Exhibio Me Argentum

Clint Richardson shows us the (ancient) money

Published in 2009 Georgia Super Lawyers — March 2009

Clint Richardson's world is inhabited not only by venture capitalists but by Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar and Genghis Khan. The managing member of Atlanta's Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice office, Richardson collects ancient coins issued by these and other long-dead notables—rulers who shaped history and coined the money to prove it.

Richardson owns some 250 ancient coins and is writing a book about his collection. Working title: The Celators' Mirror — History Reflected Through Ancient Coins, after the engravers (celators) who produced the money using a manual stamping process. The book will combine photographs of the coins with brief descriptions of the events surrounding them.

"I like history, and I like writing about it," says Richardson, 58, from his 35th-floor Midtown Atlanta office. "It gives you more perspective on your own life."

Richardson's hobby began about a decade ago with a visit to the British Museum in London. "Afterward, I was out walking around, found a few ancient-coin stores and made my first purchase," he says. The coin dated from the reign of Marcus Aurelius, the second-century A.D. Roman philosopher-emperor, and Richardson had taken Aurelius' Meditations to read on the plane flight over.

Richardson's collection goes back to the Lydians, ruled over by Croesus in the sixth century B.C., then proceeds through the ancient Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Crusaders. "You find out something, and you get intrigued and go look for a coin," he says. "Or you see something and start reading about it. It all kind of intertwines."

Like the coin minted by Tancred, one of the leaders of the First Crusade in the 12th century. It has the image of St. Peter and the legend "Lord help your servant Tancred" in Greek.

"Tancred made three coins while ruling Antioch," Richardson says. "Another I have has him in an Arab headdress, which I thought was odd. But it reflected the history of the times. There's a lot more to the Crusades than is taught in schools."

Roman history gets a strong nod in Richardson's collection, especially that period on the cusp between republic and empire in the first century B.C. Richardson has coins issued by Julius Caesar, Brutus, Marc Antony and Cleopatra. "All the players in this pivotal time in Roman history issued coins that bear their image—how they wanted to be portrayed," he says. "One of my coins was issued by Antony and Cleopatra before the Battle of Actium, where they were defeated by Julius Caesar. It's an alloy. They didn't have the financial resources to mint a pure-silver coin. It's the first devalued currency in history." 

Richardson buys, but he does not sell. He views his coins as windows on the past rather than as investments. His average coin is worth only between $100 and $150—in part due to the relative paucity of fellow collectors—but he notes that the coins are remarkably sophisticated considering they were hand-stamped.

"My collection doesn't focus on the really expensive coins as much as on the history," he says. "I decided early on that I was more interested in the artistic value and the image than I was necessarily in the pure quality, because I'm trying to tell stories with them.

Richardson is no stranger to book publishing. His 1987 work—The Venture Magazine Complete Guide to Venture Capital—evolved into the Growth Company Guide, which explores business and legal strategies for financing and managing growing companies. Over several incarnations, the book has sold nearly 100,000 copies. 

"I've gotten to where I really enjoy writing," he says. "I almost have to have a writing project. It's a part of how I relax."

So is reading. A recent favorite book is Travels With Herodotus by the Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski, who retraced "the father of history's" journeys nearly 2,500 years later.

Given his legal workload, he says, the coin book may not come out until 2010 or later. Richardson's lament is one voiced through history by kings and commoners alike.

"If only I could find a few more hours," he says.

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