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O abordare grafică a studiului monedelor lui Ştefan III cel Mare (Partea I) / A Graphic Approach to the Study of the Coins Issued by Stephen III („the Great”) (First Part)

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Excerpt The problems raised by the study of the Moldavian medieval coins led, recently, to a new set of approaches, driven by the progresses in science and technology (such as the non-destructive analyses of the alloys used in coinage). These new approaches focused primary on the "material" aspects of the coins, leaving a part the study of the devices in print on them. These had a precisely coded meaning; both to the users of the coins and to the issuing authorities, the full understanding of their meaning can lead to significant achievements in the numismatics of medieval Moldavia.
This paper focuses precisely on the graphical study of these symbols. Using modern computer graphic techniques will be identified die-links, dies belonging to the same "family" of dies, their components made using the same punches and, based on these, will be revealed technological details of the process of the dies cutting and striking the coins. Finally, it will be estimated the amount of coins issued (based on the estimated number of dies used), it will be traced the origin of the engravers (by stylistic means), it will be possible to classify and even date the studied coin types and, finally, it will be possible to gain superior understanding of the symbols on the coin.
To proceed with this approach it will be needed a methodology and a set of rules. The first step will be the study of coins well struck and preserved, to find out possible differences of different instances of the same device (made using the same punch), resulting a set of rules that discerns the differences resulting from the particularities in the striking with the punch. The next step will be the study of coins with wear from circulation or from used punches/dies; resulting a set of rules which discerns the differences resulting from wear (applied to instances of the same device - made using the same punch).
19 coins were used in this study, all issued by Stephen III and all being of type I. The instances of the devices from the coins were approximated through interpolation, using Bezier curves, resulting the tables 4 through 18. Having on the obverse and the reverse of these coins letters repeated in the inscriptions, overlaps are possible, resulting the tables 1, 2, 3 in which is specified for each overlapping the number and the face of the coin and a code R1 or R2, meaning the set of rules to which the conclusion of the analysis of the overlapping can be applied (the one which discerns the differences resulting from the particularities in the striking with the punch or the one which discerns the differences resulting from wear - from circulation or/and of die/punches).
Analysing these tables two sets of rules are synthesized:
R1 (allowed deviations): parallelogram deviations (resulting from the different angles of the punch to the vertical when hit) - ex: coin 1, obverse, "O" letter, table 1; uniform bolding on the contour (resulting from the variation in the strength of the stroke) - ex: coin 9, obverse, "E" letter, table 2, coin 9, reverse, "S" letter, table 2.
R2 (allowed deviations): almost uniform bolding (due to die/coin wear) - ex: coin 13, reverse, "E" letter, table 2 (together with a parallelogram deviation), coin 4, obverse, "E" letter, table 2;.filling of the angles of connection between the curved segments of the symbol, associated with holding (due to die/coin wear) - ex: coin 2, reverse, 'V' letter, table 2, coin 9, reverse, "V' letter, table 2; atypical deviations, the modification of a single element of the symbol's design, for example a branch of a letter, associated with off center strike and wear of die/coin - ex.: coin 10, obverse, "M" letter, table 1, coin 3, reverse, "O" letter, table 3.
R1/R2 (allowed deviations): differences in the upper part of a letter (due to off center strike) - ex: coin 1, obverse, "M" letter, table 1.
All these deviations are allowed only if the general design and proportions of the symbol are the same.
Using this set of rules, the analysis begins with particular errors in the dies, revealing faulty punches, such as the error in letter "E" in figure 2. Having identified the same faulty punch used to make dies for different coins (1, 2, 3 and 6) and applying the rules the conclusion is that the "M" letters from the obverse of the coins no. 1, 2, 3, 6, 9, 13, 14, presented in figure 3, are realized using the same punch.
Analysing the table 5 the conclusion is that the letter "O" has two designs, presented in figure 4. Furthermore, the first design is encountered in the obverse dies of the same coins as in the previous paragraph (1, 2, 3, 6, 9, 13 and 14). The same conclusions arise from the table 7, regarding the letter "E". The two designs are presented in figure 5, the first one being encountered also in the obverse dies of the coins 1, 2, 3, 6, 9, 13 and 14.
Table 1O shows a special particularity of a letter, presented in figure 6 (coins 1 and 6). This peculiar aspect of letter "I" is probably due to a same obverse die, in which the punch for "I" was struck twice, being less probable that the punch has this faulty design. Overlapping the images of the two obverses in figure 7 confirms this hypothesis. All the scholars who studied the coins of Stephen III noticed the specific design of the letter "A", remarkable uniform on all the coins. This observation led Ernest Oberländer-Târnoveanu to the conclusion that all the dies for the type I coins of Stephen III were crafted by the same engraver and his apprentices. He, also, suggested, by stylistic means, that the engraver came from Hungary. Studying the instances of the letter "A", both on the obverses and the reverses of the groats, making the overlapping shown in pictures 8 and 9 and applying the rules established in the preliminary part it can be confirmed that all these instances were struck on the dies with the same punch. This observation confirms the conclusions of Ernest Oberländer-Târnoveanu.
