Gem Mint State Croesus Light StaterLYDIAN KINGDOM. Croesus and later (ca. 561-546 BC). AV stater (17mm, 8.08 gm). NGC Gem MS 5/5 - 5/5. Sardes, "Light" standard, ca. 553-539 BC. Confronted foreparts of lion (on left, facing right), with extended right foreleg, and bull (on right, facing left) / Two incuse square punches of unequal size. Carradice 8. BMFA 2073. SNG von Aulock 2875. Tied for the finest graded example, with blazing luster and eye appeal, and very rare as such.
Ex. MoneyMuseum, Zurich.
Perhaps because of his association with gold and silver, Croesus became legendary for his wealth, and there are several almost mythical accounts of his interactions with another quasi-legendary Greek, the sage Solon, in which they discuss whether wealth and possessions can truly buy happiness. The most famous ancient account of Croesus occurred at the end of his reign, when he questioned the Delphic Oracle as to whether he should make war on the rising Persian kingdom; the oracle answered, with typical ambiguity, that if he attacked the Persians he would destroy a great empire. In the event he did move to confront the Persian King Cyrus, and, after an inconclusive battle, was besieged and captured at his capital city of Sardes in 546 BC, thus destroying his own "great empire." His eventual fate is uncertain; some accounts suggest he continued as an advisor to Cyrus after the Persians absorbed Lydia, but more likely he was executed. His revolutionary coinage was adopted, in simplified form, by the Persians, who retained the lion-bull motif for a few decades before replacing it with their own unique design.
In numismatic circles, Croesus is most famous for introducing the world's first bimetallic standard, issuing coins of both gold and silver. Prior to this, coins were produced in electrum, a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver. This situation obviously caused a number of problems, most notably because the proportions of gold to silver were inconsistent. In fact, there is strong evidence to suggest that Croesus' father, Alyattes, artificially manipulated the gold-to-silver ratio in his electrum coins in his favor; the natural occurring electrum in Asia Minor typically has a gold-to-silver ratio of 75%-25%, though his coins were struck with 54% gold and 44% silver.
The eminent scholar of early coinage, John Kroll, argues that the gold standard of Croesus was introduced in several stages, designed at recalling as many of the circulating electrum staters as possible. The early electrum staters of Asia Minor were typically struck on a weight standard of 14.15 grams. Considering the relative value of gold to silver at the time was 1:13, then one gold stater of the so-called "heavy" series of King Croesus, based on a weight standard of 10.8 grams, would have been equal to the gold and silver content of one electrum stater, which circulated at an assumed ratio of 75% gold and 25% silver. Kroll argues that the Lydian government used this heavy standard to recall the old electrum coins and reissue the new heavy standard gold coins at a 1:1 ratio.
Once a sufficient number had been recalled, the Lydian government issued the new light stater, which weighed approximately 8.05 grams (as evidenced by the coin on offer here, which, lacking any sort of wear, weighs 8.08 grams- one of the heaviest light staters we have seen). Kroll continues his argument that this new weight standard was designed to recall as many of the remaining electrum coins as possible, as the 8.05 gram standard is based on the actual gold and silver content of early electrum coins (54% gold and 44% silver). In other words, the heavy standard was used to replace electrum staters at their circulating face value and the light standard was used to recall coins at their actual gold and silver value.
The conventional wisdom has always been that the light staters of Croesus were much more common than his heavy staters by a factor of three or four. However, in recent years, studies of auction appearances of both types have strongly suggested otherwise. Though the light stater was almost certainly produced for a longer period than the heavy stater, the survival rate for the former may be significantly less than previously thought. As such, new information and studies about the surviving population of each type lead to the conclusion that the light stater is actually the rarer of the two types. The market seems to already be catching on to this point, as another NGC Gem MS light stater sold in April of this year through a Japanese auction company for approximately $180,000.
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