My Top 10 for 2020 (the first of many, hopefully....)

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by FrizzyAntoine, Dec 3, 2020.


Which 3 do you like the best?

  1. #10: Phaselis Stater

  2. #9: Philip V Didrachm

  3. #8: Pharsalos Drachm

  4. #7: Sinope Drachm

  5. #6: Antiochus I Tetradrachm

  6. #5: Velia Nomos

  7. #4: Locris Epizephyroi Stater

  8. #3: Phalanna Drachm

  9. #2: Erbbina Stater

  10. #1: Philip II Tetradrachm

Multiple votes are allowed.
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  1. FrizzyAntoine

    FrizzyAntoine Active Member

    This is a quick aside, but I feel I should mention that while I’ve been browsing through CoinTalk anonymously admiring all your posts for two years now, I only recently took the plunge and created an account, making this the first thread I’ve ever posted.

    Though I could never have expected it back in January, this year has been a very interesting and saddening one in many ways. Fortunately, my collection has come along further than I could have hoped despite the pandemic, and if anything it may have been helped along by the countless extra hours spent at home with nothing better to do than look at old coins.

    Over the past couple of years, as my collection has grown and my interests matured alongside it, I’ve found myself torn between the question of buying as many coins as possible of an acceptable quality, or scrounging every penny to buy those few coins that I know will never need an upgrade. This year, at last, I was able to arrive at a form of compromise between the two: I made a list of coins with a shared theme that I “need” to acquire in the coming few years and will allow me to focus my collection better, devoting a set portion of my budget towards these, while leaving enough money for one or two discretionary purchases every month. I think the formula has worked fairly well so far, with 10/30 targeted purchases completed this year (only half of whom have made this list), which ensured there was enough left over for a few fun coins to be procured on the side.

    As I compiled this list, I realized there were no Roman coins that made it into the top 10. Now, while I love all my coins equally in theory, in practice it didn’t feel fair to include any of the denarii I had in lieu of the Greek beauties I intended to showcase. So, in order to give my beloved Romans the love they deserve, I’ve included my favourite two from the year as honourable mentions before I delve into the list proper.

    I realise that many of the descriptions towards the end of the list are quite long-winded and likely boring to most. I’ve never posted any of these here before, so I essentially included a shortened form of a formal thread for many in place of a simple brief description, in order to give some background on each coin for those who may be unfamiliar with the type, as well as a bit of personal storytelling on a few. If you do take the time to read some or all of them, please let me know what you think, and feel free to comment with your personal favourites of the bunch.

    ** I’ve attempted a number of times to improve my photography, but at the moment my skills and equipment are both somewhat lacking, so to give these coins their due I’ve used the auction photos here instead. **

    Honourable Mention 1: Q. Antonius Balbus Denarius.

    364.1d     Q. Antonius Balbus (82 BC).jpg

    This coin has a few things going for it in my opinion: nice detail, good centring, rich toning… but what sets it apart in my book, and I’m sure this is true for almost everyone here, isn’t any of the physical properties of the coin itself – it’s the history. Struck in the midst of the civil wars between Sulla and Marius – or rather at this point his successors – the somewhat ironic design of this coin, with its benevolent-looking Jupiter and promise of victory, signals instead the end of a decade-long watershed moment in Roman history, one that would find Rome weaker than it had been before, and ripe for the half-century of civil strife and death that would follow until the eventual dissolution of her once-glorious Republic. All that makes for one compelling coin, and as my RR collection numbers fewer than a dozen pieces at the moment, it’s not hard to see why this is my favourite of the bunch.

    Honourable Mention 2: Domitian (as Caesar) Denarius.

    11 - Domitian Denarius (77-78 AD).jpg

    The portrait on this coin is what drew me in at first (That’s going to be a common theme moving down the list). I like it quite a bit more than the style of imperial portraits of Domitian, and it has an artistic quality to it that I can’t quite place, one which separates most early Roman Imperial portraits in general from their 2nd and 3rd century counterparts. What sealed the deal in this case however was the reverse. The artistry is more reminiscent, to my eyes at any rate, of republican imagery, and it feels more animated and dynamic than most other imperial reverse types I’ve yet come across.