During the analysis of the letters found on the obverses of the groats were separated two groups of coins by the distinct designs of the letters "O" and "E": coins no. 1, 2, 3, 6, 9, 13 and 14 -first group - and coins no. 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, 11 and 12 - the second group. But these are not the only distinct elements between them. The groups are separated, also, by the design of the auroch's head, in particular the position of the nostrils. The first design is presented in figure 10a, all the coins of the first group having this type of auroch's head, while the second group has the type shown in figure 10b. It is obvious, analysing the overlapping from the figure 11, that the auroch's heads from the obverse dies of the first group were made using the same punch, while on the dies of the second group (usually poorer struck) no more than two auroch's head punches were used. The horns of the auroch's heads show an interesting feature of the punches used to strike them on the die. On all the coins they have a small hole at the bottom of the horns intended probably to generate two ridges in the center of the die. This is certainly the "signature" of an engraver, who probably had in mind to help the worker who struck the coin to center the dies and to avoid double striking.
Extending the analysis to the reverse of the coins, considering the design particularities revealed till now it is now very clear (see figure 13) that all the groats were struck using just two "families" of dies. These "families" are all the dies made in a short period of time by one engraver, using the same set of punches. Their existence is obvious too when analysing the coins illustrated in the standard catalogue of Romanian medieval coins. Furthermore, the presence of the obverse inscription on the reverse of coin no. IO and the overlapping presented in figure 14 (between the obverses of coins 2 and 6) shows more evidence of the existence of these "families". The analysis of the overlapping reveals that the engraver broke the design in small individual elements (such as the ear, the crescent, the rosette) in order to make punches more reliable, which lasted longer. As a conclusion, the position of the attributes of the auroch's head along it (the crescent and the rosette) had no particular significance to the engraver.
After a survey of tables 4 through 18 it seems that all the other letters (excepting "O", "E" and maybe "M") were struck in the dies with the same punches.
Another common element through all the coins is a metal flaw in the stars between the horns of the auroch's heads (shown in figure 16). This implies another common punch between all the dies and families of dies. Moreover, all the stars are struck in exactly the same angle, showing us that the punches had to have a marker for being properly aligned.
The scholars who studied the coins of Stephen III paid a specific attention to the rosette on the obverse. Octavian Iliescu distinguished three types of rosettes (with five petals each with two lobes", "with five distinct petals" and with five united petals"), classifying the coins according to the type of rosette. However, Ernest Oberländer-Târnoveanu considered this type of classification as not functional, because "the real number of types of rosettes is hard to describe either by words or graphically". The conclusion of this study differs from the previous ones, showing that there are indeed a finite number of types of rosettes, separated by technological means, not by graphic ones. As the figure 17 shows, there are only two types of rosettes, each one corresponding to one of the two families of dies. The first type of rosette was made using a specific punch, engraved with the bi-lobate petal design, while the second was struck on the die using a circular punch, in a series of 6 hits.
The last classification of type I coins issued by Stephen the Great, proposed by Ernest Oberländer-Târnoveanu, uses the presence of a rosette in the middle of the reverse inscription of some coins, interpreted as a secret mint mark. Unfortunately such a coin couldn't be included in this study (being very rare), so the conclusions of this paper cannot confirm or infirm this classification. But, surely, the presence of two families of dies had a signification in the time when the coins were struck, meaning either two temporal stages of striking or two geographical/temporal stages (two mints). This means that this criterion can be used, if not as the primary means of classification, at least within the classification proposed by Ernest Oberländer-Târnoveanu. It is needed to emphasize that the same engraver crafted these two families of dies, having a large number of common elements between them. The sequence of operations in which the die was made is: first, a strike with a circular punch in the center of the die, around which the two dotted circles were made; the next step is the striking of the inscriptions (considering the particular case of coin no. 10, which has the inscription of the obverse repeated on the reverse), using the punches for the letters; finally the center of the die was crafted. The dies were primarily made using punches, but it is possible that some engraving was used too, for example to make the hair on the forehead of the auroch. The die-cutter used around 22-23 punches to make the dies for the obverse and reverse of a groat.
Using tables 7 through 11, in which are shown coins issued in the same time in the countries neighbouring Moldavia, and analysing primary the shape of letter "A", along with the letters "M", "I", "E", "D", "L" and "R", similarities can be found with coins issued in Hungary, in Baia Mare (Nagybanya) and Sibiu (Hermannstadt) mints. A further analysis of the shape of letter "A" suggests the conclusion that the engraver came from Hungary (where he worked probably at Baia Mare-Nagybanya mint), during 146os-147os. This concord with the presumed date of issue of type I coins, during 1470-1475.
Finally, it can be estimated the amount of coins issued. The presence of only two families of dies suggests that the coins weren't issued in great numbers, confirming the estimations made by Ernest Oberländer-Târnoveanu after studying all the published finds of this type of coins.
The weakest point of this study is the small number of coins studied. Maybe some of the asserts from this paper will be infirmed by adding other coins to the research, but this approach promises to make a step forward in the study of the Romanian medieval coins.
Paginaţia 321-367
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  • Cercetări Numismatice; XII-XIII; anul 2006-2007; seria 2006-2007
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