“With sharpen’d sight pale antiquaries pore,
The inscription value, but the rust adore;
This the blue varnish, that the green endears,
The sacred rust of twice ten hundred years.
To gain Pescennius one employs his schemes;
One grasps a Cecrops in ecstatic dreams;
Poor Vadius, long with learned spleen devour’d,
Can taste no pleasure since his shield was scour’d,
And Curio, restless by the fair one’s side,
Sighs for an Otho, and neglects his bride.”
Desirous of imparting to Country Collectors all information relative to Numismatics, I shall connect with this essay some account of the proceedings of a Society very recently formed, and which, I trust, the reader will not consider uninteresting, even though he may deem such an addition somewhat remote from the subject of this publication.
The Society termed the Numismatic Society, is composed of the first Numismatists of the day, and one of its objects is to facilitate the collecting of medals, and to diffuse information concerning them; and in its present embryo state it has the sanction and support of the following gentlemen:—President for the year, John Lee, Esq. LL.D. F.R.S. F.S.A. F.R.A.S., of Hartwell House, Bucks, and of Doctors’ Commons. Dr. Lee, too, is Treasurer, and one of the Council, which includes also Sir Henry Ellis, K.H. F.R.S. F.S.A.; Captain William Henry Smyth, R.N. K.S.F. V.P.R.S. F.S.A., member of the French Institute; Edward Hawkins, Esq. F.R.S. F.S.A.; William Wyon, Esq. Chief Engraver at the Royal Mint, and A.R.A.; William Debonaire Haggard, Esq. F.S.A. F.R.A.S.; Charles F. Barnewell, Esq. F.R.S. F.S.A.; Thomas Burgon, Esq. John Yonge Akerman, Esq. F.S.A., London and Edinburgh, &c., and Isaac Cullimore, Esq. M.R.S.L. are Honorary Secretaries.
Under the guidance of the above-mentioned gentlemen, what may not be effected? The following distinguished Collectors are also among the members of the Numismatic Society:—His Grace the Duke of Devonshire; The Very Rev, the Dean of St. Patrick’s; The Rev. Dr. J. Goodall, Provost of Eton College; Sir George Musgrave, Bart. F.S.A.; The Rev. E. C. Brice; The Rev. J. W. Hawkesley; The Rev. Edward Hincks; The Rev. John William Mackie; The Rev. J. W. Martin; The Rev. Henry Philpott; The Rev. G. C. Renouard; The Rev. Charles Turner; Dr. Burney, F.S.A. &c.; Col. G. Landmann; Col. W. Leake; Lieut.-Col. Bowler; Lieut-Col. John Ross; and E. H. Barker; John Bate; John Belfour, M.R.S.L.; William Bentham; J. B. Bergne ; Samuel Birch; Robert Boyne; Henry Brandreth, F.S.A.; Thomas Bristoll; James Broad; William Henry Brooke, F.S.A.; William Henry Brown; John Brumell; John William Burgon; Robert Carey; J. G. Children, F.R.S.; Scipio Clint; G. R. Corner; James D. Cuff, F.S.A.; Henry Cureton; Richard Cust; Arthur Davis; Hugh Welch Diamond, F.S.A.; F. H. Diamond; B. Dickenson; J. Doubleday; Christopher Edmonds; Charles Edmonds; C. Evans; John Field; A. R. Freebairn; John Freeman; John Gage, M.A &c.; F. T. Grayling; William R. Hamilton, F.R.S. M.R.S.L &c.; G. R. Harrison, Blue Mantle; Edmund Halsewell, M.R. F.R.S.; Francis Hayward, K.L.H; Henry Hering; W. R. Hodges; Richard Hollier, F.S.A.; John Huxtable; Josh. Janson; T.W. King, F.S.A. Rouge Dragon; Charles Konig, K.H. F.R.S.; C. W. Loscombe; Philip Leathes, F.S.A.; George Littlewood; M. Martin; Edward Mullins; J. Newman, F.S.A.; J. G. Nicholls, F.S.A.; J. B. Nicholls, F.S.A.; Benjamin Nightingale; T. J. Pettigrew, F.R.S. F.S.A. &c.; W. V. Pettigrew; J. G. Pfister; G. P. Philipe; G. A. Philipe; Theodosius Purland; Abraham Rhodes Rhodes; John Rutter; G. R. Rowe, M.L. F.S.A.; W. P. Saull, F.R.S. F.G.S.; D. R. Scratton; Mr. Serjeant Scriven; S. Sharp; William Smee; Benjamin Smith, F.R.S.A.; E. O. Smith, F.S.A.; Charles Roach Smith, F.S.A.; Leigh Sotheby; Edward Spencer, F.G.S; Richard Taylor, F.S.A. G.S. &c. William Taylor; A. J. Valpy, M.A.; George Walter; William Wansey, F.S.A.; John Williams; Effingham Wilson, junior; T. Windus, F.S.A.; W. A. A. White,. F.R.S.; Benjamin Wyon; Thomas Yeates; Matthew Young, Esquires; and their humble servant, William Till.
I had the honour on the first preparatory Meeting, held the 22nd December, 1836, of adding the names of the following gentlemen to the list of original members; namely, The Very Rev. the Dean of St. Patrick’s; Lieut.-Col. Bowler; Abr. Rhodes Rhodes, Esq.; Edmund Halswell, Esq. M.A. F.R.S Francis Hayward, Esq. M.L.H.; John Freeman, Esq.; James Broad, Esq.; John Field, Esq.; and Messrs. William Taylor, Thomas Bristoll, Theodosius Purland, Edward Spencer, the celebrated geologist, and Charles Edmonds; and, subsequently, William Archibald Armstrong White, Esq. F.R.S.
