Medieval silver bracteates are one-sided coins embossed from silver sheets with a diameter from 22 to 45 mm. They are known as some of the thinnest coins in monetary history. The coin image appears in high relief as a single die was used to strike a column of several blank coins placed on a piece of leather.
Silver bracteates are not to be confused with gold bracteates of the Migration Period which were a type of pendant made mainly in the 5th to 7th century AD. The silver bracteates were the predominant regional coinage minted in German-speaking areas (except Rhineland, Westphalia and the Middle Rhine region) from the early 12th century, lasting well into the 14th century.
Silver bracteates were subject to Renovatio Monetae, which was, in essence, a recall of the old coins that had to be exchanged for new ones. This makes them rare and quite ephemeral in the history of Medieval coinage. This practice could happen as often as twice a year and was very lucrative to moneyers.
It increased the economic exchange and stimulated the markets as people would not hold onto or hoard their coins in fear that they would lose value. The coin’s reverse featured incused impressions. Stylistically, most bracteates had symmetric designs, like the one shown below. This allowed them to be broken up in two halves in order to make smaller denominations.
Because of Renovatio Monetae, bracteate types had short numismatic lifespans. Nevertheless, the artistic quality of these coins remained very high throughout the centuries. The quality and the air of ethereality made these coins attractive to collectors even though their fragility made them unsuitable for far-reaching trades or long-term circulation.
On bracteates, the artistic composition is kept very clean, featuring sacral architecture and framing either a contemporary figure, historical clerical persona or a saint of the region. We can often observe the rulers too, flanked by their attributes, such as the Holy Roman Emperor Konrad IV on the coin pictured below, made in the royal mint of Ulm.
As often the case with coinage, bracteates too conveyed ruling power and the sphere of influence. Duke Henry the Lion of Saxony and Bavaria issued some beautiful pieces with a pouncing lion, which (for his contemporaries) immediately evoked the most powerful ruler of the 12th century Germany.
A testament to his association with a lion is also the so-called Brunswick Lion, the oldest freestanding sculpture of the Middle Ages north of the Alps. It was modelled on Italian examples, such as the Capitoline Wolf and the Lion of St. Mark. A copy of the lion can be viewed in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.
Svensson, R. (2013), Renovatio Monetae: Bracteates and Coinage Policies in Medieval Europe, Spink
François Jobal was born in 1748 in Metz. Jobal descended from a prominent family from Lorraine and became a priest, a tradition for sons of renowned families of the period. With the years, his success grew and he became the Canon of the Noble Chapter of the Cathedral of Metz and Vicar-General of Angers.
At the age of 35, he was appointed Councillor Clerc of the Parliament of Metz. Abbot Jobal was also an antiquarian of note who formed a vast numismatic collection of Merovingian and Carolingian coins and of the coinage and medals of Lorraine. He also collected Medieval bronze seals, for which his work with the Cathedral gave him unparalleled access.
Jobal Collection and the French Revolution
In 1789, the year of the outbreak of the French Revolution, Catholicism was the official religion of France. The population of France at the time was considered predominantly Catholic and recognized the authority of the Roman Catholic Church and the pope.
However, by 1794, France’s churches and ecclesiastical orders were abolished and religious worship suppressed. Somewhat before the French Revolution, Abbot Jobal left France for Martinique in 1782 and again in 1783 as he was to become Commandant of the Island of Tobago.
Before his departure, his collection of seals and coins was packed and taken to the family Château de Lue in Hayes (close to Metz) for safekeeping, a Château which the family acquired in 1749. The coins remained with Abbott’s brother, Joseph-François-Louis, who served as lieutenant-general of the King’s armies and deputy for department Moselle in 1815. He was titled Count of Lue by Louis XVIII.
The collection remained in the Château as Abbott Jobal never returned to Hayes, passing away in 1806.
During the French Revolution, the Count of Jobal went into exile to fight for the Royalist cause and left the estate in the care of his sister. The collection was hidden in the attic, under piles of rags which subsequently saved it when the Château de Lue was looted. The Count eventually returned from exile, however, the collection was kept out of view for almost seventy years. After 1866, the Château was returned (by inheritance) to Count Pierre-Gaston de Lambertye (his grandson) who displayed the collection again.
The Merovingian Coins
All Merovingian coins are quite rare and since they come in so many different types, there are a lot of unique varieties. Merovingian coins are found in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, England, Switzerland and Western Germany.
Around the year 570 AD, Merovingian pseudo-Imperial coinage that imitated Byzantine examples is phased out and replaced by more distinctive, different types. The sole denomination was the gold tremissis and instead of kings, the numerous names of mints and moneyers appear in legends on coins.
