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People often confuse style and type. Type is what is depicted on a coin while style is about how well the celator (die cutter) executed the designs. Celators had different levels of experience and even experienced ones had good and bad days. Superb style results from a highly experienced celator having one of his best days. Appreciation of style can be a little subjective, but on seeing superb style there is seldom disagreement. Style is usually described as poor, average, good, excellent or superb, and is only a consideration on high grade coins where the engraving details are clearly visible.

Superb Style

septimius severus tetradrachm superb style
Portrait enlargement

Septimius Severus' portrait on this tetradrachm is of superb style, a masterpiece of the celator's art. To describe a coin as of superb style, it must stand alone against other coins of other types.

Good or Fine Style

Septimius Severus tetradrachm good style

Good style, often referred to as Fine style, is more subjective and judged relative to what is normal for the type. This Septimius Severus tetradrachm was struck at the same mint and time as the superb one above, from dies probably cut by the same celator. When compared to other tetradrachm of the type the style is good. One should not assess that against other Septimius Severus coins from other mints and series.

Septimius severus good style denarius

This Septimius Severus denarius from Rome mint is of good style for the series it belongs to. I my opinion it is finer style than the good style tetradrachm above, illustrating how the tetradrachm must be judged against other tetradrachms of that series, not against denarii of Rome, and thus both coins are of good style.

Average Style

Septimius severus average style denarius

While a little lower grade, grade is not a consideration in style. Details such as the look in his eye, the slightly coarser hair and beard, and slightly irregular size and placement of the letters, show it to be of lesser style than the previous denarius. In my opinion it is of competent but average style.

Poor Style

septimius severus denarius poor style

This portrait of Septimius Severus has a bulbous nose, vague look in his eye, and overall coarsely engraved details. The style is poor for a Septimius Severus denarius from Rome mint, although by no means the poorest I have seen.

While good and average style is somewhat subjective, superb and poor style are not. Coins of superb style can bring prices several times those of good to average style coins, while poor style coins sell at significant discounts.


Magnetius centenionalis good style

This Magnentius centenionalis is of average style example of an official coin from the Lugdunum mint.

magnentius barbarous centenionalis

This Magnentius centenionalis has a crude line drawn portrait with poorly formed inscriptions and if compared to the official Lugdunum example one might describe it as of poor style. It belongs to a category of ancient coins known as barbarous imitations, struck for local use by people possibly outside the Roman Empire. I believe this coin is probably Germanic. While of poor style compared to the Lugdunum coin, it is of good style when compared to other barbarous imitative coins.


Hercules Ants

These depictions of Hercules on the reverse of Gordian III antoninianii were struck at the same time and place and are probably the work of the same celator. One shows Hercules with a clear face and as the well-proportioned heavily muscled man one expects. The other shows a crude face, miss-shaped legs, and very odd muscle groups, clearly of lesser style than the other. Which would you purchase if both were presented at the same price?

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