Their meetings are held once every month, in the rooms belonging to the Astronomical Society, at Somerset House, at half past six in the evening, about an hour previous to the meeting of the Society of Antiquaries, thereby giving those gentlemen, who are members of both societies, an opportunity of attending to the interests of each, by retiring from one room to the other. Each member is permitted to introduce a friend as a visitor. The expense is very trifling; the annual subscription being one guinea, and a guinea entrance. Those who are proposed as members, are balloted for in the usual manners. 1
I had not the most distant idea of being named as a candidate, the gentlemen first forming the Society being so much my superiors; but I was solicited; and appreciating the distinguished honour of meeting the members composing the Numismatic Society, I could not for a moment refuse to consent. Naturally warm and energetic in any project which I form, or to which I become attached, it will be my study to promote the objects which the Numismatic Society has in view My humble services, if worth acceptance, will be entirely devoted to them, more particularly in preserving for inspection any specimen, or variety, which may furnish illustration, or in any way tend to promote the science of Numismatics; and should any peculiarly interesting coins, or medals, be discovered in our provinces, or elsewhere, if the specimens themselves, or a description of them, be forwarded to me, the same shall be laid before the Society on the night of their next meeting, and an early answer faithfully returned. In the third number of the Numismatic Journal, edited by J. Y. Akerman, Esq., one of the honorary secretaries of the Society, there is an article on their first meeting; and in succeeding numbers further reports are given, and will continue to be regularly made.
On Thursday, the 26th of January, 1837, the Society held their first ordinary Meeting; and in the absence of our much esteemed president, Dr. Lee, the chair was taken by Edward Hawkins, Esq., supported by Sir Henry Ellis, William D. Haggard, Charles F. Barnewell, and William Wyon, Esquires, and others of the council. From the influence of the prevailing epidemic, not more than 27 members were present. Indeed so overspreading was the malady, that though I had ten gentlemen to introduce, four only were able to come. After the regular business of the evening had been disposed of, a very handsome donation was presented from Dr. Lee, consisting of two copies of Captain Smyth’s valuable work on Roman large brass Coins. One was a large paper copy, and very rare; to these desirable books were added Akerman’s interesting little work on the “Coins of the Romans relating to Britain;” likewise a fine five guinea piece of George II.; with a large Swedish copper coin, &c. Other coins were also presented. A letter was then read from Sir Henry Ellis, accompanied by an extract from a most extraordinary trial relating to a farthing of Queen Anne, a trial which took place in Ireland in the year 1814. 2 An extract, likewise, was then read from a letter addressed by the Dean of St. Patrick’s to myself, in which letter he states his desire to become a member of the Society, and expresses an earnest wish to forward its interests as much as possible; and no gentleman in Ireland possesses such facility as the Dean, in consequence of the extensive collection of native Irish, and other coins, with which his cabinets are enriched. The communication was received with much pleasure, and will be grate fully acknowledged by the Society.
As the study of Numismatics is not of a very lively character, I would beg leave to be permitted to suggest that when the ardent friends of the science meet, they may prevent a sombre cast pervading the assembly, and render the meeting both intellectual and amusing, by each member, when convenient, contributing, without diffidence or reserve, his quota towards the interests of the Society, and introducing some coin, or numismatic information. I regret to say that reserve is too frequently the characteristic of the Numismatist; and that the higher he may be rated as a collector, the greater is his temptation to retire with his treasure. That he should, indeed, fondly entertain the idea that he has that which no one possesses but himself, is no more than the fact justifies; and so far from such an idea being injurious to the science, great good may result from such a prudent, but generous, use as enables the possessor to enrich the science without the remotest danger of impairing his own cabinet.
Let the miser have the sole odium of having a useless golden god. The Numismatist may be as great a benefactor to science as those illustrious men whose names are immortalized in the annals of nations. For my own part, I cannot conceive what gratification any one can find in possessing a variety of beautiful coins, and keeping them to himself. It is true there can be no pleasure in shewing a fine work of art, or antiquity, to persons incapable of appreciating the beauty of the one, or the curiosity of the other. But to those of intellectual powers and cultivated minds, the possessor of ample collections of coins may be regarded as twice blessed, if, in addition to the stores he has the happiness of owning, he makes them, like the sun in the firmament, an inexhausted fountain of light and heat to others.
If the plan I allude to be pursued by the members, it will assist and render easy the labours of the Chairman; will give a zest to the meeting, and tend to the stability of a Society which I sincerely hope will exist in unimpaired prosperity for ages.
The second Meeting of the Society took place on the 28th of February, our President in the chair. After confirming the minutes of the preceding meeting, a letter from Sir Henry Ellis was read; a very interesting communication, containing an extract from a newspaper published in the reign of Charles the First, called “The Kingdome’s Faithfull and Impartial Scout, 1648;” in which paper the Editor informs the public that some prisoners had been taken from the royal army, then stationed at Pontefract, and that on them had been found pieces of silver coin, somewhat square, and bearing on one side a C. R. surmounted by a crown, and accompanied by a legend; and on the other side a castle, with P. C. &c. 3 The Editor says, also, that “these pieces they make of plate, which they get out of the country.” This gratifying intelligence from Sir Henry was received with the approbation it deserved. Isaac Cullimore, Esq. then read an elaborate dissertation on the Medo-Persian coins termed Darics (or by some called Archers, from the figure of an archer being represented on the obverse), which was received with much pleasure.
It gave me much satisfaction to have the opportunity of presenting for inspection, a cast of an extremely rare coin; one, in fact, so rare as not to have been seen, as far I can learn, by any collector of the present day, till I discovered it in a splendid cabinet of coins, many of which have been treasured up for a century or two. Having, however, the privilege of being introduced by a liberal friend of mine to the proprietor of so ample a store, I had the pleasure to descry the medal in question. The piece of money I allude to, is the dollar of Henry Lord Darnley, and Mary of Scotland, as king and queen, having their respective busts. The possessor of this desirable coin was agreeably surprised when I stated to her its rarity, and consequent value, as she was entirely ignorant either as to what the coin was, or its worth. It is in good preservation. The bust of Henry is on the dexter side, and the queen’s opposite; indeed, similar to those of Philip and Mary on their coins. Writers state, that James the First, of England, was unlike either his father, or his mother; they being both handsome. Hence, those who make such a statement scruple not to indulge in a free notion on the subject, and to hint that the Italian, Rizzio, had a less disputed claim than Henry to paternity in the person of the young Prince James. With what reason such insinuations were hazarded I am at a loss to imagine, as Rizzio himself is celebrated for peculiar elegance of person. If, therefore, Mary could be pronounced guilty or innocent from the features of her child, the test resorted to proves the injustice of the attack on her character; inasmuch as on the coin in question, we meet with an original bust of Lord Darnley, with the fac simile profile of his son. The turn up nose, and various other peculiarities, all combining to form the beautiful features of James the First, of England. The similarity of portrait is probably no where seen so strikingly as in the early Scotch coins of James, particularly in what is termed his thirty-shilling piece, a coin somewhat larger than our half-crown. 4 The portrait of the queen is represented with a close head dress, with her bust clothed up to the neck, having the addition of a stomacher, &c.
