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The Man-Headed Bull

Of all the mythical beasts to appear on coins from the ancient world, the man-headed bull must rank among the most bizarre. These strange beasts were usually river-gods, the power of a raging bull equating to the relentless power of a fast-flowing river.

Achelous was the chief river-god of the Greek pantheon. Son of the Titans Oceanus and Tethys, he appears in various forms throughout ancient material culture, including a bearded man and a bull, and sometimes a combination of the two. The Achelous river, which formed the border between Akarnania and Aetolia, was the largest river in Greece, thus making the river god the most important in Greek mythology.

Akarnanian Confederacy, Leukas. Magistrate Lykourgos. Silver Stater, c. 250-200 BC, featuring the River-God Achelous. Fixed Price List #23. £4,750.

Coins from Akarnania depict the god in his man-headed bull form, including coin #23 from our Christmas Fixed Price List. This silver stater, minted in Leukas, which was a part of the Akarnanian Confederacy, features a close-up of Achelous’ head, clean-shaven and with horns. Behind his head is the name of the magistrate in ancient Greek – ΛYKOYPΓOΣ, or Lykourgos. This coin was minted around 250-200 BC. Its reverse depicts the god, Apollo, seated left on an ornately decorated throne, along with the name of the confederacy. It bears an impressive provenance dating back to 1948, when it was sold at a Swiss auction house in Basel.

The Greek colonies of Southern Italy, also known as Magna Graecia, adopted the use of these creatures for their coinages. The city of Neapolis, modern day Naples, issued large quantities of coins depicting man-headed bulls, as did many other cities in Campania. With a lack of evidence for the worship of streams and rivers in the area, historians have suggested these man-headed bulls may have a link to the cult of Dionysos, as they are often accompanied by emblems associated with the god. Gardner, writing in the late 19th century, suggested that the man-headed bull of Neapolis was in fact Dionysos in disguise.

Sicily, Gela. Silver Tetradrachm, c. 420-415 BC, featuring the River-God Gelas. Fixed Price List #7. £4,500.

The Sicilian city of Gela was named after its river, its name meaning ‘winter frost’. As with all rivers of the Greek world, it had its own river-god. A powerful city-state, Gela issued an extensive coinage in antiquity. The river-god Gelas appears as a primary motif on various denominations, as both a ferocious, bearded, man-headed bull, and an innocent looking male youth. The ability for divinities to adopt various forms was a key feature of ancient gods and goddesses. The impressive silver tetradrachm shown here is coin #7 in our Fixed Price List. Its reverse depicts a large, strongly struck forepart of the river-god Gelas, charging left at speed. The city’s name appears above, in Greek. The obverse features a biga of horses. Due to the strongly struck and high-relief river-god, the obverse has been somewhat less well-struck. Nonetheless, it presents a superb example of this popular type.

Sicily, Gela. Bronze Hexas depicting Gelas as a youth. Sold at the New York Sale in 2009.

Distinctive and intriguing, coins depicting river-gods remain very popular to this day. Do you have any coins featuring river-gods in your collection?

Some other river-gods from the ancient world, sold by Baldwin’s in the past:

Assinos appears as a youth on this silver hemidrachm from Naxos in Sicily, minted c. 413-404 BC.

Amenanos can be seen on this silver drachm from Katane, struck c. 405 BC, signed by the fames artist, Euenatos. Note the crayfish in front of his chin.

This silver didrachm from Kamarina depicts the river-god Hipparis, struck c. 415-405 BC.

The youthful Akragas appears on this bronze unit from the Sicilian city of the same name, struck c. 400-380 BC.

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A world record for a Victorian Penny

the ever elusive 1882 issue with a ‘No H Variety’

Baldwin’s recently resumed its Auctions under its own independent banner, auction 103 was held on the 6th of October in our fully refurbished auction room here at the Strand premises, picking up from auction 102, which had been held on the 4th October 2016. One, if not the main highlight was that of an 1882 Young head Bronze Penny without a ‘H’ mark in the exergue. The ‘H’ indicates the Heaton mint in Birmingham and is the commonly seen type across the dealing desk during group valuations. The ‘No H Variety’ is rarely seen, in more cases than others the ‘H’ has worn away or shows fade under closer inspection in good light. In the hugely rare instances when we are presented with a true example, they are mostly in circulated fair condition.

The ever evasive without ‘H’ type is excessively rare, part of Penny folklore, seldom appearing within auction timetables or in dealers trays, irrespective of grade. The R17 grade attached to it by Michael Freeman in his more or less definitive book ‘The Bronze coinage of Great Britain,’ (Spink, first published 1970, reprinted 2006) essentially translates to 16-50 examples known, of these, the examples in higher grades would number a proverbial handful and are difficult to quantify.

Baldwin’s were lucky enough to put forward a choice uncirculated specimen into our auction, which had further been corroborated by PCGS, scoring a Mint State 64 Brown [MS64BN]. The consensus, from the outset, from all who were in the office the day the coin arrived, was that Lot 175 was indeed an outstanding coin, uncharacteristically well struck for the issue. The Spink Coins of England guide only gives rough values for this exact type in fine (£1500) and very fine (4750), the higher grades are simply marked with a hyphen. Lot 175 had an estimate of £16,000 – 20,000 and quickly reached a lofty height of £30,000, without taking into account the buyer’s premium, which would equate to an astonishing £37,200, unprecedented for a Victorian Penny.

