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Home ▸ Catalog ▸ Themes & Provenance ▸ Quality ▸ Masterpiece PortraitsView Options:  |  |  |   

Superb and Masterpiece Portraits

We define a superb portrait as one that appears that it could come to life. Most coin portraits actually lack this trait. A masterpiece portrait not only appears that it could come to life, but also makes an impression of what the subject was like, what they were thinking or how they felt. Of course, an abstract Celticized portrait may also be a masterpiece of a different kind. For the most part, we define a portrait as depicting a real person, not a god, personification or mythical hero, but we will make an exception here when the depiction is especially amazing. In addition to portraits of the finest style, on this page we include rarer bust types and portraits that we just find attractive or interesting.


Didius Julianus, 28 March - 2 June 193 A.D.

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Didius Julianus was born in 133 A.D. and followed a military career. He rose to the rank of legion commander, then Consul and Proconsul of Africa. After Pertinax was murdered, the Praetorian Guard (the emperor's personal bodyguard force) advertised that they were offering the throne to the highest bidder. If not the richest, Didius Julianus was one the richest men in Rome and offered 25,000 sestertii for each man! The Roman people were incensed by the auction and several provincial governors rose up against him. As Septimius Severus approached Rome, only 66 days into his reign, Didius Julianus was betrayed and beheaded by the Praetorians. Coins of Didius Julianus are very rare due to his short reign.
SH87943. Orichalcum sestertius, RIC IV 16 (R), Woodward Didius, p. 79 (unlisted dies); BMCRE V 28, Hunter III 10, Banti 6, Cohen III 17, SRCV II 6077, gVF, pleasing portrait, dark brown patina, areas of minor porosity, some light scratches, weight 20.309 g, maximum diameter 27.7 mm, die axis 180o, Rome mint, late May - 2 Jun 193 A.D.; obverse IMP CAES M DID SEVER IVLIAN AVG, laureate head right; reverse RECTOR ORBIS (Master of the World), Didius Julianus standing slightly left, head left, togate, globe in extended right hand, scroll in left hand at side, S - C (senatus consulto) flanking across field below center; ex Noble Numismatics, auction 117, lot 4773; ex Dr V. J. A. Flynn Collection; ex CNG Triton XII (6 Jan 2009), lot 654 (realized $3450 including buyer fees); ex White Mountain Collection; rare; $3250.00 (2762.50) ON RESERVE


Julius Caesar, Imperator and Dictator, October 49 - 15 March 44 B.C.

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"The coin that killed Caesar." The obverse legend declares Caesar is "Dictator for Life." Caesar would be dictator for the remainder of his life, but his life would end only a few weeks or days after this coin was struck. For Caesar to put his image on coins and in effect declare himself king was too much for Brutus and his republican allies. On the Ides of March (15 March) 44 B.C. Caesar was stabbed to death by as many as 60 conspirators, led by Brutus and Cassius. According to Plutarch, a seer had warned that harm would come to Caesar no later than the Ides of March. On his way to the Theater of Pompey, where he would be assassinated, Caesar passed the seer and joked, "The ides of March have come," meaning to say that the prophecy had not been fulfilled, to which the seer replied, "Aye, Caesar, but not gone." This meeting is famously dramatized in William Shakespeare's play "Julius Caesar" when Caesar is warned by the soothsayer to "beware the Ides of March."
SH87935. Silver denarius, Crawford 480/8, Sydenham 1061, BMCRR Rome 4154, RSC I 23, Sear CRI 105, SRCV I 1411, VF, well centered, light toning with luster in recesses, highest points not fully struck, minor flan flaws, tiny edge crack, weight 3.041 g, maximum diameter 17.9 mm, die axis 75o, struck by P. L. Aemilus Buca, Rome mint, lifetime issue, Feb - 15 Mar 44 B.C.; obverse CAES DICT PERPETVO, laureate head of Julius Caesar right; reverse Venus standing left, Victory in right hand, long scepter vertical behind in left hand, L BVCA downward on the right; ex Aurea Numismatika, auction 82, lot 381; $2200.00 (1870.00)


Seleukid Kingdom, Seleukos III Keraunos, 226 - 223 B.C.

