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Research Coins: Feature Auction


The Beginnings of Coinage

Triton XXI, Lot: 476. Estimate $3000.
Sold for $5000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

IONIA, Uncertain. Circa 650-600 BC. EL Trite – Third Stater (12mm, 4.63 g). Lydo-Milesian standard. Plain globular surface / Two incuse squares. Cf. Weidauer Group II (unlisted denomination); Karwiese, Artemision, Type I.1; Elektron I 3; Rosen –; Traité I 11; SNG Kayhan 673; SNG von Aulock 7762. As made.

Other than the literary tradition ascribing the origin of coinage to the kings of Lydia, there is little evidence for a more exact chronology of early Greek coinage. The tradition, buttressed by limited archaeological studies, does confirm Asia Minor as the place of origin, most likely Lydia or Ionia, and a date somewhere around 650-625 BC. The alloy used was a mixture of gold and silver known to the Greeks as elektron. Although ancient sources indicated that this alloy was a natural ore found in nugget form in many riverbeds in the region, recent studies have concluded that this was actually not the case, and that the electrum used in coinage was, in fact, man-made. The earliest coins were of a globular shape and without design; later, simple striated and punched patterns of squares, rectangles, and swastikas were included. The earliest true types may have developed from the use of personal seals, the most widely known being the stater of Ephesos with a stag bearing the inscription “I am a seal of Phanes”. These devices later took on the characteristics of civic symbols, although it would be dangerous to link a specific symbol to a particular city in this early period. The most secure form of classification has been by weight standard, based on two major, and several lesser-used, standards. The Milesian standard, with a stater of roughly 14 grams, saw circulation in Lydia and parts of Ionia. The Phokaic standard of roughly 16 grams was also used in Ionia as well as Mysia. Persic, Aeginetan, and Euboic standards saw scattered use in early coinage, limited in time and extent of circulation. The intrinsic value of the early electrum, even down to the 1/96 stater, was too high for use in everyday commerce, and early coinage must have been used only for the transfer of large sums of money, such as mercantile transactions, payment of government expenses (mercenaries, tribute and such), and donatives, either for services rendered to individuals or the state, or to religious foundations. The Artemision deposits, hoards of early electrum found at the site of the temple of Artemis at Ephesos, are examples of the latter.