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Prototype Stater: World’s First Gold Coin

Triton XXI, Lot: 500. Estimate $30000.
Sold for $65000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

KINGS of LYDIA. Kroisos. Circa 564/53-550/39 BC. AV Stater (17mm, 10.69 g). Heavy standard. Sardes mint. Prototype issue. Confronted foreparts of lion, with “sun” on forehead, and bull / Two incuse squares. Berk 1; Konuk & Lorber fig. 25 = CH VIII, pl. I, Hoard 7, no. 40 = Triton XV, lot 1243; Athena Fund I 58; McClean 8635; NAIM-BAN 6; Ward 723. Good VF, light marks. Rare.

The 'Kroisos' type coinage is one of the most recognizable of all ancient Greek coinage. All of the issues in the bimetallic, gold and silver, series feature the same confronted lion and bull foreparts on the obverse, and two incuse punches (or a single punch in the case of small denominations) on the reverse. The series began on a 'heavy' standard, with gold and silver staters of equal weight, around 10.6-10.7 grams, which was later reduced to about 8.17 grams for the gold. Recent studies have shown that coins of both standards circulated together, but that the heavy standard was only used for a relatively short time compared to the light standard, which continued to be used into the Persian period. The Kroiseids have also traditionally been broken down into two stylistic groups, 'realistic' and 'stylized', with hoard evidence suggesting that the former belonged to the time of Kroisos, while the latter were of the time of the Persians. The present coin, however, is from an issue that constitutes a third group that has a more archaic style, which has features that suggest it is the first issue of Kroisos' bimetallic coinage.

This prototype issue was first noted and analyzed in an article by Paolo Naster in 1964 ("Une série aberrante de Créséides" in BSFN 19 (1964), pp. 364–5, reprinted in P. Naster, Scripta Nummaria: Contributions à la méthodologie numismatique [Louvian-la-Neuve, 1983], pp. 76–7). The archaic character of the type is most evident in the bull, where the fine waves of hair on the later coinage are here represented as a series of pelleted lines emanating from a solid arc that forms the animal's neckline. At the same time, antecedents of the style of the lion can be seen in the earlier electrum coinage, particularly the hemihektai of Weidauer's Group XVI. The most significant feature linking this issue to the electrum, though, is the appearance of the small pellet or protuberance on the head of the lion. This feature, usually featuring rays emanating from it, is canonical on all the earlier electrum coinage from the time of Ardys until the early part of Kroisos' reign. It is a feature that is totally lacking on the bimetallic coinage of the 'realistic' and, later, 'stylized' character. A final unusual feature particular to this issue is the depiction of the arms of the lion and bull, which are shown bent nearly 90 degrees at their midpoint, rather than in a straight line from shoulder to paw and hoof.

The rarity today of these early style staters also suggests that the issue was short-lived, perhaps a trial run before the style was standardized. Martin Price also studied this unusual emission of staters ("Croesus or Pseudo-Croesus?" in Festschrift Mildenberg, p. 221, n. 25), and, like Naster, placed them between the electrum and the gold of standard style.