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Seleucus III Soter proved not to be the "Savior" that his official royal epithet advertised; nor did live up to his nickname Keraunos - "Thunder." He failed to reclaim western Asia Minor from his cousin, Attalus of Pergamum, and was assassinated after only a brief reign of only a few years.
GS86617. Silver drachm, Houghton-Lorber I 933, Newell WSM 1327, Weber 7867, HGC 9 418 (R3), gVF, superb portrait, light toning, light bumps and marks, reverse double struck with a worn damaged die, weight 4.056 g, maximum diameter 18.9 mm, die axis 0o, Northern Syria or Northern Mesopotamia, uncertain mint, 226 - 223 B.C.; obverse diademed head of Seleukos III with long sideburns; reverse Apollo seated left on omphalos, examining arrow in right hand, resting left hand on grounded bow, BAΣIΛEΩΣ (downward on right) ΣEΛEYKOY (downward on left), AP monogram (control) left, monogram (control) right; very rare; $980.00 (833.00)


Vespasian, 1 July 69 - 24 June 79 A.D.

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In 77 or 78 A.D., Gnaeus Julius Agricola was made governor of Roman Britain, a post he occupied until 84. In his first year, Agricola subdued the Ordovices in Wales and pursued the remnants of the tribe to Anglesey, the holy island of the Druids. According to Tacitus, he exterminated the whole tribe. The Ordovices do completely disappear from the historical record, but considering the mountainous terrain, it is unlikelythe entire population was killed . Another tribe, the Silures, was either also militarily defeated or simply agreed to terms. Tacitus wrote of the Silures: non atrocitate, non clementia mutabatur - the tribe "was changed neither by cruelty nor by clemency." A Roman squadron, sent by Agricola, explored the north of Scotland for the first time, discovering the Orkney and Shetland Islands.Pre-Roman Wales
RS86687. Silver denarius, RIC II-1 983, RSC II 214, BMCRE II 214, BnF III 189, Hunter I 71, SRCV I 2292 var. (head right), Choice EF, well centered and struck, excellent portrait, mint luster, radiating flow lines, clashed reverse die, small edge cracks, weight 3.437 g, maximum diameter 18.5 mm, die axis 180o, Rome mint, Jul 77 - Dec 78 A.D.; obverse CAESAR VESPASIANVS AVG, laureate head left; reverse sow and three piglets at feet (one before, one below and one behind) walking left, all on ground line, IMP XIX in exergue; from the Jyrki Muona Collection; ex Helios, auction 4 (14 Oct 2009), lot 298; ex A. Lynn Collection; $900.00 (765.00)


Seleukid Kingdom, Antiochus I Soter, 281 - 261 B.C.

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Antiochus faced a formidable task holding the empire together. Revolt broke out in Syria almost immediately after his father's death. He earned the title Soter (savior) for victory over hordes of Gauls that attacked Anatolia. Elsewhere, he had little success. He was forced to abandon Macedonia, Thrace, Bithynia, and Cappadocia and to execute his eldest son for rebellion.
GS82667. Silver tetradrachm, Houghton-Lorber I 379.6c, Newell ESM 177, Meydancikkale 2929, HGC 9 128g, Choice gVF, well centered and struck, dark toning, attractive style, marks, edge bumps, weight 17.101 g, maximum diameter 29.6 mm, die axis 0o, Seleucia on the Tigris (south of Baghdad, Iraq) mint, c. 263 - 261 B.C.; obverse diademed head right, eyes to heaven; reverse Apollo seated left on omphalos, nude but for drapery over right thigh, examining arrow in right hand, resting left hand on grounded bow, BAΣIΛEΩΣ downward on left, ANT−IOXOY complex monograms outer left and outer right; $810.00 (688.50)


Tiberius, 19 August 14 - 16 March 37 A.D., Tribute Penny of Matthew 22:20-21

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Jesus, referring to a "penny" asked, "Whose is this image and superscription?" When told it was Caesar, He said, ''Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's" (Matthew 22:20-21). Since Tiberius was Caesar at the time, this denarius type is attributed by scholars as the "penny" referred to in the Bible.
SH87937. Silver denarius, Giard Lyon, group 4, 150; RIC I 30 (C); BMCRE I 48; RSC II 16a; SRCV I 1763, VF, superb portrait, light toning, light marks, weight 3.666 g, maximum diameter 18.2 mm, die axis 90o, Lugdunum (Lyon, France) mint, c. 18 - 35 A.D.; obverse TI CAESAR DIVI AVG F AVGVSTVS, laureate head right; reverse PONTIF MAXIM (high priest), Pax (or Livia as Pax) seated right on chair with decorated legs, a single line below, long scepter vertical behind in her right hand, branch in left hand, feet on footstool; $600.00 (510.00)


Vespasian, 1 July 69 - 24 June 79 A.D.

