Antique Coins and Early Islamic Coins
460 BCE Virile Gods in Sicily
2018 SOLD for CHF 725K before fees
It is now estimated CHF 600K for sale by NAC in Zurich on September 24, lot 8 here linked to Sixbid bidding platform. I narrated it as follows before the 2016 sale :
The city of Naxos near Catania on the eastern coast of Sicily was the earliest Greek colony in that island, anticipating Syracuse, and got its name from the Cycladic island with which it should not be confused. It was also one of the first Western cities to develop a coinage struck on both sides.
Naxos and Catania are emptied of their inhabitants about 474 BCE by the tyrants of Syracuse. The political dominance is reverted following several rebellions, and freedom is retrieved in 460 BCE.
A tetradrachm was issued in Naxos in Sicily at that time, certainly for celebrating the end of the exile. Its bold rendering of Greek gods is a masterpiece of ancient coinage without being an artistic renewal. It is believed that the same artist had previously executed a tetradrachm for Aetna (Aitna) which was the name of Catania during the Syracusan occupation.
On one side the portrait of Dionysus in full surface is remarkably well balanced for its time with a thick beard and a smile that may be vicious. He wears a wreath of ivy leaves. On the other side the invitation to debauchery is indeed worse ! Silenus squats in full nude, vigorously muscular and ithyphallic. The bust unbalanced by intoxication, he inspects the cup that contains his beverage.
409 BCE Just before the Fall of Agrigento
2012 SOLD 2.3 MCHF before fees
About 2423 years ago (409 BCE), this coinage reached its artistic zenith with a beautiful silver decadrachm. The detail of the carving is superb, so much that experts are still wondering if this coin was actually intended to circulate. However, we must also consider that even at this distant time the officials were certainly wary of fakes.
We see on one side a quadriga in full motion. More original, the other side shows a remarkably realistic flying eagle carrying a rabbit.
An almost perfect example of this decadrachm was sold $ 570K by Sotheby's on June 19, 1990, an exceptional price for that time. It comes back at auction on October 17 by Numismatica Ars Classica in Zurich, with an estimate of CHF 1.75 M. The image of the quadriga side is shared by Artdaily. Here is the link to the catalog on the specialized online platform Sixbid.
This model is extremely rare for a good reason: as early as 406BC, Akragas was destroyed by the Carthaginians. I told very recently in this group that this terrible defeat, coupled with the installation of anarchy in Athens in 404BC, would pave the way for the highly effective tyranny of Dionysius in Syracuse.
POST SALE COMMENT
The pieces which are exceptional in their category have no price limit! This coin was sold CHF 2.3 million before fees.
405-400 BCE A Sicilian Tetradrachm
2014 SOLD for CHF 2.3M before fees by NAC
2019 SOLD for CHF 1.7M before fees
Syracuse is one of the main cities of the antique Greek world. The Greek process for silver coins is transferred in that city 2,500 years ago. The highest denomination is the decadrachm. The first tetradrachms of Syracuse are illustrated on the reverse by the head of the nymph Arethusa in profile and on the obverse by a quadriga with its driver and a winged victory that brings the wreath.
Around 415 BCE the image becomes dynamic. Horses that were previously static are now featured in full gallop and the victory crowns the man rather than the horses. At the same time the prestigious models are beginning to be signed, certainly to bring a guarantee on the purity of silver. These assayers of the old times are quite numerous but the best pieces are the work of Kimon or Evainetos.
Kimon's masterpiece is a tetradrachm in high relief made between 405 and 400 BCE. Each side is known from two variants of dies and three of these dies are signed. None of these dies have been paired for another use, which confirms that this edition was for prestige.
On both sides the clarity of the graphic style is excellent. This piece is one of the very rare Sicilian coins of that period to show an effigy in full front. The brutal action of the hammer weakens the reverse. Kimon transfers Arethusa to the obverse to improve the portrait. The perfection of this model will be admired by Goethe.
The finest known specimen of Kimon's tetradrachm, perfectly centered, was sold for CHF 2.3M before fees by NAC on May 26, 2014. It will be sold on November 18 in Geneva by NGSA (Numismatica Genevensis), lot 1 here linked on the Biddr auction platform.
The Satyr of the Black Sea
2012 SOLD 3.8 M$ including premium
2350 to 2300 years ago, this city-state was powerful. An independent dynasty coming from Thrace ruled it for nearly a century, and its gold coins are among the masterpieces of ancient coinage.
The stater with satyr has a very sharp carving. On one side this mythical character is facing, shaggy, bearded, with the nose of a drunkard and the ears of a horse. It is a beautiful and powerful ancient portrait. On the other side, a winged griffin is standing to left but turns his head toward us. A Greek letter is certainly the initial of the name of the city.
A very nice specimen of this coin is for sale on January 4 in New York by Baldwin's. It weighs 9.12 g, and its nearly circular cutout is rather well centered. Estimated $ 650K, it is the top lot in a remarkable collection of antique coins.
