« AnteriorContinuar »
THE GREEK AUTONOMOUS COINS
FROM THE CABINET OF THE LATE MR. EDWARD WIGAN, NOW IN THE BRITISH MUSEUM.
I PROPOSE to lay before the readers of the Numismatic Chronicle an account of the Greek autonomous coins selected from the magnificent collection of the late Mr. Edward Wigan, and purchased by the British Museum.
Mr. Wigan, who for many years past had devoted all his leisure time, and, I may add, a large portion of his immense fortune, to the formation of his cabinet of coins, spared no expense to render it one of the finest collections ever got together in the hands of a private individual; not so much on account of its extent, as for the remarkable condition of the specimens contained in it, many of them, rarities seldom to be procured in good preservation, but which he often succeeded in obtaining in the most exquisite condition. This is especially noticeable in the series of the Roman medallions and large brass, a portion of his collection upon which he bestowed the greatest attention. I shall not, however, on the present occasion, attempt any description of the Roman portion, because a catalogue of medallions is now in course of publication by the British Museum, in which all Mr. Wigan's specimens
will be figured as well as described. I confine myself, therefore, to the Greek series, and of these I am compelled to set aside the Imperial, because an account of this portion of the collection, highly interesting and important as it is, would involve me in a task for which I have no leisure, and the completion of which I could not therefore guarantee. The coins selected from Mr. Wigan's collection were chosen with great care by the officers of the Department of Coins, and the nation has lately purchased them for the Museum, by means of a special grant of money from the Treasury. The Museum is to be congratulated on having been enabled to pick and choose from such a collection as that of the late Mr. Wigan. Shortly after that gentleman's death, his collection was purchased, en bloc, by the celebrated and enterprising French firm, Messrs. Rollin and Feuardent, who, without a moment's delay, placed the whole collection in the hands of the Keeper of Coins and Medals, with full authority to make any selection from it which he might think fit.
After a careful examination of the whole, coin by coin, it soon became evident to the officers of the Medal Room, that it would be useless to ask the Treasury for a grant of money so enormous as to enable them to purchase all that was required for the Museum cabinets. Had they done so, the whole transaction must have fallen through. It was therefore necessary to draw a line somewhere, and the following principle of selection was adopted.
In the first place the whole of the English portion was sacrificed at a blow, with the exception of a single piece, viz., the unique crown of James III. The wisdom of this step will be acknowledged by the most ardent of English Numismatists, when it is remembered that this
portion of the collection will be sold to English collectors, and remain in English cabinets, probably at some future time to be again offered to the National Museum. With the Greek and Roman portions the case was different; had these been rejected in favour of the English, Messrs. Rollin and Feuardent could have disposed of them, and without delay, to foreign museums and collectors, and thus they would have been for ever lost to this country.
In the second place, an exhaustive selection was made from the Roman medallions and large brass, which, for beauty and rarity, were unexampled in any European cabinet. Such a liberal selection has now rendered this portion of the Museum collection unrivalled in any country.
series, and here the endless rarities had pieces as were abso
In the third place came the Greek line had to be drawn more strictly to be ruthlessly sacrificed, only such lutely indispensable being chosen for purchase. The selection completed, the Treasury was asked for a special grant, which, after some correspondence, was agreed to.
I must here remind the readers of the Chronicle that, in the year 1864, Mr. Wigan made a donation to the trustees of the British Museum of his splendid collection of Roman gold coins, which contained the pick of some of the grandest collections formed during the last century, the cabinets of Pembroke, Devon, Thomas, and Dupré included; such a munificent gift to the Department of Coins being unique in the history of the Museum.
I consider therefore, that the nation owes to the memory of Mr. Wigan a debt of gratitude which can never be sufficiently repaid; this collection of Roman gold having been worth between £5,000 and £6,000. Mr. Madden, in
vol. v. N.S. of the Num. Chron., gave an interesting account of the Wigan Gold Roman Coins, and I propose to contribute in the following pages an account of those coins from the Greek autonomous portion which have lately been added to the Museum collection. I shall endeavour to render my description of the coins as full as is compatible with the space which is at my disposal, giving the obverse and reverse types of each specimen, and adding a few remarks in cases where the coins are of any special importance, my object being both to interest the general reader of the Chronicle, and to make known as widely as possible the importance of the acquisition by the nation of a series of Greek coins, comprising among them very many valuable pieces, as well as a large number of specimens of unapproachable beauty of art and of rare historical interest. In my description of the coins in this cabinet, I shall follow the usual geographical order, as being at once the best known, and, for general purposes of reference, the most convenient, although I believe that a more scientific arrangement of Greek coins is not only practicable, but highly advisable, on more grounds than one, as will be at once manifest when we call to mind that the geographical arrangement from West to East not only places in juxtaposition the coins of cities which may have flourished at long intervals of time from each other, but tears asunder the coins of colonies and those of their mother cities, breaking up monetary systems, and rendering it very difficult to obtain a clear idea of the principal coinages current at any given period of ancient history. For my present purpose, however, the geographical system serves as well, or better, than a more scientific arrangement. I shall, therefore, now proceed with my account of the coins selected, beginning with those of Italy.
1. Obr.-Head of Pallas, full-face towards left, wearing helmet with three crests, ear-ring and necklace.
Rev.-VJ1. Three letters of the name AVJ 4V1, surrounded by a dotted circle, within which a crescent enclosing a star. AR. 85; wt. 129.5 grs.
2. Obv.-Head of Gorgon with protruded tongue, beneath (mark of value.)
Rev.-Plain. R. ·5; wt. 32 grs.
This coin is a hemidrachm or triobol.
3. Obr.-Head of Hephæstos (?), right, wearing laureated pilos; behind C (mark of value).
Rev.-AV 1V 1. Caduceus bound with fillet. E. 1.05; wt. 182 grs. Semis.
Populonia, as the chief, if not the only maritime city of Etruria, appears to have also been the chief Etrurian town with a regular coinage in silver. Its coins seem to follow in weight a reduced Attic standard, although the marks of value upon them appear to indicate a different monetary system. Mommsen (Ed. Blacas, vol. i., p. 217), supposes the silver of Populonia with the Gorgon head to have been imitated from the early coins of Athens of a similar type, struck about B.c. 594.
ETRURIA, uncertain city.
4. Obv.-OEILE (0€¿λe). Bull's head and shoulders to right.
Rev.-Sea-horse, right. R. 85; wt. 144.7 grs. Pl. III. fig. 1.
The inscription on this curious piece may be compared with that upon a silver coin in the British Museum, having on the obverse a winged Gorgon, and on the reverse an