Two countermarked owls, the Gemini twins and Melqart riding a hippocamp

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by robinjojo, May 6, 2021.

  1. robinjojo

    robinjojo Supporter! Supporter

    I love to collect coins with interesting countermarks. Not only are the countermarks often challenging to interrupt, they also provide interesting clues on the location and times in which they circulated. Here are two recent arrivals. Both, I believe, were created in the 4th century BC.

    The Athenian owl traveled far and wide, especially in the eastern Mediterranean. They were in the mainstay currency for many economies, at least until the massive Alexandrian coinage emissions supplanted them in the later 4th and 3rd centuries BC.

    The first coin is an intermediate owl, perhaps of Athenian origin, that came to me from Israel. Of interest is the countermark on the obverse, squarely on Athena's cheek. At first I couldn't make out the design. Clearly letters or characters were used, in my view. The two figures or heads seem conjoined at the neck. Then, it occurred to me that this counterstamp could be one of the twins, Castor and Pollux, a reference to Gemini. That the countermark is in the shape of a heart (intended or not) makes it quite special.

    16.3 grams

    D-Camera Athens tetradrachm 4th cen BC, counterstamp Gemini, 16.3g. Israel 5-6-21.jpg

    The second coin's countermark is a little more complex. Additionally, the coin is quite bright (prior cleaning) and the surfaces are quite rough. This owl came to me by way of a German coin dealer on MA Shops.

    Again, there is counterstamp centrally located on Athena's cheek. The upper part of the counterstamp is very reminiscent of obverse used on the Tyrian staters, which depict Melqart riding hippocamp right, with ocean waves below. Of course the counterstamp design is very simply engraved, but there is a semblance nonetheless.

    Tyrian stater, 400-360 BC Melquart riding hippocamp.jpg
    Beneath the figure is either an Aramaic or Paleo Hebrew character mem or meme, which is derived from the picture for water, and, among its meanings, includes "mighty". Could this counterstamp be one to validate this coin for circulation by a local authority?

    D-Camera Athens imitation owl counterstamp detail king and mem 17.1g 5-6-21.jpg

    Although this coin weighs 17.1 grams, I believe it is an imitation, mainly based on its crude nature, especially regarding Athena's helmet, face and the owl and ethnic on the reverse.

    D-Camera Athens imitation owl counterstamp king and mem 17.1g 5-6-21.jpg

    Well, that's my take. What do you think?

    Shea19, Sulla80, Alegandron and 7 others like this.
  2. Avatar

    Guest User Guest

    to hide this ad.
  3. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    Very interesting. One thing I'm not clear on, though, is how one can tell that marks of this kind are countermarks (see, applied to coins for reasons including "revalidation, revaluation, devaluation, and propaganda" (id.), as opposed to banker's marks, which, as I understand it, are similar to test cuts except that they're in the form of shapes, letters, etc. See

    "Banker's Mark

    Banker's marks are similar to test cuts in that they were used to affirm a coin's validity, but marks were often letters or shapes, rather than simply punches. The letter or symbol identified the private merchant or government official (such as a civic banker who was stationed at a port who validated currency that was to pass into the country) that was satisfied that the coin was genuine. Banker's marks can be found frequently enough placed such that the ruler's portrait is not impaired by the mark - this appears to have been a conscious choice, rather than by accident.

    Countermark (Counterstamp)

    Countermarks (counterstamps) were used for a variety of purposes. As given by Baker, reasons included:

    To extend the geographical range that a coin would be accepted as legal tender.
    Coins issued in a Roman mint for circulation in provinces, or coins struck in a provincial mint for circulation in other parts of the empire, could be stamped to ensure they could circulate elsewhere. Similarly, locally-struck provincial imitations of Roman coinage could be marked to indicate they had Imperial approval.

    To continue in use a coin which had been in circulation for a considerable period of time.

    Worn coins could be stamped to change or reaffirm their value, or to give coins of a previous ruler a guarantee of acceptance by the current ruler.

    To designate a new authority usurping the coins of another for their own use.
    Coins could be marked by the followers of a revolting general or legion, sometimes to deface the portrait of he who was being rebelled against. Also, local coinage could be stamped with Roman or legionary countermarks so they could be used as legal tender by the legion, such as Legion X, Fretensis stamping X, XF or LXF on coins of Judaea and Samaria."

