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Electrum at Phokaia

CNG 91, Lot: 279. Estimate $500.
Sold for $600. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

IONIA, Phokaia. Circa 625/0-522 BC. EL Twenty-Fourth Stater (7mm, 0.70 g). Head of seal right / Incuse square punch. Bodenstedt Em. 2.1 (unlisted dies); SNG von Aulock 1774; BMC 10. Good VF.

By the last quarter of the sixth century BC, the voluminous electrum hektai issues of Mytilene and its neighbor Phokaia in Ionia were being struck on an annual or semi-annual basis as "contributions" to either the Persian empire or the Delian league, depending on the political climate. The source of their wealth was the profitable trade between the Aegean and the resource-rich Black Sea coastal cities, and even the growing dominance of Athens and its "owls" did not dislodge the hektai as the preferred coinage of the northern littoral of the Aegean. Popular as a widely circulating trade currency, the electrum hektai remained in widespread use for a period of over two centuries. The art of early hektai demonstrated a clear connection to the technique of gemstone engraving, with a marvelous compacting of detail in a small area and the use of bas relief and intaglio engraving. The incuse reverse types of Mytilene show a sophisticated understanding of small scale die cutting, employing a range of naturalistic design types. Phokaia retained an archaic look in its coinage right to the end of the series, employing simple designs (always with the civic badge of the seal included) along with the quadripartite incuse square long after it had been abandoned everywhere else. In the later series at Mytilene, the constant changing of types, usually of human form, whether mortal or god, led to elegant refinements in the depiction of the human form that are remarkable for their complex gem-like detail in a miniaturized format. The end of this long series came in 326 BC, when the entire coinage of the eastern Greek world was standardized after the coming of Alexander, and pure gold coinage came to be preferred over electrum.