In more cases than others this exact type presents in fair condition to fine, with very fine examples hammering at £7,000 without the premium, even good fair examples having dazzling estimates of £2750-3250. In the Bronze Penny series of Victoria, the 1882 without Heaton mark is part of small select and exclusive group of rarities, often mentioned in the same breath as the 1863 Die number types (die number 2, 3, 4, 5) the 1877 narrow date (Dies 8 & H Freeman reference 90), the 1860 heavy flan and the 1862 with Halfpenny numerals

Further Reading:


  • Freeman, Michael – ‘The Bronze Coinage of Great Britain’ p 46 : ref 112 – Obverse die 11/ Reverse die N
  • British Numismatic Journal 4, 1907 : ‘The Bronze Coinage of Queen Victoria’ A. E. Weightman, R. N.

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The Medal of The Inventor of Chitty Bang Bang

The Story of Count Zboroswki

This fascinating medal belonged to a remarkable man who had an interesting life. He inspired many with his magnificent mind and pulled off the unimaginable, but sadly it ended in tragedy when the very same thing that made his career also put an end to it.

Count Zborowski in Chitty Bang Bang
Count Zborowski in Chitty Bang Bang. Image: Brooklands Museum

A pioneer of motor racing in the early 20th Century, Louis Vorow Zboroswki was the son of a wealthy American aristocrat. A colourful figure, he would go on to design and build his own racing cars, the first of which was named ‘Chitty Bang Bang’. Throughout his career, he participated in many motor races across the world, as well as the legendary Indianapolis 500 in 1923.


The Kent Automotive Club Speed Trials Medal, 1924.
The Kent Automotive Club Speed Trials Medal, 1924.

The silver medal dates to the following year, 1924, where Zborowski took part in speed trials organised by the Kent Automotive Club where they were held on a sunny Saturday on the Herne Bay seafront. While he didn’t win any of the classes – in his Mercedes he gave the favourite, Leon Cushman, a run for his money, finishing second in the unlimited racing-car class.

Count Zborowski had joined the Mercedes racing team that year and it was during the Italian Grand Prix at Monza that tragedy struck. On the 19th October 1924, mere months after this medal was awarded, the count’s Mercedes hit a tree on the Curve de Lesmo, killing him instantly.

Count Zborowski’s legacy would live on in an unusual way. Unbeknownst to Zborowski, he had inspired the esteemed writer, Ian Fleming, who would watch the driver race at Brooklands during his youth. Fleming’s children’s book, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, featured the Count as a key character – the title car being directly based on those he had designed. The 1968 musical adaptation would go on to be an enormous hit, bringing joy to many through film and theatre.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Car from the 1968 film.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Car from the 1968 film. Image: National Motor Museum

The medal itself is one of excellent quality. Struck in silver, it depicts a prancing horse – likely inspired by the mascots or ‘hood ornaments’ of the early motorcars. The reverse is a simple wreath, with space for the awardee’s name in the centre. It is hallmarked Sterling Silver.

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Coins of the Olympic Games

Illustration of Mount Fuji

Olympic Games are always a historical occasion, however, the ones held in Tokyo, Japan, seem to have particular historical significance due to war, pandemic and political turmoil that followed them in 1964 and 2020. Despite being rescheduled for 2021, the event retained the Tokyo 2020 name for marketing and branding purposes. This is the first time that the Olympic Games have been postponed and rescheduled, rather than cancelled. Therefore, for the occasion, we have decided to show you some interesting items from our collection, relating to the history of the Olympic Games. 


The Olympics were the most prestigious games of the Ancient Greek world. Held every four years, (a tradition which continues in today’s modern Olympics), cities from across the ancient world would send their finest athletes to compete in the various sporting competitions. The games varied across the centuries but included wrestling, boxing, javelin, discus and chariot races. King Philip II of Macedon (359-336 BC) was able to showcase his prowess, winning the prestigious chariot race on a number of occasions and helping to boost his kingdom’s image. So important were the ancient Olympic Games that huge efforts were made to keep them running, even during the many conflicts and numerous pandemics which plagued antiquity.  

The games were held at Olympia, in the Greek region of Elis, on the Peloponnese. The Sanctuary at Olympia was home to the great Statue of Zeus – one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The huge ivory and gold statue stood in a colossal temple. The coins of Olympia are some of the most admired from the ancient world. They were struck each Olympiad, and bore designs relating to Zeus and his wife, Hera. The coins bear portraits of both deities, as well as eagles – the main animal associated with the king of the gods. Foreign currency was not accepted in Olympia during the games – visitors from across the Greek world were forced to exchange their currency for the special coinage, to be spent during the festivities. The authorities would make a profit using this method, and the guests would have been able to take their Olympian coins away to serve as portable memories of the games. Given the difficulties and expense of travel in the ancient world, a visit to the Olympic Games would have been a once-in-a-lifetime experience for so many Greeks – it seems likely the beautiful Olympian coins would have been cherished. 

