Unique gold aureus of Augustus Caesar realizes $781,675 U.S.

Coin sells Sept. 22 in Dix Noonan Webb auction in London
By , Coin World
Published : 09/27/14
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A unique version of a rare gold coin minted during the reign of Augustus Caesar, the first and greatest of Rome’s emperors, realized £480,000 (about $781,675 U.S.), including the 20 percent buyer’s fee, during Dix Noonan Webb’s Sept. 22 auction of ancient and world coins.

The auction was one of three scheduled by the firm during two days in London, before the Coinex show. The Augustus aureus was bought by a London dealer acting on behalf of a continental European client, according to Will Bennett, representing the auction firm.

The possibly circa 27 to 18 B.C. gold aureus portrays Octavian (who took the name Augustus) transformed into an ageless Apollo-like classical beauty on the obverse. The reverse depicts an image of a heifer based on a masterpiece by a Greek sculptor.

According to Bennett, “The coin is a piece of numismatic genius celebrating the power of the man who founded the Roman Empire and laid the foundations of a regime that lasted for centuries.”

Only 22 examples of the heifer-reverse aureus minted during the reign of Augustus are known to have survived, and 15 of these are in museums, Bennett said, leaving seven examples available for individual ownership.

Five types of the coins are known, which differ based on whether Augustus is depicted with a bare head or a laureate head, and on which way the emperor and the heifer are facing. 

The aureus auctioned by Dix Noonan Webb is unique, with the laureate head of Augustus facing right and the heifer looking to the left.

Its condition is described as “Extremely Fine with lustre.”

The exact date of the coin and where it was minted remain unknown and the subject of much scholarly debate. In 27 B.C. Octavian, as he was then called, the great nephew of Julius Caesar, founded the Principate, the first phase of the Roman Empire. He took the name of Augustus, meaning “stately” or “dignified,” and began to stamp his authority on Rome and its territories.

This portrait of Augustus is of the same style as the celebrated statue of Augustus now in the Vatican, and is arguably the best portrait to be found on any Roman coin, Bennett said.

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