    #10: Phaselis Stater.

    Phaselis Stater (250-221 BC).jpg

    Starting the list off we have something that you don’t see every day. As you keep scrolling, there will be plenty of gods, goddesses, heroes, and animals to ogle (enough of the horses already!) but few designs are as unique in their motif as the coinage of Phaselis. They were even able to continue this design well into the 3rd century after falling in essence under Ptolemaic suzerainty, pitting it right next to the Athenian owls in terms of longevity. I absolutely love the realism of the galley – I could stare at it for hours if there was nothing else to do. I will admit I have a minor fascination with military craft – tanks, airplanes, warships, the whole gamut – and having a contemporary representation of an ancient warship is just incredible. I think the feature that stands out the most is the painted eyes on the prow, something I thought was largely modern bluster made for the movies – having a contemporary source to prove otherwise is quite welcome.

    #9: Philip V Didrachm.

    Philip V Didrachm (221-179 BC).jpg

    This was one of my biggest surprises of the year – something I never anticipated being able to afford on a whim – and a coin that I missed entirely the first time it was up for sale (I had another, more “important” target in that auction instead: #4 on this list). However, as luck would have it, after selling for a very low price the first time around, the repaired chip must have broken off in transit or after being dropped by the new owner, which lead to Philip here being put up for sale once more at CNG in August of this year, selling for the less than any other example I could find on acsearch. I’ve been reading into the Hellenistic era for the first time this year, and after having completed Walbank’s wonderful introductory text and reading a few of the lives of the Diadochi in Plutarch, I eventually made my way to the end of that era, and the unrelenting advance of Roman imperialism in the Greek world. Philip V features heavily in this era, and indeed he was perhaps the last best hope Greece ever had at repelling the Roman hordes, until Cynoscephalae at any rate. As such, a portrait of the man himself features very highly in my collection in terms of historical significance, and the execution of the portrait itself is of a wonderful style, in line with the amazing portraiture of the era as whole.

    #8: Pharsalos Drachm.

    Pharsalos Drachm (400-344 BC).jpg

    While many here will know Pharsalos for the epic battle to which it lends its name, the city was an important centre in Thessaly long before anyone spoke of Pompey or Caesar. This is a type I was actively on the lookout for, and had already missed a few examples of by the start of the year. Despite this, my initial reaction to seeing this coin was “Hah, I’d like to see this sell anywhere near their estimate” and so I never bothered to add it to any watchlists or gave it a second thought, because I assumed it would sell for far more than I was willing to pay. Come auction day however, after meeting with some success, I decided to stick around and watch the live bidding unfold. As fate would have it, this coin came across the screen, starting off with just the opening bid. I don’t think I’ve ever left-clicked my mouse so violently as I did in that moment, and after a few seconds of utter disbelief the hammer fell – at a single bid above opening! I took screenshots of the auction page, and in the week it took for the invoice to arrive I convinced myself that my bid would simply be nullified and the coin resold after failing to meet some hidden reserve, because I really, truly could not believe what had happened. When it did show up in my inbox, well… I don’t think I’ve ever paid an invoice as quickly either! The realistic high-classical style and youthful face of Athena makes this series one of my favourites amongst the drachmae of the ancient Greek mainland, and having an image of a Thessalian cavalryman serves as a great frame of reference for the imagination when reading of their exploits, all of which propels this coin onto this list. The curious sets of letters TH – repeated on the obverse and reverse – also add a layer of intrigue. Lavva concluded this to be the signature of the artist Telephanes Phoceus – if that is true, then the possibility of owning a signed work by an ancient master craftsman certainly doesn’t make me think less of this coin, but quite the contrary.

    #7: Sinope Drachm.

