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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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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)


Constantine II, 22 May 337 - March or April 340 A.D.

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All the references list this type with the reverse legend ending CAES, but our coin's reverse legend ends CAESAR. RIC lists only officina Z and Θ. Most of the officina number is off flan, but our coin does not appear to be either. There is possibly a pellet at the beginning of the mintmark, a possibility is not in the references. We are uncertain if the this is a variation of the referenced types or if the references are in error. We could not locate even one plate or online photo of another specimen of this type to compare. There are three auctions of this type on recorded on Coin Archives, but all of them are for this exact same coin.
SH89742. Silver siliqua, RIC VII Constantinople 127 var. (CAES), RSC V 72 var. (same), SRCV V 17087 var. (same), Hunter V -, gVF, attractive youthful portrait with eyes to God, toned, light marks, weight 2.622 g, maximum diameter 18.4 mm, die axis 0o, 9th Officina(?), Constantinople (Istanbul, Turkey) mint, as caesar, 336 A.D.; obverse Constantine diademed right, looking up to God, no inscription; reverse CONSTANTINVS CAESAR, Victory walking left, wreath in right hand, palm frond in left hand, CONS[...] in exergue; ex Heritage auction 271848 (2 Dec 2018), lot 36228; ex CNG sale 84 (5 May 2010), lot 1531; ex CNG Triton XIII (5 Jan 2010), lot 1523; ex White Mountain Collection; extremely rare; $1000.00 (880.00)


Trajan, 25 January 98 - 8 or 9 August 117 A.D.

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Marcus Ulpius Traianus, a brilliant general and administrator, was adopted and proclaimed emperor by the aging Nerva in 98 A.D. Regarded as one of Rome's greatest emperors, Trajan was responsible for the annexation of Dacia, the invasion of Arabia and an extensive and lavish building program across the empire. Under Trajan, Rome reached its greatest extent. Shortly after the annexation of Mesopotamia and Armenia, Trajan was forced to withdraw from most of the new Arabian provinces. While returning to Rome to direct operations against the new threats, Trajan died at Selinus in Cilicia.
RB88224. Orichalcum sestertius, Woytek 240q (same dies), BnF IV 512 (same dies), BMCRE III 771, Banti 117, Strack 398, RIC II 478 var. (bust), Cohen 367 var. (same), VF, well centered, rough, weight 21.340 g, maximum diameter 34.4 mm, die axis 180o, Rome mint, c. 106 - 107 A.D.; obverse IMP CAES NERVAE TRAIANO AVG GER DAC P M TR P COS V P P, laureate heroic bust left, full chest exposed, drapery on left shoulder; reverse S P Q R OPTIMO PRINCIPI, Ceres standing half left, head left, holding grain over modius in right hand, long scepter vertical in left hand, S C (senatus consulto) divided across field; extremely rare with this bust, struck with a superb obverse die!; $880.00 (774.40)


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; $650.00 (572.00)


Titus, 24 June 79 - 13 September 81 A.D.

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This type is from a very rare early issue of Titus as Augustus, not yet naming him P P (Pater Patriae - Father of the Country). Titus apparently accepted this title quite soon after the beginning of his ninth tribunician year on 1 July 79 and P P was quickly added to the end of the reverse legend.
RS89741. Silver denarius, RIC II 6 (R2, same reverse die), BnF III 1 (same rev. die), RSC II 270a, BMCRE II -, Hunter I -, SRCV I -, Choice VF, excellent portrait, excellent centering, flow lines, weight 3.399 g, maximum diameter 18.6 mm, die axis 180o, Rome mint, c. 24 Jun - mid July 79 A.D.; obverse IMP TITVS CAES VESPASIAN AVG P M, laureate head right; reverse TR P VIIII IMP XIIII COS VII, Ceres seated left, grain stalks and poppy head in extended right hand, flaming torch in left hand; only two sales of this type recorded on Coin Archives in the last two decades; very rare; $450.00 (396.00)


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; Grierson-NumisWiki ornaments 24a; DOC III-2 A2.24a; SBCV 1818; Sommer 40.3.8, 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; $400.00 (352.00)


Domitian, 13 September 81 - 18 September 96 A.D.

