World Coins

Silver sestertius showing Colosseum shatters estimate

A very rare silver sestertius of Roman emperor Titus was issued to celebrate the opening of the Colosseum. The coin realized £372,000 ($464,981 U.S.), including the 20 percent buyer’s fee, nearly five times its estimate, during a Feb. 15 auction.

Images courtesy of Dix Noonan Webb.

One of 10 known examples of a silver sestertius from the short reign of Roman emperor Divus Titus starred in Dix Noonan Webb’s Feb. 15 auction, shattering the pre-auction estimate range.

The circa A.D. 81 to 82 posthumous issue is one of the earliest coins to show the Roman Colosseum, which had been completed in A.D. 80 during Titus’ reign.

A private collector in Europe secured the coin for £372,000 ($464,981 U.S.), including the 20 percent buyer’s fee. The coin’s pre-sale estimate was between £60,000 and £80,000.

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The coin was part of an important collection of Roman bronze coins formed by a connoisseur before and during World War II. The collection’s return to the market for the first time in 75 years attracted “furious bidding,” according to the auction house.

All 194 lots in the auction sold, realizing a total price of £810,726 with buyer’s fees ($1,013,370 U.S.). The total hammer price was 437 percent of the low estimate, setting a record for the auction firm. 

Colosseum coin story

Titus reigned briefly, from 79 to 81. A reported 10 examples of this sestertius exist, with seven of those in museum collections.

The coin features a bird’s-eye view of the most famous landmark of ancient Rome. 

Construction on the Colosseum began in A.D. 71 during the reign of Vespasian, and dedication ceremonies were held in 75 after completion of the giant theater’s first three stories. In 80, the remaining two levels were completed and new dedication ceremonies were conducted in June, the occasion celebrated on this sestertius of Titus.

According to Nathan Elkins, writing in Numismatic Chronicle 166 published by the Royal Numismatic Society in 2006, the Colosseum sestertii, “though technically coins, were distributed by Imperial munificence at the games held in the Colosseum, and had a commemorative function similar to that of Roman medallions.”

This example of the coin was last sold in February 1939.

According to Elkins’ research, there are 42 examples of the coin across four different types. Elkins reported 10 examples of this specific type, which can be distinguished by the presence of the full name of Vespasian on the reverse (and there are other differences among the three other types).

As rare as the silver sestertii depicting the Colosseum are, gold aureii of the design are even more rare. 

Multiple other rarities achieved stellar results in the auction, according to the firm. 

“Quality always tells,” said Christopher Webb, head of the coins department at Dix Noonan Webb, after the sale. “This collector had a good eye, was well advised and bought all the classic coins. Add to that the fact that the collection was fresh to the market as none of it had been seen since 1941 and the prices speak for themselves. It was a sensational result.” 

Full results of the auction are available at the firm’s website

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