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Research Coins: Feature Auction

 
89000669

Pharsalos. Lot of 11 coins.

Triton XV, Lot: 669. Estimate $300.
Sold for $3000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

The extensively forged - in ancient times - Pharsalos hemidrachms have always been a subject of great interest for this collector. The ten pieces that follow are representative of what has appeared in the market during the last few decades. Many more have been rejected because of too little silver remaining on them (or too much wear and corrosion). But even these, unattractive as they may be, can help with completing the picture of a tough, merciless world and a society that had no scruples and where ignorance and gullibility were dearly paid for. In this respect at least, our world today is infinitely better than that of 2500 years ago.

Lot of 11 coins.

(669.1) THESSALY, Pharsalos. Early to mid 4th century BC. AR fourrée Hemidrachm (14.5mm, 1.54 g). Head of Athena r., wearing Attic helmet decorated with scroll and three snakes / A, a few traces of the rev. horse’s head and neck. Near VF, lightly toned, an unusually appealing obverse but from a die not engraved by any of the mint die cutters.

This attractive head combines elements from the first four groups of hemidrachms, Lavva’s A.I.1, A.II.1, A.II.2 and A.II.3. It is interesting to note that all the “disfiguring” was carried out only on the reverse. Destroying the image of a goddess, even if this image appeared on a fake coin, was probably considered a sacrilege by the average ancient Greek.

(669.2) THESSALY, Pharsalos. Early to mid 4th century BC. AR fourrée Hemidrachm (15.5mm, 2.51 g, 9h). Head of Athena r., wearing Attic helmet decorated with scroll and three snakes / A sideways above r., Φ sideways below r., horse’s head and neck r. in an incuse square. Good Fine, a shallow cut at obv. 6 o’clock; the rev. having lost some of its flimsy silver coating.

An obverse die certainly by the same hand as the obverse of 664.1, but with less fine detail of execution.

(669.3) THESSALY, Pharsalos. Early to mid 4th century BC. AR fourrée Hemidrachm (15.5mm, 2.02 g, 3h). Head of Athena r., wearing Attic helmet decorated by a single scroll design at the back / Φ-AR r. down, head and neck of horse r. in a shallow incuse square with rounded corners. Near VF, a very light chop mark on the reverse, just under the horse’s neckline; the silver film has peeled off in a couple of places on the obverse.

The obverse is imitating (or inspired from) Lavva’s group A.II.2. A moderately successful copy. Same obverse die as lot 669.4 below. Another point of interest is the rather persuasive pendant worn by the horse around its neck as a good luck charm.

(669.4) THESSALY, Pharsalos. Early to mid 4th century BC. AR fourrée Hemidrachm (15mm, 2.23 g, 5h). Head of Athena r., wearing Attic helmet decorated by a single scroll design at the back / Φ-AR r. down, head and neck of horse r. in a shallow incuse square with rounded corners. Near VF, a small piece cut off the edge at 9 o’clock obverse and a couple of green spots indicating copper underneath; the rev. partly covered with some deposit that will probably reveal the bronze core when it is removed.

Same obv. die as previous lot 669.3, the rev. from another die but similar, probably from the same hand.

(669.5) THESSALY, Pharsalos. Early to mid 4th century BC. AR fourrée Hemidrachm (14.5mm, 2.52 g, 5h). Head of Athena r., wearing Attic helmet / A-Φ reading downwards on the r., horse’s head and neck r., in shallow incuse square with rounded corners. Good Fine, a shallow chop mark and a couple of old deep scratches (probably by some disappointed recipient) on the obv. that also is a little off centre.

A not so successful imitation of Lavva’s group A.II.2 but still fairly credible when given to someone lacking visual experience of this group’s hemidrachms.

(669.6) THESSALY, Pharsalos. Early to mid 4th century BC. AR fourrée Hemidrachm (15.5mm, 2.50 g, 3h). Head of Athena r., wearing Attic helmet / Φ-AR r. down, horse’s head and neck r., in shallow incuse square with rounded corners. Good Fine, double struck on the obv. and with copper leaching out from several spots; the reverse unblemished.

Ex CNG e-sale 215 (31 July 2009) 561 (part).

Another unsuccessful attempt to imitate Lavva’s group A.II.2. The reverse here is much more convincing than the obverse.