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In 89 A.D., Legio XIII Gemina was transferred to Dacia to help in the war against Decebalus.
RS89799. Silver denarius, RIC II-1 669, BMCRE II 153, BnF III 147, RSC II 251, Hunter I 62, SRCV I 2732, gVF, excellent portrait, well centered, light toning, some reverse die wear, small edge crack, weight 3.291 g, maximum diameter 19.2 mm, die axis 180o, Rome mint, 14 Sep 88 - 13 Sep 89 A.D.; obverse IMP CAES DOMIT AVG GERM P M TR P VIII, laureate head right; reverse IMP XIX COS XIIII CENS P P P, Minerva standing left, helmeted and draped, thunderbolt in right hand, spear vertical behind in left hand, grounded shield at feet behind; ex CNG e-auction 304, lot 356; $350.00 (308.00)


Maximinus I Thrax, 20 March 235 - Late May 238 A.D.

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On 18 March 235 Legio XXII Primigenia mutinied and murdered Severus Alexander and his mother Julia Mamaea near Moguntiacum (modern Mainz). On 20 March, Maximinus Thrax, age 62, was proclaimed emperor. He had a Gothic father and an Alan mother. Maximinus a Thracian, was the first foreigner to hold the Roman throne.
RS89749. Silver denarius, RIC IV 1, RSC III 46, BMCRE VI 11, Hunter III 1, SRCV III 8311, Choice EF, masterpiece portrait, attractive toning, well centered and struck, minor edge split, weight 2.419 g, maximum diameter 19.5 mm, die axis 180o, Rome mint, 20 March - Dec 235 A.D.; obverse IMP MAXIMINVS PIVS AVG, laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust right, from behind; reverse P M TR P P P, Maximinus standing half-left, raising right hand in salute, reversed spear/scepter vertical behind in left hand, flanked in each side by a standard; $250.00 (220.00) ON RESERVE


Philip I the Arab, February 244 - End of September 249 A.D.

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This coin is from the issue celebrating the 1000th anniversary of the founding of Rome.
RS89477. Silver antoninianus, RIC IV 15, RSC IV 178, Hunter III 46, SRCV III 8957, Choice VF, nice portrait, well centered, flow lines, reverse struck with a worn die, weight 3.884 g, maximum diameter 22.4 mm, die axis 180o, Rome mint, 248 A.D.; obverse IMP PHILIPPVS AVG, radiate, draped, and cuirassed bust right; reverse SAECVLARES AVGG (Secular games [provided by] the Emperors), she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus, I I in exergue; ex Numismatik Naumann auction 73, part of lot 970; $200.00 (176.00)


Caracalla, 28 January 198 - 8 April 217 A.D.

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The ancients did not all agree on the attributes of Serapis. A passage in Tacitus affirms that many recognized in this god, Aesculapius, imputing healing to his intervention; some thought him identical with Osiris, the oldest deity of the Egyptians; others regarded him as Jupiter, possessing universal power; but by most he was believed to be the same as Pluto, the "gloomy" Dis Pater of the infernal regions. The general impression of the ancients seems to have been that by Serapis, was to be understood the beginning and foundation of things. Julian II consulted the oracle of Apollo for the purpose of learning whether Pluto and Serapis were different gods; and he received for an answer that Jupiter-Serapis and Pluto were one and the same divinity.
SL89804. Silver denarius, RIC IV 194, RSC III 195, BMCRE V 39, Hunter III 6, cf. SRCV II 6829 (TR P XVI COS IIII), NGC AU, strike 5/5, surface 5/5 (4163650-006), weight 3.93 g, maximum diameter 18.2 mm, die axis 180o, Rome mint, 212 A.D.; obverse ANTONINVS PIVS AVG BRIT, laureate bearded head right; reverse P M TR P XV COS III P P, Serapis standing half left, draped, head left, kalathos on head, raising right hand, scepter in left hand; from the Martineit Collection of Ancient and World Coins; $185.00 (162.80)




  



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Masterpiece Portraits