    See also the article at, explaining as follows in relevant part:

    "The definition of a countermark (sometimes referred to as a counterstamp) has, for unknown reasons, been avoided by most writers on the subject. This may have caused some past confusion with such terms as "punched," "counterpunched" and "overstruck." So let us begin by saying, a countermarked coin is one which has had a secondary stamp impressed upon it at some time subsequent to its original minting [ 2 ]. This countermarking could be done to a relatively new coin or to a coin which had been in circulation for many years.

    Because of the need for anyone interested in Roman coinage to know when he or she is observing a countermarked coin, to know the purposes for the use of such marks and to encourage further investigation when such marks are encountered, I have chosen to introduce this subject to my readers in outline form. For this purpose, after a brief introduction, I have listed some of the most interesting and illustrative types of Roman countermarks together with their striking authority and purposes for their use.

    The coinage of the period of the Roman Republic seldom contains countermarks. There are some sporadic instances of countermarks being placed upon Republican coins still in circulation during the "Empire." By the Empire I refer to that period from 27 BCE until 476 CE when Rome was ruled by a succession of Emperors.

    Instead of countermarks the coinage of the Republic often contained bankersmarks, also called punchmarks. This term concerns the practice of placing test cuts or "punching" incised letters or emblems upon the surface of a coin by merchants and moneychangers to determine whether a coin was pure metal or plated. They are found primarily on the gold and silver issues.

    Roman countermarks as such did not come into use until the introduction of the imperial era by Augustus. There were several reasons why a Roman coin might be countermarked during this period, and various authors give divergent views on the matter. By "pooling" these views one comes up with the three following major categories:

    CATEGORY 1.To extend the geographical area in which the coin would be accepted as legal tender.

    CATEGORY 2. To continue in use a coin which had been in circulation for a considerable period of time.

    CATEGORY 3.To designate a new authority usurping the coins of another for their own use." [Examples follow.]

    Thus, my own Athenian owl has something that's clearly a test cut on the owl's face, but also has what I assume is a banker's mark on the owl's stomach (the circle with a raised dot in the center that looks like it could be a theta):

    NEW COMBINED Athenian Owl Tetradrachm.jpg

    Plus, as was recently pointed out to me, there's some sort of shape incised in the reverse right field; it looks to me like a cat's face!

    And then there's this "banker's mark" next to Medusa's mouth:

    Plautius Plancus-Medusa denarius Obv. 3.jpg

    Finally, there's this apparent banker's mark on the obverse of another Republican coin I recently acquired:

    Roman Republic, C. Memmius C.f., AR Denarius, 56 BCE [Crawford], 57 BCE [Harlan], Rome Mint. Obv. Laureate head of Quirinus right [deified aspect of Romulus and/or Italian deity worshipped on Quirinal Hill; see footnote], hair long, beard in formal ringlets, C•MEMMI•C•F downwards to right, QVIRINVS downwards to left; banker’s mark or test mark to left of Quirinus’s eye, in shape of bird? inside flower or star/ Rev. Ceres seated right, holding torch in left hand and corn ear in right hand; at her feet, snake rearing with head right; MEMMIVS •AED• CERIALIA•PREIMVS•FECIT [translated as “Memmius as aedile first held the games of Ceres” (Harlan RRM II pp. 99-100)] downwards from upper left; old graffiti resembling an “X” to right of Ceres. Crawford 427/2, RSC I Memmia 9 (ill.), Sear RCV I 388 (ill.), BMCRR 3940; Sydenham 921; Harlan RRM II, Ch. 12 at pp. 95-103; RBW Collection 1532; Jones, J.M., A Dictionary of Ancient Roman Coins (1990) [entry for “Quirinus” at p. 264]. 19.5 mm., 3.71 g. (Footnote omitted.)

    COMBINED Memmius denarius.jpg

    Detail Memmius Obv 3 (2).jpg

    Am I correct to assume that none of these coins has what you consider an actual countermark? If so, to repeat my question, how can you tell that the marks on your coins are, in fact, countermarks or counterstamps?
    Last edited: May 6, 2021
  4. Silphium Addict

    Silphium Addict Supporter! Supporter

    The banker's mark on the Athenian owl looks like it could be a “heart-shaped” silphium fruit like on the early coins of Kyrene

    Kyrene AR hemidrachm 2.02 gm, 12 mm
    O: silphium fruit
    R: head Zeus Ammon right
    cf. BMC 27

    I remember seeing a similar banker's mark on an Aegina "turtle" stater
    Last edited: May 6, 2021
    Alegandron, robinjojo, Bing and 4 others like this.
  5. robinjojo

    robinjojo Supporter! Supporter

    Thanks. Yes, there is a definite resemblance. I think your explanation is far more plausible. I will make a note.
  6. robinjojo

    robinjojo Supporter! Supporter

    Hi Donna

    First, I just want to mention that I am not an expert on counterstamps or countermarks. Actually, I am much closer to a "rank armature", as Gilbert and Sullivan would say. Second, thank for the links and the information provided, which probably quadrupled my knowledge in this highly specialized and really little understood subject.