Silver Hemidrachm coin. Obverse: Head of Hera facing right, wearing stephane. Reverse: Eagle standing right on rock, wings closed and head left.
Another Silver Hemidrachm from Olympia, this time depicting a portrait of Hera, the queen of the gods. Minted c. 356-352 BC.

Olmpic medals

The designs of the iconic Olympic medals have varied greatly since the re-institution of the modern Olympic Games in 1896. Summer Games medals are thought to be more consistent in design and sizing and it was thought they should feature a building of more Greek ‘background’. The 2004 Games in Athens were followed by the controversy around the medal’s design due to the use of the somewhat irrelevant Roman Colosseum on the medals. The medals of the Winter Olympic Games never had a unified design, but regularly feature snowflakes and the event where the medal was won.  

At the first modern Olympics in 1896, gold medals were not awarded. Instead, the winners were given a silver medal and an olive branch, while runners-up received a laurel branch and a copper or bronze medal. In 1900, most winners received cups or trophies instead of medals. The custom of the sequence of gold, silver, and bronze for the first three places was instituted at the 1904 Summer Olympics in St. Louis, USA. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has retroactively issued gold, silver and bronze medals to the three best-placed athletes in each event of the 1896 and 1900 Games. 

London played host to the Olympic Games in 1948. It was a boon for Post-War Britain and an opportunity for friendly competition in the shadow of the most devastating conflict in human history. The design of the winner’s medals were much the same as those that had come before, struck from classically inspired dies designed by Prof. Cassiole. The commemorative medals for the event were produced by John Pinches ltd; a prominent London Medallist and, incidentally, a competitive rower. The participation medal featured a four-horse chariot, with a view of the Palace of Westminster on the reverse, and the inscription ‘XIV OLYMPIAD LONDON 1948’, with the Olympic Rings below.  

Prototype bronze participation medal.

The prototype bronze participation medal by Pinches, depicting the Houses of Parliament and with Lambeth Bridge in the foreground.

We currently have in our possession a rare prototype version of the commemorative medal by Pinches. Also struck in bronze, it measures 38mm in diameter, rather than the participation medal’s 51mm, and weighs a mere 21.19g. The design of the reverse is similar to that of the final piece, only with a different depiction of Westminster, this time looking north, with Lambeth Bridge in the foreground. The inscription is a simpler ‘OLYMPIC GAMES LONDON 1948’. The obverse, rather than featuring an elaborate design by Bertram Mackennal, bears a depiction of a discus thrower. It is unsigned and engraved in more of an ‘Art Deco’ style than the Neo-Classical style of Mackennal’s chariot. Both designs, unsurprisingly, pay tribute to the ancient origins of the Olympic Games.

Bronze medal. Obverse of the prototype bronze medal depicting the discus-thrower in art-deco style placed on top of a wood and green leather desk.
The obverse of the prototype bronze medal depicting the discus-thrower in art-deco style.

Olympic Commemoratives

Unsurprisingly, an event of such prestige and scale of the Olympic Games generally warrants the striking of commemorative coins from the host country. In the case of Great Britain, upon receiving the contract to host the 2012 Olympics (this was awarded in 2008), a special commemorative Two Pound coin was issued by the Royal Mint. It showed the end of the Beijing Olympics and the handover of a symbolic flag bearing the Olympic rings. One of the first objects to bear the controversial 2012 Olympics Logo, the coin’s reverse design was created by the Royal Mint Engraving Team.

The Royal Mint's 2008 Two Pound Coin. The reverse features the symbolic handover of the Olympic Games from China to Britain. This is the Proof Silver strike.
The Royal Mint’s 2008 Two Pound Coin. The reverse features the symbolic handover of the Olympic Games from China to Britain. This is the Proof Silver strike.

The London Olympics gave the Royal Mint an opportunity to release a commemorative coin set on a scale that hadn’t been seen before. The 50 Pence Piece had long been a coin of choice to commemorate events and anniversaries but never had an event seen so many British commemorative issues. A staggering 29 designs graced the 50 Pence Pieces celebrating the 2012 Olympics, each one depicting a different sport that took place at the games. Issued in 2011, the designs varied wildly, having each been designed by a member of the public. The result was a unique series of coins created by the nation. These coins turned out to be incredibly popular, creating new collectors, young and old, all looking to complete their set. Overall, each 50 Pence Piece had a relatively high mintage figure, though some carry higher premiums than others. 

Olympic Games in Tokyo

The 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo were innovative and pioneering in many ways. Tokyo had previously been awarded the organization of the 1940 Summer Olympics, however, this honour was revoked and passed to Helsinki due to Japan’s invasion of China, before ultimately being cancelled because of the Second World War. When the honour was bestowed again on Tokyo in 1964, it was the first time the Summer Games were held in Asia. It was also the first time South Africa was excluded due to its apartheid system in sports and the first time Games were telecast in colour (partially) using a new colour transmission system pioneered by Toshiba.  

