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The Duke of Northumberland's Collection - Post Your Coins!

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One of the great, old and documented collections of ancient coins is the Duke of Northumberland Collection.  This collection was expertly catalogued by Admiral William Smyth in his 1856 book, "Descriptive Catalogue of A Cabinet of Roman Family Coins Belonging to His Grace the Duke of Northumberland."  In 1851, his Grace Algernon, Duke of Northumberland (5 December 1792 – 12 February 1865), showed Admiral Smyth a collection of Roman coins which had been in the Duke’s family “for many years,” and Smyth was engaged to organize and catalogue the collection which was “in rather a disorderly state”.  The resulting work was printed for private circulation and, while lacking illustrations (line drawn or otherwise), it more than compensates with wonderfully detailed and often astute descriptions of the coins, including their weights in grains.  

We know that the coins described in Smyth’s book must have been acquired before the book’s publication in 1856 and they were likely acquired by the Duke’s family long before 1851 when the coins were first shown to Smyth.  The ownership history conceivably dates to the 18th century.  On 4 November 1982, the Northumberland collection, including the beautiful cabinets commissioned by Admiral Smyth to house the reorganized coins, was sold by Sotheby’s.   The Sotheby’s introduction to the auction catalogue suggests that the collection may have been formed by the first Duke of Northumberland (1715-1786), who was a lover of the arts and who had a numismatist on staff for many years.

Below is a portrait of his Grace Algernon, Duke of Northumberland (5 December 1792 – 12 February 1865) by Francis Grant. 



Below is the inscription on the title page of my copy of Admiral Smyth's book.  It was likely inscribed by the Duke's personal secretary.  I imagine many of the Duke's friends receiving copies of this book, flipping through the pages for a few seconds, and never opening it again.  Perhaps that's why my copy survived.  



I am fortunate to have three Roman Republican coins from this fabulous, old collection.  I'm sure many of you also have some of the Duke's former coins; post'em if you got 'em! 




Rome, The Imperators.

Brutus, 43-2 BC

AR Denarius (3.76 g; 21 mm)

Mint traveling with Brutus

Obverse: LEIBERTAS. Liberty head facing right.

Reverse: CAEPIO BRVTVS PRO COS. Lyre with quiver and filleted olive branch.

References: Crawford 501/1; HCRI 199; Smyth (1856) IX/11(this coin described).

Provenance: Ex NAC 84 (2015), Lot 859; NAC 9 (16 Apr 1996), Lot 758; NAC 4 (27 Feb 1991), Lot 289; NAC 2 (21 Feb 1990), Lot 481; Duke of Northumberland Collection [Sotheby's, 4 Nov 1982, Lot 475], acquired before 1856.

Liberty is a common theme on coins of the tyranicides who claimed to have liberated The Republic from the regal aspirations of Julius Caesar; so it's no surprise to find Libertas prominent on this coin of Brutus. Sear points out that the reverse is likely derived from the frequent depiction of lyres, quivers and filleted branches on Lycian Leage coins. This issue was likely struck in Lycia.




Rome, The Imperators.

Brutus with Casca Longus. 42 BCE.

Plated (fourree) Denarius (2.53g; 20mm).

Military mint, 42 BCE.

Obverse: CASCA LONGVS; Neptune's head facing right; trident below.

Reverse: BRVTVS IMP; Victory advancing right on broken scepter, holding filleted diadem and palm.

References: Crawford 507/2; HCRI 212; Sydenham1298 (R6); BMCRR (East) 63; Junia 44; Servilia 35; Smyth XIV/28 (this coin described).

Provenance: Naville Auction 62 (13 Dec 2020) Lot 393; Duke of Northumberland Collection [Sotheby's (1982) Lot 482]; acquired before 1856.

While it is generally accepted that there were no “official” plated denarii issued by the Roman Republic, there were very-rare exceptions during the Imperatorial Period.  Cornuficius’ coinage struck in North Africa circa 42 BC (Crawford 509) are more often found plated than solid and may have been an “official” plated issue.  Whether the tyrannicides may have run into occasional silver shortages during the lead-up to Phillipi which required issuance of plated coins on an emergency basis can only be guessed; however, plated coins of the tyrannicides are certainly not common enough to support such a theory.  I have seen a few very high-quality plated examples of the above type, but not huge numbers.  Also, ancient forgeries were often produced from impressions of genuine coins and should be of good style. 

Publius Servilius Casca Longus was one of the leading conspirators against Julius Caesar, and he was Tribune of the Plebs at the time of the assassination.  Plutarch reports that a nervous Casca was the first to stab Caesar on the Ides of March with a glancing blow: “Casca gave him the first cut, in the neck, which was not mortal nor dangerous, as coming from one who at the beginning of such a bold action was probably very much disturbed.  Caesar immediately turned about and laid his hand upon the dagger and kept hold of it.  And both of them at the same time cried out, he that received the blow, in Latin, ‘Vile Casca, what does this mean?’ and he that gave it, in Greek, to his brother [Gaius] ‘Brother, help!’” [Plutarch: Lives of the noble Grecians and Romans, Arthur Clough (Ed.)]  After Caesar’s assassination, Casca was given command of Brutus’ fleet.  Nothing is known of Casca following the Battle of Philippi in October 42 BCE, where he likely perished or committed suicide in the aftermath.

The Neptune obverse refers to Casca’s naval command and the naval superiority of the conspirators before Philippi.  Coins of the conspirators are replete with depictions of liberty and victory, and this coin is no exception.   The reverse, with its broken scepter, clearly alludes to the assassins’ hope to eliminate monarchy in the Roman state and restore the Republic.  Some authors have speculated that Victory is breaking a regal diadem on this type, although I don’t think that is abundantly clear.