    Sinope Drachm (330-300 BC).jpg

    From the faraway Black Sea port city of Sinope comes this wonderful nymph and her incredible animal companions. The portrait is bold and strong, gazing intensely into the distance as though with some apprehension. There’s also the added bonus that it depicts a minor deity rather than one of the usual suspects, helping to keep things diverse and interesting. There will be another eagle later on, however while our later eagle is a ferocious hunter, it seems the eagles of Sinope were much more benevolent, not to mention incredibly strong. From the serene, even friendly, expressions of both, it would seem moreso as if they’re travelling companions than adversaries – perhaps they were even the inspiration for the Great Eagles of Middle Earth! Sinope also happens to be the hometown of my favourite philosopher, everyone’s favourite cynic, and the original κοσμοπολίτης – good ol’ Diogenes! (Thank goodness he wasn’t around to deface this piece of currency) This triple-whammy makes this easily one of my favourite coins, and a strong entrant on this list.

    #6: Antiochus I Tetradrachm.

    Antiochos I Tetradrachm (281-261 BC).jpg

    The Hellenistic era is known for its portraits, and the earlier of these rank among the best in my opinion. This fascinating time of transition and transformation saw massive, permanent changes to the Greek way of life and model of governance. For a free Greek, living through this age it must have felt something like being a European in the heady days following the “discovery” of the Americas – a whole new world lying just beyond your doorstep, teeming with opportunity and ripe with the promise of a better life. As Tolkien beautifully put it, “It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.” This brings us to Antiochos, a man who bridged the Greek and Persian worlds, keeping his father’s spear-won empire intact and swelling it’s great new cities to unseen heights – the last king officially bestowed the ancient Mesopotamian title of šar kiššatim, roughly translated as “King of All the World”, in a line of illustrious rulers including the likes of Ashurbanipal, Nebuchadnezzar, and Cyrus the Great, stretching back over two millennia to Sargon of Akkad. In short, Antiochos was a good ruler, one whose reign saw general prosperity and relative peace, things that would prove preciously rare later in the epoch. The history alone would merit a position on the list, and the stunning portrait, which deviates stylistically from most in the series, clinched this coin a position firmly in the middle of this list.

    #5: Velia Nomos.

    Velia Stater (340-334 BC).jpg

    I think most of my fellow Greek enthusiasts would agree that Magna Graecia holds a special place in our collections, and often presents an equally troublesome proposition for our wallets. This becomes even more of a problem when you look at a coin, and realize you absolutely need to have it. This coin called to me from the moment I set eyes on it, and after a months-long wait (the auction was delayed due to COVID-19) I was incredibly happy to win it with less of a fight than anticipated. The head of Athena on the obverse if of a fine late-classical composition, and the lion is both ferocious and graceful, proudly declaring its dominion over the reverse.

    #4: Locris Epizephyroi Stater.

    Lokroi Epizephyroi Stater (350-300 BC).jpg

    Next up is another Magna Graecian beauty. Classical heads of Zeus are usually harder to come by than his daughter Athena, and the abstract quality of this version with it’s wavy, flowing beard and luscious locks of hair gives it a special place in my heart. However, what convinced me in the end to bid on this coin – and what has propelled it this far up the list – is the amazing reverse. There are few rabbits in the numismatic record, and whenever they do show up they are undeniably cute. Eagles on the other hand feature on more than a few coins, and are truly awe-inspiring creatures. The contrast of a ferocious eagle towering over his quarry with the helpless expression of the rabbit, all well centred on a wide flan and in a better state of preservation than most other examples I could find, makes this coin a definite keeper. This is also very likely my last purchase for the year – it’s a recent acquisition which I expect will have to wait until mid-January at the earliest before it can be properly enjoyed. In the meantime, I will have to make do salivating over the video Nomos has uploaded on their website instead.

    #3: Phalanna Drachm.