Japan Showa commemorative coin for the 1964 summer Olympic games with toning. Mount fuji on the obverse, the olympic rings on the reverse.
Japan, Shōwa, silver 1000 Yen, 1964, year 39 of Shōwa, mount Fuji with cherry blossoms. Rev. Denomination and Olympic rings surrounded with cherry blossoms, 20g (KM Y80). Uncirculated, streaked toning on both sides. A commemorative coin for the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games, 1964. View here.

The Japan Mint has issued official commemorative coins for the 2020 Olympics, with a value from 100 Yen to 10,000 Yen, the coins feature 37 different designs for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Taking inspiration from traditional Japanese patterns, each coin’s unique design features Olympic and Paralympic motifs. The five new Olympic sports will be featured on their own 100 Yen commemorative coin, as will the two Tokyo 2020 mascots, Miraitowa and Someity. The two 500 Yen commemorative coins will depict the wind and thunder deities, a design selected through votes by the public. 

The Newest British Commemorative

The Royal Mint recently issued a coin paying tribute to Team GB, which would have been released in 2020. Unsurprisingly, the coin was a 50 Pence Piece. Due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, the coin, as well as the games, were postponed. Curiously, while the date on the obverse was updated to 2021 for the coin’s eventual release, the reverse, bearing symbols of each sport in the competition, still featured the original 2020 date in amongst the tennis rackets, footballs and bicycles. As of yet, it appears there has been no attempt to rectify this, so whether the coin will go down in history as another ‘error coin’, similar to the ‘undated’ 20 Pence Piece, is uncertain.  

Throughout their history, the Olympic Games have come accompanied by their own special coins. The prestige and pride associated with hosting the events have seen the vast majority of modern countries hold the games, issuing their own commemorative coins. Even the ancient Greeks had their own ‘Olympic Commemoratives’. As long as there are coin collectors, it doesn’t seem that commemorative Olympic coins will end anytime soon. 

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Coins of the Sacred Mountain

Silver Drachm of Tranquillina (the wife of Gorian III) coin with Mount Argaeus (Ericyes) from Kayseri, Turkey in the background.

Coins from the ancient world depict a variety of different imagery. It’s one of many reasons they’re so collectable. Animals, gods, goddesses, plants, weaponry and much more were chosen to represent the various cities that issued them, and the portraits of rulers to remind the public who was in charge. The city of Caesarea in Cappadocia, however, opted for a very different design for much of its coinage – that of a mountain. It is this subject that we’ll have a brief look at in this article.

Located close to Kayseri in modern-day Turkey, the strategically important city was built on the foothills of Mount Argaeus, a huge stratovolcano towering nearly 13,000 feet over the Anatolian plains. Ancient climbers supposedly reported that both the Mediterranean and Black seas could be seen from its summit. Geological studies have suggested that the volcano last erupted around 9000 years ago, though some coins from Caesarea appear to show the mountain smoking.

A few roman ancient coinage displayed on top of some ancient Turkish maps with a magnifying glass.

The mountain’s distinctive, craggy appearance is easily recognisable on the coinage of the nearby city. Its rugged summit and slopes resulting from millennia of erosion and collapse. Exactly why the inhabitants of Caesarea chose the mountain for their coinage is uncertain. Its first appearances begin during the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius. Provincial coins were issued from countless cities in Asia Minor and across the Roman world. It is possible the local powers simply chose the mountain as a symbol for their city, to stand out from the plethora of other coin-issuing cities.

A modern day image of Mount Argaeus.
Mount Argaeus (Ericyes) from Kayseri, Turkey. Image: Pixabay.

In early depictions, the mountain is topped with a standing figure. The identity of this individual alludes us to this day, though theories have ranged from the Sun God, Helios, to the Genius of the city, to a hitherto unknown pagan god of the area.

A silver ancient coin featuring Mount Argaeus with the figure of a man standing on top of the mountain. The coin is laid on top of ancient maps featuring the mountain.
The standing figure atop Mount Argaeus on coins such as this one, struck during the reign of Tiberius (AD 14-37), has been the subject of some debate.

Over the next 200 years, the mountain appears in various styles. During the reign of Trajan, a lyre appears on its summit. It has been suggested that this instrument was used as a means of depicting the volcano’s crater. Later issues depict the mountain atop an altar, as well as being surrounded by gods and goddesses, starts and crescents, and even references to the cult of Mithras. The variety of designs, combined with the distinct use of the mountain on so many coins, has also led scholars to believe the mountain may have been the centre of a religious cult. The rich, fertile volcanic soils resulting from past eruptions would have given the local inhabitants something to be grateful for.

The obverse and reverse of ancient Silver Drachm coins of Tranquillina. Featuring the Draped bust of Tranquillina on the obverse and Mount Argaeus on the reverse,
Silver Drachm of Tranquillina (the wife of Gorian III). The Argaeus motif remained in use well into the Third Century AD. Tranquillina, Silver Drachm | Baldwin’s

The remarkable depiction of a mountain is a near-unique phenomenon in the ancient world. The only other example being the appearance of the enormous Mount Ararat on rare coins of the Armenian King Tigranes IV. Its distinctive double-summit making for an impressive coin type. Nevertheless, the coinage of Caesarea in Cappadocia feature some of the most perplexing depictions to grace coins of the ancient world, and area ripe with different varieties which will likely keep collectors of Roman Provincial Coinage busy for years to come.

