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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.

Galba, 3 April 68 - 15 January 69 A.D.

|Galba|, |Galba,| |3| |April| |68| |-| |15| |January| |69| |A.D.|, |dupondius|NEW
A nearly identical type was struck with Pax holding an olive branch in her right hand and a caduceus in her left hand. Another similar type was struck with Pax holding a caduceus and cornucopia, as on this coin, but she leans on a cippus (short column).
RB93753. Orichalcum dupondius, BMCRE I 123 var. (no IMP, notes this legend var. in Hall Coll.), SRCV I 2119 var. (no IMP), RIC I 277 var. (no drapery), Cohen I 155 (same), Choice gVF, superb portrait, attractive image of Pax, well centered, dark patina, scratch, areas of minor corrosion, light deposits, weight 14.113 g, maximum diameter 28.8 mm, die axis 180o, Rome mint, late summer - Nov 68 A.D.; obverse IMP SER GALBA - AVG TR P, laureate and draped bust right; reverse PA-X - AVGVST, Pax standing left, olive branch (caduceus-like shape) pointed diagonally downward in right hand, cornucopia overflowing with grain and fruit in left hand, S - C (senatus consulto) flanking across field below center; from the Errett Bishop Collection, zero sales of this type recorded on Coin Archives in the last two decades; extremely rare; $1500.00 SALE |PRICE| $1350.00


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

|Nerva|, |Nerva,| |18| |September| |96| |-| |25| |January| |98| |A.D.|, |sestertius|
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; $1410.00 SALE |PRICE| $1140.00


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

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


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

|Trajan| |Decius|, |Trajan| |Decius,| |July| |249| |-| |First| |Half| |of| |June| |251| |A.D.|, |double| |sestertius|
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 (3762223-007), 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!; NGC| Lookup; rare; $1130.00 SALE |PRICE| $910.00


Septimius Severus, 9 April 193 - 4 February 211 A.D.

|Septimius| |Severus|, |Septimius| |Severus,| |9| |April| |193| |-| |4| |February| |211| |A.D.|, |as|
The title of Dii Auspices (the gods-protectors) was given to the deities in general, and to each of them in particular, acknowledging their special protection, and sacrifices were offered to them accordingly. This legend and type help confirm what Dion states, that Severus built a grand temple to honor Hercules and Bacchus. When Septimius Severus advanced into the East against Pescennius Niger, he chose Hercules and Bacchus as his patrons, probably because ancient traditions designated the two as the first conquerors of that region.
RB95802. Copper as, RIC IV 666, BMCRE V 501, Cohen IV 117, Hunter III -, VF, nice coin, attractive brown-green patina, excellent portrait and reverse style, tight flan, areas of porosity, weight 11.884 g, maximum diameter 24.0 mm, die axis 180o, Rome mint, 194 A.D.; obverse L SEPT SEV PERT AVG IMP II, laureate head right; reverse DIS AVSPICIB TR P II COS II P P, Hercules and Bacchus (Liber) standing slightly left, side by side, nude, heads left, Hercules with the Nemean Lion's skin on his left arm and resting his right hand on his grounded club, Bacchus holds a cantharus in his right hand and rests his left on a thyrsus, a panther sits left at his feet, S C in exergue; ex Leu Numismatik web auction 8 (29-30 Jun 2019), lot 1180; ex Kress sale 116 (28 Oct 1960), lot 959; rare; $700.00 SALE |PRICE| $630.00


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

|Anonymous| |Folles|, |Byzantine| |Anonymous| |Follis| |of| |Christ,| |Class| |A3,| |Basil| |II| |&| |Constantine| |VIII,| |c.| |1023| |-| |11| |November| |1028| |A.D.|, |anonymous| |follis|
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; $360.00 SALE |PRICE| $324.00


Herennius Etruscus, Early 251 - First Half of June 251 A.D.

