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Topic: Designing the Iron Coin of the Faceless Man... (and why HBO got it wrong)

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Designing the Iron Coin of the Faceless Man... (and why HBO got it wrong)
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I licensed with George back in 2003... nearly ten years ago now... when there were just two books in the series. The first coin was the copper Star of Robert Baratheon... just because he was an affable character and hated counting coppers. But as soon as I hit the part where Arya receives the iron coin from Jaqen H'ghar I knew we would have to make that coin. Trouble was that it was very sketchily described and I couldn't get much guidance from George on it. So for several (actually seven) years I tossed the idea back and forth with my engraver, Greg Franck-Weiby. The description in the book does not give a size... but we do know that Jaqen had it on him even though he was in chains and awaiting execution. Presumably he was rather thoroughly searched. There are only a few places on the body one might be able to secret a coin, under the arch of the foot, taped or glued against the scalp or under the beard below the chin, and in the groin or beltline area, or possibly under a fake scab or wound scar. Like I said... not many places. In each case there is an upper size limit to how large the object might be and still be concealable. A silver dollar size piece (1.5" or 39mm diameter) is clearly too large. We decided on a 1" diameter... about 26mm... because it's still "insertable" shall we say... and it has to be thin enough to lie flat almost indetectably. 

Then we are told that the obverse had the face of a man that was so indistinct that Arya at first assumes that the coin is extremely old and worn. It is only later and under closer examination that she comes to realize that the indistinct features are part of the design. In discussing this aspect of the coin with Greg over the years, it became clear that the portrait could NOT be a profile. The reason profiles are popular on both ancient and modern coins is that they are very recognizable even when badly worn. So clearly this one HAD to be a facing portrait, in order for it to be both indistinct AND not badly worn. 

The reverse side was the most difficult part of the design process, because George tells us only that Arya sees "strange characters" on the back of the coin. What does this mean? We debated for YEARS about this. One idea was that we could create a new language and character set for it... that would be "strange" for sure. But that is a daunting task... akin to professor Tolkien devising the Tengwar script. It could be done, but then the reverse inscription would be illegible and inaccessible to anyone unwilling to delve into the minutiae of the new language. This is what held the project back for years. Finally in 2010 we decided to simply use the words. Greg devised an encipherment of the letters VMVD for the central vignette, and placed the inscription ring VALAR MORGULIS, VALAR DOHAERIS, around the outside. We felt that "strange characters" could be interpreted as "strange words".  The fact that the silent "h" was left out of the word "Morghulis" was explained as simply an archaic spelling on a very old coin. There have been five pressings of this coin, totalling 3,600 pieces altogether.

These were the coins that George himself carried and distributed on the sets to cast and crew. So it is a certainty that the props people on the set at least were aware that these existed. Yet when the time came to shoot the scene, they cane up with their own version of the coin. We never see the reverse side so they cleverly sidestepped that issue, but they made two major errors. One in the size. It is clearly too large to hide on the body. Secondly was the portrait, which is done in profile. Even in the horribly corroded state of the coin as depicted, the profile is still quite clear. It would have been very cool for HBO to have used the pre-existing (and more carefully thought-out) coin... but they didn't. 

Beginning January 2013 we will release the new 6th pressing, which I am making now using a new set of dies. The obverse (face) side will be almost identical to the earlier one, with the addition of a secret mark indicating Die#2. The reverse (inscription) side has been extensively reworked. The enciphered central vignette remains the same, while the inscription ring around it has been redone with the more modern spelling, including the silent "H" as in VALAR MORGHULIS, VALAR DOHAERIS,  and done in a completely readable yet more exotic cutomized typestyle that better suits the descriptor "strange characters".

Here's a short video showing me actually striking some of the new coins, using the 150 ton Waterbury Farrell knuckle-press. http://youtu.be/cIfUeuDWafg  As you can see, I do it all myself, one at a time. It takes a LOT of preparation to get to the stage of being able to sit down and actually strike the coins. It's a lot of work, but hey... can't just sit around you know!

The 5th pressing coins will be available til January 1. After that it will be the 6th pressing. Anyone who is upset about the missing "h" in moghulis and wants to exchange an earlier coin for the later, I will do that for free, for just the shipping and handling charge. I'm also accepting pre-orders on the 6th pressings. 

Be well!

Tom Maringer

 



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Tom Maringer Fantasy Coins http://www.shirepost.com/wp/
Lord Bannerman Of The Smileys
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Tom thank you for this background. This is both interesting and informative! Delighted to have you participating in our little community and providing such wonderful insight!

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"There's no cure for being a cunt."  Bronn
"King Stannis is my god."  Davos
"Who the fuck is Jon Snow?"  Locke

Wielder of the Baratheon BANHAMMER
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Awesome insight Master, but to be fair the scene where they show the coin, it's never shown in close-up.
That might be fixed when

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"Robert was never the same after he put on that crown. Some men are like swords, made for fighting. Hang them up and they go to rust.” -DN

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"In each case there is an upper size limit to how large the object might be and still be concealable. A silver dollar size piece (1.5" or 39mm diameter) is clearly too large. We decided on a 1" diameter... about 26mm... because it's still "insertable" shall we say... and it has to be thin enough to lie flat almost indetectably."

So ... this was designed with anal insertion in mind? Dayum! That's thorough.

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As soon as those cameras are off I am going to fuck that little dog.

Lord Bannerman Of The Smileys
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Has Tom been on lately? We'd love to see what his latest offerings are! I treasure my coin!

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"There's no cure for being a cunt."  Bronn
"King Stannis is my god."  Davos
"Who the fuck is Jon Snow?"  Locke

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