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Research Coins: Feature Auction


Cabinet W
PHOKIS, Delphi. Circa 480-475 BC

Triton XV, Lot: 1005. Estimate $500000.
Sold for $600000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

PHOKIS, Delphi. Circa 480-475 BC. AR Tridrachm (25mm, 18.31 g). Two drinking vessels (rhytons) in the form of rams heads; above them, two dolphins swimming toward each other; around, border of dots / Quadripartite incuse square in the form of a coffered ceiling; each coffer decorated with a dolphin and a spray of laurel leaves. Asyut 239 (this coin); BCD 376; Svoronos, Delphi pl. 25, 34 (Berlin) and 35 (Paris = Kraay & Hirmer 461). Extremely rare and of the greatest artistic, historical, and architectural importance. A superb example, probably the finest known. Extremely fine.

Purchased privately from the BCD collection in 2002. Ex Leu 54 (28 April 1992), 100 (illustrated on the front cover) and from the Asyut Hoard of 1968/9 (IGCH 1644).

The tridrachms of Delphi are among the most historically interesting of all Greek coins. Prior to the Asyut find they were only known from two coins in Paris and Berlin, as well as a fragment from the Zagazig Hoard of 1901 (IGCH 1645); now there are at least 11 examples, of which this may well be the best (of the seven from Asyut five have test cuts). The fact that almost all the known examples were found in Egypt suggests that the unusual weight standard might have been chosen specifically with Egyptian trade in mind. The obverse type is a direct reference to the Greek victory over the Persians at Plataea in 479, when a great deal of booty, including silver vessels, was taken by the Greeks. These two rhyta were certainly from that booty and must have been brought as a dedication to Apollo in Delphi (rams were sacred to Apollo, along with dolphins). The reverse of this coin is also very unusual: it is not a normal quadripartite incuse but, rather, clearly shows the stepped coffering that we know decorated ancient ceilings, especially those of prestigious buildings like that of the Temple of Apollo. The dolphins that ornament these coffers make the identification sure as they are a play on both the name of Delphi and on the fact that Apollo himself could appear in the form of a Dolphin.