Pantikapaion began to decline at the time of Alexander the Great, and its last great historical event, much later, was the suicide of Mithridates.
POST SALE COMMENT
There was no doubt on the quality of this coin. It was announced for several months as the star lot of the exceptional Prospero collection. Its price, $ 3.25 million before fees, 3.8 million after calculating the buyer's premium of 17%, ranks it among the masterpieces of antique art.
The coin is illustrated in the post sale report shared by CoinWeek.
197 BCE The Friend of the Greeks
2018 SOLD for CHF 600K before fees
The war had begun after a complaint to the Roman Senate by Pergamum and Rhodes against the Macedonian yoke over the Greek cities. Flamininus remains in Greece with the title of proconsul to finish his political work. In 196 in a speech given at the Isthmian games of Corinth, he proclaims the freedom of the Greek cities.
Upon his arrival in the region Flamininus had shown extreme harshness in announcing to the King of Macedonia his terms for a possible negotiation. The Greeks are surprised by his constructive benevolence. The clever general was not an idealistic sponsor. He intended to establish a lasting influence of the Roman Republic in Greece and to take advantage of the glory attached to this success.
A gold stater was issued in the genitive name (T. Quincti) and the effigy of Flamininus. Between Ptolemy I and the time of Caesar it is the only example of monetary portrait of a living person. Even Alexander had not dared.
The image is realistic in the style of Alexander's posthumous portrait which was still on the coins circulating in Greece at that time. The waving hair is undone and he wears no ornament revealing his position. The badly trimmed beard reveals that he is a general in the field.
The inscription is on the reverse beside a classic figure of Victory. Two variants exist, with the text turned up or down, which is enough to ensure that this currency is not a single-strike commemorative medal. The text is not in Greek letters but in Roman capital letters, with one typographical clumsiness that confirms the Greek origin of this stater. The triumph of Flamininus in Rome in 194 appears as a terminus ante quem.
Eleven examples of this coin are known. The best preserved, in superb condition and very well centered, was sold for CHF 500K before fees by Numismatica Genevensis on December 2, 2008. This coin is estimated CHF 700K for sale on October 20 in Geneva by Maison Palombo, lot 25 here linked on the Sixbid auction platform.
43 BCE Brutus Imperator
2015 SOLD for CHF 900K before fees
This Casca Longus seems to have been a very close associate to Brutus. He belongs to the gens Servilius. Brutus had been adopted in his youth by an uncle who was also a Servilius.
Brutus and Cassius were first granted amnesty by the Senate before accepting positions of proconsuls that temporarily separated them. Both issued coins.
On October 8 in Zurich, Numismatica Ars Classica sells an aureus of Brutus, estimated CHF 500K, lot 23 on the bidding platform Sixbid, also shown in the post shared by Coin World. A better centered example was sold for CHF 850K before fees by the same auction house on November 18, 2013.
One side shows the head of Brutus from profile. The emaciated face carved in high relief is probably the only remaining realistic portrayal of Brutus in that period. This side is inscribed BRUTUS IMP. The coin has certainly been issued in 710AUC after a campaign by Brutus in Thrace which earned him the title of imperator.
When he was assassinated, Caesar had just appointed himself as dictator, arousing the horror among the republicans. His likeness on an aureus was felt as a provocation. The portrait of Brutus on a later aureus does not mean a betrayal of the republic but rather a tradition of Greece where he still was the Roman proconsul.
The other side shows military symbols aside with the name of Casca Longus without an effigy. This does not mean that Brutus shared any supreme power with his accomplice but rather that Casca Longus was his moneyer, meaning the responsible for his coinage (and not the engraver). The name of Brutus himself had appeared as the moneyer on a Republican coin issued ten years earlier.
The Brutus aureus thus predates the silver denarius glorifying the Ides of March by the inscription EID MAR, an example of which was sold for $ 546K including premium by Heritage on 7 September 2011. This ultimate denarius of Caesar's traitor is politically ambiguous, with an idealized portrait.
66 The Shekels of Year One
2012 SOLD 1.1 M$ including premium
For about one hundred and thirty years, the Romans occupied Judea. By negligence, or more likely by provocation, the Greeks made some sacrifices of animals in front of the synagogues. The Romans let them do it, exacerbating the tensions between communities.
The Jewish revolt was massive. The Zealots seized the Temple of Jerusalem, with a revolutionary enthusiasm similar to the storming of the Bastille 1723 years later. The Jews believed having won their independence again, and used the silver reserves of the Temple to create a mint.
Dated Year 1 of Israel, two coins are for sale on March 8 by Heritage in New York. They are illustrated in chalices and pomegranates, with inscriptions in ancient Hebrew. The bigger, worth 1 shekel, is measuring 24 mm in diameter. The other, a quarter of a shekel, 16 mm.
