Apollo / Silphium: Greek Silver that Looks Great in a Low Grade

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Curtisimo, Nov 15, 2020.

  1. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo the Great(ish) Supporter

    I have been able to buy very few coins this year for various reasons that can be summed up in one word; 2020. For the few coins that I have bought I have had to be very frugal and discerning. A didrachm of Cyrene showing the famously extinct silphium plant has been on my want list for a long time. Happily, in my opinion, this is a coin type that does not lose a great deal of interest from being in a highly worn state. I was able to pick this coin up for a fraction of what it would cost in even a moderately higher grade.

    Cyrene AR didrachm, struck ca. 308-277 BC
    Magas as Ptolemaic governor
    Dia.: 20 mm
    Wt.: 7.62 g
    Obv.: Bare head of Apollo-Carneius right, with horn
    Rev.: K-Y / P-A, silphium plant, cornucopia in inner right field
    Ref.: SNG Copenhagen 1234; BMC 228

    Obverse: Apollo-Carneius
    Cyrene was founded by Dorian colonists from Thera in about 631 BC. The colonists that founded the city venerated an aspect of Apollo that was particular to the Dorian Greeks, namely Apollo-Carneius. The origins of this aspect of Apollo were not well known even in antiquity but it seems likely that it was a mixture of a local pre-historic Peloponnesian god associated with a ram and the Dorian Greek Apollo.

    In around 300 BC, Magas, the step-son of Ptolemy I Soter of Egypt was sent to govern Cyrene on behalf of the Ptolemys. Magas was also a priest of Apollo-Carneius which perhaps best explains the use of this aspect of Apollo being so prominent on coins of this period.

    Cyrene_Temple of Apollo.jpg
    The Temple of Apollo-Carneius at Cyrene (Wikipedia Commons)

    Reverse: Silphium
    The silphium plant has been written about at length here on CoinTalk and other places. I won’t attempt to give a full rehash of the details here accept to say that it was a plant that had many and various uses attributed to it such as an aphrodisiac and as a contraceptive. It was the primary export and centerpiece of the economy of Cyrene in antiquity. It became so popular that it was harvested to extinction by the 1st century AD.

    Ferula Communis (Giant Fennel) thought to be related to the extinct ancient silphium plant.

    For more posts on the Silphium plant please take a look at the following CT write-ups.

    Some Notes on the Coin
    As I said above I think there are some coin types that look better than others in lower grades. I think these coins of Cyrene are a good example. The silphium plant is just as readily distinguishable in outline as it is in pristine examples and most of the detail isn’t on the high points anyway. My example benefits from being well centered on an oblong flan.

    The obverse would, admittedly, be nicer if more of the hair detail and the rest of the horn were still visible but because these coins were struck in high relief the details of the face and general profile are still very nice. It is therefore still possible to get a sense of the artistic ability of the engraver even from a worn example. My example benefits from the fact that the profile, and therefore the part with the most detail, is centered on the flan. Also, a coin worn down in antiquity is a coin that was used extensively in antiquity which is cool in-and-of itself.

    Additionally, this coin was previously slabbed. For some collectors this can add value and peace of mind. However, this can also lead to some collectors focusing too much on the grade and not on the coin. I believe I benefitted from this on this example because a lot of bidders seem to have skipped over it without taking into account some of its individual positive aspects.

    The NGC tag

    The carnage of the defeated slab

    Please post your:
    • Coins from Cyrene
    • Coins showing Silphium
    • Coins you think look nice in lower grades
    Pavlos, Edessa, Spaniard and 23 others like this.
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  3. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    Great coin, @Curtisimo ! I have always liked the DiDrachm sized coin. Thanks for the write up. I feel that I need to go out and start gnawing on some Giant Fennel plants for health reasons! :)

    Please post your:
    • Coins from Cyrene
    • Coins showing Silphium
    • Coins you think look nice in lower grades
    I believe my ONE coins fills your order!

