Numismatica Ars Classica, Zurich   |   Auction 96   |   6 October 2016
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Lot 1065





Estimate: 25'000 CHF   |   Starting price: 20'000 CHF Price realized: 32'000 CHF
Greek Coins
Attica, Athens. Tetradrachm circa 490-480 BC, AR 17.70 g.
Description Helmeted head of Athena r. Rev. AQE Owl standing r. with closed wings, head facing; olive sprig behind. All within incuse square. References
McClean 5796
T.L. Comparette, A Descriptive Catalogue of Greek Coins selected from the Cabinet of
Clarence S. Bement, Esq., Philadelphia
, ANS, New York, 1921, pl. 13, 184 (this coin).
Seltman 283a (this coin) Condition
Very rare. A superb specimen of fine style with a wonderful old cabinet tone, minor metal flaws, otherwise good very fine Provenance
Naville sale VII, 1924, Bement collection, 1090
Sotheby’s sale 27 April 1970, 150
Morton & Eden sale 51, 2010, 108
Purchased from Spink & Son before 1921


For a coinage that might appear straight-forward at first glance, there are some thorny debates associated with the issues of Athens. Some of the greatest points of contention include the chronology of the heraldic ”wappenmünzen,” the ”owl-type” tetradrachms of the Archaic period, the decadrachms, and the ”new style” owls of the Hellenistic Age. The date for the introduction of the ”owl” tetradrachm has been subject to wide-ranging views that have evolved significantly over the last century. Barclay Head, publishing in the late 19th Century suggested the period c.594/90-527/25 B.C.; J. Svoronos, whose work on Athens was published posthumously in 1923, narrowed that period to c.594-560; and Charles Seltman, in his 1924 corpus, favoured a slightly later date beginning in c.561. Their views incorporated the idea that Athenian coinage was introduced by Solon, who became Archon of Athens in 594/3. This was based upon literary references of Aristotle and Plutarch to payments that subsequently have been read with less accepting eyes. These texts are not definitive, and as Melville Jones notes in the second volume of his Testimonia Numaria: ”...we must assume either that these payments were made in drachma weights of silver or, more probably, that the texts of these laws were modified or enlarged at a later date, or even falsely attributed to Solon to give them greater authority.” Since the 1960s there has been a spate of research conducted on Athenian coinage which has benefited from new and significant hoard evidence, that has been studied in a scientific manner. Consequently, Wallace argued for 510 B.C., upon the overthrow of Hippias; Starr, in his seminal work of 1970, suggested the first owls were struck c.525; Kraay favoured a date no later than c.520; and Kroll proposed sometime between 520 and 510. Whether as early as 525 or as late as 512, by which time Athens had lost its Pangaean mine to the Persians, the modern consensus is that the first owls – including the present coin – were introduced by Hippias, who ruled as tyrant of Athens from 527 to 510 B.C.

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