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Research Coins: Feature Auction


Two Inscribed Hektai

CNG 112, Lot: 263. Estimate $1500.
Sold for $8000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

IONIA, Uncertain. Circa 650-600 BC. EL Hekte – Sixth Stater (9.5mm, 2.35 g). Lydo-Milesian standard. Plain globular surface; letters of an unknown script along part of edge / Incuse rectangle with geometric pattern. Heritage 3054, lot 30097 (same dies); Heritage 3020, lot 24985 (same dies); otherwise unpublished. As made. Very rare.

This and the following coin are part of a recently discovered issue of inscribed hektai with a plain obverse and rectangular incuse on the reverse. The first of these was noted in a private British collection in 2011, while the first appeared publicly, at auction, as lot 24985 in the Heritage 3020 sale in 2012, a piece that had been in an private collection in Europe. A third example appeared in 2017, as lot 30097 in Heritage 3054, and a fourth last year, as lot 101 in Savoca Online Auction 29.

The prior analysis of these coins has associated the issue with the ubiquitous plain obverse hektai of Ionia, suggesting that this inscribed version was perhaps a late issue in the production of that coinage, with struck dates suggested in the 660s and 640s BC. Admittedly, the form of this issue, and its metrology, do comport with the uninscribed plain incuse issues of that period. However, the peculiar reverse punch of this issue should not be overlooked. With regard to the complex varieties of early electrum, associations and relative chronologies are often established through reverse die linkages or similarities of idiosyncratic punch forms.

The rectangular punch used for this issue bears little resemblance to the two small punches used on the uninscribed plain hektai of the mid 7th century. The use of two small square punches, in fact, appears to have been a canonical aspect of not only the plain hektai, but also the ubiquitous striated electrum issues also dated to the 7th century, and even the contemporary royal Lydian hektai that circulated throughout the region. These small punches were also plain in appearance, devoid of any designs. These aspects suggest that the inscribed plain hektai are not closely associated to the uninscribed plain issues. Moreover, a small group of these inscribed coins was presented to a researcher, which was accompanied by a known Carian issue that dated to the early 5th century BC. The researcher noted the surfaces and fabric of the issues appeared highly consistent, suggesting they were part of a single hoard. This, in turn, suggested that these electrum coins were struck later than the 7th century, possibly as late as the end of the 6th century.

Turning to the inscription, elements of the letters appear similar to a number of glyphs in the various alphabets that were used along the coast of western Asia Minor. However, as a whole, the letters most closely resemble those found in the Carian alphabet (see Tables I and II in I.J. Adiego, The Carian Language [Brill: Leiden, 2007]), though the exact interpretation of legend remains uncertain. Before the discovery of the first coin offered here (lot 263), only the first three letters were visible. That said, the inscription may actually be even longer, as its visibility on the coins is hampered by the low relief of the letters and their position on the edge of the die.