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The Rarest Pompey Pietas Variant with B Mintmark

432, Lot: 268. Estimate $500.
Sold for $600. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

The Pompeians. Sextus Pompey. 44(?) BC. AR Denarius (20mm, 3.40 g, 6h). Uncertain Spanish mint. Bare head of Pompey the Great right; [SEX] MAGN[VS] upward to right, IMP downward to left, B below neck / Pietas standing left, holding palm frond with right hand and transverse scepter with left; PIETAS downward to right. Crawford 477/1a; Buttrey, Pietas Type 1 (dies 3/D); CRI 232; Sydenham 1042 var. (obv. legend); RSC 12b (Pompey the Great); Type as RBW 1669. Fine, toned, some light scratches, minor deposits, couple of banker’s marks, lamination flaw on the reverse. Very rare.

From the Andrew McCabe Collection. Ex Classical Numismatic Group 35 (20 September 1995), lot 632.

With the mintmark B, this is the rarest variety of the classic Pompey Pietas rarity, always engraved in poor style and often offstruck. Professor T.V. Buttrey in his 1960 Numismatic Chronicle article identified and analyzed the five main types of this issue. Michael Crawford uses a similar arrangement, but could not resist noting that Buttrey's acceptance of an ancient forgery “vitiates” his arrangement (in fact, Buttrey did not accept it, but just noted its existence for completeness sake). Of the five types, the head left with SAL is anecdotally considered to be the rarest (however, this is incorrect, see below, actually this coin with the B mintmark is the rarest type). The other two head right types with SAL are the most usually encountered (including almost all the auction database examples); that with no mintmark is also rare. One of the SAL mintmark types is actually a re-engraving of a prior SAL type with amended titles. Crawford considers the later SAL mintmark types to depict Cnaeus Pompey Junior, while the first SAL type depicts Pompey the Great (despite the same actual die and portrait being used, recut). RRC sends us to page 737 to discuss the mintmark SAL; the reference should be corrected to page 94 where Crawford agrees with Buttrey's proposal of Salpensa as the mint location (with reasons but with much uncertainty). This coin, however, bears the much rarer mintmark B. The auction databases only have two coins with mintmark B, compared with over 20 head right having mintmark SAL and four of the head left type. This type is placed first in the series, RRC 477/1a, because this actual die was reused from RRC 470/1. Crawford proposes that the legend CN. MAGNVS IMP B was actually an error on a Crawford 470 type intended to read CN. MAGNVS IMP F, but given the great care with which the RRC 470 dies were prepared, and the clear letter B, which is placed separately under the bust far from IMP at 9pm behind the head, this seems most unlikely. In any event, the trailing F(iulus) actually meaning Junior in this context made no sense for Sextus – only Cnaeus could use The Great's full imperatorial name followed by F. So the trailing letter would have been removed in the reengraving for Sextus in such a case. But it stayed because it is a mintmark. Buttrey discusses possible mint locations as B, consistent with also being the mint for RRC 470. He concludes it cannot stand for “Baetica”, but must be a mint town, possibly “Baelo”, later Baelo Claudia. Woytek in Arma and Nummi proposes an entirely different solution to the issue, agreeing with Bahrfeldt (Nachtraege volume 3) that neither B nor SAL are mintmarks, B being an error and SAL being SALVTATIS (saluted Imperator). Logically, one either goes with both B and SAL being mintmarks – consistent with naming conventions on Spanish local issues, including the Roman OSCA denarius – or neither, hence vitiating the Crawford view of it being a bit of both. In my view, B was a deliberate mintmark, because the ‘error’ story requires three separate inconsistencies (F shown as B, then not removed for Sextus, then inconsistent with SAL). The coin is best read as is, per Buttrey. This denarius is an important academic rarity, and I would hope its new owner does a thorough investigation of the Buttrey, Crawford, Bahrfeldt, Woytek and other viewpoints and perhaps advances the story. This coin has good surfaces, evidently worn by decades of handling, and together with its only partial cleaning, probably indicates an old collection coin. Important. [Andrew McCabe]