The style of these coins is crude with legends often fragmentary or cut off from the flan of the coin. However, the scholarship at the moment recognizes more than 800 mints and more than 1,500 moneyers for these little coins. The so-called moneyers were probably artisan contractors producing short runs of coins from any available precious metals when the local dignitaries needed coins.
In our Autumn Fixed Price List 2020, we are featuring a small selection of rare Merovingian coins. The highlight is the gold tremissis from the Collection of Abbott Jobal that comes with a historical ticket as well. It is a very rare piece from Metz with the name of moneyer Theudegiselus from the beginning of 7th century. Aside from the rare moneyer, it is rare to find a coin with such a long documented provenance, from a distinguished collector, which survived even the turbulent times of the French Revolution.
Mémoires de l’Académie nationale de Metz, ‘La Famille de Jobal: RenseignementsGénéalogiques by l’abbé Ad. Barthélémy’, 1911-1912, Académie nationale de Metz.
Markowitz, M., TheMerovingians – Coinage of the Do-Nothing Kings, 2016. CoinWeek.
When assembling a catalogue there are a number of different factors to consider.
At Baldwin’s, we always aim to source and offer high-grade coins. As a result of this, all ancient coins you see in our catalogues will, generally, be at least Good Very Fine in condition. We believe that the grade of a coin is the most important thing, outstripping rarity in terms of desirability.
In this Autumn’s catalogue, I’ve made a particular effort to source coins with strong provenance. Many of these Greek, Roman and Celtic coins bear pedigrees from the great auction houses of the past. I’ve also taken care to offer coins with exquisite eye appeal, either due to their attractive cabinet tones or the pleasing style of their engraving.
Coins from the Ancient Greek world encompass Italy and Sicily, Thrace and Macedonia, mainland Greece, Asia Minor and Africa. They are catalogued geographically, as is the tradition, and this results in somewhat of a tour through the ancient world, starting in Italy and ending in Africa.
This catalogue kicks off with a silver coin from Populonia in Etruria. Etruscan coins have two main defining features. They are usually quite crude, and many have a flat, featureless reverse. While this coin certainly ticks the second box, the first is quite untrue for the specimen. This piece features a portrait of Apollo in a very pleasing style. Catalogued in Vecchi’s 2013 publication, ‘Etruscan Coinage’ and having come from a 1969 Milan Fixed Price List, this gem is not to be missed.
#1 – Populonia Silver 10 Asses
The Magna Graecian city-state of Caulonia, in Bruttium, produced a large series of coins, originally with incuse designs. Later, they moved to more traditional money featuring distinctive obverse and reverse designs. This silver nomos depicts the god, Apollo, juxtaposed with a stag. It was originally purchased from Baldwin’s back in the 1970s, and exhibits a superb old cabinet toning, with hints of iridescent blue.
#3 – Caulonia Silver Stater
No coins struck during the reign of Alexander the Great definitively depict the portrait of the Macedonian king. Silver and gold coins minted during the reign of Alexander’s general Lysimachus (who became king of Thrace in the years after his death) depict portraits of the now divine king. This silver tetradrachm features the portrait of Alexander with his eyes wide open, looking upwards towards the heavens. He also wears the divine Horn of Ammon.
#9 – Lysimachus Silver Tetradrachm
Some of the most iconic coins from the ancient world feature simple, beautiful design. This silver coin from Ephesus depicts, quite simply, a bee. The bee was associated with the goddess, Artemis, and it was the city of Ephesus that was home to the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. This particular coin, a silver drach, was struck around 150 BC and features a superbly struck and centred obverse. A true ancient wonder.
#20 – Ephesus Silver Drachm
Impressively, we have been able to source one of the most sought-after Biblical coins. This silver shekel was minted at the city of Tyre in AD 33-34. Tyre shekels are famously associated with the ‘Thirty Pieces of Silver’ paid to Judas Iscariot for his betrayal of Jesus Christ. This shekel dates to the year of the crucifixion – one of the most important events in history.
#24 – Crucifixion Date Shekel
Following the shekel is a small selection of Jewish coins including Zuzim struck during the Bark Kokhba War. These pieces were struck to pay soldiers fighting against the Romans in the first decades of the Second Century AD. Minted on top of Roman imperial and provincial denarii and drachmae to save time, these symbols of an independent Jewish state sometimes bear evidence of the coins they were struck over.
