By Mike Markowitz for CoinWeek …..
 

The magazine Numismatic Scrapbook was published from 1935 to 1976 at Chicago by printer and collector Lee Hewitt (1911-1987). In 1974, Numismatic Scrapbook listed 10 record auction prices for ancient coins. CoinWeek asked me to revisit this list, exploring what equivalent coins might go for in today’s super-hot ancient coin market.

Since every ancient coin is unique, comparisons are problematic (except in the case of the repeated sale of the very same coin). When comparing house prices, American realtors use the term “comp” to describe recently sold homes similar to the property you’re trying to buy or sell in terms of location, size, condition, and features.

So I went hunting for “comps”. The results of my searches can be found below.

Incidentally, three of these coin types appear on Harlan Berk’s list of the 100 Greatest Ancient Coins.

Diadumenianus

Diadumenian caesar, 217 – 218. Aureus late 217, AV 7.36 g. M OPEL ANT DIADVMENIAN CAES Bare-headed and draped bust r. Rev. PRINC IVVENTVTIS Diadumenian standing facing, head r., holding in r. hand standard and in l. sceptre; behind, two standards. C 2. BMC p. 509. RIC Macrinus 101 var. (draped and cuirassed). Faces of Power 445 (this coin). Calicó 2982. Extremely rare and in exceptional condition for the issue, undoubtedly among the finest specimens known. A superb portrait of masterly style struck in high relief on a full flan. Enrico Caruso (1873-1921) Collection, sold by Canessa, auction III, Naples, 28 June 1923. Numismatica Ars Classica > Auction 105, 9 May 2018, Lot: 66, realized: 240,000 CHF (Approx. 239,020 USD).

Topping the list is a rare gold aureus of Diadumenianus (or Diadumenian), son and co-emperor of Macrinus who ruled from April 217 to June 218.

Macrinus came to power by murdering his predecessor, the demented Caracalla. He then made Diadumenianus, his nine-year-old son, co-emperor. Defeated in battle, father and son were hunted down and executed by rebel troops – a common fate of third-century Roman rulers.

In 1973, a gold aureus of this tragic child-emperor sold for $65,825 USD. In 2018, a comparable example, once in the collection of the famed Italian opera star Enrico Caruso (1873-1921), sold for a whopping $239,020[1].

Saturninus

Gold aureus (5.34 gm) Alexandria. IMP C IVL SATVRNINVS AVG, laureate and cuirassed bust of Saturninus right, with slight drapery on left shoulder, / VICTORIAE AVG Victory advancing right, holding wreath in extended right hand and palm over left shoulder. RIC 1, pl. xx, 14. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Sotheby’s Auction, Zurich, November 10, 1972, Lot 205, realized CHF 340,000.

Julius Saturninus was the Roman governor of Syria. He was forced by his troops and an unruly mob to proclaim himself as emperor in the year 280, possibly at Alexandria but more likely at Antioch. After a few months, he was killed by his own troops.

Only two coins in his name are known: one in the French national collection at Paris, the other sold by Sotheby’s in 1972 for $61,500. It appeared again at auction in 1991 when it brought $180,000[2].

Should it appear again on the current market, it would probably bring three or four times that amount.

Jewish War Year 5

Judaea, The Jewish War. Silver Shekel (13.30 g), 66-70 CE. Year 5 (April-August 70 CE). ‘Shekel of Israel’ around, ‘year 5’ above, ritual chalice with pearled rim. Reverse: ‘Jerusalem the holy’, sprig of three pomegranates. Hendin 1370; Deutsch 1 ((O1, R1), Deutsch’s recent die study traces a mere 14 known year 5 shekels (not counting the “Baldwin” specimens); TJC 215. Extremely Rare and of great importance. Tied for the finest known. Lustrous and excellent metal. Mint State. On Berk’s list of the 100 Greatest Ancient Coins,  this type is #37. The New York Sale XLVIII, 14 January 2020, Lot: 54, realized: 300,000 USD.

Infuriated by perceived Roman disrespect for their religion and customs, the people of Judea rose in revolt in the year 66. The “Jewish War” dragged on for five bloody and bitter years.