    Phalanna Drachm (360-344 BC).jpg

    At this point, I’m starting to believe AncientJoe’s theory that coins are destined for certain owners at different points in their journeys. I was utterly unaware of this type until earlier this year. As I focussed my interests and decided to look into coins which fit into it, I stumbled across this type at some point and decided it would do wonderfully. Then, upon browsing acsearch and the auction aggregators and developing a sense of the series, I began to despair. They’re common enough, but to find an example in a good state of preservation, with a firm strike and good surfaces – and all at a price I could stomach – was shaping up to be a difficult task. After some searching, I ran across this example on acsearch and noticed it had sold with a certain German auction, for a sum I would readily pay, back in 2014 and again for slightly more in 2018. I thought “Wow, if only I could have seen it then, I’d have picked it up in a heartbeat”. Only one other example meeting my criteria had sold in the same span of time, and for a considerably higher sum, which I wasn’t ready to pay. I resigned myself to the notion that I would have to be patient, and eventually I would find something similar, hopefully within 5 or so years, and things would be just fine that way. Of course, fate toying with us as she does, not two months after I had initially spied this coin on acsearch, it presented itself in a CNG e-sale of all places. It was a tense few hours before the lot closed, and while there hadn’t been much interest in my coin until this time, I convinced myself some wealthy character or other would swoop in at the final second, as they are wont to do in CNG e-sales, and snatch this coin from my grasp. I kept raising my bid, until it reached a point where I became scared of actually winning the coin within my maximum. In the end nobody swooped in – Clio must have been content that day – and there were no bids on my coin in the final hours, let alone seconds, leaving me to win it for exactly the price it had sold for in 2014, as if I had been present that many years ago instead! Moving onto the coin itself, it’s an interesting and elegant design, and one usually dated to the epoch of Philip II’s conquests of Greece. The horse is finely executed and among the more ferocious ones I’ve seen, and there are quite a few of them out there! The bare male head is another quirky feature since there seems to be some debate as to whether it depicts Apollo as based on Philip’s gold staters, or if Ares is instead shown, as a patron of the wars raging in Greece during this era. Personally, I like to think it’s Ares – which would prove a welcome deviation from the usual Greek trinity of Zeus, Athena and Apollo – and I intend to maintain my delusion until more firmly persuasive scholarship is released on the subject.

    Keep scrolling for the last two!
    pprp, NLL, svessien and 32 others like this.
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  3. FrizzyAntoine

    FrizzyAntoine Active Member

    #2: Erbbina Stater.

    Erbbina Stater (420-400 BC).jpg

    Some coins you come across are easy to pass up because you know there will be another chance – maybe next week, next month, or next year. Others, not so much. This isn’t so rare that I would never have had another chance, but being rather impatient, I didn’t feel like waiting the better part of a decade for another, or convincing myself into paying an exorbitant price when the opportunity would next arise. Only a few examples of this type seem to enter the market every decade, and the last example to be sold before this one jumped an incredible 7-fold in price in the span of 15 years and 3 resales – all this even before anyone was talking about COVID-19 warming the market. In the end I was able to secure mine for “only” twice its hammer from a decade prior, and less than a quarter of what the other example in question sold for the year before. I have a soft spot for bearded busts of Herakles, preferring the older, grizzled veteran of classical renditions to the youthful, shaved hero of Hellenistic tradition. Combined with my love of “Greek-ish” coinage – those places with clear mixes of local and Hellenic influence in the eastern Mediterranean and beyond – this type quickly became a must-have. When you factor in the roughed-up yet still beautiful bust of Athena and the clearly legible Lycian script, this coin is very quickly propelled near the top of this list. I believe this is the first time a coin of Erbbina (also known as Arbinas) has ever been shared on CoinTalk, as I couldn’t find anything referring to him after multiple searches. Yet again, the man behind the coin is an interesting character. Though not especially powerful, it seems the Lycian dynasts of this era fancied themselves more Gods than Men. Among the first times a living portrait definitively appears on coinage is in this series, and Erbbina took things a step further, commissioning for his tomb the Nereid Monument, a building which mirrored the traditional design of Greek temples, and which would serve as the inspiration for the impressive Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. As a rather comical addendum, Gorny & Mosch were unable to ship this with insurance back in March, and Deutsche Post only recently resumed registered mail service to Australia. So despite being hasty in the purchase, I have had to wait nearly nine long months for this coin to finally ship (it did so last week), and I’m hoping now that it arrives sometime early in the new year, as getting it in 2020 would be nothing short of a miracle at this stage!

