World Coins

Sale offers ancient coins featuring animals

A gold stater of Gaul realized 33,880 Swiss francs ($36,890 U.S.), including the 21% buyer’s fee, against an estimate of 35,000 Swiss francs, in a June 22 auction in Zurich.

Images courtesy of Nomos Ag.

Animals are a perennially popular theme on ancient coins, as Coin World’s July monthly issue illustrated. Two recent stellar lots in Nomos Ag’s June 22 auction in Zurich, the firm’s 22nd sale, offer two distinct choices.

A Celtic gold stater from the Parisii tribe in northeast Gaul was issued in the second century B.C. It weighs 7.21 grams (slightly below one-quarter ounce) and measures 20.5 millimeters in diameter, slightly smaller (but heavier) than a Jefferson 5-cent coin.

The gold staters of the Parisii are probably the most elegantly Celtic of all the Celtic coinages of Europe, the firm said. 

The obverse depicts a Celticized head of Apollo with wavy hair. The curving ornaments surrounding his head are vaguely reminiscent of the dolphins that swim before the head of Arethusa on the coins of Syracuse.

The reverse shows a Celtic horse, quite like contemporary bronze figurines, with a large head, large eye and prominent mane. Above is a large sail decorated with a checkerboard pattern, each square filled with a pellet.

Both sides are ultimately derived from the gold staters of Philip II of Macedon, but the Celtic artists responsible for these coins created a completely new type of their own.

“An impressive example, well-centered and quite bold,” and graded “Good Very Fine,” according to the auction house, the coin realized 33,880 Swiss francs ($36,890 U.S.), including the 21% buyer’s fee, against an estimate of 35,000 Swiss francs.

In contrast, a 420 to 413 B.C. silver tetradrachm of Messana in Sicily in the auction realized 26,620 Swiss francs ($28,921 U.S.), including the buyer’s fee, against an estimate of 8,500 Swiss francs.

The standard types of the coinage of the nymph Messana show a biga of mules, in honor of the Olympic victory won by the tyrant Anaxilas in the mule car races (a short-lived event in the Olympics) and a hare, an animal Anaxilas supposedly introduced to Sicily.

A rabbit appears on the reverse, along with a particularly realistic fly, “once again testifying to how carefully Greek artists observed the natural world around them,” the firm said.

The coin weighs 16.99 grams and measures 28 millimeters in diameter.

Aside from die rust and a minor die break on the reverse, the silver coin was graded Extremely Fine.

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