Archaic Owl Type Question

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Adcono, Apr 11, 2022.

  1. Adcono

    Adcono New Member

    I saw this archaic owl on a CNG auction and thought it was kind of odd. I lm no expert on these types but Iv never seen an archaic style owl with dots or pellets on Athena’s helmet like seen on this coin. Usually they are simply smooth and bare with dots and geometric shapes in the crest. Obviously the classical owls then added the floral design on the helmet. Just wondering if anyone is familiar with this variation as I know these early types have significant variation. Or if this detail can help date it more precisely? Also it looks like there is an iris in the eye which seems unusual for the type 2636AA80-19E4-4022-9C5B-8487B43D989E.jpeg as well. Any info would be appreciated. Thanks
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  3. The Meat man

    The Meat man Supporter! Supporter

    Welcome to the Forum, Adcono! I can't help you much with your question but I'm sure there are plenty here who can.
  4. UncleScroge

    UncleScroge Well-Known Member

    What's the black bar over the ear?
  5. Iepto

    Iepto Active Member

    A test cut, made in antiquity, by a private individual or merchant who wanted to make sure it was real silver throughout.
    UncleScroge likes this.
  6. PeteB

    PeteB Well-Known Member

    Test cut to see if it has a copper core.
    robinjojo and UncleScroge like this.
  7. Adcono

    Adcono New Member

    4F880DB5-AF32-4F6A-BF03-4419E330FCD0.png Found this old thread actually on the forum of members showcasing their owls. At the bottom of the screenshot you can see a similar type with the dotted helmet. So I guess it’s not so unusual. Iv just never seen one before and it’s definitely not the norm for the type.
  8. robinjojo

    robinjojo Supporter! Supporter

    The dots on the helmet are decorative. The vast number of archaic owls don't have this feature.

    I do have one that displays these dots.

    D-Camera Athens, tetradrachm, 510-480 BC, reversed ethnic and olive leaves, 17.8 g, 10-27-20.jpg

    The archaic owls are among the crudest coins produced by Athens. The flans were usually narrow, poorly prepared resulting in details missing (off the flan) and rough surfaces due to flaws in the metal. Add to the equation crudely engraved dies, worn dies and haphazard strikes, and the result is usually a quite primitive appearing coin, especially one produced by Athens.

    However, I find their crude nature part of their charm. They are most idiosyncratic and as different from the later classical owls as night is to day. The basic designs are the same, but that's just about all they share in common.

    The presence of a pupil can be seen in many archaic owls, especially those struck with dies that are not worn. I cannot say that this feature is present in all archaic owls, as demonstrated in the posted examples. There was quite a variation in the dies that were produced, at multiple mints, according to Seltman. The abilities of the engravers varied from mint to mint, and the artistic influences of the period often influenced how the dies were engraved.

    Here's one more example. The reverse of this owl is my avatar for CT.

    D-Camera Athens arachaic owl, class C, 482 - 480 BC, 17.4 g eBay 2021 11-30-21.jpg

    This is a classic situation. The obverse die used for this coin is worn and the metal is pitted and flawed. The result is a portrait of Athena that is recognizable, but lacking in much detail. The reverse die, on the other hand, as a very skillfully engraved owl, far better than most, which tend to be stiff and lacking in much detail.
  9. Adcono

    Adcono New Member

    Awesome thanks for the detailed reply. Learn something new everyday. Since the test cut arose via a question I wonder if anyone might weigh in on this topic as I find it an interesting topic in itself. Conventional wisdom says and it would I seem obvious that the majority of test cuts on ancient and medieval coins are purely utilitarian in nature meaning simply made in order to expose the core of the coin to ensure that it is solid all the way through and not a plated or washed core of non precious metal. It seems pretty clear that this is the case. However there are plenty of examples including Athenian Tetradrachm that have numerous test cuts sometimes all over the coin. It could reasonably be that each time it changed hands it was checked again because in ancient times it was known that a fake could be either purposefully test cut then re plated in order to look like it’s already passed the purity test or someone test cuts it finds it to be a fake and then re plates it themselves in order to pass it along and not take a loss. This would necessitate the practice of always checking yourself for a plated forgery when you get a new high denomination coin. However I know that a phenomenon known as “peck marks” are fairly common on European silver coinage of the early Middle Ages that have circulated in Scandinavia as well and have been similarly debated. These are much smaller and shallower nicks in the metal that seem to be made with the end of a knife or other sharp instrument. The explanation has been put forth that these too are purity checks. But many such coins exist with large numbers of these marks and interestingly sometimes seem to be concentrated on symbolic aspects of the coins design for example on the cross reverse which was common on coins of the era. So it seems possible that these marks were made for superstitious or political reasons to deface that aspect of the coin rather than checking the purity because at some point it seems to no longer be logical to check a coin that already has a dozen tests done to it but it might make sense for an individual to want to deface a symbolic aspect of a coin they receive for superstitious or political reasons. So I wonder if some of the heavily test cut owls might not be so for similar reasons? It’s well known that Athens had many enemies within Greece during the time these types were circulated and they circulated widely. Perhaps the iconic owl or head of Athena was a symbolic reorientation of the city that people with a particular gripe toward Athenian hegemony would sometimes be all to happy to deface? Just wondering what anyone might think about that.
    Carl Wilmont and Edessa like this.
  10. robinjojo