#28 – Jewish Zuz
Also contained in this list are some of the largest ancient coins – a gold octadrachm and silver decadrachm of the Ptolemaic Queen, Arsinoe. Weighing in at over 27 grams, the octadrachm (or mnaiaon) is an impressive piece of Egyptian gold with a superb portrait of the queen. The silver decadrachm is equally impressive, at over 34 grams in weight.
#30 and #31 – Egyptian Octadrachm and Decadrachm
The Roman Republican section is kicked off with a lovely silver didrachm of the late 3rd Century BC. Also known as a quadrigatus, due to the quadriga depicted on its reverse, these silver coins were issued during the Second Punic War, during Rome’s struggles against Hannibal. It would be superseded by the denarius, which would become a staple coin of the Republic and Empire for centuries to come.
#33 – Republican Quadrigatus
Rome’s first emperor, Augustus, is depicted in stunning style and form on this silver denarius minted shortly after he assumed the title. Previously known as Octavian, he had issued coins in this name during the civil wars which erupted after the assassination of Julius Caesar. A powerful bull appears on the reverse, above which is Augustus’ name.
#46 – Augustus Denarius
The sixth of Suetonius’ Twelve Caesars, Nero ruled for fourteen years and issued numerous coins with fascinating designs. On this copper as, we can see a building. This is the Temple of Janus and it is depicted with its doors closed. Struck in AD 66-67, this coin commemorates the closing of the doors, an act which proclaimed that the Roman Empire was at peace. It followed negotiations with the Parthian Empire in the East and it is debatable whether or not the coin represents actual peace in the Empire, or if it was merely a propaganda stunt.
#49 – Nero As
Denarii of Otho are somewhat scarce in the numismatic record and this is due to his short reign of less than a year. The obverse depicts the emperor facing right, with a full and uninterrupted inscription. Otho was known to wear a wig, a fact that can clearly be seen on this silver denarius.
#51 – Otho Denarius
Monuments that survive to the present day do not often appear on ancient coins. This piece depicts Trajan’s Column, a monument to the emperor Trajan’s victories over the Dacians, which can still be seen in Rome today. Silver denarii of this type are some of the most collectable issued during Trajan’s rule.
#55 – Trajan Denarius Column
The Byzantine Empire is represented in this list with a selection of gold solidi. The solidus, weighing over 4 grams of pure gold, was the staple gold coin of the period. The earliest Byzantine solidi depicted portraits of the emperors facing, and armed, holding a spear and a decorated shield.
Into the Celtic coins and we have a group of silver units from the collection of a gentleman. These represent various tribes from Iron Age Britain, and many have excellent provenances. The wild and wonderful designs are ever-present.
#88 – Cunobelin Stater
Finally, we have a delightful gold stater of King Cunobelin. This impressive piece depicts a horse in the ‘wild’ as opposed to ‘classical’ style, with the king’s name in Latin.
A distinguished and vast selection of Silver Crowns spanning several Royal houses, from the Commonwealth to the House of Windsor.
The Sussex Collection, in many ways, is a model template of how to assemble a coin collection. It contains all of the unwritten and oral traditions of the classic collector-cum-numismatist, the components auction houses and dealers avidly seek out:
A sequential chronology
A strict focus on a single denomination
A theme with a mixture of rarity, covering currency pieces and proofs
Several uncharacteristically high-quality pieces
A tight grip on the importance of date variety (this is best seen in the later Victoria Jubilee and Old veiled bust pieces) and lastly,
Holistically shows a well-thought-out tapestry and equally an abundance of patience, time and skill.
Often these large collections can have a tendency to lose their character but this is not the case here. The quality and eye of the initial collector are analogous to the exceptional collection created.
Some of the more notable pieces include; (160) Commonwealth Crown of 1656/4, a (162) ‘Dutch copy’ Cromwell piece, an exceptional (168) Charles II 1672 Qvarto edge, an (170) James II 1688 Qvarto crown leading on to (172) the William & Mary with a superb 1691 issue five shilling, and an extremely rare (176) 1697 William III Third bust issue.
Moving into the last Stuart Monarch on offer is a superlative (178) Anne, 1703 ‘Vigo’ Crown, one of the strongest the cataloguer has had pass through his hands.
The House of Hanover features a first-rate (187) George I 1720/18 roses and plumes type moving on to (192) George II, a 1735 roses and plumes more or less as struck, traced back to Van Roekel and the Pellegrino sales.
(198) An absolutely crisp and well-preserved example of a George II Lima Crown of 1746, is hugely popular among all types of collector. Into George III’s reign, we have an uncirculated (204) 1818 LIX piece, seldom seen in this grade followed by a well-toned and impressive (205) 1819 Crown forming part of his last or new coinage.