|Herennius| |Etruscus|, |Herennius| |Etruscus,| |Early| |251| |-| |First| |Half| |of| |June| |251| |A.D.|, |sestertius|
The reverse legend dedicates this coin to the Prince of Youth, Herennius Etruscus. When Augustus ruled Rome, he was not called emperor or king, he was the Princeps, the "first of men." In the empire, the designated successors to the emperor were named caesar and also given the title Princeps Juventutis, the "first of youths." This is the origin of the English word prince, meaning the son of a monarch.
RB95775. Orichalcum sestertius, RIC IV Decius 171a (R), Cohen V 28, Banti 6, Hunter III 22, SRCV III 9534, aVF/F, excellent portrait, attractive mottled patina, porosity, rough areas, squared flan, reverse legend mostly obscure or off flan, weight 18.297 g, maximum diameter 27.9 mm, die axis 0o, Rome mint, as caesar, 250 - early 251 A.D.; obverse Q HER ETR MES DECIVS NOB C, bare-headed, draped bust right, from behind; reverse PRINCIPI IVVENTVTIS (to the Prince of Youth), Herennius standing left in military dress, rod downward in right, transverse spear in left, S - C (senatus consulto) flanking low across field; rare; $250.00 SALE |PRICE| $225.00


Galerius, 1 March 305 - 5 May 311 A.D.

|Galerius|, |Galerius,| |1| |March| |305| |-| |5| |May| |311| |A.D.|, |follis|
In Roman religion, every man has a genius, a presiding spirit. In De Die Natali, Censorinus says, from the moment we are born, we live under the guard and tutelage of Genius. Cities, organizations, and peoples also had a genius. On coins, we find inscriptions to the Genius of the Army, of the Senate, of the Roman People, etc. The legend GENIO IMPERATORIS dedicates this coin to the Genius of the Imperators. Genius' image is of a man with a cloak half covering the shoulders leaving the rest of his body naked, holding a cornucopia in one hand, and a simpulum or a patera in the other.
RB93241. Billon follis, Hunter V 77 (same officina), RIC VI Alexandria 107a, SRCV IV 14524, Cohen VII 47,, Choice EF, attractive style, well centered, dark brown tone, weight 7.591 g, maximum diameter 25.9 mm, die axis 180o, 2nd officina, Alexandria mint, c. 308 - 311 A.D.; obverse IMP C GAL VAL MAXIMIANVS P F AVG, laureate head right; reverse GENIO IMPERATORIS (to the guardian spirit of the Emperor as Commander in Chief), Genius standing left holding patera in right hand, cornucopia in left hand, crescent right, K - B / P at sides, ALE in exergue; $190.00 SALE |PRICE| $171.00


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

|Philip| |I|, |Philip| |I| |the| |Arab,| |February| |244| |-| |End| |of| |September| |249| |A.D.|, |antoninianus|
RIC and RSC list this type with the reverse legend ending AVGG and note that Cohen describes it as ending AVG in error. Cohen does list this reverse from Antioch, but with a bust left. While the AVG ending is rare, we do know of other examples.
RS92350. Silver antoninianus, SRCV III 8917, Tulln Hoard 894, vri 7A, Bland 16 (29 spec.), Cohen V 9, RIC IV 82 var. (bust l.); RSC IV 8 var. (same), Hunter III -, EF, excellent portrait, some mint luster, well centered, uneven strike resulting in parts of legends weak, flow lines, tiny edge cracks, weight 4.569 g, maximum diameter 23.5 mm, die axis 180o, Antioch (Antakya, Turkey) mint, mid - end 247 A.D.; obverse IMP M IVL PHILIPPVS AVG, radiate, draped, and cuirassed bust right, from behind; reverse AEQVITAS AVG (equity of the emperor), Aequitas standing half left, scales in right hand, cornucopia in left hand; rare; $160.00 SALE |PRICE| $144.00


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

|Philip| |I|, |Philip| |I| |the| |Arab,| |February| |244| |-| |End| |of| |September| |249| |A.D.|, |sestertius|
In 246, Philip the Arab fought the Germans along the Danube.
RB93304. Orichalcum sestertius, RIC IV 191a, Cohen V 228, Hunter III 79, SRCV III 9020, Choice VF, superb portrait, well centered, nice green patina, highlighting red earthen deposits, light marks, weight 20.340 g, maximum diameter 29.7 mm, die axis 0o, Rome mint, c. 244 - 245 A.D.; obverse IMP M IVL PHILIPPVS AVG, laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust right, seen from behind; reverse VICTORIA AVG (the victory of the Emperor), Victory advancing right, raising wreath in extended right hand, palm frond over left shoulder in left hand, S - C (senatus consulto) flanking across fields; from the Errett Bishop Collection; $160.00 SALE |PRICE| $144.00




  



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