By Dix Noonan Webb
An important collection of Roman bronze coins formed by a connoisseur before and during the Second World War and back on the market for the first time in 75 years attracted furious bidding at Dix Noonan Webb in London. Every single one of the 194 lots sold in an auction that made £810,726 ($1,007,412.18 USD) with buyers’ commission. The total hammer price of £675,605 ($839,510.15) was 437 per cent of the pre-sale low estimate – a record for Dix Noonan Webb.
The star of the auction was an extremely rare sestertius from the brief reign of Titus, who was Roman emperor from 79 to 81 CE. 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 circa 81 to 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 ($74,400-99,200), but a European private collector was prepared to pay £372,000 ($461,280) with commission (£310,000 hammer price) against strong competition.
Another sestertius depicting the emperor Hadrian addressing his British troops and dating from 134 to 138 CE (estimated at £3,000 to £4,000 [$3,720-4,960]) made £38,400 ($47,616) 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 [$2,480-3,720]) and another bearing the head of the emperor Geta and minted in 210 (estimate £800 to £1,000 [$992-1,240]) both fetched £15,600 ($19,344) 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 ’30s, including the collections formed by Clarence Bement, Franz Trau, Sir Arthur Evans, Captain Edward Spencer-Churchill, Howard Levis and Paul Vautier