The star of the auction was an extremely rare Sestertius from the brief reign of Divus Titus, who was Roman emperor from AD 79 to AD 81. It is one of the most important Roman bronze coins available to the market with only 10 specimens of this type known, of which seven are in museums. It is a full grade finer than the only other example sold recently. The posthumous coin dating from cAD 81 to AD 82 depicts the recently-completed Colosseum, which had been finished during the reign of Titus. The coin, which the man who assembled the collection bought in February 1939, had been expected to fetch £60,000 to £80,000, but a European private collector was prepared to pay £372,000 with commission (£310,000 hammer price) against strong competition.
Another Sestertius depicting the Emperor Hadrian addressing his British troops and dating from AD 134 to AD 138 (estimated at £3,000 to £4,000) made £38,400 with commission (£32,000 hammer price). When it was last sold as part of the Drabble Collection in July 1939, the cataloguer, Albert Baldwin, described it as “possibly the finest known specimen”. The design of Hadrian haranguing his soldiers is found on a series of bronze coins from the mid-130s but the British issue is one of the rarest.
A very rare Sestertius dating from the year 143 during the reign of Antoninus Pius (estimate £2,000 to £3,000) and another bearing the head of the Emperor Geta and minted in 210 (estimate £800 to £1,000) both fetched £15,600 with commission (£13,000 hammer price) at the auction.
“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.”
The coins in this collection were assembled over a remarkably short period of eight years from 1933 to 1941, some of them being bought at London auctions during a time when the capital was under attack from the German Luftwaffe. The anonymous connoisseur was assisted by the renowned experts Herbert Seaby and Leonard Forrer as he brought together a group of Roman bronze coins that has been unavailable for study for three-quarters of a century.
Many of the coins have distinguished provenances. The connoisseur was a successful bidder at the London auctions of the collections of Christopher Corbally Browne and, most notably, the Rev Edward Sydenham. Among the lots were pieces from the great continental sales of the 1920s and 1930s, including the collections formed by Clarence Bement, Franz Trau, Sir Arthur Evans, Captain Edward Spencer-Churchill, Howard Levis and Paul Vautier.
Dix Noonan Webb Ltd is one of the world’s leading specialist auctioneers and valuers of coins, tokens, medals, militaria, paper money and jewellery. Established in 1990, the company boasts over 250 years' combined experience in this field and stages regular auctions throughout the year.
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