I have examined the whole of the medallic portraits which I have seen of her, and which were executed in her day, and I have seen original pictures, but have in both cases sought in vain for the beauty for which she was so celebrated. I fear I am on dangerous ground in maintaining this assertion, but as I make use of my own eyes alone, I am answerable for the consequences of thus underrating the presumed handsome features of the Scottish queen. On the reverse of the coin under consideration, are the arms of Scotland, a lion within a shield; indeed, very similar to the obverse of the dollar of Mary, without her head, the difference being in the legend.
There fell in my way also a scarce and curious medal of Caroline Matilda, and Christian the Seventh, king of Denmark. This was likewise presented for inspection. The Princess Caroline Matilda was the posthumous daughter of Frederick Prince of Wales, and youngest sister of George the Third. She was generally known under the appellation of the unfortunate Queen of Denmark. In 1766, this lady, then in her sixteenth year, was united in marriage with her first cousin, Christian the Seventh, (he being the son of the Princess Louisa, daughter to George the Second, of England, and the King Frederick the Fifth, of Denmark). This prince was then a mere stripling, a beardless youth, whose intellectual capacities were equalled only by the frivolity of his pursuits. The marriage proved exceedingly unfortunate, which is generally attributed to the artful and ambitious intrigues of the queen-dowager, the mother-in-law to Christian the Seventh. The young queen, thinking no evil of the latitude allowed in many of the Continental courts, was accused (justly or not it is impossible to say,) of unjustifiable intercourse with the Count Struensee, who, with another minister, Brandt, had their heads struck off. The unhappy princess, with her infant child, was conveyed to the castle of Cronenburgh. In 1772, she was given up to her brother the king of England, who had her conveyed to Zell in Germany, where she died three years afterwards.5 Her imbecile husband survived her thirty-three years, he dying on the 12th of March, 1808.
I have never before seen a bust of this personage on a medal. On that before me, the obverse presents you with the busts of Christian VII. and his Queen; his head is laureated, (a cap with bells would have been more appropriate), his bust clothed, and in armour; her head richly decorated with jewels, the face almost a fac-simile of that of Maria Louisa, the widow of Napoleon Bounaparte, and very unlike any of the members of her own family. What renders the resemblance more striking is, that the same ornament is attached to the head—dress as was usually worn by Maria Louisa. On the reverse, a female figure with a wreath of laurel, anchor, &e., and legend.
The third meeting of the Numismatic Society was held on the 16th of March our President in the chair. After the minutes of the former meeting had been read, Mr. Akerman produced an extremely interesting and valuable article of his own, on the coins of the ancient Britons, in which he proves that many of the coins given by the continental authors to Gaul, belong indisputably to Britain, and states the fact that such coins as those with the words VERVLAMIO, or CVNOBELINVS, or with the same words abbreviated, are never found in France; he likewise enters fully into an account of certain rings, considered by many to have been intended for ancient coins, and mentions the circumstance of a cart load of these rings, in brass, being discovered a few years since in a tumulus in the county of Monaghan, in Ireland, (they are likewise found in gold and silver). He then describes coins which are formed like, or bear the representation of a wheel on them, presuming the cross formed by the spokes of the wheel might have some relation with the far famed druidical circle; he says, “The whole formed an appropriate amulet or charm against evil.” This very clever and ingenious article is given in the Numismatic Journal of last April, as well as plates of the ring money, and of British gold, silver, and copper, to the amount of 25; many, or the whole, never before published, amongst which I recognised some of them as having passed through my hands, one in particular, being of a lot discovered some years since in St. James’s Park, while the labourers were there excavating. The person who brought this one, with four others to me, stated, that presuming them to be of no value, the remainder were flung into the soil again; the other four, that intelligent and much respected antiquary, the late William Hamper, Esq., of Birmingham, purchased of me: the one now engraved is in the possession of my friend Mr. Edward Spencer.
This article I would strongly recommend to the perusal of my readers, as well as others in the same journal; one of them on the ancient restored coins of the Roman mint, by the Rev. E. C. Brice, will well repay an attentive perusal. Mr. John Freeman, of Stratford, has likewise supplied a brief but learned paper on the weights of the Spanish and English grains, supplying a table for assimilating those weights. Another gentleman, facetiously signing himself S.P.Q. R. (Senatus Populusque Romanus), sends a paper, cutting up Dr. Walsh for what he calls an error in his Essay on ancient coins, illustrative of the early progress of Christianity. Which of the learned gentlemen may be right, I am sure it is not for me to say; I know the work alluded to, possessing a copy of it, which the Doctor himself presented to me when first published. At that time, which was some years since, on perusing it, I considered it required no little stretch of the imagination to conceive some of the coins there engraved to have any reference whatever to Christianity. To J. G. Pfister, Esq., the Editor of this periodical is much indebted for a long and very clever letter on the coins of the middle ages, or those pieces struck by the Florentines, and termed forms, giving an engraving of “The Fiorino D’Argento,” of 1181, with representations of the Baptist and others found on them. He states that these coins are now more sought after than ever; likewise that Greek and Roman coins are at present the rage in Italy, (this shews their good taste), but that in Germany the Romans begin to get out of fashion. If this be the case, let them send them to England; our collectors will be ready to give them a welcome reception, particularly if amongst them a few good medallions should be interspersed. I have reason to believe that we, of England, generally get only what the Continental collectors choose to spare us in their liberality, or when an occasional necessity may drag from their recesses some few very rare medals, by the powerful magnetic attraction of British gold. Roman coins were never sought after with greater avidity than in the present day, and this taste will continue. What can be more consistent? it is the money of our ancestors, they were coins of the world, have circulated almost every where, were the medium of currency in Britain for three to four centuries, indeed, from the early conquests of the Romans until their retirement from it.