The rebels issued their own silver shekels, inscribed “Shekel of Israel” and “Jerusalem the Holy” in ancient Hebrew letters. They bore images of a ceremonial chalice and a sprig of three pomegranate buds. The coinage is dated using Hebrew letters as numerals (alef=1, bet=2, gimel=3, daled=4, he=5). After Year 1, the letter shin (which looks like our “W”) appears with the numeral as an abbreviation of the word shanat (“year”).

On Berk’s list of the 100 Greatest Ancient Coins, this type is #37 (Berk, 99).

Only about 25 genuine examples of the Year 5 shekel are known. The most recent one to appear at auction, “tied for the finest known,” brought $300,000 in 2020[3].

Marius

Marius, Usurper in Gaul, 269 Aureus (Gold, 6.64 g, 5), Mainz, June-August 269 Obverse: IMP C M AVR MARIVS P F AVG Laureate and cuirassed bust of Marius to right, with slight drapery on far shoulder. Reverse: CONCORDIA MILITVM Clasped hands. References: Biaggi 1537 (= Schulte 3b). C. 3. Elmer 626 (this coin cited). Kent/Hirmer 512. RIC 1. Schulte 3a (this coin).This is a gray-scale illustration of a gold coin, if you can colorize it for the article, it will look better. Leu Numismatik AG (1992-2005) > Auction 87, 6 May 2003, Lot: 84. 185,000 CHF (Approx. 138,598 USD).

In the chaotic year 269 CE, a blacksmith who had risen through the ranks of the Roman army on the Rhine was proclaimed emperor by his troops under the name “Marcus Aurelius Marius”. He reigned for just two or three months before he was executed, according to legend with a sword that he had forged in his previous career.

Remarkably, in this short time a considerable volume of coinage – mostly silvered bronze – in the name of Marius was produced, probably to pay the troops. Only about nine gold aurei of Marius exist, seven in museums. One of the other two is damaged. The sole undamaged coin in private hands, formerly in the collection of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, sold for $59,305 in 1972. When it came to market again in 2003, it realized $138,598.

The cataloguer for that sale wrote:

The engraver who cut the dies for this coin was a true artist of great talent; the portrait of Marius is a masterpiece of realism unequaled in its intensity by any produced by his contemporaries working elsewhere in the Empire[4].

If the aureus of Marius appeared at auction today, it could easily bring $250,000.

Amphipolis

Macedonia, Amphipolis Tetradrachm circa 366-365, AR 14.21 g. Laureate head of Apollo, facing three-quarters r., hair flowing at sides of the face. Rev. AMΦ – ΙΠΟ – ΛΙΤ – ΕΩΝ around raised square frame within which racing torch; in lower l. field, cicada. All within partially incuse square. De Sartiges 185 (this coin). Baldwin AJN 1909, pl. III, 9 (this coin illustrated). Regling, Phygela, Klazomenai, Amphipolis, ZfN XXXIII, 1922, p. 59, 52, pl. II, 14 (this coin). Gulbenkian 405. SNG Manchester 608 (these dies). Lorber 13c and pl. III, 9 (this coin illustrated). On Berk’s list of the 100 Greatest Ancient Coins this type is #29 Numismatica Ars Classica > Auction 116, 1 October 2019, Lot: 64, realized: 450,000 CHF (Approx. 451,173 USD).

Protected on three sides by a bend of the Strymon river, the city of Amphipolis in Macedonia flourished as a center of trade and government[5].

A lovely silver tetradrachm of the city bears the head of Apollo, facing slightly to his left, in the posture art historians call “three-quarters facing.” A torch appears within a square on the reverse, surrounded by the inscription: AMΦ – ΙΠΟ – ΛΙΤ – ΕΩΝ (“of the Amphipolitans”).

On Berk’s list of the 100 Greatest Ancient Coins, this type is #29 (Berk, 57). Berk writes:

Between about 369 and 353 [BCE], Amphipolis produced some of the most magnificent Greek coins of the period. The obverse of this tetradrachm portrays a three-quarter facing head of Apollo, wearing a laurel wreath. Apollo’s splendid image combines idealism with naturalism, both hallmarks of the classical style. The massive curls that frame Apollo’s handsome face almost swallow the delicate laurel wreath. The facial planes are subtly modeled, the eyes direct and clear. This head of Apollo is among the most impressive ones depicted on all Greek coinage.