Pushing forward in time to 1820 with the accession to the throne of the Prince Regent, on display is a rare (208) George IV 1821 Proof issue Crown, seldom seen in any grade; leading on to the rare (211) 1826 Bare head Proof Issue, graded and encapsulated by NGC as Proof 63.
The Victorian arrangement of Crowns is hugely impressive in that it has its focus on key and rare types, but simultaneously shows an academic eye in its meticulous assortment of more common dates, demonstrated in the Jubilee and Old head Crowns.
Introduced with a striking and rare 1839 young head Proof, graded and encapsulated by NGC with a score of proof 64, three Gothic Crowns, two Undecimo edges and one of which is the very rare (217) plain edge issue.
As the collection comes to a close an enticing (224) 1893 Proof Old head Crown is in place, initially offered only as part of the wider proof sets of the year; followed by a more or less sequential run of the old head currency types, most impressive.
Lastly, in George V’s reign, we have several wreath Crowns on offer ranging from 1927, 1929, 1930 and 1933, followed by two (246 & 247) 1935 Raised edge Proofs, with a mintage of only 2,500 for the year and type.
It is a trying task to narrow down the key pieces of the aforementioned collection. However several pieces quite quickly appeared extraordinary in their strike and preservation. The Commonwealth Crown of 1656/4 is a particularly well-struck example, not suffering from the normal flan edge flaws or weaknesses, containing a great combination of eye appeal in its iridescent toning, complimented by the symmetry of the inner and outer beaded borders, and cross-hatching on the shields. As elaborated in the official catalogue description, the red wax in more cases than others suggests it had once been a plate coin.
The Dutch Copy Cromwellian Crown dated 1658 but using dies created before 1700, is perhaps the rarest coin within the collection, a genuine numismatic rarity. The standard-issue 1658/7 with its characteristic die flaw is the normal type that surfaces in dealers’ trays or at auction, the Dutch copy and its counterpart the Tanners crown seldom appear. The simplest way to differentiate this ‘Dutch copy’ Crown from the more common 1658/7 Crown are as follows; i) die flaw omitted ii) the ‘N’ in ANG is inverted, iii) the top leaf of the laurel points to the first limb of the aforementioned N, iv) the portrait is leaner if not gaunt in the face. A bold example, extremely rare.
Moving into Charles II and the restoration we have an exceptional 1672 Crown on offer, a third bust issue, Vicesimo Qvarto edge. In more cases than others, there is a pronounced weakness in part of the hair, this example is more or less complete in its detail, it is indeed these subtle intricacies of detail and refinement which push a coins grade up, making an otherwise non-rare coin, become rare by virtue of its condition. In the proverbial flesh, and under a loupe a truly superb example.
The William & Mary Crown of 1691, an unusually well-struck example of a two-year type for the Crown denomination. The conjoined busts are unique in that they are the only conjoined busts in English milled coinage, that date configuration is innovative, and the handsome Lion of Nassau paying tribute to William of Orange’s lineage. A complete example, all the major details in place, no signs of wear on good stable metal, free from problems. Hardly seen in top tier grades, with the exception of titled sales.
William III 1697 Nono edge third bust Crown; this exact year and type is recorded as extremely rare, the book price in extremely fine is a mouthwatering £45,000, dropping to £10,000 in very fine. They are all currency issue strikes and do not hold the allure of a pattern or proof. Nevertheless, an incredibly rare type, in a way epitomising the wider collection; a quest for quality, chronology and rarity.
Into Queen Anne’s reign, we have an especially well-struck, if not exceptional example of a Vigo 1703 Crown. The Vigo Bay series of the coin do crop up in various denominations, however, very rarely in such condition. Classic cabinet toning, free from any adjustment marks or metal striations, the faintest of hairlines and nicks. Portrait first-rate with a fully centred strike, giving near full coverage of the toothed borders, no weakness in the high points. A hugely popular series in English coinage, as are the E.I.C, Lima, SSC and Welsh Copper Company pieces in various nearby reigns.
The Battle of Vigo Bay took place on 23rd October 1702, during the initial years of the Wars of Spanish succession. Simplified, it essentially began, or had its origins with an Anglo-Dutch attempt to capture Cadiz, a Spanish port town, with the wider intent to secure possessions or gain territory along the Iberian peninsula; opening the door to the Western Mediterranean sea, or at the least to capture the important straits. The attempt to capture Cadiz had been unsuccessful and ill-thought-out if not ham-fisted; nevertheless, as Admiral George Rooke had made his way home (English commander in the operation) he received intelligence that a Spanish treasure fleet from the Americas had entered Vigo Bay, Spanish waters. Rooke’s opposite number in the initial Cadiz fiasco, the Dutch commander Philips Van Almonde, had encouraged an English attack of the treasure fleet. The siege had been a success, despite a considerable amount of the booty being offloaded in the process. The battle treasure mainly constituted of Silver (thousands of pounds in weight) with hardly any Gold. The captured precious metal made its way to the Royal Mint, to be used to mint coins of various denominations, hence, the ‘Vigo’ insignia.
