Amid the excitement at this year’s New York International Coin Convention (NYINC), an unsettling chord was struck with the surprise confiscation of two Greek Sicilian coin masterpieces from Classical Numismatic Group’s Triton XV auction.I found this interesting:
The coins were listed as Lots 1008 and 1009 of “Cabinet W.” They were seized by the District Attorney of New York on the afternoon of Jan. 3.
Lot 1009, cited in the report, was an equally impressive Katane silver tetradrachm, “purchased privately from an American collection in 2010,” but with an estimate of only $300,000. The head depicted on the front is a masterfully executed frontal view of a laureate Apollo while the reverse portrays another quadriga scene, with Nike flying above.I've also heard that the seller was arrested, along with some details about him.
The reason for the absence of Lot 1008 in the public complaint is unknown, but it may be the subject of a civil case rather than part of a criminal investigation, by virtue of having possibly fewer questions surrounding its provenance. ...
The complaint states that “the defendant knew that coin 1009 was ‘freshly dug’ and that, therefore, it had to be the property of the Italian government.”
The fact that the Katane tetradrachm was most likely discovered and already in the U.S. before the current Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Italy and the US went into effect (Jan. 19, 2011), unfortunately doesn’t mean such coins are free to stay in U.S. collections.
The catalogue listings of the two coins are no longer available online, but can be found cached for a while longer.
Lot 1008 - cached here:
SICILY, Akragas. Circa 409-406 BC. AR Dekadrachm (35.5mm, 43.41 g, 12h). Attributed to the engravers Myron (the chariot) and Polykrates (the eagles). ΑΚΡΑΓΑΣ, Quadriga galloping to left, the near horse turning his head back to right, driven by a youthful male driver, nude but for a cloak draped around his upper arms and shoulders and billowing in the wind, and holding the reins in both hands; above, eagle soaring upwards to the left, holding a snake in its claws; below, crab moving downwards / Two eagles perched on a dead hare lying on a rock to left; the eagle in the foreground has his head raised in triumph and the one behind lowers his head to tear at the hare with his beak; to right, cicada upwards, its back to the eagles. Gulbenkian 168 (same obverse die); Kraay & Hirmer 179 (Munich); Rizzo Pl. II, 9 (Paris, same dies); Seltman, Engravers 9 (dies G/ι); SNG Lloyd 817 (British Museum). Good extremely fine. Of the greatest rarity, one of twelve known examples and one of the most artistically exciting of all ancient Greek coins. A masterpiece of late 5th century engraving.
From a collection in the United States, once in a Swiss collection and, earlier, in an English collection in London in the 1960s.
This is one of the most famous of all Greek coins - only two other examples of this type have appeared for sale in the past generation: a dreadful example in Triton II (1998), lot 150 (= NAC 9 (1996), lot 135 = SKA 1 (1977), lot 37) and the better example in the famous Nelson Bunker Hunt Collection in 1990 (lot 77). That coin brought the then world’s record price for a Greek coin, which was only recently exceeded. That coin is no match for the quality of the present piece.
In the late 5th century BC the wealthy cities of Sicily seem to have competed with each other over the beauty of the coins they issued, and the very best artists were called on to engrave the dies used to strike them. Of all the coins minted in Sicily the unusually large size and high value of the silver dekadrachms (= 10 drachms) made them by far the most impressive. The first to appear was the so-called Demareteion from Syracuse in the 460s, but the denomination is primarily known from the Syracusan issues of the late 5th and earlier 4th centuries, where they were struck with dies engraved by Kimon and Euainetos. These large and showy coins must have been influenced by the infinitely rarer and even more prestigious pieces issued by Akragas. While the Syracusan coins seem to have actually been used as part of the monetary system and were issued over a relatively long period of time - perhaps a generation - the Akragantine version seems only to have been produced to celebrate a single event: the victory of Exainetos, a citizen from Akragas who won the chariot race at Olympia in 412 BC. These coins were struck using only two obverse and three reverse dies, thus emphasizing how limited was their issue, and can only have been in use for a very short period prior to the city’s capture and destruction by the Carthaginians in 406 BC. The very rarity of these coins today can be explained by the thoroughness of the Carthaginian sack. The obverse dies have been attributed to Myron, whose brilliance was to portray his chariot as being divine, rather than mortal, albeit aristocratic; and either just winning or already victorious in the games. We know this because our chariot is not on the ground, but in the sky: this is shown by the positions of the horses’ legs, the crab and the eagle, and the billowing of the driver’s robes - he can only be Helios in the chariot of the sun. The reverse is the classic badge of the city; two proud eagles devouring a hare, shown in masterful detail.
This piece is from the same dies as that in Paris, but has more developed die flaws, which indicates that is was struck later. Of the other known examples, six are in museums: Cambridge (Harvard - Dewing), Lisbon (Gulbenkian), London, Munich, Paris, and Syracuse (Pennisi). The remaining five include two in the USA, the Hunt piece, the Triton coin, and another apparently in Switzerland.
Starting price: $2500000
Lot 1009 - cached here:
SICILY, Katane. Circa 405-403/2 BC. AR Tetradrachm (30mm, 17.20 g, 7h). Signed by the engraver Herakleidas on the obverse. Laureate head of Apollo facing, turned slightly to the left, with his hair falling in curls and locks around his head and neck; in small letters to right, ΗΡΑΚΛΕΙΔΑΣ / ΚΑΤΑΝΑΙΩΝ, Quadriga galloping to left, the reins of one horse trailing on the ground, driven by a charioteer gripping the reins with both hands; at the center, above the horses, Nike flying right, seemingly preparing to alight on the backs of the horses, holding a crown for the charioteer in her right hand and a kerykeion in her left; in the exergue, below the inscription, fish swimming to left. Basel 338; Gulbenkian 192; Rizzo pl. XIV, 11 and pl. XVI, 3; SNG Lloyd 902 (all from the same dies). Very rare. Toned, and of splendid Classical style. Extremely fine.
Purchased privately from an American collection in 2010.
This is a splendid example of a coin that bears one of the finest facing heads ever to appear in Greek coinage. Apollo was the patron of many Greek cities and his facing head was on the coins of, among other places, Amphipolis, Klazomenai, Rhodes and those of the Carian Satraps issued in Halikarnassos. They all are similar, but all show the different concepts their engravers had of what the god looked like. Some are serene, some proud, some even dangerous looking, but this die of Herakleidas shows us a young man of almost supernatural beauty. His face is truly not that of an ordinary mortal - his radiant perfection is perhaps best paralleled by the portraits of young Florentine aristocrats in Renaissance paintings. This is simply a tour de force of engraving; once again it shows the great pride the Greek cities of Sicily had in their coins and their rivalry to attract the very finest engravers to adorn them. The rarity of this coin has a number of explanations. In 403, only a year or two after it was struck, Katane was captured by Dionysios I of Syracuse who thoroughly pillaged the city and sold all its inhabitants as slaves - few local coins would have escaped being seized, brought back to Syracuse and melted down. Another factor was the technical problems the ancient minters had with facing head dies: some broke completely soon after they came into use due to the high relief, while others suffered from a myriad of tiny faults that increased over the die’s period of use. This coin was struck early in the die’s career. Herakleidas actually made two dies bearing the facing head of Apollo for Katane: this is the better in style and the coins struck from it are rarer.
Starting price: $300000