Depicting Zeus with lover Europa, the Cretan stater made a record in the $6.4m ancient coin auction
London numismatic specialists Morton & Eden have had some spectacular results in their auction yesterday (October 24), A Collection of Exceptional Ancient Greek Coins.
Several lots broke the six figure mark, and most of these were unexpected. Here are just a few of the highlights:
One particularly remarkable result was a double shekel from Tyre in Phoenicia. Dating to 480 BC it shows a dolphin leaping right over the waves. Below the water level is a murex-shell whilst above there is an inscription in Aramaic: sheloshan.
The reverse shows an owl standing right with its head facing us, carrying a crook and flail, all framed by an incuse impression following the contours of the design. Weighing in at 13.34g, it is well centred, extremely fine and rare, and was once part of the Kunstfreund (Gillet) collection.
Though it was only listed at £7,000-10,000, bidders took matters into their own hands and buffeted the price up to £168,000 ($268,000).
That wasn’t the top lot, however. That honour went to a stater from Gorkyna in Crete, dating to c. 330-270 BC.
It depicts one of Zeus’s human lovers, Europa, semi-nude and seated facing in plain tree with trunk in the form of a left-facing bull’s head, raising veil toward her head with her right hand and with her left holding eagle with spread wings on her.
The reverse shows a bull (or cow?) standing left with its head turned back to ward off a fly from his left rear hoof. Weighing in at 11.52g, this is the finest of only three known examples of this variety.
Extremely fine and of the highest rarity, this is certainly one of the finest known staters of Gortyna depicting Europa with, unusually, Zeus in his two disguises on the obverse, both as an eagle and as a bull.
A different, less powerful, die is known of the same type (as Svoronos 84 and BMC 30) which is combined with a more conventional bull on the reverse. Or perhaps it is a reference to Io’s persecution by Hera’s gadfly?
Cretan coins of the 4th and 3rd centuries were overstruck on coins brought back to the island by mercenaries returning from abroad.
Consequently they are normally found in indifferent state with traces of the undertypes interfering with the local designs which mostly represent Cretan mythology.
The present coin is distinguished as being carefully struck on flans that show no evidence of overstriking. Listed at £60,000-80,000, it impressed bidders to the point at which one paid a startling £300,000 ($479,000) – an enormous sum for an ancient coin.
In total, the auction made just over £4m, against an estimate of just £1m-1.5m. Collectors fascinated by ancient coins from this region will also want to take a look at this silver Rhodes tetradrachm coin from 410BC which features the face of Helios.
Celebrating a 100 per cent sold sale, specialist in charge Tom Eden said he was delighted by the response to the coins in this single-owner private collection, many of which were of exceptional quality and rarity.
“This collection was formed over the last 50 years and many of the most significant examples had been purchased in the 1960s and 70s. Since then, the owner has researched and recorded the provenance of each coin, many of which were until now previously unavailable to present-day collectors.
“These factors added greatly to their desirability. The response from bidders both in the room and on the Internet, was extremely pleasing, while the results speak for themselves, recording a total of almost double our top estimate.”
Specifically regarding the Cretan stater, Tom Eden told us: “In many ways the most spectacular coin in the collection, which eventually realised the top price, was the stater of Gortyna in Crete which showed the mythological scene of the Rape of Europa, where Zeus appeared in the guise of a bull to ravish her.
“Unusually on this coin Zeus is shown in his guise as both a bull and an eagle and it was considered to be the finest known of only three extant specimens. The price it achieved, after strong competition from a number of collectors, was a record for a coin of Crete.”