George I 1720/18 Crown: For the House of Hanover this coin is perhaps the highlight. Recognised as a rare type, an excellent combination of toning, underlying mint bloom, detail and elaborate design on a high-quality flan. The over-date in place, making it recognisably rarer, a high-quality example, complete and bold with undeniable eye appeal.
For George II, the 1735 young head Roses and Plumes is a sharply struck arresting piece, with a fully rounded flan and much of its original mint brilliance with a depth and consistency normally associated with a proof or specimen. Attached and hailing from a strong provenance in Van Roekel and the Pellegrino sales. A definite highlight in the collection.
The 1821 George IV Proof Crown, rarer than the books perhaps suggest, several over the years have been mistaken as ambiguous proof issues, due to the high quality polished dies used for currency issues, (this same issue arises with later Victorian double florins, many appear proof-like but are indeed currency, highly polished well-crafted dies can mimic the aesthetic of a Proof). A magnificent coin, with depth, weight, details and clearly identifiable raised edge inscriptions, even when at half arm’s length without the assistance of a magnifier.
One of the key Crowns on offer can be found in our 1826 Proof Bare head Crown, encapsulated and graded at proof 63. Maurice Bull lists them as Patterns included in the wider 1826 Proof sets. This design is only offered in 1825 (plain edge: extremely rare) and 1826 Septimo edge for the bare head portrait, becoming increasingly difficult to source in high quality. Often cited as having one of the strongest reverses in Silver coinage, a complex garnished quartered shield of arms, the polar opposite to the George and Dragon reverses found in the laureate head crowns preceding this type. Rare and pleasing.
Lastly, perhaps the most impressive single item in the collection is a graded 1839 plain edge, young bust proof crown of Victoria. A superb example, exemplifying the ability of William Wyon (Royal Academy), consistent detail in the hair, well-toned, clear fields, the quartered shield of arms concise, no real detracting factors. These coins would have been part of Victoria’s coronation set which contained the celebrated Una and the Lion (Edmund Spenser ‘Faerie Queene’) five-pound piece, (a delayed set celebrating her coronation on the 28th June of 1838 at Westminster Abbey).
Charles I was King of England, King of Scotland, and King of Ireland from 27 March 1625 until his execution in 1649. He was born into the House of Stuart as the second son of King James VI of Scotland. In this blog, we will look into the silver coinage of Charles I. More information on the gold coins of Charles I can be found here.
The turbulent reign of Charles I is interesting both historically and numismatically. It saw the inception of machine-made coins with distinguished pieces produced by Nicholas Briot. He was a prominent pioneering French engraver, medallist and mechanical engineer. However, at this time, machine-made coins could not be struck fast enough to satisfy the demand and to replace hammering practice.
In 1637 a mint was set up in Aberystwyth, to make silver coins with silver from Welsh mines. Dies were supplied from the Tower mint. The Aberystwyth had a distinctive mintmark of a book, as shown on the obverse of the pictured coin. The silver mines in Wales were well known before the time of Charles I, however, he was the first to formalize their output and set up a mint within the Castle of Aberystwyth. The original deed from 30th July 1637 shows that the grantee was authorized to coin the halfcrown, shilling, halfshilling, twopence and penny denominations from Welsh silver only. Later in October, a commission added the groat, threepence and halfpenny as well.
Civil War Silver
In 1642, both Parliament and the Royalists began to raise arms after years of mounting discontent and disagreements. Negotiations proved fruitless and Charles I raised his royal standard at Nottingham on 22 August 1642 marking the start of the Civil War. King’s forces controlled (approximately) the Midlands, Wales, the West Country and northern England. His court was now set up at Oxford. The Parliament forces controlled London, the south-east and East Anglia, as well as the English navy. The King arrived to Wellington on 19 September 1642 and on 20 September he issued the famous Wellington Declaration declaring that he would uphold ‘the Protestant Religion, the Laws of England, and the Liberty of Parliament’.
During the Civil War coins were struck in many different provincial mints to supply the coinage for the territories under Royalist control. Many of these coins feature an abbreviated form of the Wellington Declaration on the reverse. Among the most significant silver pieces are the pounds and half-pounds struck at Shrewsbury and Oxford. Some of the war mints include Bridgnorth, Worcester, and Truro. Even after the schism with Charles I, the Parliament continued to issue coins with Charles’ name and portrait until his trial.
