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A 'Grail' Dream Coin

David Atherton

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I never thought I would own it. Ever since the publication of RIC II.1 in late 2007, I have had a tremendous appreciation for a unique Domitian/Titus mint mule denarius published for the first time within its pages. Miraculously, it showed up in trade last month! Needless to say I had to have the piece. A 'grail' coin if ever there was one!



AR Denarius, 3.35g
Rome mint, 81 AD
Obv: IMP CAESAR DOMITIANVS AVG; Head of Domitian, laureate, bearded, r.
Rev: TR P IX IMP XV COS VIII P P; Tripod with fillets; above, ravens, l. and r., and dolphin over wreath
RIC 6 (R3, this coin). BMC -. RSC -. BNC -.
Ex Harlan J Berk, MBS 224, lot 139. Ex Curtis Clay Collection. Ex CNG, Auction 70, 21 September 2005, lot 910.

A unique mint mule combining a first issue Domitian obverse with a reverse die used for Titus' last issue. This coin may help clear up a long debated mystery concerning the date of Titus' last denarius issue. Curtis Clay explains: 'Titus' gold and silver coinage is regarded as having ended before 1 July 80, over a year before he died, since his latest aurei and denarii all bear the title TR P IX, and his ninth tribunician year ended on 1 July 80. A fourteen-month gap in the precious metal coinage is strange in this era, however, and if we follow Mattingly in postulating that the attested fire in Rome in 80 destroyed the mint, so interrupting its production, it seems a remarkable coincidence that the mint was finally repaired, and ready to resume production using the same "pulvinar" types that it had been striking for Titus early in 80, precisely when Titus died and Domitian assumed the throne in Sept. 81! Judging from Domitian's earliest coinage, one would have thought that the mint must still have been producing pulvinar coins for Titus just before he died, despite the title TR P IX. That this was in fact the case seems to be proven by a mule which emerged in 2005, RIC Domitian 6, pl. 117, showing Domitian's earliest obv. legend as Augustus, IMP CAESAR DOMITIANVS AVG, coupled with a pulvinar reverse type of Titus, TR P IX IMP XV COS VIII P P, Tripod with dolphin, wreath, and ravens above. This mule strongly suggests that pulvinar coins were being struck for Titus just before he died: it's difficult to believe that an old die of before 1 July 80 had somehow survived the supposed fire, and just happened to be available for use by Domitian fourteen months later! But why continued use of the outdated title? In Sept. 81 Titus was TR P XI, not IX!'

This unique specimen is the plate coin in RIC II.1. It is also discussed in RIC's introduction to Titus' coinage: '... a recently discovered mint mule combines a reverse of Titus' last denarius issue with an obverse of the first issue of Domitian's reign in late 81 (Dom no. 6). Mules usually combine dies in parallel or at least in closely contemporaneous use, which might imply here that the Titus TRP IX IMP XV COS VIII dies continued to be used after the assumption of TR P X, and perhaps even into 81. In sum, while the titulature of Titus is of the first half of 80, the sheer scale of the coinage produced for Titus COS VIII and Domitian COS VII, and the fact that following Domitian's accession the mint was very active in the period September to December 81, suggests 80-81 (p. 185)'. It must be noted that prior to this coin's discovery in 2005, Titus' last denarius issue had previously been dated by the major references to the first half of 80. 

The numismatic and historical importance of the piece, combined with its aesthetic beauty, places it at or near the top of my list of all time favourite coins. A most thrilling acquisition!


Here it is in hand.



And pictured next to the RIC plate photo.



For comparison, here are the proper Titus and Domitian varieties.



AR Denarius, 3.40g
Rome Mint, 80-81 AD
Obv: IMP TITVS CAES VESPASIAN AVG P M; Head of Titus, laureate, bearded, r.
Rev: TR P IX IMP XV COS VIII P P; Tripod with fillets; above, ravens, l. and r., and dolphin over wreath
RIC 131 (R). BMC 82. RSC 323a. BNC 66.
Acquired from Beast Coins, April 2007.



