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Home ▸ Catalog ▸ |Themes & Provenance| ▸ |Quality| ▸ |Masterpiece Portraits||View 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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193 A.D. - The Year of Five Emperors. On 1 January, the Senate selected Pertinax, against his will, to succeed the late Commodus as Emperor. The Praetorian Guard assassinated him on 28 March and auctioned the throne to the highest bidder, Didius Julianus, who offered 300 million sesterces. Outraged by the Praetorians, legions in Illyricum select Septimius Severus as emperor; in Britannia the legions select their governor Clodius Albinus, and in Syria the legions select their governor Pescennius Niger. On 1 June Septimius Severus entered the capital, put Julianus put to death and replaced the Praetorian Guard with his own troops. Clodius Albinus allied with Severus and accepted the title of Caesar. Pescennius Niger was defeated, killed and his head displayed in Rome
SH89752. Orichalcum sestertius, RIC IV 14a; Woodward, Didius, p. 79 (dies 11/E); Banti 1, Nice F, excellent portrait, attractive dark brown patina, typical tight flan, weight 18.230 g, maximum diameter 27.6 mm, die axis 0o, Rome mint, 28 Mar - 2 Jun 193 A.D.; obverse IMP CAES M DID SEVER IVLIAN AVG, laureate head right; reverse CONCORD MILIT (harmony with the soldiers), Concordia Militum standing half left, head left, legionary aquila (eagle) standard in right hand, signum standard in left hand, S - C (senatus consulto) flanking across field below center; ex CNG e-auction 276 (21 Mar 2012), lot 420 (sold for $2520 including buyer's fees); rare; $2200.00 (1936.00)


Balbinus, 22 Apr - 29 Jul 238 A.D.

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Balbinus was elected along with Pupienus to end the reign of the brutal Maximinus. A military stalemate ensued, until Maximinus was murdered by his own troops. The population and the Praetorian guard held little respect for the two ex-senators, however, and they were murdered after a reign of only 99 days.
SH92723. Silver antoninianus, RIC IV 11; BMCRE VI 71; RSC III 6, Hunter III 5, SRCV III 8485, Choice EF, superb portrait, superb strike with full boarders centering on a broad flan, dark old cabinet toning, flow lines, edge slightly ragged as expected for the type, weight 4.423 g, maximum diameter 23.8 mm, die axis 180o, Rome mint, 22 Apr - 29 Jul 238 A.D.; obverse IMP CAES D CAEL BALBINVS AVG, radiate, draped, and cuirassed bust right; reverse FIDES MVTVA AVGG, clasped hands; ex Roma Numismatics e-sale 59 (11 Jul 2019), lot 907; ex CNG, Classical Numismatic Review XLIII.2 (Aug 2018), no. 482057; Aureo & Calico auction 241 (8 Feb 2012), lot 355; ex Imagines Imperatorum Collection; $1600.00 (1408.00)


Balbinus, 22 April - 29 July 238 A.D.

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Providentia is the personification of the ability to foresee and make provision. She was among the embodiments of virtues that were part of the Imperial cult of ancient Rome. Providentia apparently did not favor Balbinus. If he had a little foresight, he would have modified the chain of events that led to his murder after a reign of only 99 days.
SH92614. Orichalcum sestertius, RIC IV 19, BMCRE VI 34, Cohen V 24 (12 fr.), Hunter III 19, SRCV III 8499, Choice gVF, well centered, excellent portrait, squared flan as typical for the period, some light corrosion, tiny edge crack, weight 21.840 g, maximum diameter 31.4 mm, die axis 0o, Rome mint, 22 Apr - 29 Jul 238 A.D.; obverse IMP CAES D CAEL BALBINVS AVG, laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust right, from the front; reverse PROVIDENTIA DEORVM (to the foresight of the gods), Providentia standing half left, head left, wand downward over globe at feet in right hand, cornucopia in left hand, S - C (senatus consulto) flanking low across field; from the Errett Bishop Collection, ex H. Donald Collection; scarce; $1200.00 (1056.00)


Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt, Ptolemy IV Philopator, 221 - 204 B.C.

