Thursday, July 02, 2009

Greek and Roman Coins from the du Chastel Collection

I recently won a copy of Greek and Roman Coins from the du Chastel Collection (Callata├┐ & Heesch, Spink: London, 1999). Originally published at £60.00, it's now remaindered for £20 (about $33) from Spink. I got mine on eBay from Charles Davis who still starts auctions below wholesale.

It's a well-researched and well-made catalog of mostly Greek coins. The 41 plates are great. The 819 coins, collected by count du Chastel are all exceptional. Unfortunately in numismatic publishing, mere quality does not translate into sales. It's hard to compete with free color dealer catalogs. The best book in a category, such as Roman Republican Coinage (still in print at $490!) or Roman Provincial Coinage can move copies at high prices, while the second-best book doesn't move at all unless heavily discounted.

du Chastel is great but it's best feature is the superb dust jacket. The dust jacket photograph, by Stephen Sack, is the best I've ever seen on a coin catalog. It's an extreme closeup of the reverse of a sestertius of Nero, featuring the emperor on horseback. Sack manages to get an 8” picture out of the center of a 35mm coin that looks like an artistic masterpiece of detail and patina and light.

The image isn't photoshopped. My understanding is that he spent months looking at hundreds of worn bronzes with interesting patinas under a microscope looking for the textures and images that eventually make it into his work.

Sack had a show of his fine-art coin photography at the British Museum. The catalog, Metal Mirror: Coin Photographs by Stephen Sack is mind-blowing. Although I missed the London premiere I saw the pieces at Ariel Meyerowitz Gallery in New York. Very impressive.

I believe the Ariel Meyerowitz Gallery is gone but a few of Sacks' coin works can are available on VCoins, like this peacock and this goddess.

I can't afford a €4,000.00 picture of a peacock no matter how much I might want it, though. I bought a second copy of the catalog intending to dismember it and mount several images in 8x10 frames. I couldn't bring myself to take the blade to the duplicate catalog, though!

1 comment:

Kevin said...

du Chastel's collection seems to be the height of where collecting by aesthetics leads; an example of what patience, funding, and a good eye will produce. The collection is very broad in its scope but not particularly focused. As I recall, du Chastel's methodology was primarily artistic but with a fascination for rarity. The book/collection is a real treat to look at, but my impression is that it is not all that useful as a research collection (a few pieces of extreme rarity aside).