A child may read them, and with more facility than our early Saxon, or even our early English coins, with the eternal crosses, and the “POSUI DEVM ADJVTOREM MEVM” 6 of the latter; and the splendid embellishments of dots on their reverses, or in lieu of that, the moneyer’s name (à la Pistrucci), with place of mintage. The learned author of the article on the form, concludes by passing an eulogium on Petrarch, who, he says, was one of the earliest collectors of Roman coins on record. Leaving the journal to the protection of the British public, I revert to the Numismatic Society. Mr. H. W. Diamond presented two books on coins, one of them having the autograph of Ortelius. A specimen of the currency of the Gold Coast of Africa, called a manilla, was presented by Mr. John Williams; and a paper communicated on the Egyptian coins of the Ptolemies, by Samuel Sharp, Esq., was received with much satisfaction. At this meeting I embraced the opportunity of placing before the members a cast from an unique gold medal, or pattern piece of Charles the First, (see the plate). This extraordinary piece is in the possession of Lieut.-Colonel John Drummond; indeed, it was at my suggestion that he recently purchased it of the Rev. Mr. Commeline, Senior Fellow of St. John’s College, Cambridge. This gentleman is a collateral descendant of Bishop Juxon, who attended the unfortunate monarch in his last moments. It appears that at that eventful period the king possessed the jewel of the order of the Garter, and another diamond, and two seals, and previously, or at the time just referred to, this identical medal, which his Majesty presented to Bishop Juxon, as a mark of regard for the attention and attachment the bishop had shewn him. There appears to be a tradition in Mr. Commeline’s family, that it was given by the king to the bishop while the monarch was on the scaffold, but this statement may be doubtful. Sir George Chetwynd, Bart., is descended from
A Gold Medal or Pattern of Charles 1st
A Friedel’s lith Estab.t 15, Southampton St Strand.
Elizabeth Juxon, a niece of the bishop, and who possessed the original jewel of the order of the Garter, which all authorities acknowledge was given by the king only a few moments previous to his death, and Sir George informs me that he has heard his father likewise state, from tradition, that the Garter alone was given on the scaffold. Be that as it may, it cannot increase or diminish the value and interest attached to this medallic memorial. That it came from the king is certain, and that it was given to the bishop is likewise certain, for he by will bequeathed it to Mrs. Rachel Gayters, who gave it to her granddaughter, the wife of the Rev. James Commeline, who was father of the present Rector of Red Marley, Worcestershire, of whom Colonel Drummond purchased it.
This curious medal bears on the obverse the bust of the king, with his name and title, and with the rose as a mint mark; the likeness is very good, but it cannot compete with the likenesses executed by Briot, from the original portraits of that sovereign by Vandyke: that on the coin in question is doubtless the work of Rawlins, an artist who followed the fortunes of his royal master, and was subsequently employed by Charles the Second. He executed that very rare crown-piece, struck at Oxford, and having that city represented under the horse on which the king is seated. If the medal under consideration be compared with this coin, the portrait of Charles will be found to be exactly similar on both pieces, though a slight difference is perceptible in the costume; still the workmanship of both is evidently traceable to the same hand. On the reverse are the arms of England, crowned, with C. R. &c., and accompanied by the legend, “Florent Concordiâ Regna,” (Kingdoms flourish by concord), doubtless in admonitory allusion to the unsettled state of the times: this side likewise bears a mint mark. It may be asked for what purpose was it struck; was it intended for a coin or a medal? 7 I reply, without fear of contradiction, that it was meant as a pattern for a coin, or else for what reason are the mint marks? The coin weighs 733 grains, and has what is termed an engrailed edge, but it is not milled. There is a twenty shilling piece in gold, very similar in appearance, having for the mint mark an anchor, and the king’s titles more abbreviated.
After the thanks of the Society had been awarded for presents, &c. the meeting was adjourned to the 20th of April, on which occasion a considerable number of members were present, with Dr. Lee in the chair. The Editor of the Atheinaeum presented fifty numbers of his publication, in which he had recorded the transactions of the Society. A book was likewise sent from Professor Brandt, of Berlin, through J. G. Pfister, Esq.; Mr. Valpy also presented one, and other presents were made by different members. The same evening, Mr. Benjamin Nightingale offered a very curious and extraordinary coin of fine tin, struck by the Burmese. I must permit him to describe it himself, by giving a copious extract from his letter, which accompanied the coin.
“I have the honour to present. to the Numismatic Society, a coin of the Burman Empire. It is composed of fine block tin, and bears on the obverse a rude representation of some quadruped, probably a horse, with branching feet and tail, such as the serpent or dragon is represented with on the silver coins of Cochin-China. It is very probably a delineation of some animal sacred to Bhudda, their chief divinity, Buddhism being the prevalent religion of the Burmese. Around the coin is a double circle, within which runs a series of pellets or studs. On the reverse appears a similar double circle and pellets, then an inscription or legend in Burmese characters, and in the centre is a wheel, that symbol which so constantly occurs on the early British and Gaulish coins, and indeed on the early rude money of almost all nations.
“I regret that I have so little information to communicate to the Society respecting the value, and denomination, or the signification of the inscription on the coin. The friend, who gave it me, brought it from Tavoy, a port on the coast of Tenasserim, in the Burman Empire. He could tell me no farther than that it was the regular common money of the place, that it was also current at Rangoon, and other parts of the coast. Among all the books relating to the Burmese which I have consulted, I have been unsuccessful in obtaining any direct information concerning this coin. Marsden does not give it in his ‘Oriental Coinage,’ and Crawford, in his ‘Journey to Ava,’ merely states that the money of the Burmese consists of conical lumps of silver, which are current by weight, Captain Lowe, in his ‘History of the Coast of Tenasserim,’ now publishing in the Asiatic Journal, comes nearer to the point, for under the head of ‘Tavoy,’ he speaks of a large tin piece being in circulation there, which he denominates a ‘Kabean,’ but he gives no description of it, so as to enable us to identify it with this coin; he states that 84 of them were the equivalent for a dollar. Mr. Wilson, the Oxford Professor of Sanscrit, who very obligingly inspected the coin, could not interpret the characters on the reverse; indeed, he was of opinion that they were not letters at all, but were merely intended for an embellishment.
“Mr. Norris, the Secretary of the Asiatic Society, was of a different opinion, and shewed me a Burmese Alphabet, to some of the letters of which the characters on the coin bear an exact resemblance, as far as the rude and imperfect construction of the latter would enable us to judge. I am decidedly of the latter opinion, because the shape and formation of the characters apparently prove that they were intended for such; whereas if the object of them had been merely ornament, there would have been a nearer approach to regularity and uniformity in their arrangement. In Hamilton’s East India Gazetteer, I find the following passage :—‘The character in common use through out the Burmese territory is a round Nagari, derived from the square Pali, or religious text, formed of circles or segments of circles, variously disposed, and written from left to right.’ This description exactly applies to the form of the letters on the coin before us.
