Featured White Whale Acquired: Not the Usual Athens

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by AncientJoe, Aug 18, 2018.

  1. AncientJoe

    AncientJoe Supporter! Supporter

    It's rare that thinking about an upcoming auction keeps me up at night for multiple days due to the excitement.

    This type has always been at the top of my wantlist but I never thought I'd manage to acquire one due to its absolute rarity. It's necessary to be patient and opportunistic when you want a coin of which only two are available to private collectors (especially when one of those two is owned by a friend who won't ever sell).

    If this coin were sold in a better publicized auction, I likely would have never been able to buy it. It went for roughly half of my max bid and I felt I only had a weak chance of buying it even at that level.

    Needless to say, I'm thrilled. And, without further ado:


    ATTICA. Athens. AV Diobol (1.43 gms), ca. 407/6 B.C.
    Svoronos-pl. 15#7. Head of Athena facing right wearing crested Attic helmet adorned with palmette and olive leaves; Reverse: Two owls standing confronted, olive branch between, ethnic in exergue. Minor scuffs, though commensurate with the assigned condition.
    Ex. John Whitney Walter Collection

    Athens was a prolific producer of silver coinage, minting millions of owl tetradrachms. Gold, however, was much scarcer in the region and Athens only minted gold coinage when in severe crisis. This gold diobol comes from the final years of the Peloponnesian War and is one of the most important and rarest Greek coins.

    Athens faced heavy losses against Sparta. Near the end of the war, they blocked Athens from accessing its silver mines, resulting in an economic emergency. After four years of being starved out, the need for funds became so dire, the authorities ordered the melting of seven of the eight massive gold statues of Nike which were standing around the Parthenon on the Acropolis.

    These statues were symbols of the city’s great economic reserves making this a true moment of desperation for Athens. The gold from these statues was minted into coins and used to construct a new fleet of ships to attempt a naval retaliation. Because of their value, to protect against forgeries, the dies used to strike the coins were stored in the Parthenon treasury in an alabaster box. Further indicating the importance of their minting, the historical context of these gold coins is exceptionally well documented by the playwright Aristophanes and by the Athenian treasury records.

    Unfortunately, even with the influx of funds, Athens was ultimately defeated at sea and surrendered to the Spartan general Lysander.

    While many thousands of coins were minted with the volume of gold from the statues, only a very small number survive today. This coin is one of only two diobols in private hands with the four others residing in museums. Other denominations are also known but exist in similar numbers, with only one or two examples of each available to private collectors.
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  3. Bing

    Bing Illegitimi non carborundum Supporter

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  4. Sallent

    Sallent Well-Known Member

    One of only 6 known to exist, and with only two in the private market: Yeah, I vote for this as Coin of the Year at Cointalk's Ancients Forum. Anyone else care to second that motion?

    What a super rare treat. Thanks for sharing it with us.
  5. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo Temporarily Away Supporter

    White whale indeed! To me these gold Athens coins are the most interesting coins in all of history. I am ecstatic for you Joe! Congratulations and thank you for sharing.
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2018
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  6. ominus1

    ominus1 Well-Known Member

    ..just WOW!
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  7. Jay GT4

    Jay GT4 Well-Known Member

  8. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

    Wow seems to sum it up best :D


    Congratulations, AJ! We've seen some rarities here on CoinTalk but it's not often that we see a coin which might only come to market once in a collector's lifetime, if that!

    Fortuna certainly smiled on you that night. What a coup! What an amazing piece of history!
  9. jamesicus

    jamesicus pachydermicus Supporter

    Just an incredible coin, Joe. Congratulations. I agree with Counselor Sallent - Coin of the year (hedging: so far)!
  10. Pellinore

    Pellinore Supporter! Supporter

    What a beauty, and filled to the brim with fascinating history. What’s the diameter, by the way? About 10 mm I think.
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  11. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter


    A rare piece of Athens' former victories, issued in her defeat. Hard to get cooler than that. So glad it is now part of our CT Ancients museum!
    Last edited: Aug 18, 2018
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  12. Nicholas Molinari

    Nicholas Molinari Well-Known Member

    Nicely done! Congratulations.
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  13. Andres2

    Andres2 Well-Known Member

    What a provenance, congrats AncientJoe, 2 owls for the price of one, but still a high price in my book :dead:

  14. R*L

    R*L Active Member

    :wideyed: Wow indeed. Congratulations and thanks for sharing!
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  15. Ancient Aussie

    Ancient Aussie Supporter! Supporter

    Congrats, fantastic coin.
    AncientJoe likes this.
  16. IdesOfMarch01

    IdesOfMarch01 Well-Known Member

    Viewed through the lens of ancient history, this coin is almost too good to be true: not only was it used to pay for the historic war against Sparta, but it was struck from gold melted down from historical statues of Nike. Truly a double win from a numismatic perspective.

  17. Carausius

    Carausius Brother, can you spare a sestertius?

    Congratulations, Joe! Now you can claim to own not only an exceptionally rare coin but also a piece of the classical Acropolis treasure
  18. Orfew

    Orfew Supporter! Supporter


    Congratulations on this simply superb acquisition. You are now the custodian of a truly remarkable piece of history. It is no wonder that you did not sleep for days in the hope that you could acquire such a coin. You have been awarded both a great prize and a great responsibility. I am thrilled for you.
  19. Cucumbor

    Cucumbor Dombes collector Supporter

    Thanks for sharing this unbelievable treasure with us @AncientJoe
    I wouldn't have slept for nights in a similar situation either. Congrats for a well deserved siesta !

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  20. Ajax

    Ajax Well-Known Member

    Wow.. fantastic piece AJ!
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  21. ancientcoinguru

    ancientcoinguru Supporter! Supporter

    WOW! What a fantastic coin, congrats!
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