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The wreath on the reverse is the corona civica, the oak wreath awarded to Roman citizens ex senatus consulto (by special decree of the Senate) for saving the life of another citizen by slaying an enemy in battle. It became a prerogative for Roman emperors to be awarded the Civic Crown, originating with Augustus, who was awarded it in 27 B.C. for saving the lives of citizens by ending the series of civil wars.
SH87931. Silver denarius, RIC II-1 547; BMCRE II 103; BnF III 89; RSC II 516; Hunter I -, SRCV I -, EF, superb high-relief portrait, iridescent toning, well centered and struck, light marks, light corrosion, tiny edge split, weight 3.074 g, maximum diameter 19.7 mm, die axis 0o, Rome mint, 73 A.D.; obverse IMP CAES VESP AVG CEN (counterclockwise from lower right), laureate head right; reverse S P Q R (Latin abbreviation: Senatus Populusque Romanus - The Senate and the Roman People) in oak wreath; $550.00 (467.50) ON RESERVE


Pergamene Kingdom, Attalos I, 241 - 197 B.C.

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Attalus, a capable general, champion of the Greeks, and loyal ally of Rome, made Pergamon a powerful kingdom. He earned the name "Soter" (savior) by defeating the Galatians, who had plundered and exacted tribute for more than a generation. In the Macedonian Wars he allied with Rome against Philip V of Macedon.
GS86503. Silver tetradrachm, BMC Mysia p. 117, 43 (same tiny die break on monogram); SNGvA 1360; SNG BnF -, SNG Cop -, SNG Tb -, SNG Delepierre -, SNG Hunt -, Meydancikkale -, VF/F, superb portrait, light toning, bumps, marks, porosity, small test cut from edge, weight 16.393 g, maximum diameter 29.6 mm, die axis 0o, Mysia, Pergamum (Bergama, Turkey) mint, 215 - 197 B.C.; obverse laureate head of Philetaerus right in taenia; reverse ΦIΛETAIPOY downward on left, Athena enthroned left, crowning dynastic name with wreath in right hand, left arm resting on shield at side ornamented with a gorgoneion, transverse spear on her far side, ME monogram inner right under arm, star over bee outer left, strung bow right; from the David Cannon Collection, ex Beast Coins; very rare variant; $500.00 (425.00)


Hadrian, 11 August 117 - 10 July 138 A.D.

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Hadrian traveled to nearly every province of the Empire and spent more than half his reign outside Italy. Nero had been criticized as self-indulgent for his trip to Greece, but Hadrian proudly advertised his travels with his "Adventus" coinage series. Unlike Nero, the pleasure-seeking tourist, Hadrian inspected and corrected the legions and made grants for the construction of new public buildings, projects, and settlements. Hadrian travels were intended to transform conquered lands into a unified Roman Empire.
RB87800. Orichalcum sestertius, RIC II 938f (S), BMCRE III 1782, Hunter II 636, Cohen II 1218, SRCV II 3627, gVF, superb portrait, attractive green patina, well centered and struck, light marks, light corrosion, light earthen deposits, weight 25.249 g, maximum diameter 32.3 mm, die axis 180o, Rome mint, 131 - 138 A.D.; obverse HADRIANVS AVG COS III P P, laureate and draped bust right, from behind; reverse RESTITVTORI ACHAIAE, Hadrian standing left, togate, holding roll in left hand, with right hand raising Achaea, draped, kneeling right and resting left hand on knee; urn containing palm between them, S C (senatus consulto) in exergue; rare; $500.00 (425.00)


Byzantine Anonymous Follis of Christ, Class A3, Basil II & Constantine VIII, c. 1023 - 11 November 1028 A.D.

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The emperor's name and portrait are not part of the design on the Byzantine types referred to as anonymous folles. Instead of the earthly king, these coins depict Jesus Christ, King of Kings.
SH82755. Bronze anonymous follis, Anonymous follis of Christ, class A3; SBCV 1818; Grierson-NumisWiki ornaments 24a, EF, some mint luster, areas of porosity, obverse legend weak, weight 11.982 g, maximum diameter 28.1 mm, die axis 180o, Constantinople (Istanbul, Turkey) mint, c. 1023 - 11 Nov 1028 A.D.; obverse + EMMANOVHΛ (Latinized Hebrew: Emmanuel - "God with us"), facing bust of Christ, wearing nimbus cruciger with two pellets in each limb of cross, pallium, and colobium, holding gospels with both hands, gospels ornamented with two pellets within a jeweled border, to left IC, to right XC; reverse + IhSuS / XRISTuS / bASILEu / bASILE (Greek: Jesus Christ King of Kings), ornamentation above and below inscription; $450.00 (382.50)




  



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Masterpiece Portraits