“From the resemblance of some of the characters on the coin in question, to some of the letters in the Asiatic Society’s Burmese Alphabet, the English signification of which was attached to them, I am inclined to think that they describe the name of the coin (Kabean) and the place where struck; but I must confess that my opinion in this particular amounts to little more than mere conjecture.”
This, as well as a similar coin from a lady, was gratefully received. A letter from Mr. Hogg was then read by Mr. Cullimore, relative to the subject of a paper which was produced at a former meeting. Mr. John Williams then gave the first part of a lecture on the earliest Greek coinage, with explanatory remarks, illustrated with magnified drawings and casts in sulphur of the coins themselves. With respect to the earliest mintages, the remarks he made were doubtless correct, that those pieces which have rude indentations on their reverses instead of prominent figures, were struck by having the metal of which the coin was to be formed, placed on sharp points to fix it in the required position to receive the blow intended to stamp the obverse, and that in process of time the artist had so far progressed as to be enabled to strike coins with a perfect obverse and reverse. This lecture gave evident satisfaction to the party assembled; after which the meeting was adjourned to the 25th of May.
On this evening, the President being in the chair, Sir William Beetham, Ulster king at arms, produced a paper, in which he proved the affinity of the ancient British, Celtic, and Phoenician languages with that now in use in the Highlands of Scotland and Ireland, as well as some explanatory remarks on the ancient wheel money before alluded to. After which, Mr. John Williams read the continuation of his lecture on the coinage of Greece and Rome, illustrating the subject with some fine casts taken by himself from the originals; he noticed also the medallions. Some varieties, however, were omitted. First, the Contorniati, pieces struck as ticket-medals for the games, being large and thin, with a hollow circle within their rim, whence their name. The imperial As, struck by Nero, being of the size between the second and third brass, was also omitted.
A remark or two on these coins would afford some information to the unexperienced Numismatist. I allude to the imperial double As, or the Dupondius, of fine yellow brass, (the metal anciently termed orichalcum). Of Nero, we meet with the As likewise, weighing about 106 grains; also its half, the Semis, with an S on it, which will be found to weigh 54 grains, besides a smaller piece, in weight about 26 grains. The Dupondii of Nero bear on their reverses a figure of Victory, with a branch of palm in the left hand, and in the right a crown of laurel, with the legend, “Victoria Augusti,” and, in the exergue, the value designated, being that of two Ases, by the numerals for the number 2, with a stroke above them. Another presents an elegant figure of a female seated in a reclining posture, with the legend, “Securitas Augusti,” with the same numerals in the exergue. These coins, on an average, weigh about 229 grains; of course, the state of preservation must be taken into consideration. I have here quoted their actual weight from the originals before me. The As of Nero has on one of its reverses a graceful figure of the Emperor, in the character of Apollo playing on a lyre, with the legend, “Pontif. Max. Tr. Pot. Imp. P. P.” with the numeral 1 in the exergue. On another we find the Emperor sacrificing, the legend, “Genio Augusti,” with the numeral as before. The half As, or Semis, is a splendid little coin; indeed, a medallic gem of the Roman mint. On the obverse, a fine bold head of Nero, of exquisite work and high relief, as usual laureated, with his titles as Caesar and Imperator; on the reverse, a table on which is placed a two-handled vase with embossed figures; beside this is a laurel crown, on the other side the S denoting its value; under the table a discus, above which are two animals, said to be griffins; but on the coin before me, it being a little injured, they appear like two cats, each in an attitude of defiance; the legend “Certamen. quinq. Rom. Co.” This coin was intended to: commemorate certain games which were instituted by Nero, and celebrated every fifth year. The smallest coin of this class presents on the obverse a pillar surmounted with a helmet, with the Emperor’s name and title; on the reverse a tree with a legend. Another bears, on the obverse, an owl with extended wings standing on an altar, with a reverse similar to the last. The above are all of yellow brass, but the metal apparently not so fine as that of which the Sestertius is formed.
Mr. Pinkerton tells you that the Dupondii were continued to be struck, and that they bore double the value of those other coins also of the second size, but which are of copper. He likewise makes a wonderful discovery, and for which the talented compiler takes no little credit to himself. This is, that the imperial Sestertii, or first brass, are invariably found to be of fine yellow brass. Now if Mr. Pinkerton had turned his steps towards Tavistock Street, Covent Garden, and applied to his old and very good friend, Mr. Richard Miles, in addition to the information which the latter had supplied him with, for a few inferior large brass of the time of Gordian III. or Philip Senior, or up to the extinction of the Sestertius under Gallien; then with a file had taken off a small fraction of each from the edge of the coin, this extraordinary discovery would have turned out to have been erroneous; he would have found not a few of them to have been formed of copper, aye, within a shade of the copper currency of George III. He quotes Pliny as an authority; so far good as related to his own time; but what authority is Pliny for that which took place a century or two after his death? In addition to this discovery, he should have engaged fast sailing vessels to have wafted the news to those collectors on the Continent, who, although with every facility before them, were still ignorant that the Sestertius was formed of fine yellow brass. That the Sestertii of the earlier emperors are of brass no one will deny. The mine from which the metal was taken, presumed to have been the Livian so named from Livia, the wife of Augustus, may have been worked out, and the amalgamation of metals (copper and zinc, or lapis calaminaris,) which would constitute brass, may have been too expensive a process to be continued. All who collect what are termed Roman brass, must have noticed the beauty of the material with which many of the second size are formed. Observe those of the Clovia family bearing the head of Venus Victrix, with the legend “Caesar Die., Ter.” and some of Augustus. Those of Livia as Justitia, &c. Tiberius, Antonia, Germanicus, Nero and Drusus Caesars &c., and indeed of the first six Emperors, many of them possess such beautiful tints, that one is led to believe that gold may form part of their fabric; indeed I have known them to be assayed under that impression. That the major part of the coins of the Upper Empire, in the first brass series, were made of this metal, cannot be disputed; but even in the times of the Antonines, we find some which bear a very near relationship to copper; indeed one now before me, of Julia Domna, is of that metal, apparently without any mixture.