    #1: Philip II Tetradrachm.

    Philip II Tetradrachm (340-332 BC).jpg

    In my eyes, this coin has it all, and more. Between the incredibly executed portrait of Zeus, the rich cabinet toning, the extensive provenance, publication in a vital piece of literature, and the historical significance of the man behind the coin, I really couldn’t imagine anything else more worthy of the top spot. Philip II of Macedon is one of my favourite characters from antiquity, and his story is truly fascinating (few things hurt as much as knowing that Plutarch’s account of his life is likely forever lost). To think that the 3rd son of an incompetent king could rise to the throne amidst the chaos of his brothers’ untimely deaths, stabilize his faltering chiefdom, and transform it into a powerhouse capable of grappling with the might of the Achaemenids, all in the span of 20 years, is truly mind-boggling. While most people in my experience gravitate towards the territorial ambitions and achievements of Alexander, or look upon the tactical prowess of Caesar with awe, I prefer the diplomatic verve and genius statesmanship of Philip instead, slowly plodding away at the task before him, methodically laying the groundwork for everything that Alexander would later achieve. Wherever one turns in the late-4th century history of Greece, the accomplishments of Philip seem to coolly stare back at you, understated yet undeniably impressive. Whether one considers his reformation and revival of the Macedonian army, his methodical and steady insinuation of Macedon into the politics and psyche of the Greek Poleis, or his ability to string the fractured Hellenes together under his new mode of Hegemony, Philip consistently outshines the competition – cultivating a mythos closer to that of the Olympians from whom he claimed descent than the mortal men who were his contemporaries. Plainly put, without Philip there could never have been an Alexander, and I don’t speak in a strictly biological sense when I say that. While the dating of this coin is somewhat contentious, it generally falls into the group of tetradrachms made sometime between 342 and 334 BC. I personally like to believe it was made in the earlier portion of that range, and used to pay the phalangites that carried the day at Chaeronea, and later allowed Alexander to conquer so much of the known world in the coming decade. The provenance certainly doesn’t hurt either. This coin makes an appearance in the plates of the John Glas Sandeman Collection catalogue by Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge in June of 1911, and was sold before that as part of the Sparkes sale by the same auctioneer in February of 1880, selling off the collection of George Sparkes, who had died in 1878. It’s not especially important, but cool nonetheless, to note that this same George Sparkes was an avid numismatists since at least the 1840s (his earliest publications date to this time) and even sold coins to the British Museum (Link to their page describing him). That means there is a possibility this coin shared a tray at one point with coins that are in the BM today, and depending on who he purchased it from, when, and how long they had owned it beforehand, this coin may even have been outside of Greece before the modern Hellenic Republic came into being. In a more modern context, it also features as a plate coin in Le Rider’s seminal 1977 publication on this series – Le monnayage d'argent et d'or de Philippe II frappé en Macédoine de 359 à 294. I’m honestly still pinching myself in disbelief – if it hadn’t arrived in the mail this morning I would never believe I owned such a coin.