From this time we also have the so-called emergency or siege piece coinage. Some of these come in odd shapes as they were made from silver plate during the sieges of Newark, Scarborough, Carlisle and Pontefract. Of these mints, Newark was most fruitful and most siege money known today survives from there. To mint the money, Royalist noblemen and gentlemen gave up their silverware, flagons and cups, which were shaped into distinctive the lozenge-shaped coins. Sometimes, the pattern of the cup is still visible on the coin. Siege money of this period is very collectable.
The Protectorate and Oliver Cromwell
On 30 January 1649, King Charles I was tried, convicted, and executed for high treason. The Protectorate was established on 16th December 1653. The work on production on Cromwell portrait coins was authorised in 1655 – their first full production came in 1657. All of the Cromwell portrait coins were machine-made in the presses of another Frenchman – Pierre Blondeau – who was tasked with re-introducing milled coinage to UK. He was also a pioneer in stamping the letters onto the edge of coins, beginning a new era in British numismatics.
The mythology of Greek hero Herakles is filled with fascinating and courageous deeds, some even devastating and brutal, however, there is nothing quite like the story of Herakles and the Lydian Queen Omphale. Lydia was an ancient kingdom in Asia Minor, in modern-day Turkey. The Lydians did not speak Greek and were therefore considered barbarians by the Greeks. The ancient historian Herodotus claims that the Lydians were the first people to mint coinage and these earliest coins were made of electrum, an alloy of gold and silver.
The myth goes that Herakles had sought the Delphic oracle to find how to purify himself after murdering his friend Iphitus and stealing the Delphic tripod. In an uncontrollable fit of rage, he hurled Iphitus from the walls of Tiryns into death. Following the murder of Iphitus, Herakles got a terrible illness, as a result of his violent outburst. He travelled to the oracle at Delphi to seek guidance and a remedy. However, the Pythian priestess did not give him an answer. Yet another fit of rage consumed Herakles and he began to destroy the temple and tried to make off with the Delphic tripod.
After the episode, the Athenian playwright Sophocles writes of Herakles feeling deep shame and dishonour. The Delphic oracle declared that Herakles must be sold into slavery for a year for his horrible deeds. In the Greek world, the slaves usually came from foreign countries. The enslavement of the Greek hero Herakles by a Lydian Queen would have been seen as outrageous. It was said that Queen Omphale bought the hero from the god Hermes. Herakles was to serve a foreign woman, a barbarian by Greek standards. However, the story takes a somewhat unexpected and provocative tone. During his enslavement, Herakles and Omphale inverted their gender roles: Herakles was to do what was traditionally women’s work and wear women’s clothing. Meanwhile, Omphale wore his Nemean lion skin and headdress and carried his club. This rare coin shown below depicts Omphale in the lion’s skin, with the club of Herakles on her shoulder.
A scarce depiction to be found on coins, the relationship between Herakles and Omphale inspired a number of paintings in the Renaissance and Baroque periods, with the pair depicted as lovers, each with the recognizable attributes that codified gender roles at the time. The Roman mosaic below depicts the role reversal with Omphale clad in lion skin and Herakles in a woman’s garment holding wool on a spindle. After some time in her service Omphale freed Herakles and took him as her husband. The reason this particular episode in the story of Herakles remained popular through the centuries is because it gave the artists the license to explore erotic themes and gender roles further, in an unprecedented manner, relying on ancient predecessors.
In this blog, we will look into a few coins of antiquity from the most beautiful Greek and Italian islands. The islands of Sicily, Rhodes and Kos are known for their ancient heritage and artistic excellence.
The coins are a witness to their power, economic and military prowess. They are coveted by collectors around the world for their unsurpassed rarity and value, as well as their beauty.
A masterpiece of Greek art from Sicily
The city of Syracuse on the island of Sicily is notable for its rich Greek and Roman heritage with its temples, villas and amphitheatres. This 2,700-year-old city was one of the major powers of the Mediterranean world. It was founded by ancient Greek Corinthians and Teneans, becoming a powerful city-state that exerted influence over Magna Graecia. Once described by Cicero as ‘the greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all’, Syracuse gave the world the most beautiful coins of antiquity.