    KYRENAICA Kyrene Æ25 9.6g 250 BCE Diademed Zeus-Ammon r - K-O-I-N-O-N; Silphium plant; monogram SNG Cop 1278 BMC 16-19
    Edessa, Spaniard, Cucumbor and 11 others like this.
  4. happy_collector

    happy_collector Well-Known Member

    Nice writeup and interesting coin.
    Curtisimo likes this.
  5. AncientJoe

    AncientJoe Supporter! Supporter

    I agree that the "F" slab will have pushed people away. It's a nice, wholesome example in good style of an interesting and important type: nothing at all wrong with that!
    Theodosius and Curtisimo like this.
  6. Clavdivs

    Clavdivs Supporter! Supporter

    A very unusual and beautiful coin. Congratulations!
    I love it.
    Curtisimo likes this.
  7. Broucheion

    Broucheion Supporter! Supporter

    Hi @Curtisimo,

    Another prisoner freed!


    This coin Ex Barry & Darling via vCoins purchase.

    The dates of Magas’ revolt are unknown, but his defection may have been triggered by the accession of Ptolemy II, see F Chamoux (1956). During his years of independence Magas probably struck coinage of traditional Cyrenean character.

    - Broucheion

    Edessa, Spaniard, Cucumbor and 14 others like this.
  8. Al Kowsky

    Al Kowsky Well-Known Member

    Curtis, Nice score & interesting article on the magic plant Silphium :D. You're right, the coin did look silly in a slab. I have no problem slabbing high grade coins, but well-worn coins & large bronze coins shouldn't be slabbed unless they have been heavily counterfeited. Roma XX auction had a breath taking Silphium Tet, slightly earlier than your didrachm, that brought a shocking price of $47,600.00, see photo below.

    Roma XX, lot 277 image.jpg
    Kyrenaika - Kyrene, circa 450-420 BC, AR Tetradrachm: 17.40 gm, 26 mm, 4 h. Silphium plant/head of Zeus Amon, KYP. Ex Dr. Albert Potts collection
    Edessa, Spaniard, Cucumbor and 10 others like this.
  9. zumbly

    zumbly Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana Supporter

    Excellent score, Curtis! I've been wanting a coin with a silphium plant for ages, and of the many different types, the one you chose, with Apollo Karneios, is probably my favorite. Yours is a very pleasing example that I would have been more than happy with myself. And, as always, thank you for the informative writeup!
    Curtisimo likes this.
  10. eparch

    eparch Well-Known Member

    [ Roma XX auction had a breath taking Silphium Tet, slightly earlier than your didrachm, that brought a shocking price of $47,600.00, see photo below[/QUOTE]
    This gorgeous tet. was way beyond my means, but I did pick up
    my example from an earlier Roma auction in 2017 as an unsold lot .
    I was surprised no one had bid on it.
    Kyrenaika, Kyrene AR Didrachm. Koinon issue, circa 250 BC. Diademed head of Zeus Ammon right / Silphium plant with four leaves; ibex horn in upper left field, KOI-NON across fields. BMC 1; SNG Copenhagen 1275.sear 6332 7.81g, 21mm, 12h.
    Edessa, Spaniard, Cucumbor and 13 others like this.
  11. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo the Great(ish) Supporter

    Nice coin Brian. The connection of Cyrene with Siwa and Zues Ammon is interesting. A very nice looking coin too.

    Thank you @happy_collector !
    Thank you for the kind words @AncientJoe . I always appreciate your knowledgeable feedback.
    happy_collector likes this.
  12. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo the Great(ish) Supporter

    Thank you Clavdius!

    Nice example @Broucheion !

    Yes I enjoy cracking these coins free. :D I also value the NGC tags and I’m glad they are sized small enough to fit in a coin flip. I don’t much care what the actual grade is but I do highly respect NGC’s opinion on authenticity.