If all those in the second brass series, which are of fine brass, are Dupondii, then I agree that the Dupondius accompanied the Sestertius until the extinction of the latter, and, consequently, were of a superior value to the copper in that series; but I am induced to differ from this opinion, and believe those of brass and the others of copper bore the same value. The Dupondii of Nero, as before stated, bore their value on them; I see no such marks on the others of fine brass, and I have before me some scores of each sort of them; neither do we find the reverses of those in brass conveying by the figures or symbols portrayed on them any signification differing from the copper. Some are of opinion that the brass coins are superior in workmanship to the copper, but this I cannot find out. Two other varieties were not named, as follow:—the double Sestertius of Trajanus Decius, and his consort Herennia Etruscilla, and which are considered to be medallions, whereas, in reality, many of them being double the weight of the Sestertius, doubtless were intended for pieces of two Sestertii. This is not only proved by their weight, but the reverses on the pieces which I allude to are of the ordinary character, being that of a female, a personification of Happiness, with a cornucopia in her left hand, and in her right a long caduceus, with the legend “Felicitas Saeculi.” It is well known that Trajanus Decius, like our George the Third, in 1797, restored the coinage; and like him, too, struck pieces of larger denomination than any which had previously circulated; indeed, the English monarch issued a piece of four times the value of the largest preceding one. But neither the double Sestertius of Trajanus Decius, nor the two-penny piece of George III., appears to have been approved of, as we find the striking of them discontinued by their successors. Of the Roman emperor here named, we also find the third brass again making its appearance; none having been previously struck from the reign of Pertinax. Another distinct variety likewise not noticed, is the Minimi, or fourth brass of the early emperors, and of the Constantine family, as well as of Valentiniari, Arcadius, Honorius, Marcian, and others. These pieces weigh from 22 to 24 grains, according to preservation; whilst the third brass of the same emperors will, on an average, be found to weigh from 42 to 48 grains. They appear to have escaped the notice of collectors, which should excite no surprise, as any thing like a series of them is not to be obtained; add to this their minuteness, and the imperfect state in which they are generally found. Still there are exceptions; so much so, that a few which I have in my own little cabinet are in reality gems. 8
The paper read by Sir Wm. Beetham, as well as the lecture here alluded to, afforded much information and pleasure, and received the thanks of the Society. Some medallic works were then presented; a very good copy of Martin Folkes on English coins, from Abraham Rhodes, Esq.; and Simon on Irish coins, with a book on medals, by Mr. T. Purland; after which nine gentlemen were balloted for, and admitted members. The society then adjourned until the 15th of June.
On this occasion, after the minutes of the preceding meeting had been confirmed, the president exhibited a cast from a medal of Bolivar, the original of which it seems had been once highly decorated with jewels; these had been surreptitiously extracted from it. From the circumstance of its having been presented to the Liberator, the original may possess some interest; otherwise it would be unworthy of a place in any cabinet, being of extremely rude work, and representing the chief of Peru with a face, scarcely human; nor has it even rarity to recommend it; still the thanks of the society were not less due to the gentleman who kindly forwarded the cast for inspection.
The secretary then read a very curious and interesting letter on certain ancient coins of the Chinese empire, called knife coins, from the pen of a member of the society, Mr. Samuel Birch, a gentlrman who, it appears, has paid the greatest attention to the currency of the celestial empire, and, if we may judge from the abstruse nature of his communication, it will be long before he finds a compeer in the field which he has made his own, and has so successfully explored. The following is the substance of his communication, which I gathered by taking notes at the time.
“The sulphur impression now offered to the gentlemen present, is from a fragment of a taou, or knife coin, of the Chinese in the British Museum. It is of brass, or bell metal, exhibiting a light brown bronze appearance on the exterior, and an iron-coloured granulation at the edge of the fracture, consisting of a perforated ring and the upper portion of a fluted blade. Knives appear at an early epoch to have been worn by the various Tartar hordes, who thus characterize themselves, in the language of the tragedian—‘The wild chase is our trade, battle and conquest our chief occupation.’ They were worn attached to the girdle; for in a juvenile Chinese Encyclopedia, a stanza of the Kooloo-foo poem is quoted, in which a wife thus deplores the absence of her husband:—
‘Oh, my husband, where art thou
Beyond yon hills, which tower o’er each other?
Shall I hear the head of your great knife,
When the moon like a rent mirror ascends the heaven?’
The commentary explains the head of the great knife, as the ring by which this instrument was attached to the girdle, producing a clinking noise, and forewarning the approach of the wearer. The Istorica Relatione del gran Regno della Cina of P. Alvaro Semedo, in its narration, mentions among the presents made by the Mahomedan ambassadors to the Chinese throne, ‘600 knives and as many files,’ and the narrator continues, ‘this last present appearing to me very extraordinary to offer to a monarch, I inquired what use the king made of them, and found none who could tell me, but a certain captain alone said, ‘That it was a very ancient custom, and so strictly observed, that no substitution was allowed.’” The use of knives as coins is of a far earlier epoch, and the reason of this feudal right being demanded in the seventeenth century, probably had reference to that haughty arrogance of the Chinese court, which regards all other monarchs as its vassals.
“The Chin-paou, a tract upon precious things embodied in the San-tsae-too-hwuy, contains an account of the early currency. It appears from this tract, that the knife coin was the actual adaptation of this shape to the currency, and its
accounts relative to these coins are as follow:— Ancient knives used under the former monarchs in the same way as silks and gems. Gold knife of the Emperor Wangmang, A. D. 10, perpendicular inscription in the seal character, ‘one knife equal to 5000.’ Knife of unnamed material coined by the same monarch, perpendicular inscription in the seal character, ‘legal knife 500.’ Knife found in the fifth year of Seunho in a field near Kinhëen, a village of Munching, with a perpendicular inscription in an old court hand, ‘heart-shaped spoon currency 500.’ Silver knife, with an illegible inscription, found by Wangkung, a high literary officer in Kinchown, uncertain whether cast under the Kewfoo.
“Hager, in his Numismatique Chinoise, gives a drawing of a Chinese knife coin, quite perfect, belonging to the French Museum, probably remitted by P. Amiot from Pihking; and the great rarity of these coins may be inferred from the fact of none belonging to the collection of Mr. Marsden, who had every facility for acquiring them.”