Caption: Sicily, Syracuse, Dionysios I Silver Decadrachm (405-367 BC). Image: A.H. Baldwin & Sons
The silver decadrachm depicted dates from the end of the 5th century BC and beginning of the 4th century BC. Today, the decadrachms of Syracuse are highly prized by collectors for their artistic beauty, historical importance, keeping their value and increasing rarity. They testify of the amazing talents of ancient Greek artists, notable for the particularly beautiful rendering of nymph Arethusa, wearing a wreath of grain ears in her hair, exquisite earrings with triple pendants and a pearl necklace. These coins became renowned throughout the ancient world and enormously influential on subsequent coinage.
Wonder of the Ancient World from Rhodes
In ancient Greece, the favourable position and climate made Rhodes a great maritime and commercial power. The island rose to a position of wealth and influence among other city-states of Greece. The Colossus of Rhodes was a testament to this power: a statue of the Sun god Helios, finished by Chares of Lindos in 280 BC. It was deemed one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. According to most contemporary descriptions, the Colossus stood approximately 70 cubits or 33 metres high, considered the tallest statue of the ancient world. It collapsed during the earthquake of 226 BC; however, the coinage of Rhodes might reveals us more about its likeness.
The handsome face of Helios found its way onto silver coins of Rhodes, most notably didrachms and tetradrachms. Rhodians claimed Helios as their divine founder and used his radiate head widely as an emblem in art and trade. The didrachms, such as the one depicted, had wide circulation in the eastern Mediterranean. Helios remained on the coinage of Rhodes for centuries.
Kos: the island of Herakles and the crab
Another beautiful Aegean island is Kos, a part of Dodecanese group, known for its sandy beaches. The island is rich with Greek and Roman landmarks, such as the ruins of the ancient Agora, temples and Roman villas with luxurious mosaics. In the Hellenistic period, Kos reached the pinnacle of its prosperity. Ptolemaic kings of Egypt used it as a naval outpost to oversee the Aegean Sea. It became a favourite resort for the education of the princes of the Ptolemaic dynasty, famous for its sanctuary of Asclepius, as well as wine production and silk-making.
The name Kos is first attested in the Iliad and it has been used ever since. The coins of Kos, such as the tetradrachm depicted, feature Heakles because of the myth about his landing to the island. Herakles was traveling by sea when goddess Hera, who disliked him profoundly, sent a storm to sink his boats. Herakles and only a few friends survived, swimming to Kos. On the obverse of the coin we can see the crab – the most famous ‘inhabitant’ of the Koan coins. In scholarship, there are various theories about why the crab made it onto the coins. In Greek mythology, a giant crab (Karkinos) was an enemy of Herakles that assisted the Hydra battling Herakles at Lerna; Herakles crushed the crab under his foot. Yet the crab was honoured by Hera and placed among the stars becoming Cancer constellation. In the alternative mythology of Kos, a crab was said to be the ally of Herakles, but the origin story has been lost. To this day, crabs still feature prominently on the island, mostly as delicacies of Koan restraurants.
Despite lockdown having been eased across most of the country, life is far from returning to normal. Public transport, the tubes, trains and buses are all eerily quiet and the main high streets are far less busy than usual, with many retail outlets still not opening their doors.
Here at Baldwin’s, however, our doors are well and truly open and business is as usual.
We have welcomed many visitors to our newly refurbished premises over the last four weeks and have even issued a new, printed, Fixed Price List far sooner than usual, which focuses on ancient and British coins. The new list has been extremely well received with over half the coins selling in only a matter of days.
All the UK coin fairs have remained cancelled, though there are plans to hold some of the more regular events later on in the year. It was to the disappointment of many that this year’s annual September Coinex event, the United Kingdom’s biggest coin fair, has been cancelled.
We still want to give you, our clients, the opportunity to view the coins that we would have offered at the coin fair. It is our plan that during the days Coinex would have been held we will hold our own “Virtual Coinex” whereby we will create digital and hard copy lists of all the new stock we would have been exhibiting, and a special section of our website for the event.
This online event will take place from the 25th to the 28th September, and is not to be missed.
The coin market remains robust and if anything quality items seem to be only increasing in value judging by the UK and International auctions. Recent examples include a common but choice example of a Charles I Unite hammering at $34,000 plus premium, a typical but high-grade James I Laurel realising $32,000 plus premium and an utterly breathtaking 1768 Pattern Two guineas selling for a monumental $384,000. These are just a few of the record prices achieved recently.
All the remaining items from our Fixed Price List have now been uploaded to the website and are available for viewing.
One item, in particular, I would like to highlight is the extremely rare Philip and Mary Angel in superb condition. A very underrated coin, this was the highest denomination gold coin in Philip and Mary’s reign. They were only struck for about a year between 1557-58. It is believed that less than 50 of these angels exist today, this total encompasses both museum trays as well in private collections.
