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» Petr Sousek interview
An interview with engraver Petr Sousek

  • Petr, how did it happen that you became an engraver?
    As a young boy I was interested in history and I became very fond of old coins. I was especially attracted by really old coins – from the ancient times, the Middle Ages and the Baroque period. I didn‘t know then that they could be bought - and that even I could own them – so I started to make them by myself. It was very natural to me to use the technique of two-side striking, I engraved the dies into metal and I created the first reproductions of Czech Denarii when I was just about 10. Then, until I was about 14, I gradually made lots of little coins from various periods and territories – Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Czech Denarii, Gothic Ducatii, and tiny coins, Bracteatii, Renaissance and Baroque groschen/pennies. When I was taking my entrance examinations to the Arts College I showed the examination board, along with my drawings and paintings, specimens of my coins. 
    Then came the teenage years and the interest in painting and childhood fascination with historical coins took a back seat. I gave a bag with hundreds of my coins to somebody as a present and later was unable to recover anything from that collection.

    When I was 17 I fell passionately in love with the nymph ARETHUSA, depicted on Greek coins and so, after years of absence from engraving work, I began to engrave the dies for a Syracusian Dekadrachm. I would keep the piece that I struck on me all the time. This was the coin that, when I hit a financial low, I offered to a coin dealer and, although it was a copy, I got paid rather well.
    In 1989 I received my first order to make a commemorative medal in the style of the Greek Tetradrachm. More and more orders followed including orders for making jewellery. Of course, at that time I would still engrave the dies using steel nails or chisels and a hammer. It was only later that I was introduced to working with engraving tools and I was, at last, able to engrave fine details.
  • Is engraving your main occupation or do you pursue other activities as well?
    Yes, engraving, or should I say a complete production of the replicas of coins, tokens, medals, and occasionally jewellery is my main occupation. I do have other interests which include drawing, music, philosophy, theatre…

  • Are you a member of a professional craftsmen‘s organization?
    No.

  • How many dies have you made and how many of those were ancient ones?
    About 450, of which about 190 were ancient. (year 2001)

  • Can you make a living producing this type of work in the Czech Republic?
    Yes, it is possible.

  • Why are you so fascinated by ancient coins?
    There is a special ambience about them, as well as other ancient monuments and literature. I feel very natural with them, they gave me the feeling of being at home and existing in a valid historical context.

  • Do you always make accurate reproductions or do you also “conceive” coins?
    I am really into making as precise reproductions as possible – that‘s my professional pride, although, from time to time, by myself or spurred on by an order I do design and produce a free paraphrase or even a new, „original“ coin. If you happened to lay your hand on a Roman Denarius bearing the inscription DIVA IVA, a woman‘s portrait on the averse and a representation of Fortune on the reverse, then beware, that is my work, related to the birth of my niece.

  • Do you have a favourite historical period, person or a particular coin?
    A couple of years ago I absolutely fell for the period of the Severus family. I was destined to become obsessed with the Denarii of their dynasty. I also imitated them a lot. It was my school of engraving portraits and of metallurgy as well, as I started to prepare the metals and alloys that were needed. I feel very close to that period (turn of the 2
    nd and 3rd century AD) and I find that it‘s not only the coins from that period that impress me. Although I do not have a specific person I feel an affinity for JULIA DOMNA, whose Denarius I burnt into my palm at some point in the past. As far as coins are concerned, I like the convolutes of ancient and medieval coins which allow one to study, assess, and determine them and get lost in this maze knowing that one will discover something extraordinary, something new.

  • Do you know any other engravers who produce(d) reproductions of ancient coins?
    I saw the works of the late Becker, Christodoulos and recently I learned about the living engraver S. Petrov of Bulgaria, which was a great relief to me as I had begun to feel very lonely with my work.

  • Have you ever displayed your work at an exhibition?
    No, I have never had an opportunity to do this with coins. (2001)

  • Your coins look beautiful and are very faithful to the original, aren‘t you worried that somebody could abuse the fact and pass them as genuine coins?
    On the contrary. I am very pleased when you cannot tell my products from historical coins. Occasionally I would slip a reproduction into my collection and wait for the reactions of collectors. Bur I never passed my work off as originals. I often stamped reproductions with the mark.

  • Do you produce large numbers of copies from a single pair of dies?
    As far as ancient copies are concerned I have always produced only one or two coins.

  • Do you think that today, when the prices of some types of original ancient coins are very low, somebody can be interested in “mere” reproductions?
    It is encouraging to see that some people are interested in your work for the work itself regardless of the fact that it is a copy. Other people may be interested in a copy of a rare coin because the original is too expensive or even unavailable.

  • What models do you use to create the dies?
    Photographs or original coins.

  • What material do you use for the dies?
    (Hardened) carbon steel and I am in the middle of preparations for using bronze which was often the material of ancient dies.

  • How many pieces can you strike with one die?
    If it is from hardened steel you can strike a thousand pieces, provided there is no hidden defect in the die material. But when making ancient reproductions I strike a maximum of several dozens of pieces from a pair of dies.

  • Do you cut the die by hand or do you use a machine?
    They are hand cut, engraved, hammered, and polished.

  • What tools do you use?
    You may not believe me but I still use the same tools as when I was a child. For example, I still have the same miniature hammer. Today I also use hard steel nails, chisels, and engraving tools, files, polishing powders, polishing paste, and sometimes a magnifying glass.

  • Do you think you work using the same techniques as the ancient die makers?
    It is possible. However, I would be interested to know some details: what did they use to hold the die during work, in what position did they sit during work. I imagine they worked very hard. Almost any portrait on the Roman Denarii is a masterpiece and craft at such high level can only be based on years of practical experience. Otherwise, a lot of things concerning the technique and types of tools can be observed directly from the coins.

  • Do you make the planchets yourself or do you have a supplier?
    Myself. Occasionally I have then made by friends who are also interested in historical crafts.

  • How is a, let‘s say, silver planchet prepared?
    In some cases by casting a weighted amount of silver into a hole, in other cases by casting into a two-part mould. Some
    planchets, for example Hellenistic Tetradrachm, used to be hammered into shape after casting.

  • Do you strike coins by hand or do you use a press?
    I strike ancient coins on an anvil using a hammer.

  • In your opinion, are there differences between hand struck coins and pressed production?
    I have a different feeling from the two types of striking and occasionally this difference is expressed in the struck coin.

  • Do you think that reproductions of ancient coins should be struck with technical perfection (perfect, unbroken planchet, absolute centring, not showing signs of excessive wear, with no patina, …) or is it necessary to emulate the original by certain imperfections and later patina?
    Ancient coins should be produced in such a way that possible production flaws (double-strikes, eccentric striking, uneven planchets, cracks) do not take away any of the beauty of the coin. I myself am very fond of what I call “effects” and like to see them on coins. My replicas imitate as faithfully as possible the original coins and some of them
    show signs of wear, with cracks, while others are, technically, perfectly struck, the same as the originals. In my own collection, some reproductions are in such a hopeless state that as genuine coins they would be without value.

  • Do you believe in re-incarnation (in relation to your gift for making ancient coins)?
    Whatever you call it – genetics or incarnation, a man brings to the world certain “forgotten” knowledge and skills which can resurface in someone at the right moment. This might be a logical explanation for my case when, as a small child, I began to use, without any hesitation, authentic techniques, having received no information from the outside world.

The interviewer was Pavel Neumann (2001)


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