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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)


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; $900.00 (792.00)


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; $810.00 (712.80)


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)


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; $720.00 (633.60)


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)


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)


St. Helena, Augusta, 8 November 324 - c. 330 A.D., Mother of Constantine the Great

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Helena is a saint in the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches and famed for her piety. Her feast day as a saint of the Orthodox Christian Church is celebrated with her son on May 21, the "Feast of the Holy Great Sovereigns Constantine and Helen, Equal to the Apostles." Her feast day in the Roman Catholic Church falls on August 18. Her feast day in the Coptic Orthodox Church is on 9 Pashons. Eusebius records the details of her pilgrimage to Palestine and other eastern provinces (though not her discovery of the True Cross). She is the patron saint of new discoveries.
SH92346. Billon centenionalis, RIC VII Alexandria 48 (R4), LRBC I 1417, SRCV IV 16631, Cohen VII 12, Hunter V -, Choice EF, perfect centering on a round flan, excellent portrait, sharp reverse, some golden toned silvering, flow lines, small closed flan crack, weight 3.369 g, maximum diameter 18.2 mm, die axis 0o, 2nd officina, Alexandria mint, 327 - 328 A.D.; obverse FL HELENA AVGVSTA, diademed and mantled bust right wearing double necklace; reverse SECVRITAS REIPVBLICE (security of the Republic), Securitas standing half left, branch pointed downward in right hand, raising pallium with left hand, wreath left, B right, SMAL in exergue; rare; $350.00 (308.00)




  



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Masterpiece Portraits