For more coins of Caesarea depicting Mount Argaeus, we welcome you to visit our shop at 399 Strand, or check our website, where we have a selection of these coins available for viewing.

Further Reading

Sydenham, E. A. (1933) The Coinage of Caesarea in Cappadocia. London.

Composed by Dominic Chorney, Ancient Specialist.

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The Best Way To Store Your Coin Collection

Whether we’re in our store with customers or out at coin fairs, we are always asked “What’s the best way to store rare coins?”. Some say in zip lock bags, some opt for albums or folders, whilst others are looking for a storage solution that has the power to beautifully display their collection. But what really is the best way to let your collection shine?

We’ve previously put questions to our teams for their expert opinions, like should you slab your coins, or if it’s best to use gloves when handling coins, so we decided to go to them once again for their take on the best way to store your coins…

“There are a couple of ways. If you intend to simply store the coin away in a safe/safety deposit box, I would recommend an acid-free paper envelope, and in a box, ideally with other coins of the same metal, also in paper envelopes. If you intend to look at your coins frequently, a high quality mahogany cabinet will suffice. The coin would be stored in a tray within the cabinet. I’d also recommend the cabinet be small enough to be stored in a safe, and its contents fully insured. These should also be stored in a low-humidity environment at a consistent room temperature.”


“The safest way, now recognised as technically best practice by museums but not aesthetically pleasing, is on plastazote pads in metal trays, replacing the old mahogany or rosewood cabinets with felt linings. This is not everyone’s choice.”


“The chemicals in the plastic cause the coins to “sweat”, they develop a damp greasy residue, that eventually will cause silver coins to develop a green film over the surface” – Neil Paisley

“A rare coin, or any coin really, is best stored in a velvet or flocked tray, within a coin cabinet. Try avoiding storing your coins in plastic pockets or paper envelopes that are not acid-free.”


“The best way to store rare coins long term would be in paper envelopes. The common pvc envelopes are convenient but should only be used short term, the chemicals in the plastic cause the coins to “sweat”, they develop a damp greasy residue, that eventually will cause silver coins to develop a green film over the surface, copper coins will lose their lustre and verdigris will eventually ensue. A decent coin cabinet and also lindner trays are acceptable but when pulling the trays out it must be done slowly or the coin will keep moving and will eventually lead to cabinet friction. Proof coins whether in a tray or envelope should always be wrapped in a little cellophane packet in order to protect the proof fields.”


“Either in a non-acidic paper flip, in a coin cabinet or in a recognised holder via an accredited dealer, several reputable companies offer storage solutions.”


So to conclude, there are many options on how to store your coins, and it can all be a personal preference depending on the size and type of collection you own. The main important takeaway is how not to store your coins. Avoid common envelopes for long term use, be wary of the temperature in the room and ensure that you always use acid-free materials.

How do you store your coins? Vote in our poll by clicking the button below or tell us on social!

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Italian Noble Families on Coins – Part 2

A landscape of Florence, Italy featuring architectural buildings including cathedrals and steeples.

In this blog series, we will explore the most famous Italian noble families of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and their coins. We will look at how did they rose to power, what are their heraldic symbols and some of the coins we have in our collection. In this part, we will be looking at the Medici and Farnese families, which are synonymous with Renaissance power and art patronage.

Medici of Florence

The Medici name is often a synonym for Renaissance in Italy and prolific art patronage. The House of Medici is known as a banking and political dynasty. They first came to prominence with Cosimo de’ Medici in the Republic of Florence during the first half of the 15th century. There are different origin stories of how Medici came to power and where their heraldry is derived from them. The Medici coat of arms has five red balls and one blue on a gold shield. It is prominently displayed on buildings across Tuscany that had been funded by the family. The family gave four Popes to the Catholic Church and were distinguished patrons of Brunelleschi, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Machiavelli and Galileo,  financing the construction of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome and the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. 

Medici family coat of arms.
Medici family coat of arms. 

The family originated in Mugello region of Tuscany. In 1532, the family acquired the hereditary title of Dukes of Florence. In 1569, the Duchy was elevated to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany after territorial expansion. The Medici ruled the Grand Duchy from its inception until 1737, with the death of Gian Gastone de Medici. The Grand Duchy witnessed degrees of economic growth under the early Grand Dukes, but was bankrupt by the time of Cosimo III de Medici (who reigned from 1670 to 1723).

Cosimo III de Medici was the sixth, penultimate Grand Duke of Tuscany. He had the longest reign in Tuscan history (53 years) and witnessed the economic decline of the family and the region. Upon the death of his son Gian Gastone, Tuscany passed into the hands of House of Lorraine, which was later joined the Habsburg royal family.

A silver Piastra of Cosimo III de Medici coin, with Christ being baptised by St. John the Baptist on the reverse.
A silver Piastra of Cosimo III de Medici, with Christ being baptised by St. John the Baptist on the reverse.

Farnese of parma

One of the most influential families of the Italian Renaissance is the Farnese family. Some of the most important architectural works and antiquities are associated with the Farnese family, including the Palazzo Farnese in Rome and the Villa Farnese at Caprarola. Farnese marbles are one of the most famous and historically important collections of ancient sculpture ever known – and they are held in museums within Naples and London. Some of the most famous pieces are Hercules Farnese, Farnese Bull and Apollo Farnese.  

