Creepy Coinage

NEW YORK, NY -- It has been noted that Abraham was the first wealthy man to whom the Bible refers. He carried his bags of silver and gold bars and conducted his business without the aid of coins. It wasn’t until a thousand years later that coins first appeared, in approximately 600 BC. They were produced by King Alyattes in Sardis, Lydia, now known as Turkey. While most coins were used to trade, to buy and develop commerce and services, a few are noteworthy for other reasons.

Offered in Doyle's November 7, 2017 auction is the tiny OBOL issued in Judaea in the 4th century BC. The coin shows the helmeted head of Athena facing right, and on the reverse, parts of the letters AOE and the standing Owl. While many were produced in copper or bronze, this example was produced in the much scarcer issue of silver. The coin weighs a mere .8 grams. Six of these coins would equal a drachm, or handful, which would be sufficient to buy a bushel of wheat or a prized bull.

The OBOL also had another darker use, as a funerary tribute. The stories tell of an OBOL being placed in the mouth of a corpse. The decedent would then be able to pay the Charon the ferryman to cross the river Styx and reach Hades, the Underworld. Those unfortunates without a coin were condemned to wander the river banks for all eternity.

In the same auction is a silver Phoenician Shekel stuck at the Jerusalem Mint for the city of Tyre, circa 18-19 AD. The coin shows the Laureate head of Melquarth, god of the Phoenicians, or the Tyrian Hercules. On the reverse we see the Eagle standing with club before, monogrammed R and KP to the right and the Greek inscription “Tyre the Holy and Inviable.” Developed as a unit of weight, such as grams or ounces, it was used for trading and commerce before the advent of coins. One of the more important usages involved the Jewish law that required every male to pay annual temple taxes. Tyrian silver, which was renowned for its weight and fineness, yet bore the image of a foreign deity, was taken in spite of the Biblical prohibition.

It is also believed to be the Biblical coin that was given to Judas Iscariot for his betrayal of Jesus in exchange for “Thirty pieces of silver.” In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was identified when Judas kissed him, leading to his arrest. According to the Gospel of Matthew, Judas was so filled with remorse that he repented and returned the money to the chief priests, flinging the coins on the Temple floor before hanging himself. The coins were retrieved by the chief priest, and he said, “It is against the law to throw them into the treasury, since they are blood money." They took counsel and with the coins bought land to bury strangers in, the Field of the Potter, also known as the Field of Blood.

These are just two fascinating stories that are told and relived through coins of every age and every country. They provide a window to the past and pay tribute to the millennia.


Coins, Bank Notes, Stamps & Medals

Auction: Tuesday, November 7, 2017
Exhibition: Nov 4 - 6

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