On a busy day in April 2015, professors Gwynaeth McIntyre and Lynn Welton were storing old exams in the CNERS Department storage room when they spotted a small grey box in a corner of the room, stacked high upon a pile of boxes. It was a Spalding Top-Flite box, originally intended for golf balls, somewhat worn around the edges and almost unremarkable in appearance. It was the yellow note taped to the top of the box which caught their eye:
March 15th, 1999
2 missing coins (lost for a considerable time)
- Bronze as of Nero (poor condition)
- Denarius (silver) of Faustina Elder (good condition)
Intrigued, the professors picked up the box. The contents were heavy, confirming that it held some sort of treasure. Like a pair of archaeologists who had just found the entrance to an intact tomb, their eyes met in excitement and they hesitated for a moment. One professor held the box, while the other gently eased its lid open. Inside the box lay a series of envelopes, and inside the envelopes, lay seventy-three coins from classical antiquity.
The O. J. Todd Coin Collection spans over eight hundred years of history, from Classical Greece to the end of the Roman Empire, with coins from almost every period of Roman history. It is especially useful for studying the evolving style of classical coinage from 350 BC to 350 CE. The collection is mainly comprised of coins from the Roman Empire, though there are also a number of examples from the Roman Republic, a few from Greece, and a handful from India.
A bit of browsing through UBC’s archives enabled me to determine that the coin collection belonged to Douglas Todd, son of Otis Johnson Todd, one of the founders of the Classics Department at the University of British Columbia. Not very much is known about Douglas Todd, but plenty can be written about his father. O. J. was born in Garland, Pennsylvania in 1883, and obtained his PhD at Harvard in 1914. He accepted an appointment as Assistant Professor of Classics at the University of British Columbia in 1918, moving his wife and six young children on a four-day train trip from Northfield, Minnesota to Vancouver, BC. O. J. enjoyed a long and successful career at UBC, teaching Greek and publishing a number of translations and articles pertaining to Greek literature. He was Head of the Classics Department from 1941-1949, and continued to teach for three years after his retirement.
No records in the UBC Archives survive about the donation of the O. J. Todd Collection, however. Very little is known about Douglas Todd himself, except that he was born in Northfield, Minnesota shortly before the Todd family moved to Vancouver in 1918. He graduated from UBC in 1941 and won the Big Block award in soccer. He served in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War, later becoming a teacher and school administrator in West Vancouver. He appears to have had various historical interests, most notably in his family genealogy and his collection of Roman coins.
From Stone to Screen obtained the Todd Collection with the view of digitizing it. When Chelsea and Lisa first proposed that I should be the one to publish the coin collection online, I wasn’t sure what to expect. All I knew was that I had never handled a Roman coin before; I had only ever seen coins pictured in books and displayed behind glass in museums. I had never dreamed of working with ancient coins in our corner of Western Canada. Fresh out of my undergraduate degree and enthusiastic about Roman history and archaeology, I was elated by the opportunity to interact directly with coins from the ancient world. It was fascinating to think that they could have belonged to anyone in the Roman Empire – senators and soldiers, merchants and slaves – and that I would be the one who could make them available online to the public.
We have a number of interesting coins in the Todd Collection, and it would be difficult to do justice to all of them in the span of this blog post. Instead, I’ll list a couple coins which captured my interest. Make sure to stay tuned for upcoming posts about other coins in the collection!
One of the coins which immediately caught my eye was a Celtic stater, issued by the Curiosolites, a people who inhabited what is now the Côtes-d’Armor in Brittany, France. The interesting thing about this coin is that it was minted just before Julius Caesar began his campaigns in Gaul, and he mentions the Curiosolites in passing in his Bellum Gallicum. It features a Celticized head with large spiral curls on the obverse, and a horse and rider galloping together on the reverse. The design is likely based off the Macedonian staters of Philip II. This coin is significant because it enables scholars to study the aesthetic principles of the Celts before Romanization.
The Curiosolites (or Curiosolitae, Coriosvelites) were an Armorican tribe who lived on the Côtes-D’Armor in modern Brittany, France. They are mentioned several times in Julius Caesar’s Bellum Gallicum. Little is known about this tribe, though numerous coin hoards have been attributed to them. It is likely that the coins were based on designs of the Macedonian staters of Philip II.
Another coin which I found fascinating was a denarius issued by Marcus Vargunteius from the late Roman Republic. During this period, the treasury was under the authority of the quaestors, and a board of junior magistrates (moneyers) known as the triumviri (‘board of three’) were responsible for the minting of coinage. Coin designs in the late 2nd century BC were varied and often alluded to aspects of a moneyer’s ancestry and political achievements. This beautiful silver coin features the head of Roma on the obverse, as was typical for denarii during this period. The reverse features Jupiter driving a triumphal chariot pulled by four horses, possibly celebrating the Vargunteii family’s relationship to the deity. Republican coins are especially significant because they indicate the families who were in control of the mint, celebrating their ancestry and power in Roman civic culture.
Digitizing the Todd Collection has been a fascinating experience, a process which took the summer to complete. The mechanics of digitization are pretty dull explain in detail, but here’s a quick overview: First, the coins were scanned on a high-quality flatbed scanner. Then, the images were processed using Photoshop, and the obverse and reverse of each coin were cropped into separate files. The next step was research, a process by which I confirmed the notes which Douglas Todd wrote about most of his collection. Without access to the internet and other modern resources available to numismatists, however, his research was sometimes incomplete – or completely wrong. I confirmed the identity of each coin, a pursuit which equally fascinated and frustrated me. Many hours were spent browsing internet databases (like Wildwinds) to match images of each coin to their references in coin catalogues. The final step was digitization, where I uploaded the images and research about each coin onto our artifact website. We used Omeka to build our artifact collection website, an open source platform which I found really user-friendly. It was all downhill from there, and the digitization was finished in no time.
Working on the O. J. Todd Collection has been a fascinating experience, one that has taught me a lot about numismatics and the digitization of artifact collections. I couldn’t have done any of this without the help of Lisa Tweten, Constantin Pietschmann and Jayden Lloyd. I must also thank professors Gwynaeth McIntyre and Lynn Welton for telling me about their experiences with the collection, and professor Hector Williams for helping me discover the identity of the mysterious D. Todd. The most exciting aspect of working with the Todd Collection is the fact that it was lost for a long time, and From Stone to Screen made it possible for it to be available online to everyone. With today’s technology, there is no reason why we shouldn’t be able to study artifacts from all over the world using the power of the internet. It’s such a privilege to be part of a digitization project which enables us to make the UBC’s teaching collections available to students, scholars and the general public around the world.
British Museum. “Roman Republican Coinage.” Accessed 24 September 2015. https://www.britishmuseum.org/research/publications/online_research_catalogues/rrc/roman_republican_coins/roman_republican_coinage.aspx.
Harl, Kenneth W. Coinage in the Roman Economy, 300 BC to AD 700. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1996.
Sear, David R. Roman Coins and their Values, 4th edition. London: Seaby, 1988.
Sydenham, Edward A. The Coinage of the Roman Republic. New York: Arno Press, 1975.
Todd, Douglas. The Otis Johnson Todd Line in America. Winnipeg: Laurie D. Todd, 2005.
UBC Archives. “Todd Family Genealogies.” Otis J. Todd Fonds. Box 1-4.
Wikipedia. “Curiosolitae.” Last modified 6 June 2015. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curiosolitae