Hercules Farnese, in the Archaeological Museum of Naples. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons. 

Farnese family traces its origins back to the 10th century and it is named after the Castrum Farneti, one of its oldest feudal possessions. In the 12th century, Farnese are recorded as feudatories in the areas of Tuscania and Orvieto, with several family members holding political positions. The Farnese coat of arms is a gold shield with six blue fleur-de-lis, it adorns their Palazzi in Rome and Caprarola. The Farnese held the titles of Dukes of Parma and Piacenza and Dukes of Castro at the height of their power. Some of the most important family members included Pope Paul III, Alessandro Farnese (a cardinal), Alessandro Farnese (a military commander and Governor of the Spanish Netherlands), and Elisabetta Farnese, the Queen of Spain. 

Farnese family coat of arms on Palazzo Farnese in Rome.
Farnese family coat of arms on Palazzo Farnese in Rome, co-joined with Papal coat of arms. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.  

The political success of Farnese family reached its peak in the 16th century when Giulia Farnese, a mistress of Pope Alexander VI, expanded the influence and fortune of her family in Rome by persuading the Pope to give her brother Alessandro the title of a cardinal. In 1534, Alessandro was elected Pope and took the name of Paul III. His reign was (in)famous for the unprecedented nepotism. In the mid-16th century he handed some territories of the Papal States to his son with the title of Duke of Parma, establishing them as the ducal dynasty. His grandson Ottavio was given the additional title of the Duke of Piacenza where he held his court initially, eventually moving to Parma. 

A silver Cavallotto of Alessandro Farnese coin.
A silver Cavallotto of Alessandro Farnese, Duke of Parma, Piacenza and Castro from 1586 to 1592, Governor of the Spanish Netherlands from 1578 to 1592.

The Duchy of Parma and Piacenza continued to be ruled by the Farnese until the 17th century. Their subsequent conflict with the Barberini family (of Papal fame) in the eventually led to their decline and loss of influence, throughout 17th and 18th century. The last Duke of Parma and Piacenza, Francesco Farnese (1678–1727) saw Parma fall under the Duchy of Milan, which was an Austrian province in Italy at that time. He died without offspring, with his niece Elisabetta Farnese as the only heir – she became the Queen of Spain through her marriage with Philip V.

A silver Lira of Francesco Farnese coin.
A silver Lira of Francesco Farnese, minted in Parma.

Missed out on Part One? Find it here.

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The Gold Aureus of Diocletian

Revolutionary, formidable and feared, Diocletian is without a doubt one of the most important rulers in the history of the Roman Empire. After decades of turmoil across the Roman world during what is now known as the Crisis of the Third Century, Diocletian rose to prominence after the murder of Numerian. He would rule from AD 284 until 305. His reign was characterized by the creation of what is now known as the ‘Dominate’. This institution essentially lifted the emperor to a god among men – with the emperor donning robes and regalia more befitting of an eastern king than a Roman Emperor, and only accepting visits from a select few individuals.

Diocletian did, however, share his power. He needed a method of smoothing out the nightmarish scenario which had plagued the 3rd Century AD – succession. Time and again a leading military commander had been declared emperor by his troops (Diocletian was no exception), and rose to victory over the current emperor. He would, more often than not, meet his demise under similar circumstances, after a short reign.

The Tetrarchy was conceived as a way to avoid this. The empire would be split in two – east and west. Both would be ruled by an emperor, an ‘Augustus’, as well as a junior emperor, known as a ‘Caesar’. The Caesar’s role was to learn from his Augustus, ready to fill his shoes. The Tetrarchy worked smoothly at first, with Diocletian and his co-emperor in the west, Maximian, abdicating in AD 305 – the first emperors to do so. Their Caesars, Galerius and Constantius Chlorus, stepped up as Augusti. The system was, eventually, doomed to failure with the rise of the Emperor Constantine, but the principle was, in theory, sound.

Silver Argenteus of Diocletian, minted in Ticinum, AD 295. Note the four emperors or ‘Tetrarchs’ standing in front of a Roman camp on the reverse. Diocletian, Silver Argenteus | Baldwin’s

Another of Diocletian’s many reforms was that of the Roman Empire’s currency. For years, the purity of Rome’s silver coinage had been reduced and reduced until, by the time of Gallienus (AD 253-268) it contained barely any precious metal at all. Attempts had been made by the renowned Emperor Aurelian to restore the coinage, but the people of Rome still had no high-grade silver coins in their pockets, as their ancestors had before them. With Diocletian’s reforms, this would change. Diocletian set an edict on the maximum prices goods could be sold for, with severe punishments for those who broke the rules. He revalued the currency, creating a new silver coin: the Argenteus, and he increased the weight of the gold aureus. Diocletian also introduced a new, large, billon coin: the follis. These were, however, issued in far too great numbers in relation to the silver – affecting the reforms and limiting their success.

