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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Gold-Stater Ancient Gold Coin Update Feb 26,2008: Archaic Staters

Gold Stater Ancient gold coin update 2. Greek Gold Part 2: Archaic Staters. (next: archaic fractions)

I find tremendous interest on the part of new collector/investors in Greek Archaic coins. The reason is understandable. First, these are the first coins in history. These represent an invention that democratized the economy of the western world. Before this invention, the common man had to barter for, grow and make everything he needed. After coinage the common man suddenly could specialize, amass capital (such as it was) and trade.

Second, the images on archaic coins represent some of the most beautiful work of archaic Greek artists. Mythological creatures, Gods, Goddesses, and occasionally Historical portraits, are engraved, often with superb skill on flans of electrum. (Electrum is a naturally occurring mixture of gold and silver found in the rivers of the Black Sea area of modern day Turkey, then Ionia or Lydia).

The problem newer collector/investors encounter in this compelling area of numismatics is that the larger pieces (14-16 grams) that foster the most interest - called Staters - are all very rare - even by Greek Gold standards, and are in grades lower than mint state. The highest graded electrum is currently AU. There might possibly eventually be an Choice AU piece, but that would be like Choice Mint State for later gold.

These early electrum Staters were clearly struck in small quantities on flans of varying shapes, often with glaring flaws: cracks, pits, gouges etc. The images themselves, though often beautiful, tend to be off center and unevenly struck. The fact that each individual piece is very rare (often less than 10 known, many times less than 5 known, makes price discovery impossible. Even if two similar pieces have been sold recently they might well be in vastly dissimilar conditions.

I will say that in AU condition, well centered and struck pieces have been selling in $25-50,000 dollar range. Coins with compelling images often go for much more. Recently in an NGSA auction electrum stater sold for $1000,000 dollars. But this should be discounted as it was sold to an oil Sheik who foolishly announced his interest prior to the auction.

The issues are divided into roughly three catagories:
A) Archaic - from about 650-550 BCE. These are mostly from Lydia (Sardes mint), Miletos, and Uncertain Ionian mints. The images tend to be primitive. The quantities, extremely limited. The most common the Miletos lion stater, probably numbers around 50 in the market, but the vast majority are horribly distressed. Decent examples now go for about $15000. Nice ones are very rare and go north of 20,000.

The prices for rare archaic issues tend to be more in the 50,000 to 100,000 range for nice, well struck examples. There is a famous issue from Ephesus that has an inscription naming "Phanes" (greek for The Noble One). This coin (3 extant as a stater) is now worth about $250,000 as a stater. A recent horde of Lydian pieces included two Double Facing Lion Head staters of primitive design. One in Near VF condition sold for $40,000. One in closer to XF/AU condition is being offered at $130,000. More on this hoard in post number 3.

Catagory B) would be early arachaized (copying or using the archaic style) issues (550-400 BCE) from Kyzikos, Chios, Phokaia, Mysia (all in the Black Sea area). The Kyzikos issues are the most plentiful, yet they changed the design on the coin every year, so any individual design is still very rare. Staters from Chios and Phokaia are very rare. Lampsakos in Mysia produced the famous Archaic Pegasus issue, which, like the Miletos lion is more common (perhaps 50 examples on the market) but again, finding a decent one is next to impossible. They price out like the Miletos lions.

Catagory 3) Later issues from these same mints. The styles are often more elaborate and display great skill. these tend to be somewhat better condition in general. The price structure is similar to the last catagory: ($25,000 - $50,000 for nice AU examples. Much more for highly sought designs.

Because Electrum staters are so rare, price discovery is difficult, which makes this a difficult area for the newer investor/collector. Yet this can be viewed as a blessing, as prices are extraordinarily cheap compared to mintages of coins from all other periods and areas of coin collecting/investing. And clearly, from an historical perspective these coins are the most interesting and important.

Next: Post 3: Archaic Fractions (trites, hektes, etc.)

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