SICILY. Syracuse. Time of Dionysius I (405-367 BC). AR decadrachm (33mm, 43.30 gm, 6h). Struck ca. 400-390 BC. Unsigned dies in the style of Euainetos. Charioteer, in flowing chiton and holding goad and reins, driving racing quadriga left; above, Nike flying right, about to crown charioteer with wreath; in exergue, panoply of arms: cuirass between two greaves, with Phrygian helmet to right; all within a border of dots / Head of Arethusa left, wearing wreath of reeds, triple-pendant earring, and necklace; ΣΥ-Ρ-Α-Κ-ΟΣΙΩΝ above, pellet below chin, four dolphins swimming around. Gallatin R.XXII/J.V (citing five examples). SNG ANS 375 and Rizzo pl. LIII, 18 (both from same dies). SNG Copenhagen 694 and Dewing 923 (both from same obverse die). Well centered and struck from dies of exceptional style. Attractive old cabinet tone. A rare and impressive piece, especially in this state of preservation. NGC Choice AU? 5/5 – 5/5, Fine Style.
Ex Harewood House Collection, acquired circa 1960s or earlier.
One of the largest silver denominations minted in classical antiquity, the decadrachm of Syracuse remains one of the most alluring and celebrated coins in history. The immense size of this 10 drachm denomination offered the engravers of Syracuse the scope to fully display their mastery of the medium. After a brief “trial run” in the 460s BC, the decadrachm in was reintroduced in Syracuse by the tyrant Dionysius following his assumption to power in 405 BC, testament to his grandiose vision to make Syracuse the foremost city in the Greek world. Two of the greatest local numismatic artists, Kimon and Euainetos, produced dies for the new series, each bringing their own distinctive style to the already iconic emblems of Syracuse: A racing four-horse chariot (quadriga) backed with a head of the beautiful Arethusa, nymph of the spring of Ortygia, surrounded by frolicking dolphins. Both engravers took great pride in their designs and signed their dies, much in the manner of a modern artist; both decadrachm types also include dies that have symbols (in this case a simple pellet) instead of a signature, perhaps indicating they were engraved by apprentices working under the masters, closely copying their work.
Signed decadrachms generally command a premium over their unsigned counterparts. A comparably struck and preserved signed specimen sold in November 2013 for a hammer of CHF 400,000 ($437,000), while one of the most attractive unsigned versions (graded extremely fine by NGC) sold in January 2011 for a hammer of $260,000. Though attractive, it did not have as much to offer as the present coin above, which exhibits better centering on each side, less wear to the highest points and a finely shaped planchet, reminiscent of a majestic coin from America’s early 20th century renaissance in coinage. None of the usual imperfections seen on Syracuse decadrachms, notably deteriorated and/or rusty dies, are evident here.
The coin also boasts a distinguished pedigree, having graced the collection of the 7th Earl of Harewood, George Henry Hubert Lascelles, heir to a considerable collection of European fine art acquired by his father, Henry George Charles Lascelles. The latter was married to Princess Mary, daughter of George V, and was British attaché in Rome 1905-1907 as well as a trustee of the British Museum. Having been in the Harewood House Collection for at least half a century, this piece enjoyed a brief period on loan to the British Museum in the 1960’s, but has been otherwise isolated from the numismatic community.
Lot 23009 – Sold for: $340,750.00