With a pedigree dating back to the 19th century, this coin brought over $451,000 in a 2019 Swiss auction[6] – more than nine times what a similar coin sold for in 1973.

Laelianus

Laelianus, Usurper in Gaul, 269 Aureus (Gold, 6.11 g 1), Mainz, June-July 269.Obverse: IMP C LAELIANVS P F AVG Laureate and cuirassed bust of Laelianus to right. Reverse: TEMPORVM FELICITAS Hispania reclining to left, holding an olive branch with her right hand and, with her left, petting a rabbit that crouches beside her to left.Rarity: Extremely rare, only about a dozen aurei of Laelianus are known, of which at least eight are in museums.References: Biaggi 1536. Calicó 3801. C. 2. RIC 1. Kent/Hirmer 511. Schulte 2a (this coin).Condition: Lustrous and most attractive. Minor scratches on the reverse, otherwise, good extremely fine.Estimate:120,000 – Provenance: From the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Joseph H. Durkee, Sotheby & Co., Zurich, 10 November 1972, 189. Leu Numismatik AG (1992-2005) > Auction 93, 10 May 2005, Lot: 98. Realized: 130,000 CHF (Approx. 108,288 USD).

Little is known about Ulpius Cornelius Laelianus, a commander of Roman legions on the Rhine frontier who declared himself emperor at Moguntiacum (now Mainz, Germany), from February to June also in the year 269 CE. His revolt was crushed by another rebel emperor, Postumus, and Laelianus was executed, possibly by his own disgruntled troops.

The reverse inscription TEMPORVM FELICITAS (“Happiness of the Times”) is ironic for this chaotic and bloody period of Roman history. Only about a dozen gold aurei in the name of Laelianus are known, with eight of these in museums. The most recent sale of an example, formerly in the collection of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, was in 2005, realizing over $108,000.

In today’s market, an equivalent coin might bring $250,000 or more.

Julia Soaemias

Born in Emesa (now Homs, Syria) about 180 CE, Julia Soaemias, daughter of the wealthy and powerful Julia Maesa, was the mother of the emperor Elagabalus. She bragged (probably falsely) that Elagabalus was really the illegitimate son of the murdered Caracalla. Along with plenty of Julia Maesa’s cash, this persuaded some disgruntled troops to put the boy on the throne. Julia Soaemias became Augusta (“empress”) and coins were struck in her name.

Following the murder of Julia Soaemias and her son in 235 CE by the Praetorian guard, most of her gold aurei were melted down. No example has appeared on the market since one sold for $41,950 in 1972. The only previous sale I could find was in 1922, when A.H. Baldwin & Sons sold one to the British Museum[7].

If such a coin appeared on the market today, it would bring at least $200,000, perhaps more in high grade.

Maximianus 10 Aurei Medallion

Medallion of 8 aurei, Trier circa 303, 42.62 g. IMP MAXIMIANVS PIVS FELIX AVG Head r., wearing lion-skin headdress. Rev. HERCVLI CONSERVATORI AVGG ET CAESS N N Hercules, nude and with quiver over r. shoulder, holding bow in l. hand and lion-skin over outstretched l. arm and leaning r. on club; in exergue, PTR. RIC -. C -. Gnecchi -. Bastien -. Toynbee -. Depeyrot -. Vagi 2704. Apparently unique and unpublished. A prestigious medallion of enchanting beauty sharply struck in high relief. Masterfully executed and finely detailed on both obverse and reverse. Numismatica Ars Classica > Auction 24 5 December 2002, Lot: 245 realized: 650,000 CHF (approx. 441,696 USD).

Gold medallions are the superstars of Roman coinage. Many are unique. The largest ones were minted as diplomatic gifts, or presentation pieces to reward victorious commanders and senior officials. Because of their high intrinsic value as bullion, they were often melted down, so their survival down to our time is miraculous.