    What a beautiful coin! If the person who won it is watching this thread I would be willing to consider a trade and I’d even pay the shipping. :wacky:

    As far as slabbing goes I can see why some collectors are really for it as you say but I find it curbs the fun for me even on high end coins. There is just something appealing to me about a collection of coins resting nicely in a tray the same way they have been stored by centuries of collectors. Perhaps I’m a bit nostalgic for I time I wasn’t even alive for. :oops:

    I wish NGC offered their service without encasing the coin. Of course, to each there own. Your collection is beautiful in or out of the slabs.
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2020
    Broucheion likes this.
  13. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo the Great(ish) Supporter

    Thank you Z. I agree the Apollo-Carneius silvers are one of the best options of the silphium types. I’ll look forward to seeing the silphium type you choose posted someday.

    Wow @eparch . That is one of the nicest didrachms and one of the most artistic depictions of Zues-Ammon I have ever seen. Fantastic coin and thank you for sharing.
    eparch and zumbly like this.
  14. Cucumbor

    Cucumbor Dombes collector Supporter

    I like your coin Curtis, the portrait is of good style, and yes, the wear doesn't distract much from its general beauty. And very interesting write up as usual.

    This Lucilla sestertius has been in my collection for 40 years, and I still find it fascinating, despite its low grade, for the sweetness it gives to the empress' portrait


    Contraception ? really ? :D

    Bing, zumbly, Edessa and 5 others like this.
  15. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    LOL! Forgot about that...
    Curtisimo and Cucumbor like this.
  16. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo the Great(ish) Supporter

    I agree that is a lovey portrait of Lucilla! Great coin Q and thanks for the kind words about my new addition.
    Cucumbor likes this.
  17. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo the Great(ish) Supporter

    Don’t feel like you need to have a silphium coin to pile on. I like to see worn but beautiful coins too.


    This one is my ex AMCC 1 pick bin addition and I am very fond of it. Waiting in much anticipation to see what the pick-bin for AMCC 3 will be!
    Johndakerftw, Bing, zumbly and 2 others like this.
  18. zumbly

    zumbly Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana Supporter

    You asked for it!

    RR - C Piso L F Frugi.jpg ROMAN REPUBLIC. C Piso L f Frugi.
    AR Denarius. 3.72g, 17.6mm. Rome mint, 61 BC, C. Piso L.f. Frugi, moneyer. RBW 1481 (same dies); Babelon Calpurnia 29; Sydenham 876; C. Hersh, NC 1976, 439; Crawford 408/1b. O: Diademed and draped bust of Apollo left, caduceus over shoulder. R: Horseman, holding reins, on horse galloping right; ↓ (L, resembling an arrowhead, for 50) above; C PISO LF FRVG below.
    Ex Eucharius Collection

    Vespasian - Denarius Judaea 2503.jpg VESPASIAN
    AR Denarius. 3.05g, 18.4mm. Rome mint, 21 October 69 - early 70. RIC 2; Cohen 226; BMC 35; Hendin 1479. O: IMP CAESAR VESPASIANVS AVG, laureate head right. R: Judaea seated right on ground in attitude of mourning, trophy set on shields behind her; IVDAEA in exergue.
    Ex Prof. Dr. Hildebrecht Hommel Collection, with tag noting acquisition date 15 Feb 1943

    THESSALY Larissa - AR Drachm Horse Plant 3727 new.jpg THESSALY, Larissa
    AR Drachm. 5.69g, 18.1mm. THESSALY, Larissa, circa 356-342 BC. Lorber, Hoard, L-III, 61-3; BCD Thessaly II 320; HGC 4, 454. O: Head of the nymph Larissa facing slightly left, wearing ampyx. R: ΛAPIΣ/AIΩN, horse standing right, preparing to lie down; plant below.
    Ex Baldwin Maull Collection, purchased from Coin Galleries, 1960
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