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Roman bronzes attract top prices

Dix Noonan Webb’s Feb. 15 sale results should provoke many an animated discussion between collectors over ensuing months. The catalog consisted of a superb collection of Roman bronze, none of which had seen a sale room for at least 76 years.


Superb rarity: posthumous sestertius of Divus Titus showing the newly completed Coliseum. This coin had returned to the market for the first time since 1939 and realized $461,280 in VF. The reverse depicts the recently completed Coliseum. It was finished during the reign of Titus funded by plunder from the Jewish wars, including the sacking of the temple. (Images courtesy Dix Noonan Webb)

Pre-sale it was expected that an extremely rare sestertius of Emperor Divus Titus (79-81 C.E.) was likely to attract most of the attention. It is doubtful, however, if collectors, let alone the auction house, fully appreciated the extent of that attention.

The coin went to the block graded VF with an estimate of $75,000-$100,000 [£60,000- £80,000]. When the dust settled around last hammer fall it had realized $384,400 [£310,000]. With commission added the total was $461,280 [£372,000]. The under-bidder may have to wait a while before filling that gap in their collection. Just 10 examples of this coin are known of which seven are in museums.


Hadrian addresses his British troops on this choice example of a rare bronze sestertius from 134-138 C.E.. After having been absent from an auction block for 78 years it raced to $47,616 or nearly five times upper estimate in VF. (Images courtesy Dix Noonan Webb)

A second sestertius 134-138 C.E. depicting the Emperor Hadrian addressing his British troops made $47,616 [£38,400] in VF on an estimate of $3,700-$5,000 [£3,000-£4,000]. When last sold as part of the Drabble Collection in July 1939 the cataloguer described it as “possibly the finest known specimen.” While other bronze coins of Hadrian from throughout the Empire show the emperor exhorting his legions those with the BRITANNI [CUS] legend are extremely rare.


One of the finest known examples of a sestertius struck by Antoninus Pius showing Britannia seated on a rock. It fetched $19,344 in VF. (Images courtesy Dix Noonan Webb)

An even rarer sestertius of 143 C.E. struck in Rome during the reign of Antoninus Pius showed Britannia seated on a rock. It fetched $19,344 [£15,600] in VF on a $2,500-$3,700 [£2,000-3,000] estimate. It too is one of the finest known examples of its type. And that same price was realized by a sestertius of Geta minted in 210 C.E. While this coin carried a lower $1,000-$1,250 [£800-1,000] estimate it came graded EF.

At sale end Christopher Webb, head of the coins department at Dix Noonan Webb, spelled out the obvious: “Quality always sells. 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 catalog details and prices realized are available at the DNW website:

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More Collecting Resources

• The Standard Catalog of World Coins, 1601-1700 is your guide to images, prices and information on coins from so long ago.

• Order the Standard Catalog of World Paper Money, General Issues to learn about circulating paper money from 14th century China to the mid 20th century.