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Research Coins: Affiliated Auction

Sale: Nomos 1, Lot: 144. Estimate CHF5000. 
Closing Date: Tuesday, 5 May 2009. 
Sold For CHF4900. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

Titus. 79-81. Seal box cover (Orichalcum, 25 x 10mm, ), One sided, leaf-shaped and hollow-backed, with the original hinge at the top. Laureate head of Titus to right Rev. Plain, with the design of the obverse incuse. Apparently unpublished, but for the general type, see R. Hattatt, Ancient Brooches and other Artefacts (Oxford, 1989), pp. 461 ff., a general survey of Romano-British examples can be found at An extraordinary item, clearly related to coinage and finance. With a fine portrait of Titus in high relief and an attractive golden, ‘Tiber’ patina. With some deposits and two minor splits, otherwise, about as made.

Acquired from the late Dr. Leo Mildenberg who inherited it as part of the stock of Jacob Hirsch (1874-1955). Now mounted, using a removable wax fixative, on a custom made acrylic stand.

This is a particularly fascinating item. When the Romans sent important small packages by courier, such as documents or valuables, they were apparently put in containers that were placed in strong leather or cloth bags, which were then fastened and sealed. The sealing process utilized a stout cord with its knot covered in wax that was impressed with the sender’s signet. To protect this wax seal, it and the knot were encased in a small, ornamental metal box composed of a concave back with two holes for the cord, and a hinged lid to protect the contents. In addition, the lid could be kept closed by further cords sewn to the package and tied around it. Hinged boxes used for this purpose have been found in Britain, where they tend to date to the 2nd and 3rd centuries and are mostly of enameled bronze. However, they certainly started earlier. Hattatt illustrated an example found in Ostia bearing the portraits of Hadrian and Sabina (p. 464, 151) and seal boxes with portraits of Vespasian and Domitian have been found in London and must have been used by high officials (P. Salway, A History of Roman Britain, Oxford 2001, p. 381). This was certainly the case with this piece, especially given it’s splendid portrait of Titus, which was surely made by workers in the Imperial mint in Rome and then sent out for official use in the provinces.