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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.


Caligula, 16 March 37 - 24 January 41 A.D.

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This type was the first portrait sestertius struck at the mint of Rome. 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.
SH94041. Orichalcum sestertius, RIC I 37, BMCRE I 38, Cohen I 24, BnF II 50, Hunter I 15, SRCV I -, Choice VF, well centered, attractive style, dark reddish brown patina, highest point of bust a little weakly struck, weight 28.089 g, maximum diameter 35.4 mm, die axis 180o, Rome mint, 37 - 38 A.D.; obverse C CAESAR AVG GERMANICVS PON M TR POT, laureate head left; reverse S P Q R / P P / OB CIVES / SERVATOS (from the Senate and people of Rome to the father of the country for saving the citizens) in four lines within Corona Civica oak wreath; ex Nomos Obolos auction 9 (25 March 2018), 160; ex Stoecklin Collection (Amriswil, Switzerland, acquired prior to 1975, see The Story of the Stoecklin Collection); $3650.00 SALE |PRICE| $3285.00


Caligula, 16 March 37 - 24 January 41 A.D.

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This type was the first portrait sestertius struck at the mint of Rome. 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.
SH94039. Orichalcum sestertius, RIC I 37, BMCRE I 38, Cohen I 24, BnF II 50, Hunter I 15, SRCV I -, VF, good style portrait, well centered on a tight flan, corrosion, weight 25.093 g, maximum diameter 34.5 mm, die axis 180o, Rome mint, 37 - 38 A.D.; obverse C CAESAR AVG GERMANICVS PON M TR POT, laureate head left; reverse S P Q R / P P / OB CIVES / SERVATOS (from the Senate and people of Rome to the father of the country for saving the citizens) in four lines within Corona Civica oak wreath; ex Savoca auction 34 (16 Jun 2019), 365; $2000.00 SALE |PRICE| $1800.00


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; $1980.00 SALE |PRICE| $1782.00


Nerva, 18 September 96 - 25 January 98 A.D.

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Nerva maintained that he had liberated Rome from the tyranny of Domitian and restored a constitutionally-based regime. The pileus liberatis was a soft felt cap worn by liberated slaves of Troy and Asia Minor. In late Republican Rome, the pileus was symbolically given to slaves upon manumission, granting them not only their personal liberty, but also freedom as citizens with the right to vote (if male). Following the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 B.C., Brutus and his co-conspirators used the pileus to signify the end of Caesar's dictatorship and a return to a Republican system of government. The pileus was adopted as a popular symbol of freedom during the French Revolution and was also depicted on some early U.S. and many Mexican coins.
SH94036. Orichalcum sestertius, RIC II 86, BMCRE III 112, BnF III 100, Cohen II 114, SRCV II 3050, Hunter I -, Choice gVF, well centered, nice portrait, mottled patina, scattered tiny pits, weight 19.627 g, maximum diameter 34.8 mm, die axis 180o, Rome mint, Jan - Sep 97 A.D.; obverse IMP NERVA CAES AVG P M TR P COS III P P, laureate head right; reverse LIBERTAS PVBLICA (freedom of the people), Libertas standing left, pileus liberatis (freedom cap) in right hand, staff in left hand, S - C (senatus consulto) flanking across field; $1750.00 SALE |PRICE| $1575.00


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 SALE |PRICE| $1440.00


Trajan Decius, July 249 - First Half of June 251 A.D.

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The rare double sestertius denomination, distinguished by its radiate crown, was introduced with this issue. The denomination was also issued by Gallienus and especially by Postumus.

Trajan Decius, a general under Philip I, was sent to crush the revolt of Pacatian but was forced by his troops to declare himself emperor. He defeated Philip in a great battle at Verona. Decius spent the rest of his short reign combating barbarians. In June 251, Trajan Decius and his son Herennius Etruscus became the first Roman emperors to die in battle against a foreign enemy.
SH94035. Orichalcum double sestertius, RIC IV 115(a) (R), Hunter III 42, Cohen V 39, SRCV III 9395, NGC XF, strike 5/5, surface 2/5, removed from NGC holder, flaws on obverse, edge crack, weight 34.843 g, maximum diameter 35.0 mm, die axis 0o, Rome mint, 249 - 251 A.D.; obverse IMP C M Q TRAIANVS DECIVS AVG, radiate and cuirassed bust right, slight drapery on far shoulder (as normal for similar busts, not described in references except in Hunter); reverse FELICITAS SAECVLI (era of good fortune), Felicitas standing slightly left, head left, grounded long caduceus in right hand, cornucopia in left hand, S - C (senatus consulto) flanking at center; ex Pegasi sale 154 (21 Aug 2018), lot 425 ($2950 on tag, $2500 estimate, unsold), big 35 mm DOUBLE Sestertius!; rare; $1400.00 SALE |PRICE| $1260.00


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 SALE |PRICE| $1080.00


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 SALE |PRICE| $990.00


Macedonian Kingdom, Demetrius I Poliorketes, 306 - 283 B.C.

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The bull's horns suggest Demetrius' relationship to Poseidon is the same as Alexander's to Zeus Ammon. The portrait is individualized, but evokes the image of Alexander. Demetrios was the first to assimilate elements of Alexander's deified portrait and the first living ruler to portray himself as a god on coins.
SH94258. Silver tetradrachm, SNG Saroglos 901 (same dies), Newell 110, Boston MFA 706, HGC 3.1 1013b (S), VF, excellent portrait, toned, well centered, some porosity, weight 16.718 g, maximum diameter 31.8 mm, die axis 225o, Amphipolis mint, 291 - 290 B.C.; obverse Demetrios diademed head right with horns of a bull, the animal sacred to Demetrios' patron deity, Poseidon; reverse Poseidon Pelagaios seated left on rock, aphlaston in extended right hand, trident vertical behind in left hand, monogram to inner left and right, BAΣIΛEΩΣ downward on right, ∆HMHTPIOY, downward on left; ex Numismatik Naumann auction 83 (1 Sep 2019), lot 99; scarce; $1100.00 SALE |PRICE| $990.00


Kingdom of Thrace, Lysimachos, 305 - 281 B.C., Portrait of Alexander the Great

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Thompson notes that Pyrrhus held Pella until 286 B.C. It was one of the last, if not the last, mint opened by Lysimachos. Twenty-six obverse dies are known for the tetradrachms.
SH93849. Silver tetradrachm, Thompson 248, HGC 3.2 1750p (S), MŁller 353 var. (monogram in ex.), VF, superb high relief portrait, light toning with some darker spots, bumps and marks, weight 16.645 g, maximum diameter 29.5 mm, die axis 180o, Pella mint, 286 - 281 B.C.; obverse diademed head of Alexander the Great wearing the horn of Ammon; reverse Athena enthroned left, Nike crowning name in her right hand, resting left arm on grounded round shield behind, transverse spear against right side, HP monogram outer left, monogram inner left, BAΣIΛEΩΣ downward on right, ΛYΣIMAXOY downward on left; ex Divus Numismatik; scarce; $750.00 SALE |PRICE| $675.00




  



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Masterpiece Portraits