NGC Ancients: The Weatherby Collection of Ancient Coins

Posted by Josh Illingworth, NGC Ancients on 3/18/2014

This month, NGC Ancients examines an interesting collection assembled in the mid-20th century by a Southern doctor.

Recently, NGC Ancients graded 65 ancient coins from the “Weatherby Collection,” assembled between 1936 and 1962 by the prominent Southern doctor and avid collector, Jesse Howell (J.H.) Weatherby. First, a bit about this gentleman: born in 1903, he served his country with distinction as a commander in the US Naval Reserve during World War II and was a professor of pharmacology at the Medical College of Virginia from 1936 until his death in 1963. As a well-published researcher, he made noteworthy contributions in the fields of pharmacology, electro-physiology, chemical irritation, cell membranes, and anesthetics throughout his long career in medicine.

At about the time he came to Virginia to teach, Dr. Weatherby became interested in collecting coins, a passion that he would pursue until the end of his life. He assembled an interesting collection of several hundred ancient, world and US coins, many of which have been graded by NGC. Though he passed away more than fifty years ago, the doctor’s collection had remained intact in family safety deposit boxes until quite recently, when they were taken to Mebane Antique Auction Gallery of Mebane, N.C., an NGC dealer-member which then submitted them to NGC Ancients for identification, grading and encapsulation. They will be offered at auction on April 5, 2014 by Mebane Antique Auction Gallery; the sale can be accessed online at www.mebaneauction.com .

The Weatherby Collection is particularly interesting in that it shows what sorts of ancient coins one might expect to have acquired in the mid-South during the Great Depression, World War II, and the early postwar years. It contains examples of civic and imperial Greek coinage, a smattering of Jewish issues from the first century A.D., and Roman Republican, Imperial, and Provincial coinages. A few of the highlights are examined below.

First is a silver denarius struck at a military mint traveling with the general Marc Antony as he prepared for war with Octavian in the years 32-31 B.C. Featuring a war galley on the obverse and legionary standards on the reverse, the Weatherby example of this popular and iconic type honors the ninth Legion of Antony’s ill-fated army, which not long after this denarius was struck would be defeated at the Battle of Actium on September 2, 31 B.C.

Roman Imperatorial
Marc Antony d.30 BC
Click images to enlarge.

Another piece of note is a rare bronze sestertius of the emperor Antoninus Pius (A.D. 138-161). The reverse type is what makes this piece special – it commemorates Roman victories in Britain by showing the goddess of Victory accompanied by the inscription BRITAN. Debate still rages among historians whether this type alludes to a generic sense of ‘victory’ that the Romans had achieved in Britain in recent decades, or to the suppression of local uprisings that may have occurred there in the A.D. 150s.

Roman Empire
Antoninus Pius AD 138-161
Click images to enlarge.

A third highlight of the collection is a rare bronze centenionalis issued by the mysterious historical figure Poemenius (A.D. 353). He struck the piece at the mint of Trier, Germany on behalf of the legitimate emperor Constantius II (A.D. 337-361), whose administration was at that time based in the Eastern half of the empire. It features on its obverse a portrait – ostensibly that of Constantius II – and on its reverse a Chi-Rho symbol meant to appeal to Orthodox Catholics residing in the Western portion of the empire.

Roman Empire
Poemenius A.D. 353
Click images to enlarge.

Finally, the lone Byzantine coin in the collection is a gold solidus of the Emperor Justin II (A.D. 565-578). Not only has this coin survived in lustrous, Mint State condition, but it is unusual in that it was stuck to the weight of 20-siliqua (whereas most Byzantine solidi were struck to the normal 24-siliqua weight). This piece features on its obverse a full-facing portrait of Justin II holding Victory, and the seated figure of the city-goddess Constantinopolis on the reverse.

Byzantine Empire
Justin II, AD 565-578
Click images to enlarge.

Interested in reading more articles on Ancient coins? Click here