Diocletian’s portrait on this gold aureus, minted in AD 290, appears less accurate to life than the coinage of emperors before him. It is a distinct move towards the more symbolic portraiture of the 4th Century AD.

This gold aureus was minted in the eastern city of Cyzicus, in AD 290. The style in which it depicts the emperor is a product of the shifting appearance of artistry we begin to see in this period. There is a distinctive move away from the ‘warts and all’ styles of the soldier emperors before him. This move towards a more symbolic ‘emperor figure’ would become much more apparent into the 4th Century AD. The short inscription; Diocletianus Augustus, leaves us no doubt as to the emperor depicted.

The reverse depicts the Emperor Diocletian in his Consular robes, holding a globe and dagger, and celebrates his fourth year of the role.

On the reverse, we can see the emperor for a second time. Despite donning elaborate, richly adorned clothing in real life, on this coin he can be seen in the more traditional attire of a Roman statesman – a toga. He holds a globe, reflecting his position as a supreme ruler, and a parazonium – a large ceremonial dagger, and a symbol of the emperor’s virtuous nature, and his respect for the military from which he came. The coin itself celebrates Diocletian’s fourth year as Consul – the joint highest-ranking position in the Roman Senate, and a title held by the majority of Roman Emperors. Some have suggested the ‘PP Pro Cos’ refers to the Processus Consularis, an event traditionally held by the Consul on his accession to political office. Some have suggested that this gold aureus may have been given as a donative to guests of the auspicious occasion.

A 19th Century engraving depicting the façade of Diocletian’s Palace in Split, Croatia.
A 19th Century engraving depicting the façade of Diocletian’s Palace in Split, Croatia.

As mentioned earlier, Diocletian is remarkable in being the first Roman Emperor to abdicate voluntarily. In AD 305, satisfied with his sweeping reforms and relative peace and security after the decades of turmoil, he famously retired to his private palace on the Dalmatian coast (near modern-day Split, in Croatia) to tend to his cabbages.

Coin Information

  • Ruler:                   Diocletian (AD 284-305)
  • Denom.:              Aureus
  • Obverse:             DIOCLETIANVS AVGVSTVS, laureate head of Diocletian facing right.
  • Reverse:              CONSVL IIII P P PROCOS, Diocletian standing left, togate, holding parazonium and globe.
  • Metal:                  Gold
  • Mint:                    Cyzicus
  • Weight:                5.26g
  • Reference:          RIC 285

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To slab or not to slab, that is the question.

A William Shakespeare 2016 coin representing a Slabbed coin with text reading 'To Slab or Not To Slab'

Our friends across the pond have been slabbing items for years, from Topps rookie cards for Mickey Mantle and Michael Jordan to limited edition sweet wrappers and unopened Pokemon packs. In the world of rare coins, it is still quite a new practice -especially when you consider the age of the artefact- and not one that has been readily adopted worldwide.  

Is there a reason for this? Is there a correct answer to our opening gambit? We spoke to members of the AH Baldwin specialist coin team to get their take… 

“Typically, I am against slabbing, the coin is encased in plastic, it is less easy to store and the coin in many instances just becomes a number. Generally British collectors like to be able to hold the coin in their hand. In certain areas slabbing is also very inconsistent, especially so with hammered coins. I have seen many VF hammered gold and silver coins given a Mint State rating and this is because it is American graders who just don’t have enough experience with British coins, after all the American series is much shorter and they don’t really encounter hammered coins. In recent years a very rare James I Ship Ryal was slabbed as MS61 making it one of the finest available for commerce, the grader had not noticed that the coin had been pierced and plugged and as such was damaged. As a result, the coin sold for a very large sum at auction!!” 


wouldn’t collect coins in slabs but recognise that in some cases it is essential. I prefer to hold the coin itself. 


“The trade can become more of a numbers game, with people focusing more on the grade than the actual coin inside”  – Dominic Chorney

“Slabbing by its nature is ambiguous filled with disjunctions. It is an inconsistent way of leapfrogging coins into a tangible commodity and asset. The main issue with slabbing is the inconsistent grades awarded to coins, the lack of a tailored made approach to different types and numismatic era’s, and the lack of evolution of the Sheldon scale, which is where it began. It is simultaneously integral to the modern coin market. Positives and negatives, in ten years’ time most coins will be slabbed from the outset before appearing in online stock or in an auction itinerary. Many collectors prefer slabbed coins, several dealers also have a predilection to securing a slabbed graded coin as a) the market demands it b) authenticity is guaranteed c) the universal language of the grade helps make the coins more appealing to a worldwide audience. A very international mechanism with a strong following.” 


I have no problem with slabbing coins. They can simply provide a level of protection. Proof quality coins can be easily damaged, and encapsuled coins are protected from this. In terms of ancient coins, however, collectors often like to handle their coins (carefully), and are inspired by the history around them. Encapsulating a two-thousand-year-old piece of history in plastic can upset some collectors. However, this can easily be reverse by breaking open the slab (carefully). Capsules and grading also turn collectable coins into more of an investment commodity. They can be bought and sold by almost anybody, regardless of their level of knowledge of the subject. The trade can become more of a ‘numbers game’, with people focusing more on the slab grade than the actual coin inside. This being said, I have no problem with graded coins or raw coins, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I often feel more comfortable handling a coin in a slab, purely because I know I’m not going to accidentally damage it. 


