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Research Coins: Feature Auction


Extremely Rare and Enigmatic Issue

CNG 106, Lot: 45. Estimate $500.
Sold for $700. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

SICILY, Syracuse. Timoleon and the Third Democracy. 344-317 BC. AR Diobol or 1½ Litrai (13mm, 1.17 g, 4h). Attic or litra standard. Helmeted head of Athena facing slightly left / Nude youth on horseback right; star to left. HGC 2, –; Triton XVIII, lot 395; Nanteuil 372 = Sambon, March 1923 (Picard), lot 330 = Sambon & Canessa, December 1907 (de Ciccio), lot 391; Leu 81, lot 114 = Leu 2, lot 118; M. Ratto, May 1935, lot 205; otherwise unpublished. Good VF, some roughness. Extremely rare, apparently the fifth known.

This issue is truly enigmatic. It appears to mimic the issue of Athena/horseman hemidrachms struck on the Attic standard during the time of Timoleon and the Third Democracy (cf. SNG ANS 519–22), but there are two significant differences. The hemidrachms have three dolphins around the head of Athena, and they weigh between 1.75 and 2.15 grams. The four published pieces of the present issue weigh between 1.25 and 1.36 grams. The consistent light weight and absence of the dolphins suggest that these are not simply hemidrachms of light weight. Another possibility (posed in Leu 81) is that these are hemidrachms on the Corinthian standard that was also used at that time at Syracuse, but hemidrachms on that standard are well known, and use typical Corinthian types: female head/forepart of Pegasos. The suggestion by Leu, that this might have been an early Corinthian standard hemidrachm issue that was too confusing due to its similarity to the Attic hemidrachms and was quickly replaced, is not convincing. Another possibility is that this is an issue struck on the litra standard (as cataloged in Nanteuil), which was also used during this period. Theoretically, these would be equal to 1½ litrai. Moreover, the known dilitrai used a horse type on their reverses, and their field markings suggest they were issued contemporary to the Attic hemidrachms. The star on the reverse of the present issue also suggests they were contemporary to the Attic hemidrachms and dilitrai. What is equally plausible, given their weight, is that these coins represent an issue of Attic diobols that were struck alongside the Attic hemidrachms with similar types.