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STUDIES IN ATHENIAN SILVER COINAGE:ANALYSIS OF ARCHAIC ‘OWL’ TETRADRACHMS


robinjojo
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I noticed, while reading the article, that a few of the archaic tetradrachms analyzed fell well below the attic standard of around 17.4 grams.  I have one archaic owl that, due to its very low weight, I thought might be an eastern imitation, but now I think is Athenian.   Lots of horn silver on this one.

Athens, archaic owl, circa 480 BC.

13.03 grams  

699836276_D-CameraAthenspossibleimitationarchaicowlc.480BC13.03gMAShops6-15-21.jpg.431c58111bda53fea6abb721adaf04be.jpg

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Athens Ar Tetradrachm 500/490=485/480 BC Obv Helmeted head of Athena right. Rv Owl standing right head facing.  Seltman Group Gi HGC 1590 17.06 grms 19 mm Photo by W. Hansen

athens11.jpg.8ca16607bb770687fbe70e66c0050011.jpg

The article posted above by @robinjojo was very interesting in that my coin appears to have been made up  of folded pieces of silver something like the "PI" style owls of the 350's BC. I wonder if somebodies silver set was sacrificed for the war effort.

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Posted (edited)

Very nice! 

Yes, that owl does appear to have a folded flan.  It is interesting that this was done with some archaic coins as well as the intermediate owls of the th century BC, but apparently not with the classical owls of the mid to late 5th century BC.

However, I did acquire a classical standardized owl that I think was struck on a folded flan.  Why the folding?  One would assume that the folding was done due to the reuse of an existing coin, folded and hammered, just like the intermediate owls, essentially skipping a few steps in the melting and recasting of the original coin into a new flan.

Athens, tetradrachm, after 440 BC.

16.87 grams

2058168703_D-CameraAthensowlpossibleimitationfoldedflan16.87g5thcenBC2-8-22.jpg.5be9f0aec2690d196b9a769e60b73862.jpg

 

Here's an edge view of this coin.

1025153360_D-CameraAthensowlpossibleimitationfoldedflanedgeview16.87g5thcenBC2-8-22.jpg.b9f7278d682242b0403dd294803888ac.jpg

 

It's interesting that there are no traces of the original coin on the obverse or reverse.  This is also the case with the archaic owl.  This is also true for the intermediate owls, at least for the ones that I have seen.

Edited by robinjojo
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D'oh!  Still don't get it...why not just melt  instead of getting the slaves to burn themselves repeatedly with faffing about with pincers, pliers, tongs on tiny hot bits of metal.  I just don't get it!  No wonder why NewStyles were less popular..no folding, no fuss, no whinging slaves, a fortune saved in burn salve...........and the speed of production must have been slow  and the final product...ugh!!  No I just don't get it.   I'm off to invent the spread flan.I'll think to call them stephanophores  cos I deserve a heroic wreath.

Edited by NewStyleKing
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On 10/5/2022 at 6:15 PM, robinjojo said:

I haven't read this article by  Gillan Davis, Kenneth A. Sheedy and Damian B. Goreyet, but it looks very interesting.  Perhaps many of you have read it before.

https://www.academia.edu/44070027/4_STUDIES_IN_ATHENIAN_SILVER_COINAGE_ANALYSIS_OF_ARCHAIC_OWL_TETRADRACHMS?email_work_card=view-paper

 

 

 

I thought the article was excellent ☺️! The authors state "The ideal weight of a tetradrachm on the Attic standard was 17.44 g.", although I've never seen one that heavy 🤔. The average weight of the 424 coins the authors tested was 16.91 g., with a median of 16.95g. Yesterday CNG auctioned the early Owl pictured below for $11,637.50 😲! 252_2.jpg.f5a37a08e63c80648d459df060aa80e6.jpg

ATTIC, Athens. Circa 485/0 BC. AR Tetradrachm: 17.17 gm, 21 mm, 8 h. Seltman Group E, unlisted dies.

 

 

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3 hours ago, Al Kowsky said:

I thought the article was excellent ☺️! The authors state "The ideal weight of a tetradrachm on the Attic standard was 17.44 g.", although I've never seen one that heavy 🤔. The average weight of the 424 coins the authors tested was 16.91 g., with a median of 16.95g. Yesterday CNG auctioned the early Owl pictured below for $11,637.50 😲! 252_2.jpg.f5a37a08e63c80648d459df060aa80e6.jpg

ATTIC, Athens. Circa 485/0 BC. AR Tetradrachm: 17.17 gm, 21 mm, 8 h. Seltman Group E, unlisted dies.

 

 

 

I don't recall seeing an archaic owl at exactly 17.44 grams.  The closest I have near that weight is 17.42 grams:

1676715990_D-CameraAthenstetradrachmarchaicc.510-500-480BC17.42gengagingowl3-6-21.jpg.593620d9a812d83b162fe3a72c5125b7.jpg

Here are a couple of "heavy weights".