Probably no coins in the world are less intellectual or interesting than those issued by the Chinese, who, notwithstanding the insulting presumption for which they are notorious, are immeasurably behind all other civilized nations in the art of mintage. Their common currency of a base material approximates to what is termed bell-metal, and is cast with a square hole in the centre to allow of stringing. We meet with them of an early date; one; before me, for instance, is of the Emperor KEENYEN, A. D. 1127; this bears the emperor’s name on the obverse, the reverse being quite plain. Another of much earlier date has on it PWAN-LEANG, A. D. 10, signifying half an ounce. Of those inscribed WOOCHO coined in the year 81, there are four varieties before me, like the preceding, plain on their reverses. Others are of HUNGCHE, A. D. 1486 CHINGTIH, A. D. 1515; TEENKE, 1625; YUNGCHING, 1725; and KEENLUNG.
“These pieces are from the mints of Canton (KWANG), Pihking, and Yunnan. Some of them have characters on both sides; one an ornamented engrailed edge. These coins are sunk in the field, with the characters raised, the border projecting; most of them, in addition to the emperor’s name, have TUNG PAOU, signifying current money.
“The above consist of varieties of the tseen or kash, and are distinguished from the currency of the west by the square hole in the centre. The early ones are known from those of a later date by their inscription, which is generally in a neat seal character, and indicates the weight of the piece, as woo-choo, ‘five twenty-fifths of an ounce,’ or by metaphoric expressions, as hotseen, ‘source of wealth.’ They are said by the native authorities to have circulated from a century before to a few years after the christian era, and their date is indicated by their diameter and weight, probably dependent on the necessities of the state.
“The coins of a secondary epoch have four characters on one side only, reading perpendicularly and horizontally, or running round the coin from right to left. The component parts of the inscription are, the imperial, national, or felicitous names assumed by the emperor, to mark the qualities of his reign, and during the early dynasties frequently changed. These names therefore mark chronological epochs. Thus we have Tae-ping, A. D. 967 to 975; Hung-woo, A. D. 1366 to 1397; Teen-Ke, A. D. 1620 to 1629, &c. The other portion of the inscription is the expression for money, as before stated. In addition to this, the coins of the present Tsing, or Manchow dynasty, are inscribed on the reverse with two characters, expressive of the town at which they were fabricated.
“When the Tartar yoke became more firmly rivetted on the Chinese, they dropped the use of the Chinese character on the reverse, and the coins of the later Emperors have the Manchow transcription only, as Yun-poo, ‘money of Yun-nan,’ reverse of a coin of Keenlung, A. D. 1780 to 1796. Kweipoo ‘money of Kweichow,’ reverse of a coin of the same monarch.”
Coins of Japan are made on the same model, but differ in execution. Of the Javanese we meet with pieces somewhat similar, but larger in dimensions, and representing human and other figures, as well as buildings.
As to the silver coins of the Chinese, it appears they are satisfied with those of other countries, such as the Spanish dollar, &c. which as they pass through the hands of the merchants are countermarked; but Cochin China has recently issued a silver dollar of respectable appearance, which, in the absence of a silver currency among the Chinese, may be regarded as a step towards improvement. On the obverse is the lung, or dragon, the national emblem; on the reverse are four characters, reading perpendicularly Ming-ming, the imperial name, and horizontally tung-paou, and in the centre a radiated sphere.
The Rev. Mr. Reade presented some moulds found in the neighbourhood of Whitby, in Yorkshire, in which Roman (silver) coins had been cast. They were doubtless the manufacture of forgers, and from what I could gather from the speech of Mr. Reade, he conceived they might have been executed by the Roman army, presuming them to be deficient of cash. This I must beg leave to dispute, not believing that under any circumstances the Roman government sanctioned the casting of coins, indeed none but what were struck, and that too by officers appointed for the purpose; for, as before stated, I have never, in the whole of the practice which I have had amongst Roman medals, seen a genuine Roman denarius that could, on a minute inspection, be taken for a cast, although there are many of Aquilia Severa, Julia Soemias, Maesa, and others, which have very much that appearance on a cursory view. Indeed I have seen denarii that bear very much the appearance of being cast, of the reign of Albinus, who assumed the purple in Gaul, and there struck coins as emperor. They differ in appearance from those struck in Rome as Caesar only. I allude not to that type with the legend “Fides Legionum Cos. II.” but to others; still I have no doubt if they are cast, they are ancient forgeries.
In the rooms of the Geological Society may be seen one of these moulds, or indeed part of two, bearing the impress of the head of Caracalla on one side, and on the other, that of his brother Geta; for it appears that many of the moulds were placed together, and all filled at the same time. The mould alluded to was discovered at Lingwell Gate, near Wakefield, and geologists pronounce it to be composed of clay containing fossil infusoria of two species, namely navicula and gaillonella Romana.
Mr. John Hey, in the “Transactions of the Philosophical and Literary Society of Leeds,” vol. i. part 1, gives the following interesting account of various discoveries of these ancient clay moulds.
“The first authenticated discovery in this kingdom was at Lingwell Gate in 1697. They were again found there by our town’s-man Thoresby about the year 1706. The coins for which they were intended were Severus, Julius Domna, Caracalla, Alexander Severus, Mammaea and Diadumenian. About the same period, great numbers were found at Lyons in France, the whole of which were of Severus, Julia, and Caracalla; others were discovered nearly at the same time at Edington, in Somersetshire, and at the latter end of the last century at Ryton, in Shropshire. The moulds at Ryton, were of Severus, Julia, and Caracalla; those at Edington, of the same, and also of Geta, Macrinus, Elagabalus, Alexander Severus, Maximim, Maximus Caesar, Plautilla, Julia Paula, and Julia Mammea.
“But the largest deposit which has yet been known, was turned up by the Plough at Lingwell Gate in 1830. The circumstance having attracted the attention of some gentlemen at Wakefield, a further search was made, and four crucibles were discovered, along with several funnels, used in the process of casting. The whole of these were found of a bluish white clay, which was very plentiful on the spot about 18 inches from the surface.”
Mr. Hey is of an opinion that the parts where the moulds were discovered have originally been forests, consequently impervious to general notice, and that here the forgers congregated to carry on their unlawful practices.
A list of the donations which had been presented to the Society was then read. After which Dr. Lee, in an eloquent address of considerable length, took a retrospective view of the Numismatic information which had been offered to the Society during the meetings; connected with which, he gave an admirable lecture on the production and progression of early coinage. At the termination of which, a vote of thanks was proposed to be presented to him as President, for his indefatigable and unceasing exertions for the welfare and prosperity of the Society. This was carried with acclamation.
The Session then terminated, the meeting of the Society being adjourned to November next.