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Ptolemy IV's surname, Philopator, means father lover, ironic since according to some authorities he poisoned his father. Ptolemy IV is a major protagonist of the apocryphal 3 Maccabees, which describes events following the Battle of Raphia, in both Jerusalem and Alexandria. He was a cruel and evil monarch.
SH93419. Bronze drachm, Lorber CPE B495; Svoronos 1125; Noeske 140 ff.; SNG Cop 199; Weiser 49; BMC Ptolemies p. 57, 106 ff.; Hosking -, Choice EF, beautiful depiction of Zeus, perfect centering, slight weakness in hair, light deposits, central depressions, beveled obverse edge, weight 68.235 g, maximum diameter 41.7 mm, die axis 0o, Alexandria mint, c. 219 - 204 B.C.; obverse horned head of Zeus Ammon right, wearing taenia; reverse ΠTOΛEMAIOY BAΣIΛEΩΣ (King Ptolemy), eagle standing left on thunderbolt, wings closed, filleted cornucopia left, ∆I between eagle's legs; from the Errett Bishop Collection, a superb and massive 68g Ptolemaic bronze!; $1100.00 (968.00)


Nero, 13 October 54 - 9 June 68 A.D.

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From the Maxwell Hunt Collection.

The abbreviated reverse legend translates, "the Roman people are at peace everywhere, the Temple of Janus doors are closed." On the rare occasions when Rome was not at war the doors of the 'Twin Janus' were ceremonially closed, an event Nero commemorated extensively on the coinage of 65 - 67 A.D. -- Roman Coins and Their Values, Vol. 1 by David R. Sear
SH91554. Copper as, RIC I 349, Mac Dowall WCN 295, BMCRE I 230, Hunter I 104, BnF II -, Cohen I -, SRCV I -, VF, excellent portrait, well centered on a tight flan, weight 11.977 g, maximum diameter 28.3 mm, die axis 180o, Rome mint, c. 66 A.D.; obverse IMP NERO CAESAR AVG GERM, laureate head right; reverse PACE P R VBIQ PARTA IANVM CLVSIT, view of the Temple of Janus from the front left corner, temple front on the right with garland over closed doors within arch, the left side of the temple to the left with long latticed window, S - C (senatus consulto) flanking across field; from the Maxwell Hunt Collection; $800.00 (704.00)


Balbinus, 22 Apr - 29 Jul 238 A.D.

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Balbinus was elected along with Pupienus to end the reign of the brutal Maximinus. A military stalemate ensued, until Maximinus was murdered by his own troops. The population and the Praetorian guard held little respect for the two ex-senators, however, and they were murdered after a reign of only 99 days.
RS92615. Silver antoninianus, RIC IV 11; BMCRE VI 71; RSC III 6, Hunter III 5, SRCV III 8485, Choice VF, full boarder centering on a broad flan, excellent portrait, toned, flow lines, porous, edge a little ragged, weight 3.341 g, maximum diameter 24.4 mm, die axis 0o, Rome mint, 22 Apr - 29 Jul 238 A.D.; obverse IMP CAES D CAEL BALBINVS AVG, radiate, draped, and cuirassed bust right; reverse FIDES MVTVA AVGG, clasped hands; from the Errett Bishop Collection; $800.00 (704.00)


Tiberius, 19 August 14 - 16 March 37 A.D.

