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Lot 357

Estimate: 100'000 USD   |   Starting price: 60'000 USD Price realized: 270'000 USD
JUDAEA, Jewish War. 66-70 CE. AR Shekel (22.5mm, 14.18 g, 11h). Protoype issue. Jerusalem mint. Dated year 1 (66/7 CE). Omer cup; “1” (date, in Hebrew) above, pellets flanking, “Shekel of Israel” (in Hebrew) around, between concentric dotted circle borders / Sprig of three pomegranates; “Jerusalem [the] holy” (in Hebrew) around, between concentric dotted circle borders. Deutsch 1 (O1/R1); Meshorer 183 = Kadman 1 = Hendin 1352 (same dies); Bromberg 56 = Shoshana I 20195 (same dies); Sofaer –; Spaer –. EF, professionally cleaned since its last appearance in Triton XXI. Excellent metal. The fourth known, one of which is in a public collection (Jerusalem), and the finest of the three pieces of which photographs have been published.

From an American collection.

The Year 1 Prototype

This is an extremely rare example of the first silver coin struck by a Jewish authority in antiquity. It is a prototype for the famous shekels that were struck for five years beginning in 66/67 AD in Jerusalem during the Jewish War against Rome, also called the First Revolt (66-73 AD).

It is clearly a prototype because all of the four known specimens ([1] Israel Museum, [2] ex. Bromberg/Shoshanna, [3] private collection, and [4] the present coin) were struck from the same die set. This contrasts sharply with the other shekels of the first year, which were struck from at least 10 obverse dies and 27 reverse dies, according to R. Deutsch. Also, the extremely rare Year 5 shekel has at least 4 obverse and 8 reverse dies, yet only 15 examples are known (excluding the Baldwin’s group). In fact, more than 515 obverse and reverse dies were used to strike the shekels and half shekels of the Jewish War.

(Another prototype silver coin struck during the Jewish War was the Year 4 quarter-shekel, of which there are either 3 or 4 known, again, all struck from the same die set. That coin was likely created to test a smaller denomination at a time when silver was becoming scarce in Jerusalem under siege. Soon, however, emergency bronze half-, quarter-, and eighth-shekel coins were struck in the fourth year, and the silver quarter shekels were discontinued. The unique Year 5 half-shekel is also struck from a single die set, but one may assume this is because the Temple and Jerusalem were destroyed in the fifth year and normal minting activity was interrupted.)

Thus, the prototype Year 1 shekels were the first silver coins struck by a Jewish mint in Jerusalem. We do not know why this design was not adopted, but the next stage in the development of the Jewish shekel was a slightly awkwardly designed, smooth-lip chalice, flanked by dots and a reverse with a similarly awkward pomegranate bud scepter. Finally, the mint settled on a neater style Year 1 shekel –neater design, neater lettering, neater types. After the first year, the form of the chalice was changed slightly by adding a beaded rim and eliminating the dots flanking it, and the beaded-rim chalice remained on all of the Jewish shekels and half-shekels through Year 5 of the War.

The evolution of the preparation of the blanks for the Jewish silver shekels is clear and elucidated by these coins. As Deutsch (Jewish Coinage During the First Revolt Against Rome: 66 – 73 C.E. [Jaffa, 2018]) has noted, “[o]n a number of silver coin-types of Year 1, only partial hammering is evident, and it seems that this treatment only developed as a response to the production of numbers of coins with irregular edges” (p. 55).

My examination in hand of three of the four known specimens of the Year 1 prototype show that these examples have the least-hammered edges of the many hundreds of shekels I have closely studied. The Year 1 large chalice shekels show a bit more hammering, while the later Year 1 shekels with the smaller, neater chalice, are almost completely hammered. However, as I noted in Not Kosher (New York, 2005), the edges of the Year 1 coins “tend toward being ‘flat to slightly rounded’ while the coins of years two through five are generally hammered both above and below so they have more of a convex edge around the perimeter of the coin” (p.30). I also note here, for the first time, that I have also examined several shekels of Year 2, which have been hammered in the same way as the later Year 1 coins. This verifies Deutsch’s conclusion, and establishes the chronology of manufacturing technique for the Jewish War shekels – first they were struck on un-hammered blanks, then they began to edge-hammer the blanks, and eventually they refined the method to the style used in years two through five.

Regarding the edge hammering, Deutsch also observes that “it seems clear that these edges were hammered as part of the preparation of the blanks, prior to the actual minting.... The coin surfaces are flat across their complete area, and hammering the edges after minting would have resulted in a raised rim, as became clear during our trials. The rims on the blanks were flattened out by the force of the hammer-blows during minting” (p. 54).

In the late 1970s, Shab’an Wazwaz, a dealer in Old City Jerusalem, offered me a group of six shekels. Three were year 2, two were year 3, and the sixth coin was the first known example of the Year 1 prototype. Asking price was $6,000 for all six coins. Mr. Wazwaz was a legitimate dealer, but had a bit of a shady reputation of selling the occasional forgery, and so I rejected the deal and instead offered $4,000 for the five shekels, not including the prototype. At the time, this type had not been published. When Ya’akov Meshorer first saw the coin he believed it was not genuine. I was unable to discuss it with Meshorer at the time, because he was not in the country during my visit. I was a “kid” less than 10 years into my study, and it looked authentic -- but I was in no position to put up $2,000 for a questionable coin. Upon his return from abroad, Meshorer, who was then Chief Curator of Archaeology and Curator of Numismatics at The Israel Museum in Jerusalem, re-evaluated the prototype coin and declared it authentic; it was apparently purchased by Abraham Bromberg, who promised to eventually donate it to The Israel Museum.

It is not known to me or to the current Israel Museum curators where the IM acquired their current specimen, designated “unknown provenance” in notes. It has an acquisition number that suggests it was acquired in 1985. The IM’s early photographs of this coin show it was not cleaned when it was acquired, but was subsequently cleaned at the Israel Museum laboratories. Bromberg’s collection was sold in 1991 to benefit the Israel Museum, and it contained the coin I had previously examined in the hands of Mr. Wazwaz in Jerusalem.

The coin offered here was also acquired in an uncleaned state and has now been cleaned and conserved for maximum visibility of the surfaces and the strike. Of the three Year 1 prototypes I have examined, this one is the best centered, and the letters on the left side of the reverse are clearer than either the Bromberg or the Israel Museum specimens.

--David Hendin, author Guide to Biblical Coins, 5th Edition; Not Kosher; Ancient Scale Weights. Adjunct curator, American Numismatic Society.

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