Born about the year 250 CE near Sirmium on the Danube frontier, Marcus Aurelianus Valerius Maximianus (or “Maximian”)[8] was ambitious, energetic, and loyal, rising quickly through the army to become junior co-emperor with Diocletian in 285. In the complex civil wars that saw the rise of Constantine I, Maximianus was captured and forced to commit suicide in 310.

A unique medallion of 10 aurei (about 60 grams or two Troy ounces!) in the name of Maximianus sold for just $38,660[9] back in 1963. No exact equivalent has appeared on the market in recent decades, the closest being a Maximianus medallion of 8 aurei, “apparently unique and unpublished” and “…of enchanting beauty, sharply struck in high relief.” It sold for over $441,000 in 2002[10]. The obverse bears a bust of the emperor in the guise of Hercules, wearing his signature lion skin headdress. The reverse bears a naked standing figure of Hercules, with an inscription hailing the demigod as the “Preserver of our Emperors”.

In today’s market, a high-grade unique Roman gold medallion of 10 aurei might sell for over $1 million.

Florianus

Florian AV Heavy Aureus. Rome or Cyzicus, AD 276. IMP C M ANNIVS FLORIANVS AVG, laureate and cuirassed bust right / CONSERVATOR AVG, Sol driving galloping quadriga to left, holding a whip in left hand and reins in right. RIC 17; Calicó 4124; MER-RIC 4524 (temporary); Estiot 1999/2, 10a = Jameson 292 = Hess, 14/IV/1954, 363. 6.42g, 21mm, 5h. Good Extremely Fine; minor marks in rev. field, highly lustrous metal. Of the greatest rarity, the second known example. From a private UK collection. Roma Numismatics Ltd > Auction XIX, 26 March 2020, Lot: 914. Realized: 90,000 GBP (Approx. 109,210 USD).

Florianus (or “Florian”) was the half-brother of Emperor Tacitus, who died of fever at the age of 76 in June, 276 CE, or was possibly assassinated. Florianus claimed the throne with the assent of the Senate and ruled for less than three months until his own troops handed him over to the rebel general Probus, who executed him.

His gold aurei are exceedingly rare, with only two examples known. One of these sold for $37,560 in 1973 and realized $109,210 in a 2020 London auction[11].

Kimon Decadrachm

SICILY, Syracuse. Dionysios I. 405-367 BCE. AR Dekadrachm (34mm, 43.23 g, 5h). Dies signed by Kimon. Struck circa 405-400 BCE. Charioteer, holding kentron in extended right hand and reins in left, driving fast quadriga left; above, Nike flying right, crowning charioteer with laurel wreath held in her extended hands; below heavy exergual line inscribed KIMΩN, a shield, greaves, cuirass, and Attic helmet, all connected by a horizontal spear; AΘΛA below / Head of Arethousa left, wearing single-pendant earring and necklace, hair restrained in an ampyx (inscribed K) and open-weave sakkos; ΣΥΡΑΚΟ-ΣΙΩ behind hair, four swimming dolphins around, the one below neck inscribed KIMΩN. Jongkees 3 (dies A/γ); Scavino 3f (D1/R3 – this coin); HGC 2, 1298; SNG Lockett 988; Basel 479; BMC 202–3; Boston MFA 432 = Warren 355; Dewing 869 = Bement 511; Gillet 645; Gulbenkian 303; Hunt III 27 = Gillet 646; Hunterian 64; Jameson 819; Kraay & Hirmer 118; de Luynes 1243; McClean 2734; Rizzo pl. L, 3; Pozzi 610; Ward 291; Weber 1612 (all from the same dies). Kimon produced only six signed Arethousa dies for the dekadrachm series; another seven dies are in his distinct style but without signature. On Berk’s list of the 100 Greatest Ancient Coins, this type is #6. Classical Numismatic Group > Triton XXII 8 January 2019 Lot: 146, realized: 150,000 USD.