    robinjojo Supporter! Supporter

    I am not aware of any political reasons for test cuts on Athenian owls. I've always thought of them as a practical measure that merchants would take if they suspected that a coin was plated. In some instances there were official testers who would examine a coin, and if good, would place a countermark on the coin an indication of approval for circulation. Merchants and bankers did the same. There are lots of owls with sometimes very interesting countermarks, sometimes in combination with test cuts, as shown below.

    This is actually a Pharaonic imitation owl, with what appears to be a Paleo Hebrew M countermark on the reverse (at least that's my opinion).

    D-Camera Athens owl eastern imiation, cs reverse, 17.03g eBay March 2022  4-2-22.jpg

    Not sure about the countermark on this owl - still researching.

    D-Camera Athens owl eastern imitation possible sanskrit cm 'ta' 16.1g eBay 2-19-22.jpg

    Another owl with a Phoenician M countermark.

    D-Camera Athens owl c. 450BC Pheonician countermark M 17.15g eBay 2-9-22.jpg
  11. Kavax

    Kavax Well-Known Member

    @Adcono There is no political reason for the test cuts at that time. This coin is dated pre 480 thus before the egemony of Athens.
    Archaic coins with test cuts are mainly found in hoards far from Athens (e.g. the famous Asyut hoard in Egypt) where they were considered hacksilber, used as bullion or as currency by weight in antiquity.
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  12. svessien

    svessien Senior Member

    I think at least the Vikings were a fidgety bunch, when you look at the dragon style carvings.

    People will be people. Give out knives to a high school class, and you will soon see favorite bands and girlfriends carved out on the desks. We seem to like to put our marks on things.
    Edessa likes this.
  13. Adcono

    Adcono New Member

    81E828DB-E3D4-4E0E-B983-674745E8888F.jpeg Makes sense. I’m sure that’s the reason for the cuts I just am wondering aloud why it’s necessary to test a specific coin numerous times like on this example. And yes the early coins are dated before the Delian league and the rise of Athenian hegemonic power but I think these coins stayed in circulation for some time so could have been around much later.
    Edessa and Bing like this.
  14. Dafydd

    Dafydd Supporter! Supporter

    Welcome Adcono!
    You'll find most folks here a friendly and eclectic bunch. I have learned so much from the sidelines over the years and everyone is generous sharing their knowledge.
    I've enjoyed the thread you started and thought I would share this. Not an academic response but interesting. We returned from a short vacation in Rhodes yesterday and whilst there I was given this coin in my change.

    EuroOwlA.JPG EuroOwlB.JPG

    I thought it really fascinating that this symbol has continued to be used on a coin over two thousand years after its first use.

    Here is my Owl Tetradrachm, my only other Greek Coin. I collect Roman and British but wanted to own one of these iconic coins so deviated from my interests.
    AthenaOwlA.JPG AthenaOwlB.JPG

    Here are the two together for size comparison.

    Finally, the Owl continues to be used on objects to this day and there is a plethora of them available as souvenirs as ornaments or printed on anything you can imagine as is the Mati or "Evil Eye" symbol. I collect fridge magnets on my travels and searched for an Owl Magnet but was unable to find what I wanted but killed two birds with one stone with this piece of tacky tourist bait.


    This segues nicely into "Weird Al" Yankovic.

  15. robinjojo

    robinjojo Supporter! Supporter

    In addition to the numerous owls of the ancient Greek numismatic variety, there are other owls in residence:

    A ceramic owl hair spray cover, Japan, circa 1960s-1970s

    D-Camera Owl hair spray cover, ceramic, Japan 4-16-22.jpg

    And a print of an owl, made by my sister while at Ann Arbor, 1966

    D-Camera Owl limited edition print L. Robinson 1966 4-16-22.jpg
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