By Peter van Alfen for American Numismatic Society (ANS) ……
Over the course of 40 years of serious collecting, our friend and colleague Jay Martin Galst amassed an important collection of ancient and medieval coins, many from the Holy Land, as well as modern coins, medals, and tokens, particularly those related to his profession of ophthalmology. Over a year now since Jay died from complications of COVID-19 during the worst of the initial pandemic surge in New York City, his presence is still sorely missed here at the ANS, where he was a frequent visitor.
Jay always intended that the bulk of his collection eventually be sold both to benefit his family (Fig. 1) and, as a consummate collector himself, to ensure that others might have the opportunity to collect and enjoy the items that he once owned and enjoyed. Currently, the Galst Collection is being auctioned by Classical Numismatic Group, LLC; some of the auctions have already taken place but there are more to come.
Dr. Joann Paley Galst, Jay’s wife, has in the meantime generously arranged for a number of items from his collection to be donated to various museums, including the ANS, which is the recipient of a group of 20 highly significant ancient and medieval coins helping to fill in various gaps in our own collection. In the forthcoming issue of the ANS Magazine (2021 vol. 3), Collections Manager Elena Stolyarik offers a more comprehensive overview of this donation.
In this article, I want to highlight a couple of the coins that are of particular interest to me.
At the beginning of my numismatic career, I developed a keen interest in the phenomenon of ancient imitations, particularly Athenian imitations, publishing a number of articles on the topic. Produced at the same time as bona fide Athenian coins, these coins were often of (reasonably) good metal and weight and were not meant to deceive in the way counterfeit coins are. Many imitations, in fact, were marked with the names of those producing the coins, like those of the Persian satrap Sabakes of Egypt (Fig. 2), or with ancillary symbols or letters, often written in one of the Semitic alphabets such as Paleo-Hebrew, Aramaic, Northwest Semitic, or Sabaean indicating they were produced somewhere in the eastern Mediterranean region and making it clear to contemporary users that the coin in question was not a genuine Athenian product.
From the end of the Archaic period onward, Athenian coinage circulated in large numbers in Egypt, Arabia, the Levant, and even farther to the east – no doubt used in trade to pay for desired eastern products, like the frankincense and myrrh that were used in temple rituals. This Aegean-Levantine trade was, in fact, the subject of my PhD dissertation. The elevated importance of Athenian coinage in the Near East gave rise to the production of imitations, presumably at times and in places where demand for the coinage was high, but the supply low, and served also to inspire coins that, while not close copies of Athenian coinage, were clearly influenced by it. From the Galst collection, we have received one such unpublished marked Athenian imitation (Fig. 3).
Stylistically, there is little to differentiate this coin from the later fifth-century Athenian tetradrachms that served as its model, and to the unobservant, this coin no doubt would have easily passed for an Athenian coin since its weight (16.97 g) is within the ballpark of expectations. There is, however, a small Northwest Semitic aleph on the obverse right along Athena’s jawline.
This aleph is probably an abbreviation for the authority responsible for the production of the coin, possibly the Philistian city of Ascalon. Other Athenian imitations or Athenian-inspired coins with a similarly inscribed aleph have been attributed by Haim Gitler and Oren Tal in their book on Philistian coinage to this coastal city. If this attribution is correct, this coin is probably one of the very first issues of Ascalon. Of note, there is already in the ANS collection: an Athenian imitation of a similarly good late fifth-century style (Fig. 4), but one marked on the obverse with the Semitic letter shin in roughly the same position as the aleph on the Galst coin, which Ya’akov Meshorer in ANS SNG 6 suggested stands for the Samaritan city of Shomron.
The second coin I wish to highlight from the Galst donation is a bona fide Athenian tetradrachm (Fig. 5), but one from the latter half of the fourth century BCE. The coin itself is not so remarkable, but the graffiti on it is.
Much like users today, ancient coin users from time to time wrote on their money for a variety of purposes. In the Near East, this practice was especially widespread with the numerous examples of graffiti recorded on coins found in the region filling a volume published by Josette Elayi and Andre Lemaire. Generally, the graffiti are personal names, probably of those who at one time laid claim to the coin. Such is the case with this coin, which was published by Lemaire in Israel Numismatic Journal 15 (2003–2006), pp. 24–27. Lemaire determined that the graffiti on the obverse of the coin written in Paleo-Hebrew is the name Yawysih’al, a name not attested before this coin appeared, who Lemaire argues was the final owner of the coin before its burial. Notably, too, the reverse of the coin also bears the graffito shin, but the significance of this abbreviation is unknown.