(669.7) THESSALY, Pharsalos. Early to mid 4th century BC. AR fourrée Hemidrachm (14mm, 2.43 g, 6h). Head of Athena r., wearing Attic helmet / Φ-AR l. down and outwards, the R retrograde, horse’s head and neck left in a shallow incuse square with rounded corners. Good Fine, the obv. a little off centre and struck on a slightly elongated flan; the horse’s head unusually narrow and long.

This is an attempt to imitate coins of Lavva’s group A.III.1, especially the obverse dies of 30, 33 or 36. The revese however would immediately give the coin away as there was no official reverse die with the horse to left (for a possible exception see above, lot 635, although its legitimacy is disputable). The silver coating here seems more like a silver wash, as it has rubbed off the edges of the coin and the base metal is also leaching through practically everywhere.

(669.8) THESSALY, Pharsalos. Early to mid 4th century BC. AR fourrée Hemidrachm (15mm, 3.00 g, 8h). Head of Athena r., wearing Attic helmet / Φ-A above, Σ-P retrograde below, head and neck of horse r. in a concave field. Fine, the bronze core is revealed in several spots on the obverse whereas the reverse, a little off centre, is still fully coated.

Ex Sotheby’s 12 May 1983, 174 (part); Rodolfo Ratto 4 April 1927, 1033; Naville - Ars Classica V (18 June 1923) 1780.

This ancient forgery has a pedigree in a sale where it initially sold as a genuine coin of solid silver until it was spotted for what it was by Rodolfo Ratto and sold as a fourée to end up in a Sotheby’s unillustrated lot from where this writer acquired it. Its interest lies in that the forger tried to introduce later elements (reflecting his own period of time) to an otherwise archaic concept. The reverse is clearly 4th century while the obverse tries to “modernize” an archaic looking head by adding the raised and curved cheek piece and a fake signature IΠ behind the neck. A commendable try as it apparently fooled the principals of Naville & Cie (not particularly difficult to do so when these “experts” sold as genuine lots 1901 and 1902 at the same auction while withdrawing as false lot 1770 which now is lot 588.2 in this catalogue).

(669.9) THESSALY, Pharsalos. Early to mid 4th century BC. AR fourrée Hemidrachm (15.5mm, 2.44 g, 9h). Head of Athena r., wearing pendant earring and Attic helmet decorated by two scrolls and two olive twigs, cheek piece raised / Φ-A above, Σ-P retrograde below, horse’s head and neck r. in a shallow incuse square with rounded corners. Near VF, the bronze core is revealed on the obverse by some exfoliation around the nose and the forehead areas and a very shallow cut, more like a scrape, behind and under the ear; on the reverse, only a small area below the horse’s nose and a split of the surface under its neckline indicate that the coin is plated.

This coin may belong to the workshop and the team that produced lot 669.8 above. If this is the case then we can say that they have improved a lot. The obverse has lost almost all its archaic features and the coin now looks more convincing.

(669.10) THESSALY, Pharsalos. Early to mid 4th century BC. AR fourrée Hemidrachm (15.5mm, 2.51 g, 11h). Head of Athena r., wearing pendant earring and Attic helmet decorated by two scrolls and two olive twigs, cheek piece raised / Φ-AR r. down in large, awkward letters, horse’s head and neck r. in a shallow incuse square with rounded corners. Fine, the obv. surface has cracked in many places but the actual bronze core is fully shown on the rev. edge from 9 to 11 o’clock.

The obverse looks quite close to the 4th century issues and would probably pass, but the reverse with the incuse and the archaic R gives this one away.

(669.11) THESSALY, Pharsalos. Early to mid 4th century BC. AR fourrée Hemidrachm (14.5mm, 2.45 g, 11h). Head of Athena r., wearing Attic helmet decorated by two scrolls and two olive twigs, cheek piece raised / Φ-A above, Σ-P retrograde below, head and neck of poorly engraved horse r., in circular concave field. Fine, the bronze core shows mostly in front of the nose on the obv. and on the rev. edge at 9 o’clock.

Here the reverse has been “corrected” to become contemporary with the obverse but the horse portrait is really poor and would give it away if the recipient had seen any genuine hemidrachms and remembered what their horses looked like.