1 Doubtless there are many of our intelligent country Collectors who would feel pleasure in being connected with the Numismatic Society; but, possibly, from diffidence, might be backward in expressing their inclination. Should this be the case, (and I trust, as a member myself, I am doing no more than my duty in offering a suggestion) I should have much satisfaction in being the channel through which they may be elected, by proposing them at the ensuing meeting, on their wishes being communicated to me by letter.
2 To Sir Henry Ellis the Society is much indebted for contributing so largely to its information and its interests; scarcely a meeting having passed without a valuable paper on the subject of Numismatics having been received from him.
3 The coin here alluded to is the Pontefract shilling, of which there are four varieties. They are all rare.
4 One might be tempted to suggest, that the Scottish artists had here followed the example of the engravers of the Roman mint, who in so flattering a manner assimilated the likeness of the reigning emperor to that of the preceding one, in cases where the sovereign then wearing the purple had been nominated a successor. Witness the first coins of Domitian, how like his father, and his brother, he is represented on them; while others, struck subsequently, when he alone was the idol to be worshipped, give his own portrait quite unlike the former. Notice the early Denarii of Trajan: in many instances you can scarcely distinguish them from those of Nerva. The restored coins bear the same peculiarity. On one now before me, a sestertius of Augustus, restored by Nerva, we find the comely features of the first named emperor distorted to form the scraggy neck and the acquiline (Wellington) nose of Nerva. To guard, however, against any misconception on this point, I will quote a paragraph from an article in the Numismatic Journal for April, 1837. “The tyro in numismatics must not be misled into the notion that little dependance is to be placed on the fidelity of medallic portraits in general. No conclusion would be more false. The instances commented upon are peculiar exceptions, thoroughly understood by experienced numismatists; and so far from misleading, merely amuse by the skill and ingenuity they display. The fact that these ingenuities are so readily detected, proves the truth of the standard likenesses with which the regular coins abundantly furnish us. Certainly, excessive flattery prevailed on ancient coins, though scarcely more so than it does on most modern medals; but this was worked into the legends, and imaginary devices, while the portraits were studiously copied from the reality.” From an attentive observation of the portraits on these coins, it is long since I first remarked the circumstance which is here noticed, and indeed which must strike the most inexperienced numismatist. But this flattery must not in reality be placed on the shoulders of the engravers of the Scottish mint, as in all existing portraits of James we find the same profile as that representing his father on this coin. Probably of all the English monarchs, James I. had the least pretension to personal attractions.
5 The female branches of the illustrious House of Brunswick do not all appear to have been born under propitious planets. The queen of George I., Sophia of Brunswick Zell, was confined nearly forty years at Ahlden in Germany, for gallantries alleged indeed, but never satisfactorily proved. She died in that country in 1726, never having set her feet on English ground.
Again, the amiable Charlotte Christina, of Brunswick Blackenberg, who was married in 1711 to the Prince Royal, or, as he was termed, the Czarowitz Alexis of Russia. He was the ferocious son of Peter the Great, and to his brutal treatment she owed her death. It is not generally known that our late Queen Caroline (consort of George the Fourth,) had an elder sister named Augusta Caroline, and who was eldest daughter to the celebrated Duke of Brunswick Wolfenbuttle, who fell at Auerstadt. This unfortunate princess met with her death in a manner which has, I believe, never been clearly understood. When very young she was married to the Prince of Wirtemberg, by whom she had three children, (the reigning sovereign of Wirtemberg being one of them). The Prince entered the service of Russia, where his family resided. This service, however, he quitted in 1787, taking with him his children, but leaving his consort behind under the protection of as libidinous a monster as ever disgraced a diadem; I mean the late Empress Catherine of Russia, equalling, if not exceeding, Messalina in her amours, and our Elizabeth in her injustice, in inflicting a punishment on a princess over whom she had no just control. Elizabeth might have pleaded, to a certain extent, the poor excuse of self-preservation, but the potent Catherine had no compeer whose liberty might have endangered either her crown or her life; her victim was powerless, and without friends who could assist her. The princess, however, incarcerated by Catherine, died, or was reported to have died, within two or three years afterwards; the female sensualist of the North gave no notice to her father and husband that she ceased to exist. The Duke of Brunswick, with the feelings of a father, begged with earnest entreaties to see the body, but his pressing solicitations were of no avail, and it was doubted at the time whether his daughter was not in reality still in existence. When Revolutionary France was, like a pest, spreading desolation over the Continent, it was reported, as I well remember, that a princess had been discovered in a place of confinement, and this princess, too, was presumed to have been Augusta Caroline of Wirtemberg; but the report seems to have been unfounded. Her husband, it appears, was exonerated from having any share in the transaction, as we find him in 1797 paying court to the Princess Royal of England, whom he married in the month of May of the same year. This princess, who was afterwards Queen of Wirtemberg, fearlessly, and I believe successfully, put an end to all apprehension in her union with the prince. The history of the late Queen Caroline, sister of the first Princess of Wirtemberg, is too recent and too well known to require notice here.
I can almost fancy I hear some one say, “What has this story to do with your account of the Denarius, or the Numismatic Society? My answer would be “Nothing;” still there are those to whom the perusal of these little anecdotes may be as acceptable as they were to myself when first I read them; for such persons they are here related. Variety is pleasing, and interesting as the accounts of coins may be, some short anecdotes to which they give rise, may perhaps relieve the reader rather than embarrass him.
6 This motto or legend might have been consistent with the character of the mild and pious Henry the Sixth, or of the last of the Edwards; but that those atrocious despots, those wholesale regal butchers of the good old times, the usurper and regicide Richard the Third, and that stifler of domestic and all natural feeling, Henry the Eighth, should have adopted it, is little less than blasphemy. Those who do me the honour to read this, must not consider me otherwise than a staunch royalist—I am one from my very heart; but this at a time when our sovereign has neither the inclination, nor happily the power, to commit crimes such as those of the above named princes.
7 The reader must still bear in mind that Numismatists, when speaking technically, term a coin a medal; on the contrary, nothing could be worse than to call a medal a coin, it not being struck for currency.
8 I will say nothing of the Spintriati of Tiberius, which from their infamous representations are rendered inadmissible into any respectable cabinet; nor of those small coins with the head of an aged female (Caesar-like veiled and laureated) on their obverse, presumed to be intended for that of Acca Laurentia, the wife of Faustulus and nurse of Romulus, and bearing on their reverse an S C, considered to have been struck for use in the celebration of the Saturnalia.
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