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Research Coins: Affiliated Auction

Sale: Nomos 2, Lot: 77. Estimate CHF1000. 
Closing Date: Monday, 17 May 2010. 
Sold For CHF800. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

ATTICA, Athens. Circa 455-449 BC. Obol (Silver, 0.70 g 10). Helmeted head of Athena to right, with three olive leaves over the visor and tendril on the bowl. Rev. ΑΘΕ Owl standing to right, with head facing and triple-pointed tail feathers; to left, long curved olive leaf and fruit. Jameson 1192. Starr Group V. Cf. Svoronos pl. 8, 33. Rare and attractively toned. Good very fine.

The Athenian obols of the second quarter of the 5th century are actually surprisingly rare and hard to find: far greater numbers were produced before the Persian invasion and then later in the century. The Athenians were obsessed by silver coins and were very much against the introduction of base metal replacements. They insisted on issuing silver fractions that were so tiny as to be almost unusable (such as the well-nigh ridiculous hemitartemorion, or 1/8 obol, which weighed c. 0.08 g!). The use of plated coins during the emergency situation at the end of the Peloponnesian War (Aristophanes called them “Red-Heads” because the silver surface soon wore through) also left a bad memory, and true Athenian bronzes only began to be produced in the 330s.