These coins are of the utmost rarity. For each of the two, only one other example is known. They are poorly centered, as many antique coins, which reflects here an undeniable rush mixed with improvisation. They were possibly a first prototype pattern that was never circulated.
The revolution did not last long. Aware of the risk, Nero sent one of his ablest generals, the future emperor Vespasian. The war lasted four years and was atrocious.
The coin of 1 shekel is estimated $ 950K. Here is the link to the catalog. The quarter shekel is estimated $ 850K. It is indeed also exceptional for its monetary value: for reasons of productivity, very few coins of a quarter of a shekel will be produced throughout the duration of the revolution. Here is the link to the catalog.
POST SALE COMMENT
The results are in line with the estimates : $ 1.1M including premium for the shekel, 900 K including premium for the quarter shekel.
70 Portrait of Titus as a Young Winner
2012 SOLD 960 K$ including premium
The inscriptions identify this laureate headed man and, even better, show his place in history: he is Titus, the son and future successor of Vespasian, at the time of the fall of Jerusalem in 70 of our current calendar (retroactively).
His father was then Emperor since a short time, having put an end to the extreme anarchy that followed Nero's death. Vespasian ever has a surly attitude in his portraits. Titus resembles him in such an expression.
The young man is already imperator, a military qualification assessing that he is in progress of winning the Jewish war, which had been started by his father. He is also caesar, as he now claims to the imperial succession. An inscription on the back is announcing that Judaea is conquered (however, the resistance will last another three years).
This gold coin of 18 mm in diameter, probably minted in Judaea or Antioch, is estimated $ 475K. Here is the link to the catalog.
POST SALE COMMENT
The auction house had reported the extreme rarity of this beautiful coin. Sold $ 960K including premium, it has far exceeded its estimate.
724 The Dinar from Arabia
2019 SOLD for £ 3.7M including premium
Taking advantage of the conquests, the caliphs exploit distant mines including Ifriqiya in Tunisia from 100 to 122 AH and al-Andalus. Around 100 AH the caliph Umar buys a mine in Hijaz, between Medina and Mecca, on a land bequeathed to the father of the previous owners by the Prophet himself.
The dies are made in Damascus. Some very rare prestige editions make a reference to the origin of the gold. Most of the coins were nevertheless striken in Damascus but the practice of traveling mints is not excluded because the necessary tools were not bulky.
The use of the Gold of the Commander of the Believers is indicated on a series of dinars in 91 and 92 AH. The dinar of 105 AH adds to this inscription a Hijaz origin. It is impossible to know if the gold of these two series comes from the same mine.
In 105 AH corresponding to 724 CE, the caliph Yazid dies after a long illness. The presence in Arabia of his brother and successor Hisham is attested in that year. Although it is impossible to conclude which of the two caliphs commissioned the gold dinar, a prestigious operation of the new caliph co-ordinated with a pilgrimage to Mecca is likely.
By its inscription, this beautiful dinar from Hijaz weighing 4.27 g is the most valuable of the Islamic Umayyad coins. One of them in Extremely Fine condition was sold for £ 3.7M including premium by Morton and Eden on April 4, 2011 over a lower estimate of £ 300K.
Another uncirculated example of this dinar was sold for £ 793K including premium by Baldwin's on December 6, 2012, lot 120. It had previously passed at the same auction house on April 25, 2012, lot 17 with a lower estimate of £ 1.5M. I discussed it in this column before these sales. It is now estimated £ 1.4M for sale by Morton and Eden in London on October 24, lot 11 here linked on the NumisBids bidding platform.
Morton and Eden are delighted to announce the sale of the extremely rare Umayyad dinar Ma'din Amir al-Mu'minin bi'l-Hijaz 105h, sold today for £3.720.000 (with premium), matching the record we set in 2011 for a similar coin. pic.twitter.com/dkN2oBdES2— Morton & Eden Ltd (@MortonandEden) October 24, 2019
724 The Gold of the Commander of the Faithful
2011 SOLD 3.7 M£ including premium
These coins are illustrated on both sides by an Arabic text, indicating in particular that they come from the mine of the Commander of the Faithful. They are dated 92 and 105 AH (711 and 724 of our calendar).
The latest coin certifies that it was made from a mine in Hejaz. Such a mine had been purchased a few years previously by one of the first Caliphs. The absence of coins of this origin between 92 and 105 could correlate such issues with pilgrimages to Mecca led by the Caliph himself.
Both are in very fine condition. They are estimated respectively at £ 250K and 300K.
POST SALE COMMENT
I had announced an event exceptional in its category. It was true.
The most prestigious of the two coins, dated 105AH (724AD), was sold £ 3.1 million before fees, 3.7 million including premium.
The photo of this exceptional dinar is shared by CoinWeek.
The other coin (92AH, 711AD) also far exceeded its estimate. It was sold £ 540K before fees, 648K including premium.