World Coins

CNG to auction Peter J. Merani Collection in January sale

Although the New York International Numismatic Convention, traditionally held in New York City in early January, was canceled, the auctions that were to take place in conjunction with the show have largely remained on the auction calendar.

Classical Numismatic Group will present the Peter J. Merani Collection — titled Nummis Historiam Discens (Latin for “Learning history through coins”) — as the lead offering during its Triton XXIV Jan. 19 and 20 auctions, held at the firm’s Lancaster, Pennsylvania, headquarters.

Merani was born in New York City in 1936, the son of Italian immigrants, and he enjoyed a lengthy career as an attorney. His love of Latin and history bloomed in high school, and he would develop a deep passion for Roman and Vatican history, traveling the world with his wife and children. He focused on gold and silver ancient Roman and papal coinage, with a particular interest in papal gold medals.

Of obvious interest to even nonancient specialists is a Roman Republican silver denarius struck between the late summer to autumn of 42 B.C. under the Roman Senator Marcus Junius Brutus, depicting his bare head right on the obverse and with the famed cap between two daggers pointing downward and EID MAR below on the reverse. CNG calls it “the most famous of all Roman coins.”

The issue directly references the demise of Julius Caesar, with the pileus or cap of Liberty on the reverse flanked by two daggers, which CNG calls “a remarkably assertive coin,” in that it depicts the weapons that executed Caesar. 

Its provenance traces back to a 1911 Sotheby’s sale.

The firm grades it Very Fine while noting that the high points of the obverse have some old scratches, and the reverse is struck slightly off center.

A much rarer example of the type, struck in gold, sold for $4,188,393 on Oct. 29, 2020, at a Roma Numismatics auction in London, with that aureus setting a record for any ancient coin at auction. As Coin World’s Jeff Starck reported on that sale, “Given that Roman coinage was generally a vehicle of propaganda, it is only natural that Brutus would boast of his involvement in overthrowing Caesar. The fact that Brutus placed his own image on the obverse, however, is ironic, even in light of the fact that the triumvirs ruling Rome at the time had adopted the practice.” The one to be offered at CNG carries a more modest estimate of $50,000.

Beautifully engraved dies

One of the most beautiful of the collection’s Imperial Roman issues is a gold aureus minted in Rome between A.D. 114 and 116 depicting the Emperor Trajan who ruled from 98 to 117 that showcases the deep talent of Roman die engravers. The obverse depicts Trajan’s laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust facing right while the reverse depicts Bonus Eventus, a standing nude male personification of good outcomes of all human activities and especially of harvests. He holds a patera — a broad, shallow dish used in ancient Rome for pouring libation in ceremonies — and grain ears, symbols that would help identify this naked man to contemporary viewers. Graded Very Fine by CNG, it has an estimate of $5,000 and a provenance that reaches back to Oct. 3, 1934, when it was presented as lot 766 at the Ars Classica sale of the Sir Arthur J. Evans Collection.

Gold papal medals

The Merani session ends with some wonderful gold papal medals, including a handsome 1903 gold medal depicting Pope Leo XIII. The obverse shows a dignified profile portrait of the pope by Francesco Bianchi, wearing his traditional papal mantle and tiara. The reverse has a masterful depiction of St. Peter seated facing the viewer, holding a key and book. The medal, measuring 43 millimeters in diameter, is graded by CNG as Extremely Fine with scattered marks and scratches and carries an estimate of $3,000.

A more modern perspective on the papal gold medal is seen in an oval medal measuring 35 by 46 millimeters by the sculptor Floriano Bodini. The obverse depicts the bust of Paul VI, who reigned from 1963 to 1978, with a dove over his shoulder. The reverse depicts a priest standing facing, raising his hand in benediction with a dove flying and a fish visible, along with an angel in the lower half of priest’s garments. The complex and expressive medal was produced from 1968 to 1969 and is graded Extremely Fine, accompanied with its original box of issue and estimated at $2,500.

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