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Thursday, September 8, 2011

The First Gold Coin

This coin dated to about 650 BCE is composed of a naturally occurring Gold/Silver alloy called Electrum, found in the rivers of the Black Sear area of what is now Turkey. Called "Staters" - which was translated from the Semitic "Shekel" - they were struck to several different weight standards of about 14-16 grams. The staters were then split into halves, thirds, sixths, on down to 48ths. This attests to the fact that they were used in common transactions between merchants and private citizens as well as between Royal houses.

Within a hundred years Greek coinage had spread throughout Greece, Italy, Sicily and into the fertile Crescent, as international trade flourished. At the same time the Greek language became the lingua franca of the ancient world, the Greek Democratic Political Systems took hold throughout the Western World and the first recorded Western Histories and Political and Philosophical Tracts were recorded and preserved. These tracts were studied by the Founding Fathers of the United States, and directly influenced all of their writings and political actions.

It is no accident that the Constitution of the United States of America mandates that money can only legally be comprised of gold and silver coins.

The earliest coins were uninscribed such as the Stater above that just sold for 75,000 dollars in a Heritage Auction last night. I believe this is a record for an uninscribed stater.

A bit later - around 575-550 BCE, Royal Houses of Lydia, Miletos, Kyzykos, Ephasos etc started to inscribe images on the obverse: Lions, Bulls, Deer, and various Mythical Beasts and Heroes. A select few even have distinctly personalized human heads leading to speculation they may have represented real rulers.

Rare and well preserved inscribed issues have sold for 250,000 dollars recently.

Sounds like a lot for an ancient piece of metal?

Perhaps. But recently somebody paid 7 million dollars for US coin all of 80 years old that is one of eleven to have survived a recall. And this coin looks exactly like a million other coins, but for the date.

In fact, because so few are acquainted with ancient history - that which informs every aspect of our present day language, culture and ideas of morality and philosophy - things that are a few hours old are prized and sought after while these extraordinarily rare artifacts that attest to the foundations of our culture are relatively ignored.

But now with the renewed fascination for that which has formed the substance of the medium of cultural exchange for 5000 years - Gold - there is a renewed fascination with the origins of the use of gold. And prices for these artifacts are beginning to reflect this renewed fascination.

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