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Research Coins: Affiliated Auction

Sale: Nomos 1, Lot: 6. Estimate CHF5000. 
Closing Date: Tuesday, 5 May 2009. 
Sold For CHF10500. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

CALABRIA, Tarentum. Circa 280-228 BC. Multiple lot consisting of a small bronze box, 53 mm by 42 mm and 28 mm high, containing 4 silver diobols of Tarentum. The box seems to date to the late 4th century and imitates the larger wooden boxes used as ossuary urns. The bottom part stands on four legs outlined by vertical lines engraved on the body surface, thus delineating the two ends of the box and its front and back. The sides and back are further decorated by two parallel horizontal engraved lines approximately one third up from the bottom. The lid, detached, has a rolled hinge and a flat top with remains of solder, presumably for attaching a decorative repoussé relief now lost. When found the box contained four diobols of Tarentum, all dating circa 280-228 (though probably in the earlier part of that period), and all with a helmeted head of Athena on their obverses and a standing figure of Herakles grappling with the Nemean Lion on their reverses. Their detailed description is as follows:

1. 1.14 g, 12. Athena with plain helmet/club to left and owl between legs of Herakles;

2. 1.26 g, 9. Athena with helmet adorned with hippocamp/owl to left and Ζ between the legs of Herakles;

3. 1.08 g, 5. As last,

4. 1.25 g, 3. Athena with helmet adorned with three pellets and Ζ/ aplustre to left. For the box, cf. M. True and K. Hamma, eds., A Passion for Antiquities. Ancient Art from the Collection of Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman (Malibu, 1994), 29 for a very similar box, slightly larger and with its original repoussé decoration intact. For the diobols, cf. HN III 1061 for all and, for 1., SNG ANS 1454-1455. SNG France 2123. Vlasto 1405; 2 & 3, SNG ANS 1450-1451. Vlasto 1399; 4. SNG ANS-. Vlasto 1376-1380. A fascinating object. The box has been professionally cleaned and restored, but is intact, the coins are all lustrous and basically as found - the first and third are slightly off center and the fourth has some die rust on the reverse. The box is in excellent condition, the coins are all about extremely fine.

Acquired through the late Dr. Leo Mildenberg in 2000.

According to the information that was supplied by Dr. Mildenberg, this box was found in a river and when the deposits that filled it were cleaned out, these four silver coins were found within it. This is by no means improbable: the box itself is probably slightly earlier than the coins, but idea that it contained them seems perfectly reasonable. Its small size implies it was meant to be used to hold relatively precious items. Given the kind of people who still brought things to Dr. Mildenberg in his later years, and this was brought to him a year or two before he died, it is very unlikely that anyone would have thought it worth while to create a fictitious history for the object (especially since the coins themselves were then of relatively minor value). It was undoubtedly shown to him because it was the kind of curiosity everyone knew he enjoyed seeing. In any event, being able to have the actual container in which the present coins were found is both exciting and romantic. The box is so close in form to the Fleischman example, now Getty 96.AC 87 (dated to 350-310 BC), that one wonders whether it could have been made in the same atelier. While its cataloguers pointed out its resemblance to the cinerary urns used in Macedonian tombs (especially that of Philip II), the fact that this one surely came from Magna Graecia makes one wonder whether the Fleischman piece came from there as well.