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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.


Trajan, 25 January 98 - 8 or 9 August 117 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.
SH87508. Gold aureus, Woytek 224f, RIC II 150, BMCRE III 253, Cohen II 581, BnF IV 368, Hunter II 85, Calic 1121, SRCV II -, aVF, well centered, excellent portrait with high relief, bumps, scratches, weight 6.886 g, maximum diameter 19.5 mm, die axis 180o, Rome mint, 103 - 111 A.D.; obverse IMP TRAIANO AVG GER DAC P M TR P COS V P P, laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust right, from behind; reverse S P Q R OPTIMO PRINCIPI ([Awarded by] the senate and the Roman people, [to the] best of princes) in three lines within oak wreath; scarce; $3700.00 (3145.00)


Parthian Empire, Mithradates II, c. 121 - 91 B.C.

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Mithradates II was the eighth and one of the greatest Parthian kings. He defeated all Seleukid attempts to reclaim territories and made Parthia a formidable, unified empire. He adopted the title Epiphanes, "god manifest" and introduced new designs on his extensive coinage. The ruins of Seleukeia on the Tigris, where this coin was struck, have been identified at Tell Umar, about 30 km south of Baghdad, and 60 north of Babylon. According to Pliny, the city had 600,000 inhabitants and c. 100 A.D. the city still held some Macedonian customs.
SH86429. Silver tetradrachm, Sellwood 24.4, BMC 3, Boston MFA 2216, Sunrise 284, Shore 67 var., EF, fantastic high relief bust, well centered on a tight flan, radiating flow lines, slightest die wear, slightest porosity, weight 15.696 g, maximum diameter 28.2 mm, die axis 0o, Seleukeia on the Tigris mint, c. 119 - 109 B.C.; obverse diademed bust of Mithradates to left, long beard, wearing torc and elaborate robes; reverse BAΣIΛEΩΣ MEΓAΛOY APΣ-AKOY EΠIΦANOYΣ / TY (square clockwise, ending in exergue)), Arsakes I seated right on omphalos, bow in right hand, palm branch right; ex Pars (2008), ex Antiqua Inc. (2000); $2500.00 (2125.00)


Agrippina Senior, died 33 A.D., Wife of Germanicus, Mother of Caligula and Agrippa Jr.

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Wife of Germanicus, mother of Caligula and Agrippina Jr., mother-in-law and sister-in-law of Claudius, and grandmother of Nero. Agrippina Senior was born in 14 B.C., daughter of Julia and Agrippa. She accompanied her husband Germanicus on all his military campaigns. She was banished by Tiberius in 29 A.D. and died of starvation four years later.
SH87192. Orichalcum sestertius, RIC I Claudius 102, BMCRE I Claudius p. 194, 219; BnF II Claudius 236; Cohen I 3; von Kaenel Type 78, SRCV I 1906, Choice VF, excellent portrait, well centered, nice green patina on obverse, reverse with darker patina, corrosion and smoothing, weight 27.525 g, maximum diameter 34.3 mm, die axis 225o, Rome mint, issued by Claudius, 42 A.D.; obverse AGRIPPINA M F GERMANICI CAESARIS, draped bust right, hair waived and tied in queue in back, a corkscrew curl on neck; reverse TI CLAVDIVS CAESAR AVG GERM P M TR P IMP P P, legend around large S C; $1800.00 (1530.00)


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

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A decursio was a military exercise, by which Roman soldiers were taught to make long marches in a given time, under arms and without quitting their ranks. They sometimes consisted of a mock fight between two divisions. Augustus and subsequently Hadrian ordered that the infantry and cavalry were to march out three times a month ten miles from the camp and ten miles back, fully armed and equipped. The decursio this coin probably refers Nero's participation in mock military maneuvers in the circus.
SH87193. Orichalcum sestertius, RIC I 397 (R2); Cohen I 84; Mac Dowall WCN 413; BnF II 82; BMCRE I -, SRCV I -, VF, excellent portrait, smoothing, weight 26.053 g, maximum diameter 35.8 mm, die axis 180o, Lugdunum (Lyon, France) mint, 65 A.D.; obverse NERO CLAVD CAESAR AVG GER P M TR P IMP P P, laureate head left, globe at point of bust; reverse Nero and officer companion on horseback prancing right, Nero holds a couched lance, his companion holds a vexillum, S - C flanking high across field, DECVRSIO in exergue; ex Gorny & Mosch auction 253, lot 499; rare; $1500.00 (1275.00)


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, Hoover Syrian 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; $1080.00 (918.00)


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 unlikely killed the entire population. 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; $1000.00 (850.00)


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; $1000.00 (850.00)


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; $560.00 (476.00)


Marcus Aurelius, 7 March 161 - 17 March 180 A.D.

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In late summer or fall of 161, Vologases IV of Parthia captured the Roman client Kingdom of Armenia, expelled its king and installed his own; Pacorus, an Arsacid like himself. In 162, Lucius Verus began the war to recover Armenia and exact vengeance for Parthia's invasions of Armenia and Syria. The Armenian capital Artaxata was recovered in 163. At the end of 163, Verus took the title Armeniacus, despite having never personally seen combat. Marcus Aurelius initially declined to accept the title, but accepted it in 164.
RS87291. Silver denarius, RIC III 122, BMCRE IV 366, RSC II 9, cf. SRCV II 4881 (TR P XVIII), Choice EF, perfect centering, bold strike, radiating flow lines, excellent portrait, attractive toning, a few light marks, tiny edge cracks, weight 3.453 g, maximum diameter 18.1 mm, die axis 180o, Rome mint, Dec 164 - c. Aug 165 A.D.; obverse ANTONINVS AVG ARMENIACVS, laureate head right; reverse P M TR P XIX IMP II COS III, Armenia in mournful attitude seated left on the ground, wearing a cap and draped, resting chin on right hand, right elbow on raised right knee, vexillum and shield on her right (far) side, left hand resting on quiver on the ground behind, ARMEN in exergue; ex Dr. Busso Peus Nachfolger, e-auction 420, lot 5306; ex Dr. Neussel Collection, nr. 772; $480.00 (408.00)


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