This example is one of the strongest examples known and a comparable example realising over £36,000 including premium makes this specimen an extremely attractive proposition and can only be good value in the current market.
Additionally, our current Fixed Price List contains a wonderful piece of ancient gold. This stater of Lysimacus was issued in the decades following the death of Alexander the Great. It is one of the few gold coins to feature the portrait of the legendary, deified Macedonian King. A similar example sold at a US auction for a staggering $26,000, before buyer’s premium is added. Though encapsulated and with an impressive grade, it didn’t appear a world away from the delightful piece we have available here, and ours is a fraction of the price, at a mere £5,950.
Protecting your collection is a separate subject in itself. Valuable coins should be insured and stored securely in a safe at home, or in a safety deposit box.
Storing and handling your coins
If you have your coin collection at home, take care in storing and handling the coins. Coins are sensitive to moisture. Dropping them will cause damage and affect their value. Even handling them carelessly will make a difference. Hold coins by the edge when inspecting them. Your skin contains a corrosive salt that will damage copper and bronze coins and potentially tarnish silver ones.
Should you clean your coins?
Generally speaking, coins should not be cleaned. Cleaning will result in abrasion to the coin’s surfaces. It could remove what may otherwise have been a valuable patina or lustre. Any form of treatment of this sort can more than half the value of the item. The risk is just not worth taking. An expert can easily detect treatment of this sort.
In numismatics, the study of coins, it helps to have an understanding of the historical context of the period and country you propose collecting. This can make your collecting more subtle and informed.
The following are brief thumbnail sketches of some of the collectable markets. Baldwin’s staff can help with more detail on the markets that interest you.
By no means the highest-ranked position in the political landscape of the Roman Republic, the role of moneyer was nonetheless considered an honour for many of the men who took on the task. The Triumvir Monetalis (three young politicians acting simultaneously) was responsible for the production of coins.
During the Republic and early years of the Empire, the names of moneyers appeared on many coins issued into circulation. It is thanks to the coins of the Roman Republic that we know the names of hundreds of individuals whose job it was to maintain the integrity of the sacred money of the state, during the 2nd and 1st Centuries BC.
Moneyers appear to have been awarded a relatively large degree of freedom, during the 1st Century, at least, when it came to the designs which adorned their coins. While many Republican issues struck in the 2nd Century BC bear similar imagery (frequently seen helmeted busts of Roma juxtaposed with the galloping chariots) it seems that many were required to include their names on the coins.
This would have served as a way to examine the quality of the coinage produced and ensure that no corners were cut, or worse. But Romans also liked, very much, to be remembered, and the position of moneyer would have allowed the ambitious Roman a permanent historical mark in metal – his name remembered for years or in this case, millennia, to come. The collectors of Roman Republican coinage ensure that these obscure Roman statesmen are not forgotten.
This brings us to a particularly interesting coin issued by the Titus Carisius, in 46 BC. This silver denarius (Crawford 464/2) is one of a handful of types issued by the moneyer in that year. What makes this coin interesting is that it is one of the only coin types from the ancient world to depict the actual tools used in the production of coins. Carisius’ other coin types are relatively orthodox: one depicts the head of Roma and objects of state (Crawford 464/4b), another, the portrait of Victory and a galloping quadriga (Crawford 432/1) and finally, an equally unusual piece depicting a griffin (Crawford 464/1).
We can presume that the Titus Carisius felt particularly strongly about his role as moneyer, and was perhaps very proud of the fact. It would seem he was the first member of the Roman family, the Gens Carisia to achieve such a title. This coin is not content with merely showing his role as moneyer in Latin. The tools of the job – obverse and reverse dies, hammer and tongs take up the entire reverse design. The tongs for holding the hot, metal blanks, the obverse and reverse dies and finally the hammer used for striking are all depicted in meticulous detail. To show the sacred importance of coins to the Romans (and the significance of Carisius’ role as moneyer), the obverse die is garlanded with a wreath.
The fact that the minting tools appear on the reverse, or back, of the coin shows that they were second in importance only to the portrait of a goddess. Juno Moneta was the goddess believed to protect the Romans’ coinage. The word ‘money’ can be traced back to her. Coins were struck in the Temple of Juno on the Capitoline Hill in Rome. It was from this religious site and mint that the vast majority of Republican coins were issued. The very fact that Roman money was protected by the goddess made coins in the Roman world sacred items or Sacra Moneta. The concept of having one’s name stamped on a sacred object, as well as one which would last the test of time, must have made the role of moneyer incredibly satisfying to the eager and ambitious Roman politician.