Numismatica Ars Classica, Zurich   |   Auction 96   |   6 October 2016 Sort by Lot-NumberSort by Estimate
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Lot 1066





Estimate: 20'000 CHF   |   Starting price: 16'000 CHF ---
Greek Coins
Attica, Athens, Civic Mint. Tetradrachm circa 500-490 BC, AR 17.60 g.
Description Head of Athena r. wearing crested Attic helmet. Rev. AQE Owl standing r. with closed wings, head facing; olive sprig behind. All within incuse square. References
Svoronos pl. 6
Seltman group L
Seltman 338-342 Condition
Very rare. Struck on a broad flan and of superb Archaic style. Lovely old cabinet tone, metal flaw on reverse, otherwise about extremely fine Provenance
Hess-Leu 45, 1970, de Nanteuil collection, 185l
Leu sale 77, 2000, 205
NAC sale 29, 2005, 181
Stack’s sale 14 January 2008, Lawrance Stack collection, 2183
Peus sale 407, 2012, 378


There is perhaps no coinage of the archaic and classical Greek world as iconic as the Athena and owl tetradrachms of Athens. Indeed, they became so widely recognized that they were often referred to simply as "owls." These coins stand at the end of a period of remarkable typological experimentation in the late sixth century B.C. which saw the production of coins with many different types. This so-called Wappenmünzen (named for the erroneous interpretation of the types as badges - Wappen in German - of the elite families of Athens) coalesced into a monolithic coinage featuring only types associated with the Athenian state: the head of the city's patron deity on the obverse and her associated bird, the owl, on the reverse. This change from a cacophonic plethora of different types to a single type for Athens also came with a change in production and circulation. While the Wappenmünzen had been struck on a relatively small scale and circulated primarily in Attica and Central Greece, the owls were produced on a much grander scale with an eye to international trade, especially with Sicily and Egypt, critical grain-producers for the mouths of mainland Greece. This particular early owl is especially attractive for its well centered obverse showing Athena's full head and helmet crest as well as an equally well-centered reverse. The Archaic owl here is arguably more handsomely proportioned and more pleasing to the eye than the somewhat more stylized version of the bird on later tetradrachms of the Classical period. The small countermark on its head may perhaps indicate circulation abroad.

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