Coin collectors know that coins are often masterpieces of art in
their own right, and an ancient coin in an Oct. 24 auction is one of
the most revered for its design.
Morton and Eden, the London coin and medal auctioneers, is
offering a rare circa 460 B.C. Sicilian silver tetradrachm of Naxos,
which features a design considered by some experts (including the
auction house) to be “a Greek masterpiece of early classical art.”
The coin is one of the greatest and best-known issues of the fifth
century. It was produced as a special issue to commemorate the
resettlement or founding of the city of Naxos. (In 461, the city’s
original inhabitants returned to the city after their exile in Leontinoi.)
The die-engraver is believed to be the master of the Brussels
Aitna tetradrachm, so named for a unique piece found in Brussels that
is almost certainly by the same hand.
Dionysus (Dionysos), the Greek god of wine, appears on the obverse
and a nude, drunken Silenos (Dionysus’ companion) appears on the
reverse, a wine cup poised at his lips.
More than 100 examples of the Naxos coin are known, all from the
same die pair (albeit in differing states, as some pieces show faults
that intensified as the dies saw more use).
The example offered from Morton and Eden comes from a single,
anonymous owner, whose collection of 168 coins covering mainly the
archaic and classical periods (sixth to fourth centuries B.C.) was
formed over the last 50 years.
The silver tetradrachm of Naxos has an unbroken provenance going
back to an auction in Munich in 1907, according to the firm.
It has an estimate of £100,000 to £150,000 (about $160,143 to
$240,215 in U.S. funds).
Numerous other rarities abound in the collection, including a
circa 465 B.C. Sicilian tetradrachm of Syracuse, by the Demareteion
Master; a circa 400 B.C. Sicilian silver decadrachm of Syracuse by
Kimon with an unusually fine head of the local water nymph Arethusa; a
circa 300 B.C. Cretan silver stater of Gortyna, depicting the Rape of
Europa, an example which is considered the finer of only two examples
known; and a circa 400 B.C. silver tetradrachm of Rhodes with a facing
head of Helios the sun god in high relief, which according to the firm
is considered to be one of the finest coins of Rhodes in existence.
Another highlight is the circa 480 B.C. silver triple siglos from
the island of Kos, showing a diskobolos in the act of hurling the
discus. The coin was issued in association with the Triopian Games,
which were held by the Dorian pentapolis of Kos, Knidos and the three
principle cities of Rhodes in the early fifth century B.C.
All of the lots can be viewed in a PDF version of the catalog
posted for free viewing online at the firm’s website, www.mortonandeden.com, or
catalogs may be ordered for £15.
The auction is being conducted in association with Sotheby’s, in
the Upper Grosvenor Gallery, Aeolian Hall, Bloomfield Place, New Bond Street.
For information about the auction, email Morton & Eden at firstname.lastname@example.org, visit
its website or telephone the firm at (011) 44 20 7493 5344. ■