AR Denarius, 3.30g
Rome mint, 81 AD
Obv: IMP CAESAR DOMITIANVS AVG; Head of Domitian, laureate, bearded, r.
Rev: TR P COS VII; Tripod with fillets; above, ravens, l. and r., and dolphin over wreath
RIC 5 (C). BMC 4. RSC 552. BNC 4.
Ex Lanz, eBay, 17 November 2013.


Please feel free to share your own 'grail' coins. As always, thank you for looking!



Edited by David Atherton
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Most of your finds being already rare and tremendous, I'm lacking words to qualify this over the top one : is "fabulous" enough ?


The following demi pistole minted in 1576 CE wasn't supposed to exist until recently, absent from all reference books and catalogs. After staying 100 years in a family collection it's been finally auctioned last year.



Dombes, Louis II de Montpensier - demi pistole, 1576

Atelier de Trévoux
+ LVDOVI . D . MONTISP . D . DOMBAR Ecu de Bourbon couronné
+ DNS . ADIVT . ET . REDEM . MEVS . 1576 : Croix feuillue
3.29 gr - 
Unique exemplaire à ce jour
Ref : Divo Dombes -, Friedberg -, Poey d'Avant -, Mantellier -, Sirand -, Boudeau -

Provenance : collection Fernand David, vente Gadoury du 12/03/2022 # 545


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12 hours ago, Ricardo123 said:

Very nice catch for a Flavian specialist. I know couple of collector who spotted it but just can’t afford it !

Oh, I bet! There is one fellow collector I discussed the purchase with who knew it was not an easy decision. But it's hard to pass up a piece once you picture it in your collection!

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55 minutes ago, CPK said:

I have to say, I was half wondering if the grail would turn out to be a Titus Colosseum sestertius! I've noticed a couple slightly more "affordable" specimens being auctioned off recently.

Definitely a type I would love to have. But the backbone of my collection are the denarii...so, a denarius which single handedly links Titus and Domitian's reigns (and a RIC plate coin) is almost more desirable than the Colosseum sestertius. 

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And if there is any lingering doubt about the Domitian RIC 6 reverse die being an actual working die for Titus' last denarius issue, here is the same reverse die paired with a Titus obverse (not my coin).




Clear evidence the Rome mint was striking denarii up until Titus' death in September 81. And it appears the same engraver worked on both obverse dies! The two coins were likely struck within days (if not hours) of each other.

Edited by David Atherton
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42 minutes ago, Coinmaster said:

Would you think the use of the reverse die was just a mistake or is there another explanation?
Maybe a stupid question, but why the IMP XV as Titus was only emperor between 79-81?
And what's the story about the raven and dolphin?

It certainly was a mistake! A Titus reverse die with his last known titulature paired with an obverse of Domitian is a whopper of an error! The mint workers who struck this coin, for whatever reason, used an obsolete reverse die.

After July 81 Titus would have been TR P XI and IMP XVII. The fact the coins do not advance his titulature past early 80 TR P IX and IMP XV is indeed puzzling. But, as this coin shows, that seems to be the case!

The reverse is the pulvinar of Apollo. https://www2.classics.upenn.edu/myth/php/tools/dictionary.php?method=did&regexp=794&setcard=0&link=0&media=0

The dolphin, ravens, laurel and tripod are all symbols of Apollo.

Edited by David Atherton
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How fortunate for you, David! Coingratulations on such a once-in-a-lifetime acquisition. And it's in a remarkable state of preservation, too! This one is a recent acquisition. It doesn't look like much, but the left-facing bust type is very rare. Strack records specimens only in Vienna and Naples and Cohen cited the stock of M. Rollin. Comprehensive internet searches do not reveal any other specimens and neither Paul Dinsdale nor Curtis Clay -- who have extensive photo files -- are aware of any other specimen. This one thus may be the fourth known example.


Faustina II, 147-175 CE.
Roman Æ as or dupondius, 10.34 g, 26.4 mm, 7 h.
Rome, August 156-157 CE.
Obv: FAVSTINA AVGVSTA, bare-headed and draped bust, left.
Rev: AVGVSTI PII FIL S C, Venus standing facing, head left, holding Victory on extended right hand and resting left hand on shield, set on helmet.
Refs: RIC 1389b; BMCRE 2202n.; Cohen 18; Sear –; Strack 1333.

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