World Coins

Signed classic silver decadrachms in Morton & Eden sale

A circa 400 B.C. Good EF decadrachm signed by Euainetos realized a hammer price of £130,000 ($158,911 U.S.) against a pre-sale estimate of £80,000 ($97,791 U.S.), and was one of three similar pieces in Morton and Eden's September sale. One other was signed by Euainetos, and the third by Kimon.

Original images courtesy of Morton & Eden.

Decadrachms of Syracuse, in Sicily, signed by the artists Kimon and Euianetos, are considered among the most beautiful of ancient Greek coins.

Three different silver decadrachms sold during Morton & Eden’s Sept. 26 and 27 auction, realizing a range of prices.

One of the most famous of all ancient coins, the aesthetic allure of Syracusan decadrachms is timeless — they have won “the admiration of the ancient and modern world,” the firm said.

Ancient writers have provided practically no clues as to why or when they were struck. Since the 17th century, scholars have attempted to establish the historical and chronological context of their production, the auction firm said.

They were used as prizes for something (as is indicated by an inscription on the coins), and though an absolute answer is not yet settled, current scholarship agrees that Dionysios’s victory over the Carthaginians in 405 B.C. provides an appropriate occasion, and that they were struck well into his reign.

The type was widely admired and copied in antiquity, providing a model not only for other coinage series throughout the Mediterranean basin, but for other media as well, the firm said. 

The decadrachms (literally worth 10 drachms) are the highest denomination of the style; tetradrachms (worth four drachms) also exist.

The decadrachms “were probably mounted as tondos in silver vessels, as well as being used as moulds for a of series lustrous black pottery kylixes which were produced primarily in the third century B.C., around Capua,” according to Morton & Eden.

The general design features a fast quadriga driven left by a female charioteer; above, Nike flies to the right with a wreath to crown the charioteer; in the exergual area on two steps are a shield and cuirass between two greaves and a helmet.

The reverse carries a head of Arethusa facing left, her hair wreathed with barley, wearing triple-pendant earring and beaded necklace; around are four dolphins.

The artist’s signature appears below the lowest dolphin.

Kimon

An Extremely Fine decadrachm signed by Kimon, and issued circa 405 B.C., realized a hammer price of £320,000 ($391,165 U.S.) against an estimate of £600,000 ($733,434 U.S.).

The coin weighs 43.35 grams and is “beautifully toned, in high relief,” according to the firm.

The coin was offered in Sotheby’s sale of the Nelson Bunker Hunt collection, part 1, on June 19, 1990, where it realized a $270,000 hammer price.

Of special note, the firm said, is the nymph on the reverse that is “more human and less sculpturally remote than on his antecedent dies. ... Her gaze, with the ellipse of her iris drawn with lifelike fidelity under heavy lids, is earthy and seductive. Here, Kimon’s portrait of Arethusa is perhaps his finest.”

The late expert and author G.K. Jenkins, in Ancient Greek Coins, gave Kimon high praise, writing: “Arguably the greatest of all the artists at the Syracusan mint at this period was Kimon ... he has a bold touch combined with an unequalled degree of delicate control and harmony of design.”

Euainetos

Jenkins also had kind words for Euainetos’s work, saying it is considered to be the “high watermark of Syracusan style.”

A circa 400 B.C. Good EF decadrachm  signed by Euainetos realized a hammer price of £130,000 ($158,911 U.S.) against an estimate of £80,000 ($97,791 U.S.).

The coin weighs 42.91 grams.

An EF example, also circa 400 B.C., and also signed by Euainetos, was the final member of the triumvirate of signed decadrachms in the sale.

This coin sold for a hammer price of £40,000 ($48,896 U.S.), matching the estimate.

It weighs 42.18 grams, and has a provenance to the Hunt Collection sale in 1990 (its price in that sale could not be determined at press time).

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