I’m not against third party coin grading. It can be a good way for an unbiased evaluation of the coin condition. However, we do have 2,000+ years of coin history and slabbing is not appropriate for all of them. For me, the ancient coins cannot be graded the same way we grade modern coins, they require a more individual approach. 


So, there you have it, the Baldwin’s team are not necessarily against slabbing but probably wouldn’t do it with items from their own collection or recommend it to collectors with particularly rare coins. At the end of the day, they are a tangible bunch who like to be able to feel the coin and value it with hand and eye unobscured by plastic casing. 

We’d love to know what side of the debate you stand on, did you agree with our experts? Vote in our online poll and let us know… 

Further Information on this subject

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The Unique Gold Pattern Triple Unite of Charles I (1625-49)

On Thursday the 26th of September 2006 Baldwin’s Auctions held a sale in the Council Chamber of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, a stones throw from the then Adelphi Terrace premises, a short walk from our Strand office today.

Entitled ‘One Hundred Numismatic Rarities’ set out on a slim understated mahogany red auction catalogue, each cover bathed in emblems of heraldry. A near perfect mix of armorial bearings set against a patterned regal backdrop, tapping into the duality of numismatics. This duality being a reverence for tradition and heritage, not just in the form of twee evocations of yesteryear, instead the tradition needs to be role specific, axiomatic, translating into quality. In this instance one hundred rarities across all provinces, succinctly catalogued with well positioned images.

Auctions are underpinned by few essential factors, none more significant than confidence in the calibre of the auction house and the quality of the coins under the hammer. The front cover showcasing the unique Triple Pattern Unite by Vanderdort, the back cover sporting an 1847 frosted proof Gothic Crown of Victoria and a nickel brass 1937 Threepence of Edward VIII.

The unique Pattern Triple Unite had been acquired by private treaty in 1930 by the Baldwin’s family, first mentioned publicly in the proceedings of the Royal Numismatic Society 1932 (R.N.C 1932, Vol 12, 5th series, page 14). The founder Albert had attended a meeting on the 19th May 1932 and displayed it to a group of coins and medals outlining the work of Thomas Simon and Simon De Passe.

The coin later found itself published in a British Numismatic Journal article (Volume 23, 1939, p 363) penned by the venerated C. A. Whitton. In this article Whitton cites Miss Helen Farquhar and her earlier work in 1908, where she had advocated that such a coin should exist, predicated on the evidence that Abraham Vanderdort had been appointed as medalist to Charles I, with a view to issue high relief patterns covering the pound, three-pound and five-pound denominations. Derek F Allen in the Numismatic Chronicle 1941-3 formalised and documented all of Farquhar’s work, the coin then lay dormant not appearing in print or discourse until Wilson and Rasmussen published their ‘English Pattern Trial and Proof Coins in Gold 1547-1968’ at the turn of the millennium.

Listed as unique, rarity 7 (R7) number 20, page 41, weighing 27.2 grams. There is a similar Pattern Triple Unite in the Hunterian museum collection struck with a different obverse die to our example weighing 27.07g, both issued with a mintmark Plume. The other piece that makes up the series is the ‘Pattern Five Unites’ (or Five Pounds) at 47.50g, struck with mintmark Rose, this is the Juxon medal, given to Bishop Juxon by Charles I on the scaffold. William Juxon, Bishop of London at the time (later to become the Archbishop of Canterbury at the point of the restoration) had been a key figure during the interregnum, he had been personally selected by Charles I to read him his last rights before his execution. One specimen is known for the Juxon medal [W&R 18, (R7), p.39] which resides in the British museum collection, all three attributed to Vanderdort.

Crowned draped and cuirassed bust left with falling lace collar, wire line and beaded circle, double-arched crown with frosted caul, diamond and pellet band, mint mark plume without bands (1630-1631), legend CAROLVS DG MAG BRIT FR ET HIB REX. Rev, crowned oval garnished shield of quartered arms, with quartered English and French arms in first and third quarters, Scottish lion in second quarter, Irish harp in fourth quarter, C and R in fields, legend FLORENT CONCORDIA REGNA.
Realised price £210,000 (without the premium).

Abraham Vanderdort hailed from a Dutch family of craftsmen arriving in England at around 1609 during James I’s reign. In 1625 he found appointment with the accession of Charles I to provide Patterns for the coinage of the realm.

Prince Henry, Charles I’s elder brother had previously commissioned him with a payment of fifty pounds, he also had previous dealings with Prince Rudolf of Prague and had been known to the King of Denmark, after painting his portrait. Vanderdort found himself sporadically employed by the Royal court under Charles I, holding specific posts connected to the Arts, later employed for life as one of the grooms of the Privy chamber.

Known for preparing the Catalogue of the Royal Collection at Whitehall which he finished in October 1639 (see, Ashmolean Museum Oxford – MS1514). Shortly after, a tragic end fit for a Marlowe play, Vanderdort had misplaced a portrait miniature, the sheer pressure and potential repercussions had led him to take his life. Later his executors located the miniature after his demise.