By Hadrien Rambach
Carlo Fontana, the son of a constructor from Ticino, was an important collector from Trieste. In addition to his professional life as a pharmacist, he was also a shipowner, and the founder of a large trading firm (notably tobacco). In 1808 he started the construction of an impressive family palace named “Villa Ermione”, Via di Romagna 16.
He was said to have owned over 40,000 coins, and a splendid painted portrait (from the collection of Baron Morpurgo) shows him with some of his coins. The erudite Domenico Sestini – curator of the Grand Duke of Toscana – published a number of his rare coins, as well as Theodor Panofka in 1832, and Fontana himself published the catalogues of his Greek coins (in 1822 and 1827) and of his Roman Republican coins (in 1827). Unfortunately, it is not known where and when Fontana acquired his Roman Imperial coins, but most of his Roman lead seals had come from the collection of Francesco Ficoroni (published in 1740). He also owned coins of the Trieste bishops, which he published the year of his death. An interest of his in Egyptian artifacts is also attested, and he gave an important papyrus (2m70 long) to the Vienna museum.
Some coins of his – and his library – were sold by Adolph Hess in his auction 32 of 5 December 1888 sqq., but the majority of his Roman and Byzantine coins – inherited by his son – had been auctioned by Henri Hoffmann in Paris on 25 June 1860 sqq. Hoffmann expected to sell Fontana’s Greek coins the following winter, but it doesn’t seem to have taken place (unless they were sold anonymously on 7 January 1861).
- Sabatier, “Lettre à M. R. Chalon, sur quelques monnaies romaines inédites de la collection de feu Octave Fontana, de Trieste”, in Revue de la numismatique belge, vol. 17 (1861), pp. 1-20 and pls I-II.
- Hadrien Rambach, “Provenance glossary”, in Numismatica Ars Classica, Auction 91: the George W. La Borde collection of Roman aurei – part I, Zurich, 23 May 2016, pp. -.
- Hadrien Rambach, “Provenance glossary”, in Numismatica Ars Classica, Auction 99: the George W. La Borde collection of Roman aurei – part II, Zurich, 29 May 2017, pp. 47-63.
- Hadrien Rambach, “Provenance glossary”, in Numismatica Ars Classica, Auction 105: the George W. La Borde collection of Roman aurei – part III, Zurich, 9 May 2018, pp. 82-105.
This article was first published in a catalogue of auction house Numismatica Ars Classica.