Founded about 733 BCE by Greek colonists, Syracuse in Sicily was blessed with an abundant year-round supply of fresh water from the Fountain of Arethusa[12], which still flows today. The mythical water nymph Arethusa, who presided over this source, is celebrated on the city’s coinage, which reached a high standard of technical and artistic excellence in the early fifth century BCE. Arethusa is depicted as a beautiful woman, with playful dolphins swimming around her head.

Several Syracusan master engravers who signed their coin dies are known by name, and Kimon was among the greatest. Kimon’s large silver decadrachms are considered masterpieces. In 1973, a Kimon decadrachm sold for $31,772. A comparable coin, described as “lightly toned” and with “excellent metal”, realized $150,000 in a 2019 New York auction[13].

On Berk’s list of the 100 Greatest Ancient Coins, this type is #6 (Berk, 42).

Analysis

The “top ten” ancients of 1974 included seven Roman, two Greek, and one Judean coin. Two bore images of women, seven depicted men, and one (the Judean) was impersonal. The earliest dated from c. 400 BCE; the most recent from 303 CE. Six were gold and four were silver. The Roman coins included four gold aurei from the troubled era of the “Military Anarchy” or “Barracks Emperors”[14], (235-284 CE.) Prices realized for these 10 coins in 1974 totaled $494,794. In 2021 dollars that sum represents $2,790,664, but if these same coins came to auction today, I estimate that they would bring at least $4 million, perhaps more.

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Notes

[1] NAC Auction 105, May 9, 2018, Lot 66. Realized CHF 240,000 (about $239,020 USD; estimate CHF 150,000).

[2] NFA Auction XXVII, December 4-5, 1991, Lot 176. Realized $180,000 USD.

[3] New York Sale XLVIII, January 14, 2020, Lot 54. Realized $300,000 USD (estimate $160,000).

[4] Leu Numismatik, Auction 87, May 6, 2003, Lot 84. Realized CHF 185,000 (about $138,598 USD; estimate CHF 200,000).

[5] Fans of the mid-to-late’90s syndicated TV series Xena: Warrior Princess may recall that Amphipolis was Xena’s home town.

[6] NAC Auction 116, October 1, 2019, Lot 64. Realized $450,000 (about $451,173 USD; estimate CHF 300,000).

[7] BM 1922.1016.2 “not currently on display”

[8] Not to be confused with similarly named emperors Maxentius (ruled 306-312), Magnus Maximus (ruled in Gaul 383-388) Maximinus “Thrax” (ruled 286-305) or Maximinus “Daza” (ruled 310-313). If you yelled “Hey, Max!” in the Roman Forum, a lot of guys would have turned around.

[9] In 1963 the price of gold was fixed at $35.25 per ounce, equivalent to $302.27 in 2021 dollars.

[10] NAC Auction 24, December 5, 2002, Lot 245. Realized CHF 650,000 (about $441,696 USD).

[11] Roma Numismatics Auction XIX, March 26, 2020, Lot 914. Realized £90,000 (about $109,210 USD; estimate £50,000).

[12] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fountain_of_Arethusa

[13] CNG Triton XXII, January 8, 2019, Lot 146. Realized $150,000 USD (estimate $150,000).

[14] https://www.worldhistory.org/Barracks_Emperors/
 

References

Berk, Harlan J. 100 Greatest Ancient Coins, Second Edition. Pelham, AL (2019)

Hendin, David. Guide to Biblical Coins, 5th edition. (2010)

Kimball Art Museum. Wealth of the Ancient World: The Nelson Bunker Hunt and William Herbert Hunt Collections. Fort Worth, TX (1983)

Scarre, Chris. Chronicle of the Roman Emperors. London (1995)

Toynbee, Jocelyn. Roman Medallions. New York (1986 reprint of 1944 edition)

Vagi, David. Coinage and History of the Roman Empire. Sidney, OH (1999)

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Mike Markowitz - CoinWeek Ancient Coin SeriesMike Markowitz is a member of the Ancient Numismatic Society of Washington. He has been a serious collector of ancient coins since 1993. He is a wargame designer, historian, and defense analyst. He has degrees in History from the University of Rochester, New York and Social Ecology from the University of California, Irvine. Born in New York City, he lives in Fairfax, Virginia.”
 

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