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Numismatic Grab Bag – Five Ancient Coins With Shanna Schmidt


In this CoinWeek Live Stream on YouTube, noted ancient coin expert Shanna Schmidt joins Charles Morgan for an episode of Numismatic Grab Bag to discuss five fabulous ancient coins, including:

Silver stater of Gortyna, Crete

Gortyna. Circa 330-270 BCE. Stater. Europa seated half-right in tree, leaning her right hand on branch and propping her head on her left. The reverse side shows a bull.

Once upon a time, Zeus fell in love with Europa, a Phoenician princess. He transformed himself into a tame white bull and mixed with her father’s herd. Europa was so struck by the beauty of this bull – a universal symbol of potency – that she climbed on his back, whereupon he abducted her, swimming all the way to Crete. Europa settled there, married a mortal, bore a line of kings, and gave her name to a continent. From the fifth century BCE down to the Roman era, the coinage of Gortyn (or Gortyna) featured Europa and the bull. Tourists are still shown a great plane tree where Europa supposedly found refuge after she was ravished by the king of the gods.

Silver “archaic eye” tetradrachm of Athens. c. 430 – 420 BCE

In the fifth century BCE, Athens experienced an outburst of cultural creativity, in art, architecture, drama, philosophy, and many other fields that have shaped much of subsequent Western history. Athenians invented democracy – although it was a democracy that excluded women and slaves. This golden age was fueled by a flood of silver from the rich mines of Laurium near Athens. Most of this metal was struck into pure silver tetradrachms weighing about 17.2 grams, which became the most important coinage of international trade for over a century, circulating across the Mediterranean world. This coin shows the goddess Athena with the “Archaic eye” — even though the goddess is viewed in profile, her eye appears frontally, as in Egyptian art. Later coins show the eye drawn in profile. The reverse bears the image of Athena’s companion, the owl (symbolizing wisdom) which gave the coin its nickname.

Athenian owls are currently a bargain since the market is slowly absorbing a huge hoard that surfaced a few years ago. On Harlan J. Berk’s list of the 100 greatest ancients, this type is #10.

Silver “elephant” denarius of Julius Caesar

Military mint moving with Caesar in Gallia or Hispania, 49-48 BCE. CAESAR Elephant walking right, trampling on horned serpent. Rev. Priestly implements.

The most common lifetime issue of Julius Caesar, an estimated 22 million of these coins were struck from the spoils of Caesar’s conquests in order to pay his army. The meaning of the elephant symbol is debated by historians. The reverse celebrates Caesar’s office as high priest of the Roman state religion.

Lion and bull silver stater of Croesus. Lydia c. 565-546 BCE

These were some of the earliest ancient silver coins, issued in a wide range of denominations. “Rich as Croesus” became a proverbial expression. The bull is a symbol of fertility, while the lion (“king of the beasts”) is a symbol or royal power. The reverse is a simple punch mark. When the Persians conquered Lydia, they scrapped the complex denominations of Croesus, and issued a single silver type, the siglos of about 5.5 grams. On Berk’s list of the 100 greatest ancients, this type is #9.

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Shanna Schmidt is a leading dealer in ancient coins, specializing in Greek coinage. She currently serves a board governor for the American Numismatic Association (ANA). She is a fellow of the American Numismatic Society (ANS) and has served on the board of the International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN). Shanna grew up around coins and is the daughter of noted ancient coin dealer and author Harlan J. Berk.

Along with Arturo Russo and Giuliano Russo, Schmidt will be discussing a project of interest to collectors of ancient coins at the ANA World’s Fair of Money on August 17, 2022, starting at 2 pm Central in Room 12 of the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Illinois.

Please let her know by August 11 at [email protected] if you will be attending the event.

You can learn more about Shanna and review her current inventory by visiting her website.

This video and more are available on the CoinWeek YouTube channel.

Coinweek is the top independent online media source for rare coin and currency news, with analysis and information contributed by leading experts across the numismatic spectrum.

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