    If you've made it this far I hope it was worth it, and look forward to reading your comments.
  4. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    Gorgeous coins, all of them! I have a hard time choosing! I suppose my favorite is the Velia Athena/Lion because of its artistry. It's stunning!
    FrizzyAntoine likes this.
  5. Claudius_Gothicus

    Claudius_Gothicus Well-Known Member

    What an extraordinary selection of coins! Choosing my favourites was extremely difficult.
    FrizzyAntoine likes this.
  6. Julius Germanicus

    Julius Germanicus Well-Known Member

    What a collection! Incredible artistry and eye appeal on those coins, congratulations! Makes my Sestertii look rather pale in comparison...
    FrizzyAntoine likes this.
  7. Bing

    Bing Illegitimi non carborundum Supporter

    Very nice coins all! My favorite is number 5. Velia Nomos.
    FrizzyAntoine likes this.
  8. Ryro

    Ryro They call me the 13th Caesar Supporter

    WoWiE!!! Coingrats on an amazing year! I love both your Phillips (II & V). You know you had a good year when a Philip V portrait:artist: is your #9.
    The Locris Zeus aaand that wonderful Erbbina Herakles really stand out to me.
    Thanks so much for sharing and please keep those posts coming:)
    FrizzyAntoine likes this.
  9. Alegandron

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

    Excellent coins, @FrizzyAntoine ! All are great. Wonderful year for you, and I look forward to your future posts.
    Carl Wilmont and FrizzyAntoine like this.
  10. happy_collector

    happy_collector Well-Known Member

    Very nice selection! Very high quality pieces. I like #1,5 and 6. They all have very cool and dynamic reverses. :)
    FrizzyAntoine likes this.
  11. zumbly

    zumbly Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana Supporter

    So many excellent choices! I love the Velia, the Phalanna and the Lokris, but my favorite is the Philip II, in particular the outstanding reverse. I'm looking forward to seeing what you'll be picking up in 2021.
    ominus1 and FrizzyAntoine like this.
  12. FrizzyAntoine

    FrizzyAntoine Active Member

    Thank you! I had a hard time ordering them too, with more than a few reshuffles. The lines are very blurred in the top half of the list, but I decided to stick to the custom of definite numbers just to keep it organised.
  13. FrizzyAntoine

    FrizzyAntoine Active Member

    Thank you, I try to hedge my bets and pass up on a coin if something bothers me even a little, definitely no regrets thus far and no second thoughts about upgrading.

    And no need to be modest, I've seen some of your Sestertii and they are absolutely astounding! Definitely an area I would like to cross into one day, perhaps in the far, far future.
  14. Cucumbor

    Cucumbor Dombes collector Supporter

    Wow, newcomer !
    Impressive selection. I love them all, but my top three would be Velia, Philip II and Lockris

    FrizzyAntoine likes this.
  15. FrizzyAntoine

    FrizzyAntoine Active Member

    Hahaha I suppose you're right there, doesn't hurt that it was somehow the 2nd most affordable of the bunch too!
    Me too, they're rather unusual in a sea of Athenas. And thank you for the kind words, I hope to have more to share soon!
    Ryro likes this.
  16. FrizzyAntoine

    FrizzyAntoine Active Member

    Thank you, here's to hoping the coming year is better for all of us, especially outside of numismatics :)
    Alegandron likes this.
  17. AncientJoe

    AncientJoe Supporter! Supporter

    A wonderful first top ten! Your Philip II and Phalanna are my favorites: beautiful coins and a great pedigree on the Philip.
    FrizzyAntoine likes this.
  18. FrizzyAntoine

    FrizzyAntoine Active Member

    I see that Velia is getting a lot of love. It was originally #2, but somehow it felt too "mainstream" for the second spot, so I decided to bump it down a little.

    And of course, thank you all for the kind words!
    Cucumbor and happy_collector like this.
  19. thejewk

    thejewk Well-Known Member

    Welcome to the forum and congratulations on your remarkable year.
    FrizzyAntoine likes this.
  20. Theodosius

    Theodosius Fine Style Seeker Supporter

    What a great first post!

    An amazing collection of coins, good job!

    Don't be so shy in the future.

    FrizzyAntoine likes this.
  21. FrizzyAntoine

    FrizzyAntoine Active Member

    Thank you, your seal of approval on those two means quite a lot!
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