In describing this coin, Admiral Smyth said: “[t]his remarkably well-plated denarius, in very high preservation, and though fully spread, weighs only 39.5 grains…” Indeed, the coin is remarkably well-plated, with only one spot of the core visible on Neptune’s cheek, and the flan quite full at 20mm.  Except for the one spot of visible core, the surfaces are exceptional, with deep iridescent tone, reflecting over a century spent in the Duke’s cabinets which were specially commissioned by Admiral Smyth to house the collection.




Rome, The Republic.

C. Terentius Lucanus, 147-late 140s BCE.

AR Denarius (3.58g; 19mm).

Rome Mint.

Obverse: Helmeted head of Roma, facing right; X value mark and Victory crowning Roma, behind.

Reverse: Dioscuri with couched spears galloping to right; C.TER.LVC beneath; ROMA in linear frame in exergue.

References: Crawford 217/1; Sydenham 425; BMCRR 775-81; Terentia 10; Smyth XV-21 (this coin described).

Provenance:  Numismatica Ars Classica Auction 120 (6 Oct 2020), Lot 504; Duke of Northumberland Collection [Sotheby's (4 Mar 1982), Lot 241(part)], acquired before 1856.

The moneyer may be the son of the Terentius Lucanus who, according to Suetonius, purchased and subsequently freed a slave later known as the comedic playwright Terence.  Victory with wreath appears on both the silver and bronze issues of this moneyer, perhaps referring to a military victory by a member of the Terentia gens or to some contemporaneous Roman victory.  While Crawford dates C. Terentius Lucanus’ coins at 147 BCE, Mattingly prefers a date in the late 140s BCE and suggests he was moneyer with L. Cup and C. Scribonius based on typology, abbreviation styles and prosopography.


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What a fabulous write-up, @Carausius! Such a rich history of that collection that I'm glad you shared it with us.   

Alas, I don't have any Duke coins yet and feel left out!  I need to fix that someday.  

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Posted · Supporter

Those are great coins.  I have two coins from Northumberland (one is broken and glued together, so they're not on the level of yours!) but only have my 'phone right now.   Will add them next week when I get back 




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Posted · Supporter

Although not an ancient coin, I thought I would post this out of related interested. This is a "Northumberland" shilling.

George III (1760-1820), silver Shilling, 1763, so-called Northumberland type, young laureate and draped bust right, Latin legend and toothed border surrounding, GEORGIVS. III DEI. GRATIA. rev. crowned cruciform shields, garter star at centre, date either side of top crown, Latin legend and toothed border surrounding, M.B.F. ET. H. REX. F.D. B.ET. L. D. S. R. I. A. T ET. E.

The Latin legends translate to on obverse "George III by the Grace of God" continuing on the reverse in abbreviated Latin which if in shown in full reads "Magnae Britanniae Franciae ET Hiberniae Rex Fidei Defensor Brun ET Lunebergen-sis Dux, Sacri Romani Imperii Archi-Thesaurius ET Elector" and translates as "King of Great Britain, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, Duke of Brunswick and Luneberg, High Treasurer and Elector of the Holy Roman Empire."

The Northumberland Shilling is so called because the Earl of Northumberland as the new Lord Lieutenant of Dublin in 1763 distributed £100 worth of these new coins, some two thousand pieces whilst parading on the streets of Dublin in Ireland. The coin has often been erroneously described as being commissioned by the Earl of Northumberland but actually the Royal Mint minted £5000 of these coins.

I presume that the Earl of Northumberland is an ancestor of the Duke referred to in this post. 



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My two...

Gens: Autronia
Moneyer: L. Autronius
Coin: Silver Denarius
X - Helmeted head of Roma right; X behind
AVTR - The Dioscuri riding right
Exergue: ROMA
Mint: Rome (c. 189-180 BC)
Wt./Size/Axis: 2.43g / 18mm / 3h
  • RSC 1 (Autronia)
  • Sydenham 341a
  • Crawford 146/1
  • Ex. Andrew McCabe Collection
  • Ex. Sotheby's, 4-Nov 1982, lot 238 (part of)
  • Ex. Duke of Northumberland Collection
Acquisition/Sale: Roma Numismatics Online Auction E-Sale 29 #357 27-Aug-2016
Notes: Sep 6, 16 - Catalogued by Rear-Admiral William Henry Smyth in 1856 (Descriptive Catalogue of a Cabinet of Roman Family Coins belonging to the Duke of Northumberland, Tablet III, pg. 22, no. 8).


There were two of this type in the Northumberland Collection and the other one was sold in Vauctions six or seven years ago - I should have bought it, but didn't.

The other Northumberland coin I have is a slightly more recent addition - I already had a better example, but not with an old provenance, so now I have two.

Gens: Pinaria
Moneyer: Pinarius Natta
Coin: Silver Denarius
X - Helmeted head of Roma right
NATTA - Victory in biga right
Exergue: ROMA
Mint: Rome (149 BC)
Wt./Size/Axis: 3.40g / 18mm / 9h
  • RSC 1 (Pinaria)
  • Sydenham 390
  • Crawford 208/1
  • Smyth p. 167 #45 (this coin)
  • Ex. Noble Sale 107A, lot 3573
  • Ex. Colin Pitchfork Collection
  • Ex. Sotheby's 4-Nov-1982, lot 232
  • Ex. Duke of Northumberland Collection
Acquisition/Sale: Del Parker NYINC Bourse 11-Jan-2019



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