Finding a bullion bargain in Byzantine gold
- Published: Aug 15, 2020, 10 AM
Bullion may be sucking the oxygen out of the coin market (or infusing new breath, depending on one’s perspective), but plenty of other corners of the hobby are worth exploring.
Byzantine coins are an often overlooked area, certainly in Coin World’s weekly coverage. But select offerings in Classical Numismatic Group’s electronic auction 473, closing July 29, offer an interesting option compared to the precious metals presently so popular.
One ounce of gold closed at $1,950.90 on July 29, placing the market price of an American Eagle 1-ounce gold coin at about $2,031, according to the Precious Metals chart in Coin World’s Aug. 17 issue.
Combined, five Byzantine coins sold in the sale offer half as much gold and a lot more history, for essentially the same price.
The gold solidus was the workhorse of the Byzantine Empire for centuries, and was generally struck from about 95.8 percent fine gold, the highest purity available in refining at the time.
A gold solidus struck circa 607 to 609 for the emperor Flavius Phocas, who reigned from 602 to 610, realized $436 including the 18 percent buyer’s fee.
With a weight of 4.47 grams, the coin contains about $269 worth of gold at the time of the sale. The coin measures 20 millimeters in diameter, slightly less than a Jefferson 5-cent coin.
The coin shows the ruler on the obverse and an angel holding a staff on the reverse.
Beginning with the reign of Basil II (975 to 1025) the solidus (also called a histamenon nomisma) was struck as a thinner coin with a larger diameter, but in the same weight and purity as before.
A circa 1059 to 1062 gold histamenon nomisma of Constantine X Ducas realized $442.50, including the buyer’s fee, in the sale. Its actual gold value was about $262 at the time of sale.
That era’s coins display the scyphate (cup-shaped) form often connected to Byzantine coins (though certainly not all).
Measuring 26 millimeters in diameter (about the size of a Presidential dollar), the coin shows an enthroned Christ Pantokrator on the obverse, and Constantine on the reverse.
The hyperpyron would replace the solidus, and though it started out at about .854 fine gold, the fineness slid to .750, and by the reign of Andronicus II Palaeologus (from 1282 to 1328) dropped to .500 fine.
Two circa 1232 to 1254 gold hyperpyron of John III Ducas Vatatzes, Emperor of Nicaea, were offered in the sale.
One coin realized $442.50, including the buyer’s fee. With a weight of 4.26 grams, at 75 percent gold, it had a melt value of about $200 at the time of the sale.
Another example, weighing 4.04 grams, realized $436 with the fee, and was worth about $190 in precious metal value at the time of the sale.
What these coins “lack” in precious metal value they more than make up in artistic significance.
The obverses depict Jesus Christ, hand raised in benediction and holding the Gospels.
The reverses show the emperor with ceremonial objects and being blessed by Theotokos, the mother of Christ.
The coins measure 23 and 24 millimeters in diameter, slightly smaller than a Washington quarter, and both are from the collection of Simon Bendall.
A final selection
Rounding out our selection of five coins is the circa 1294 to 1304 gold hyperpyron of Andronicus II Palaeologus, with Michael IX.
Also from Bendall’s collection, the coin realized $265.50, including the buyer’s fee.
A figure of the Theotokos appears on the obverse, and on the reverse Christ crowns Andronicus and Michael kneels.
Assuming the 3.23 gram gold coin is .500 fine (based on the debasement over time) the coin’s melt value was about $101 during the sale.
While a 1-ounce gold bullion coin, compared to Byzantine coins, is certainly more fungible, exploring this oft-overlooked byway may be more fun.
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