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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Gold-Stater Ancient gold coin update 3: Archaic fractions

Gold-stater Ancient gold coin coin update 3: Archaic Greek Electrum fractions.

Yesterday I posted an article on Archaic Greek electrum staters. As you will recall, electrum is the naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver, found in the rivers of the Black Sea area of what is now modern day Turkey, where coinage was invented around 650BCE.

The largest coins are called Staters (an Indo-Aryan translation of the semitic "shekel.") But Staters, at 14-16 grams (depending on the weight standard) were too large and valuable for most transactions. They were thus minted in fractions: Trites (thirds), Hektes (Sixths) Hemi-hektes (Twelths) on down 1/48 ths.

The earliest and most common of these fractions is the Lydian Lion Head Trite, (See picture above) issued most probably by Alyattes, father of Croesus. This coin must have been minted in great quantities, yet the Stater, to my knowledge is unknown. Trites and hektes are easily found in many auctions. High quality examples are extremely rare. Seven or eight years ago, the top trites ran about $2000. Now the finest examples run up to $8000. And these, at best, only grade about AU.

There are also Lion Head trites with inscriptions. They are currently read as: "Alyates," "Falfel," And "Kalil." These, in top condition, bring closer to $20,000 at auction, though a recent hoard has been discovered with up to 20 or 30 examples of inscribed trites. Perhaps more will come out later. Several of these are running in the current Gorny auction.

Other early trites include the Miletos reclining lion type, a facing lion head from Lydia, and the famous "Phanes" inscribed Dear issue from Ephesus. There are also trites from the Uncertain Ionian mints that include images like archaic heads, as well as Seal issues from Phokia. These are all extremely rare, and as such they can bring very high prices ($10-30,000 - more for the Phanes) if the condition is acceptable.

The most plentiful issues appear later (550-350 BCE) and were minted in great quantities in Kyzikos, and the Kyzikene colony of Lesbos. There, like the staters, changed types every year, so there is a great variety. Some are very common for Greek electrum. Common types include: profiles of nymphs, Zeus, Hermes, Apollo, Hera, facing Athenas, Silenos, lion heads, bull heads, ram heads, boar heads, helmets, hoplites. Also found are sphinxes, griffins, and various winged animals: lions, horses, dear, boars, and various mythological heroes.

Rare types might number as few as 2-10 examples. The most common types might number in the very low hundreds. As always well centered and struck examples are very rare. More common types in high grade now sell for $2500-$5000. Very rare types in very high grade, can run up to $20,000.

For electrum, AU is the highest grade available. Novice collectors may be put off by the AU grade, as they search for Mint State examples. When they realize that well struck AU examples are the best they can find, they will undoubtedly bid up the prices for these.

A note on hoards: The only coins currently coming into the market are being discovered in the Black Sea region of Turkey. These include mostly Hektes and fractions. Smaller quantities of trites are being found and a very few staters. Also included are the coins of the Black Sea capital of Pantipakaion. These include the famous gold staters, as well as later issues by Pharnakes and Asander, though the vast majority of these sell in the Russian market and never get to the west.

Next: Early Greek Gold Issues.

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