    I am in the habit of using counterstamp and countermark on an almost interchangeable basis. I do distinguish counterstamps and countermarks from simple punches that were probably employed by merchants as an alternative to the highly intrusive and destructive test cut.

    Here's an example of what I am referring to, an intermediate Athenian tetradrachm that I recently purchased, from Israel:

    16.7 grams

    D-Camera Athens tetradrachm 4th cen BC, two test punches, 16.7g Israel 5-6-21.jpg

    The two punches are very symmetrical, the first one square with a radiating star-like inner pattern, and the second, more cross shaped, again with radiating inner lines.

    These punches are simpler in design, compared to the more elaborate countermarks in my OP images. I would guess that these marks, since they are so elemental, were probably used by merchants and traders, while the more elaborate countermarks were likely used by bankers and governing authorities. This is just a guess on my part and I am sure that far more knowledgeable collectors in this field could provide much more accurate information.

    I do know that coins with certain Aramaic or Paleo Hebrew characters were used as countermarks to authorize their circulation within jurisdictions.

    Here's a brief, but interesting discussion on the subject from Forum Ancient Coins:

    Here's an owl with bankers' marks, according to the description on Forum Ancient Coins. One of them, on the obverse, seems similar the Seleucid anchor countermark used on the tetradrachms of Pamphylia, Side, but on the other hand it might be a character.


    So, I am sorry if I was unable to clarify the distinction between countermark and counterstamp. I think, as in Roman times, these stamps were used for a variety of reasons when owls circulated in the eastern Mediterranean and points beyond.
    Limes, Johndakerftw, Bing and 2 others like this.
  7. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    Thanks. Just to clarify, it's my understanding from those links that countermarks and counterstamps are synonymous; it's "banker's marks" that form a distinct category. But, who knows, really?
  8. robinjojo

    robinjojo Supporter! Supporter

    Here's one more countermarked tetradrachm.

    This coin appears to have a Phoenician W (waw) on the obverse. The countermark was punched horizontally.


    Athens, After 449 BC
    AR tetradrachm
    Head of Athena to right, wearing crested Attic helmet ornamented with three olive leaves above visor and spiral palmette on bowl, round earring with central boss and pearl necklace / Owl standing to right with head facing, olive sprig and crescent behind, ΑΘΕ before; all within incuse square.
    The obverse has two countermarks: a pelt-like countermark with extended lines on the sides (beetle or scarab?), and a Phoenician W (Waw) below it, on its side.

    17.0 grams

    D-Camera Athens tetradrachm after 449 BC Phoencian countermark W waw 17.0 g 5-7-21.jpg
  9. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    In most cases, this is my attitude on the matter. Some c/m's are associated with a ruler such as the Seleucid anchor below.
    Some may indicate a religious use like the Ba'al (Luy is Aramaic for Ba'al) bull below. Was the coin certified sacred and acceptable for sacrifice? I have no idea. This is a common c/m from this region so my guess is that it was associated with the temple but that is a guess and exactly what it meant would be yet another guess.
    That leaves c/m's that may or may not have belonged to some authority or to some merchant used for some purpose on which we can only guess. The problem is that when someone guesses in a book they are writing, someone else will quote it as fact. Maybe it is. Maybe not.
  10. robinjojo

    robinjojo Supporter! Supporter

    At least, with ancient coins, the number of countermarks that a coin can have is more or less limited by the size of the flan.

    In more modern times, with large silver coins being used for trade, especially in Asia, and specifically China, some coins were so heavily stamped, and cut, mostly by merchants, that much of the original design was obliterated, as with this example.

    26.4 grams

    D-Camera Mexico, 8 Reales, 1744 MF, Philip V heavy chops-test cuts 26.4 grams 3-4-21.jpg
    Bing, Johndakerftw and DonnaML like this.
Draft saved Draft deleted

Share This Page