Philip I, 244-249. Aureus (Gold, 21 mm, 4.73 g, 6 h), Rome, 248. IMP PHILIPPVS AVG Laureate, draped and cuirassed bust of Philip I to right, seen from behind. Rev. SAECVLARES AVGG Lion walking right. Bland -, cf. p. 133 (note to RIC 14). Calicó -. Cohen 174 ('ancien catalogue du Cabinet de France') = RIC - , cf. 14 note corr. (misinterpreting the Cohen reference). Apparently unique and unpublished save for the vague Cohen reference. A tremendously important discovery, filling an important gap in the series. A few light scratches and with an expertly plugged hole at 12 o'clock on the obverse, otherwise, extremely fine.
The emergence of this wonderful aureus from Philip's famous Saeculares-series struck on the 1000th anniversary of the city of Rome fills an important gap in the series. Known hitherto in silver and bronze only, the type was unattested in gold other than in an entry by Cohen, who said that 'l'une de ces deux médailles avec le buste lauré, est décrite dans l'ancien catalogue du Cabinet de France sans indiquer de quel côté est tournée le lion'. From this vague reference we can discern that the Paris collection once contained a Saeculares aureus with a lion like ours but that it was lost in the infamous heist of the Bibliothèque nationale's gold collection on 5-6 November 1831. Unfortunately, the coin was melted down after the robbery, together with all other stolen items, resulting in one of the greatest and most tragic losses of ancient gold coins in modern history.
As we have seen, Cohen did not know whether the lion was walking to the left or to the right on the stolen aureus as the ancient catalogue of the collection did not specify the direction, and later reference works either doubted its existence or disregarded it altogether. The emergence of our coin almost 200 years after Cohen now shows that the great French numismatist was right in reporting such a type in the old Paris collection, and it seems very likely its lion was also walking to the right. The fact that we call our example unique today due to the bitter loss of the first recorded example serves as a reminder that ancient coins have not only disappeared in antiquity, but in modern times as well, and that we should all be careful custodians of these treasures from the past.