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Earliest Inscribed Coin?

IONIA. Uncertain. Ca. 660 BC. EL hecte (8mm, 2.35 gm). Blank field with Greek inscription AΘΩ(?) around upper edge / Rectangular incuse punch with raised linear lines. Unrecorded, but cf. Linzalone 1012 (typeless hemihecte). Excessively rare, one of only two specimens known. Very Fine.

According to most experts, electrum coins with a blank (or typeless) obverse field represent the earliest attempt at coinage in Lydia and Ionia, dating to around 670-660 BC. This effort evolved into the invention of an obverse design, starting with simple striations, and the first true coin (see Heritage sale 3015, lot 23123). However our understanding of this series has recently been revolutionized by the the discovery, from a British collection, of an electrum blank hecte with an obverse Greek inscription, a great and significant surprise. A second similar example was found in a European collection. Although superficially similar to other known "blank" issues, the edge of this hecte (and the similar known example) display at least two and possibly three letters -- likely an A (alpha), an archaic squarish form of Θ (theta), and possibly an Ε (eta, lowercase). The interpretation suggests a connection to the famous "owl" coins of Athens, but the earliest "owls" appeared more than 130 years after the likely date of our hecte. More likely the letters represent an abbreviation of a personal name (such as the famous "Walwet" and "Phanes" EL coins of Lydia and Ionia) or possibly a dedicatory inscription to the goddess Athena. In any case what this humble electrum piece seems to represent is extremely significant: The first coin of any description to carry an inscription, likely struck at least 35 years before the issues in the name of Phanes (ca. 625-610 BC) and Walwet (610-560 BC).

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Auction Dates
September, 2012
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