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Research Coins: Affiliated Auction

Sale: Nomos 3 & 4, Lot: 1067. Estimate CHF1500. 
Closing Date: Monday, 9 May 2011. 
Sold For CHF30000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

THESSALY, Kierion. Circa 400-360 BC. Hemidrachm (Silver, 2.66 g 6). Laureate head of Zeus to right, with a short, neat beard; behind head, thunderbolt. Rev. ΚΙΕ-ΡΙΑΙ-ΟΝ /ΑΡΝΑ The nymph Arne kneeling to right on one knee, her head turned back to left, wearing drapery that leaves her nude to the waist, playing with knucklebones thrown from her right hand, held downwards behind her, and resting her left arm on her left knee. Traité IV, 510 and pl. CCLXXXIX, 23 = Pozzi 1196 (same dies) . Very rare. A coin of refined style, with a very mannered portrait of Zeus. Surfaces slightly porous, otherwise, a lovely coin of great beauty. Extremely fine.

The 4th century coinage of Kierion can be divided into two basic groups, the first, of which this piece is part, have rather severe heads of Zeus, sometimes unwreathed;figures of the nymph Arne who is bare-breasted; and, on the very earliest pieces, as this, the legend ΚΙΕΡΙΑΙΟΝ rather than the more usual ΚΙΕΡΙΕΙΩΝ or its variants, which almost immediately took its place. The second issue has Zeus heads that are more developed (similar to some of the issues of Philip II), as well as fully draped figures of Arne. The only other known example of this type is the Pozzi coin that appeared in the Traité: interestingly enough, while E. Babelon was perfectly happy with that coin, his son Jean had doubts about it (Traité IV, columns 280-290, fn. 3) but was not sure enough to exclude it from his father’s manuscript! He was, of course, wrong. It would be fascinating to compare this piece with the Pozzi coin, but that piece has disappeared. It was bought in the Pozzi sale by a Swiss industrialist, who later sold his collection in Naville X (June 1925), where that coin appeared as lot 514 and was apparently bought for a client by Hirsch, at the rather steep price of 780 CHF (it had fetched 510 at Pozzi). It has not been seen since.
A note from BCD: Probably the second known and a coin of exquisite style that, since its acquisition, I never tired of admiring whenever the opportunity arose. The fact that its pedigreed die duplicate was unjustly condemned made it even more attractive, in a perverse sort of way. That unfortunate coin was owned by Samuel Pozzi who must have turned in his grave when Jean Babelon wrote this footnote in Traité and signed it with his initials: “L’authenticité de cette monnaie est au moin douteuse. Je n’ai pas cru toutefois devoir amputer ici le texte de E. Babelon”. See Naville I (Pozzi), 4 April 1921 1196 for its first appearance at auction and the coin’s subsequent publication in the Traité (reference above). The unsubstantiated and incomprehensible footnote quoted above is at the bottom of column 289 and I can just imagine how Pozzi himself and Ernst Babelon would have reacted to it. The coin made its original appearance when it was sold to Pozzi in December 1905 for 1000 francs by Jean Lambros, a well known dealer of the time. The good doctor, being a real ‘connoisseur’, had no reason to doubt it and kept it until June 1918 when he was shot by a demented client. Less than three years later his legendary collection went up for sale and this coin, lot 1196, was knocked down to Herr Brown, the Swiss industrialist and major shareholder of the Brown Boveri company for 510 Swiss francs. Spink was the underbidder. Meanwhile, Brown Boveri suffered losses due to the devaluations of the French franc and the German mark, also because production costs increased while Swiss sales remained static. In 1924 the company devalued its capital by 30% to cover these losses and on the 15th of January 1925 this coin came up for sale again in Naville X as lot 514. The consignor was Frau Brown, her late husband having obviously left her his coins after departing this world. But Frau Brown was not leaving things to chance, she put a reserve price of 1000 Swiss francs on the coin (in those days reserves were recorded in the book as bids by the consignor). At the auction the coin reached the price of 780 Swiss francs and was bought in by Jacob Hirsch, the underbidder being Monsieur Naville (who was obviously helping his partner so that the coin would reach a respectable price before being returned to Frau Brown, unsold). [The information that helped to put together this story is courtesy of ASW who owns a set of Jacob Hirsch’s annotated catalogues of the Naville-Ars Classica series.] ASW thinks that Frau Brown was very fond of this coin and did not really want to sell it, hence the very high - for those days- reserve price in the form of a bid In fact, ASW thinks that she wanted this coin and, for accounting reasons, actually bought it at the sale by giving Hirsch a bid; while Hirsch often wrote in reserves, he did not cite them in the form of bids with an actual bidder number. The coin’s present location remains a mystery as well as the reason for which Jean Babelon subsequently condemned it.