How to analyze and classify a legend error

 In this article we will see how to differentiate an official coin with a legend error of a contemporary imitation. We will also see how to classify this coin that will be used for analysis.

Take the RIC VI VI 129, description:




Photos from a coin sold By Classicla Numismactic Group, link to the sale:, link to their website:

Struck in Lyon mint (Lugdunum) '' _ '' indicates the mark in the exergue, under the ground line. '' / '' indicates the field mark.

 What to deduce from this? First of all, the legend is classified as having an error because there is an omission of a letter. CAESA instead of CAESAR, and this has no logic. In this case, we speak of legend error. How to explain this peculiarity and especially, does this class this coin in the category of imitations? An imitation is often recognizable by its style which is different from that of official coins. Its lighter weight, can also indicate that it is an imitation. These imitations often have errors in the legend, when they have many, we speak of degenerate legends. The radiated imitations of the 3rd century are very rich in legends and degenerate representations. Only, it also happens that no legend error is present. In this configuration, we still rely on style and weight. For this coin, we see that the style is perfect, especially for a portrait as rich in detail and therefore difficult to imitate.                                 Now, it's about understanding how such an error could have happened. The error is human, but we must also imagine that an engraver was not necessarily a Roman, but could be ''barbarian'' therefore of non-Roman origin. This person, recruited for his artistic talents, did not necessarily have a facility to read and write Latin. This engraver was only copying a legend in this case, without understanding what he was writing. This letter C is therefore probably a bad interpretation. That said, it can also be an error of the engraver, perfectly mastering the Latin language.

We have seen how to differentiate the different cases. The question that now arises is this: how to classify this coin? It's pretty subjective. Some will classify it as a variant of the RIC 129, others as a RIC 129 with an error. According to me and I think that many people join me, it is not a variant, simply a curiosity. Sometimes we classify as a variant, a lot of things. A variant can become a number (a line if you prefer) alone a few years later. If we discover an unknown coin that is similar to a known type except that the emperor wears a helmet. This coin will be briefly described as a variant of the known type. Then specialists will analyze this coin and classify it in a striking period etc ... (this is an example). I specify that this is an example, because wearing the helmet is not a difference that necessarily indicates a particular strike. Indeed, there are the cases of new use of an old die (by mistake or voluntarily) or simply in the case of the helmet, a will of the engraver to mark more the military aspect of the emperor. On the other hand, a change of clothes (consular bust ...) is to look differently. To determine all this, specialists look for die links with other coins already dated, check historical matches (titles, events). In a general framework, therefore, a variant (which remains a variant, even after verification and comparison with the coin already listed) has not important changing elements. Like: a change in attributes for an allegory (two cornucopias instead of one) replacing or adding an attribute. For the portrait, there are the elements that I have already listed above, such as the addition of a helmet, the tiara that contains pearls or rosette ... Unimportant or important elements, but that do not dissociate the coin of the strike issue of his counterpart named "main type". To conclude, all these points are voluntary changes made by the engraver. While this omission of ''R' is a mistake. It is not a variant.

Classical Numismatic Group gives us moreover details on this coin, joining the remarks made above: ''See note no. 5 to the RIC reference cited above where Sutherland and Carson ask an interesting question: "The CONSTANTIVS NOB CAS of Voetter (officina A) is surely an error?" The evidence of the current specimen suggests possibly not. It seems that there was at least one illiterate (or perhaps just careless) die engraver working at the mint during production of this issue, and Voetter's recording of the unusual legend may not simply be a typographical error as questioned by the authors of RIC.''