Serrati. A rant cut from the book.

I’m rather silent at the moment as I’m in editing mode.  This just got cut from the Intro.  too nitty gritty, too negative.  Anyway I thought I’d throw it up here to say I’m alive.

Students more used to humanistic approaches should not be “blinded by science” or other technical details.  Not all new analysis is good analysis.  Two teams have used SEM technology to look at serrati.  Both separately concluded that the serrations were manually added to the flans by a knife or similar slicing tool prior to their striking (Balbi de Caro et al. 1999; Kraft et al. 2006).  Separate confirmation gives confidence in the result, but the Anglophone team seems to have been unaware of the Italian published work some seven years earlier and thus does not interact with that data in anyway.  The Italian team also used energy dispersive spectrometry (EDS), a non-destructive procedure similar to XRF, and concluded that the serrati used a purer silver alloy than standard issues that was more brittle and that the serrations applied to the flans prior to striking made them more stable (Balbi de Caro et al. 1999; Pancotti and Calabria 2009).  This goes against basic engineering principles: each cut introduces a new possible failure point.

Moreover, these conclusions were based on the EDS readings from only four serrate specimens and those readings were compared with data from just three specimens analyzed in 1964 by Caley.  Caley used traditional wet chemistry to analyze physical samples  thus his results are in some ways more accurate than the more sweeping analyses of Walker and Hollstein et al. using types of XRF technology (1980 and 2000). Comparison of Balbi de Caro’s data EDS with results of the XRF analysis suggests those serrati are very much in the normal range of fineness with their contemporary coins.  Balbi de Caro’s higher readings than Caley’s samples are better explained by surface enrichment or small size of the samples used in each study.

These studies demonstrate more than anything the limits of metallurgical analysis to answer the question “why”.  Kraft’s team shows that forgers knew to emulate the same technique on foil-covered based metal flans.  Perhaps serrati were preferred because they were perceived as less likely to be forged. It would have been a costly, labor intensive technique, so there must have been some perceived benefit beyond any questionable esthetic value. It is tempting to connect the height of their production with the monetary anxieties reflected in contemporary legislation (see p. XXX below chapter; chapter 6).  Good technical studies can provide insight into “how” and “what” of coin production, but need to be based on a wide enough body of data to have meaningful conclusions and take into consideration pre-existing data.


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