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In 36 A.D., Herod Antipas suffered major losses in a war with Aretas IV of Nabataea, provoked partly by Antipas' divorce of Aretas' daughter. According to Josephus, Herod's defeat was popularly believed to be divine punishment for his execution of John the Baptist. Tiberius ordered Vitellius, the governor of Syria, to capture or kill Aretas, but Vitellius was reluctant to support Herod and abandoned his campaign upon Tiberius' death in 37.
RS91786. Silver denarius, Giard Lyon, group 5, 152; RIC I 30 (C); BMCRE I 60; RSC II 16a; SRCV I 1763, Choice gVF, superb portrait, excellent centering, flow lines, nice round flan, bumps and marks, some die wear, some porosity, weight 3.667 g, maximum diameter 19.1 mm, die axis 90o, Lugdunum (Lyon, France) mint, c. 36 - 37 A.D.; obverse TI CAESAR DIVI AVG F AVGVSTVS, laureate head right, laurel wreath ties fall in small undulations (waves); 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; $720.00 (633.60)


Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt, Ptolemy III Euergetes, 246 - 222 B.C.

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Ptolemy III Euergetes was the third ruler of the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt. He promoted the translation of Jewish scriptures into Greek as the Septuagint. Due to a falling out at the Seleucid court, his eldest sister Berenice Phernophorus was murdered along with her infant son. In response, he invaded Syria, occupied Antioch, and even reached Babylon. This war, the Third Syrian War, is cryptically alluded to in Daniel XI 7-9. The Ptolemaic kingdom reached the height of its power during his reign.
GP93402. Bronze hemidrachm, Lorber CPE B936; Svoronos 965; SNG Cop 173; Weiser 72; BMC Ptolemies p. 55, 89; SNG Milan 166; SNG Blackburn 1165; Noeske 120; Hosking 31; Weber 8259, Choice EF, attractive style, well centered, mottled burgundy, red, brown and olive patina, ares of light corrosion, central depressions,, weight 30.905 g, maximum diameter 35.7 mm, die axis 0o, Alexandria mint, 246 - 222 B.C.; obverse horned head of Zeus Ammon right, wearing taenia; reverse ΠTOΛEMAIOY BAΣIΛEΩΣ (King Ptolemy), eagle standing left on thunderbolt, head left, wings closed, filleted cornucopia left, chi-rho monogram between eagle's legs; from the Errett Bishop Collection; $700.00 (616.00)


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

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Of this type, the Dictionary of Roman Coins says, "This is a finely designed coin in first brass [a sestertius]. The equestrian group is in a spirited style of workmanship, both horse and man. The Augustus raises aloft his right hand, and with his left holds the bridle of his generous steed, as setting out on him on some journey, about that vague period, his third consulate."
SH89464. Orichalcum sestertius, RIC II 645 (S), BMCRE III 1313, Hunter II 436, Cohen II 590 var. (bust), SRCV II 3594, Choice VF, mottled turquoise and brown patina, well centered, nice portrait, legends a little weak, edge crack, weight 24.967 g, maximum diameter 33.6 mm, die axis 180o, Rome mint, 124 - 128 A.D.; obverse HADRIANVS AVGVSTVS, laureate head right, slight drapery on left shoulder; reverse COS III, emperor on horseback prancing left, bare-headed, wearing military garb, cloak flying behind, raising right hand in salute, reins in left hand, S - C divided low across field, EXPED AVG in exergue; Numismatik Naumann auction 72 (2 Dec 2018), lot 458; scarce; $580.00 (510.40)


Diadumenian, Mid May - 8 June 218 A.D.

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In 217, the Colosseum was badly damaged by a fire started by lightning, which destroyed the wooden upper levels of the amphitheater.
SH91315. Silver denarius, RIC IV 102.2a (S), BMCRE V 88, RSC III 3, SRCV II 7449, Hunter III 2 var. (also cuirassed), FDC, full boarders centering, bold strike, toned, flow lines, small closed edge crack, weight 3.149 g, maximum diameter 19.3 mm, die axis 180o, Rome mint, as caesar, 11 Apr 217 - mid May 218 A.D.; obverse M OPEL ANT DIADVMENIAN CAES, bare-headed and draped right, from front; reverse PRINC IVVENTVTIS (Prince of Youth), Diadumenian standing facing, bare head right, wearing military garb, standard in right hand, short scepter in left hand, two grounded standards to right; scarce; $570.00 (501.60)




  



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Masterpiece Portraits