, Dr. Hunter, and Mr. Tyssen. And none of those, excepting for the coins of our own islands, were at all worthy to be compared with the royal cabinet of France. There are now in England many collectors of the second and third rate. We are even inclined to think, that of Greek and Roman coins we have more cabinets than all the rest of Europe contains. The coinage of our own country is to a certain degree collected universally: few are without specimens of the money of Queen Elizabeth, and many hundreds treasure up brass counters of Queen Anne which they call farthings, and value at a thousand pounds. The national cabinet in the British Museum, were it the property of any private individual, would be esteemed a distinguished assemblage of rarities, and no opportunity should be neglected of rendering it the depository of all the most remarkable specimens which can be procured by purchase.

  43. A section on the prices of medals concludes this essay. We have consequently another complaint to make of the miserable arrangement of the work. There is a section concerning rarity, and another concerning prices, and both are considered again in the Appendix. We have already hinted our opinion of these valuations, and if we imitated Mr. Pinkerton we might repeat it with little alteration of language. But it is enough to caution our readers against relying implicitly on his accuracy, and to recommend to their perusal any modern catalogues of sales, from which they may easily form more correct notions of the value and usual price of these articles.

  44. The contents of the Appendix have in part been noticed. The three parts relate to Greek, Roman, and Britannic coins. The two former consist of tables of abbreviations, dates, names of colonies, cities, families, and magistrates, with estimates of rarity and prices. The third part contains valuations of English Irish and Scotch coins, with some acts of parliament, &c. The whole Appendix occupies nearly half the second volume. [130]

  45. On a general view of Mr. Pinkerton's work, we see much to commend, though in some instances he appears to have done all he could to depreciate his own merit, by errors which are not to be excused in so experienced and prolific a writer. His stile is often uncommon and ambiguous, and, as we have remarked before, his contempt for method and order is perpetually creating obscurity. This is a third and corrected edition, and therefore no allowances need be made for haste, or for inadvertent omissions. Yet we could point out some sentences of the most clumsy construction, and one or two in which poor Priscian is sadly mauled. A general work on coins and medals is as yet a desideratum, nor can we hesitate to express our wish that instead of giving us a new edition, Mr. Pinkerton had expanded and improved the former ones into a more useful shape. The bulk of his work need not have been much enlarged. We would willingly consent to give up the appendix, or at least the greater part of it; and there are two or three sections which, if not wholly omitted, might be reduced to a small portion of their present size.

  46. Of typographical errors we could notice several: but there are none likely to distress or confound the reader, unless it be in vol. 1, p. 202, where legions is misprinted for legends. In the whole work there is scarcely one sentence of Greek correctly given.

  47. Before we take leave of our author, we have to congratulate him upon his emancipation from a cruel slavery under which he laboured, when the former editions of his essay appeared. We allude to the affectation of orthography, which induced him to call himself i and to spell sundry words in a new mode: with this offence we are no longer molested in the new edition, and he may perhaps apply to us the words of Pistol, 'Why then rejoice therefore.' The knowledge of medals has long been esteemed, but is not yet general; and any work which is likely to influence the public opinion, and direct it towards the cultivation of this branch of taste, ought to be scrupulously divested of every particle of pedantry which may disgust beginners at their outset. [131]

Published @ RC

September 2006

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