Here's one at 17.52 grams:

1645424383_D-CameraAthensarchaicowltet520-490BCxMM6194666417.52gBerk922-7-21.jpg.18d75cc083891f11c0369cfa254b9d76.jpg

 

And another at 17.8 grams:

1002128029_D-CameraAthenstetradrachm510-480BCreversedethnicandoliveleaves17.8g3-6-21.jpg.9a34a60173573472a0fa5e202dd8081a.jpg

 

 

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4 hours ago, robinjojo said:

 

I don't recall seeing an archaic owl at exactly 17.44 grams.  The closest I have near that weight is 17.42 grams:

1676715990_D-CameraAthenstetradrachmarchaicc.510-500-480BC17.42gengagingowl3-6-21.jpg.593620d9a812d83b162fe3a72c5125b7.jpg

Here are a couple of "heavy weights".

Here's one at 17.52 grams:

1645424383_D-CameraAthensarchaicowltet520-490BCxMM6194666417.52gBerk922-7-21.jpg.18d75cc083891f11c0369cfa254b9d76.jpg

 

And another at 17.8 grams:

1002128029_D-CameraAthenstetradrachm510-480BCreversedethnicandoliveleaves17.8g3-6-21.jpg.9a34a60173573472a0fa5e202dd8081a.jpg

 

 

Thanks for the post ☺️.

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Posted (edited)
13 hours ago, NewStyleKing said:

D'oh!  Still don't get it...why not just melt  instead of getting the slaves to burn themselves repeatedly with faffing about with pincers, pliers, tongs on tiny hot bits of metal.  I just don't get it!  No wonder why NewStyles were less popular..no folding, no fuss, no whinging slaves, a fortune saved in burn salve...........and the speed of production must have been slow  and the final product...ugh!!  No I just don't get it.   I'm off to invent the spread flan.I'll think to call them stephanophores  cos I deserve a heroic wreath.

I agree - it is something of head scratcher.  I can only think that speed of producing coins was tantamount at the mint.  I don't think they did time-motion studies back then, but somehow, during most of the 4th century BC output of intermediate owls, flan folding became what I guess we would now call an institutionalized practice.  

Edited by robinjojo
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The old style owls are interesting, and fine examples of an impressive collection, but the old style Athena makes me want to sing Jimmy Durante's theme song :). 

It's amazing how relatively quickly numismatic artistry progressed during the 5th century. 

Is my recent imitative owl an example of the first post 404 intermediate style?

I like having an owl. It made me feel more invested while listening to the History of Persia podcast.

The new styles are also my favorites of Athenian coinage. Sadly, I have no examples.

47 minutes ago, robinjojo said:

I agree - it is something of head scratcher.  I can only think that speed of producing coins was tantamount at the mint.  I don't think they did time-motion studies back then, but somehow, during most of the 4th century BC output of intermediate owls, flan folding became what I guess we would now call an institutionalized practice.  

I always wondered the same thing.  Why not fresh flans?

This one is a mega-fold.  https://www.vcoins.com/en/stores/incitatus_coins/79/product/athens_ar_silver_tetradrachm_helmeted_head_of_athena_owl_on_reverse/1663093/Default.aspx

While I was copying the url I wondered to myself, I wonder if the intention was to make the owl side stand up?  I.e. displaying the owl on a flat surface.

Edited by Nerosmyfavorite68
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I assume there was an advantage using existing coins that fall within the acceptable weight range as folded flans for the new owls.  That would eliminate the need to melt them, cast the metal into flans, weighing them to assure correct weight and the annealing process.  The steps involved with folding, again based on my assumption, is to hammer the existing coin flat, hammer the edges to fold them inwards, hammer them again and fold and shape until there is a sufficiently level surface to accommodate the dies.  I suppose a skilled mint worker could do this relatively quickly, much the way the old blacksmith hammered and shaped horseshoes.  It really would be interesting to have some contemporary account on how this process was carried out. 

A contemporary manual titled "How to Produce Folded Flan Owls" would be very illuminating. 😀 

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But to fold the usually < 24mm dumpy, lumpy uneven old style flans, surely they would have to have been heated  to make it more malleable and to stop them cracking and fracturing?  With good specimens the weight range of old styles  the coins are rarely above 17.20  in actuality.  These very heavy ones tend to skew the stats somewhat and show that silver carelessly dealt with unlike gold.  Unlike gold where attention was paid to the flan weight tightly, silver was not so...hence my disbelief of flan marks for "altering" the flan weights....... it never seemed such a problem to me!  How to produce flans..........well flan moulds do exist I saw some in the Athens National museum........for tetradrachms?

The ancients looked at things differently, and spending a lot of money on burn salve for a slave  was not a problem  that troubled citizens much.  Until the revolting slaves revolted occasionally  and had their own  slaves!!!

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