Striking the coin was a relatively straightforward process (illus. below). The flan, which was usually hot either from the casting or from reheating, was placed upon the lower die. The punch was positioned over it and hit with a hammer to impress the flan with the types incised on the dies. Two hammer blows would usually be enough to set the image.

On the earliest coins an unadorned punch was used to press the flan into the image of the obverse die. The punch, much smaller than the blank, left a square or rectangular impression in the reverse of the coin. Soon the punch was decorated with a simple symbol, and by the end of the sixth century B.C. a true reverse die was usually attached to the punch. Yet it was often still smaller than the blank, so that the relief design on the reverse was set within a depression the shape of the reverse die (see nos. 24, 26, 27, 33; these are called incuse reverses. In time the reverse die grew in diameter to approximate the size of the flan and obverse die, and although the reverses of most ancient coins are always slightly concave, by Hellenistic and Roman times the concavity is hardly noticeable, and the form of the reverse appears almost identical to that of the obverse.

In many cases one person could manage the whole striking process alone, first placing the flan on the lower die and then, holding the upper die in place with one hand, wielding the hammer with the other. In this way a modern experimenter was able to strike 100 coins an hour, including casting the blanks. Yet more often, especially in large mints, three or four people were involved. Using tongs, one person would bring the flan from the furnace, another person or possibly two would hold the punch in place by hand or with tongs, a third would wield the hammer, and a fourth would remove the struck coin. Evidence for this comes both from coins and from Latin inscriptions that list the workers in the Roman mint. Some Roman coins were misstruck in ways that indicate not only that three or more people were involved but also that in some instances the rate of production was very rapid, perhaps as much as one coin every three seconds. And for some of the Roman bronze issues of many thousands of coins, not only would three or four people be working at an anvil, but more than one anvil would have been active at the same time.

Greek coins, produced in smaller quantities, also often show some sloppiness in manufacture, even when carefully cut dies were employed. The coin may be struck off-center or may not receive the complete image of the die because the flan was placed off-center (see no. 38). The flan might move slightly between hammer strokes, causing a slight double-strike. The reverse image may be of uneven depth because the punch was not hit straight on.

The relative orientation or alignment of the obverse and reverse images on ancient coins varied considerably (see no. 31). This is easy to understand, since the two dies were not connected to each other and the punch could be rotated freely. In early coins especially, the relative position of the dies seems to have been fairly random. In Hellenistic and Roman times, greater concern was given to die alignment, some mints preferring that both faces be upright, some that one face be inverted, as on modern U.S. coins. Some dies may have had pegs or notches to help guide the minters in orienting the punch, but dies were not hinged until late Roman times, and often the two faces are slightly out of alignment, not perfectly upright or perfectly inverted, even when a certain orientation was clearly preferred.


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