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Ancient coins from our Autumn 2020 FPL

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.  

Byzantine Gold 

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.  

Celtic Units 

#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. 

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