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A lot of money for an obol


The Pontian
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A few days before I saw this obol in an auction house . It was sold for 2.100€ 🤔 ! I know that is an excellent example but would you give 2000€+ for an obol ? Do you know anything about this coin that makes it worth it ?

Arkadia, Pheneos AR Obol. Circa 370-340 BC. 

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It's not a cheap type.

From an auction in 2006

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One in better condition - declared as FDC

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Paying this kind of sums (keep in mind there are also the fees) is not an option for me. For a specialized collector it seems reasonable (even worse examples obtain large sums)

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This seems relatively cheap for the type in this condition for me after seeing the other auction results. It's a really wonderful little coin and I can see why those who can are willing to pay so much for these. The fact that it's an obol makes the coin more impressive instead of less to me, how often do you see an obol with such excellent surfaces and artistry? Personally my average coin price in my collection is about $250 or so but I've splurged and spent a similar but slightly smaller amount to the price of this obol on a totally different coin before, an important one for my collection. I can't spend that  much every month but I would rather have that coin than 10 of my average coins. I can't look at that tray without taking some time to look at that particular coin. That's how I look at splurging like that as a collector with limited means.

 

I think everyone should get outside their comfort zone and spend a bit more on a coin than you normally would at some point. Take a month or two off, buy something really fabulous. Maybe go for something gEF if you'd normally buy VF coins. You might find you don't enjoy it more than any other coins in your collection or on the other hand you may well find that you enjoy that coin way more than you'd enjoy a similar $ amount in cheaper coins.

Edited by red_spork
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While I don't pay that level for any coin, I very much object to the idea that being small size makes a coin worth less.  How much of this market price is due to the coin being available in high grade?  Was there a single 'pot' find of these in great state of preservation? Many/most small coins were found individually in dirt while tetradrachms can be mint state preserved in a pot or treasure chest.  What makes these coins 'special' is the surface smoothness and good striking.  Having a cute animal never hurts. They don't seem to be super rare since we have been shown several here but there obviously is a demand for them.  Is the type available in a range of conditions or are all known from that single find of high grade survivors?  I would like one in moderate grade for a fraction of the price.  The obols of Athens come in grades from pathetic to EF.  Do these? 

There is another question here.  An obol is not all that small as early silver goes.  Those of us who do collect them like fractions of obols (down to 1/8 in some series) although I am not all that sure what to call the fractions in some series.  IMO, smaller is better if all other factors are equal (they rarely are!). While my example is poor condition, a favorite of mine is my hexas from Syracuse (home of the magnificent dekadrachms).  Its weight is considerably lower than 'proper' due to peeling. The hexas was denomination marked with two dots which makes it 2/12ths of a litra.  The popular 'tetradrachms' were 20 litra while the dekadrachms were 50.  (I really do wonder what the man on the Syracusan street called them.) This hexas was 1/300 of the dekadrachm.  I would like to know what a Mint State 5/5 5/5 silver hexas would bring but I have never seen one even close to any one of those three parameters let alone all three on the same coin.  

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A close second in my heart is this six dot (6/12) Syracuse half litra  (1/100 dekadrachm) which is also beneath the notice of the mint state tetradrachm collector group but also has escaped my notice in perfect or even decent shape.  The only reason I like it less is that it is so terribly large in comparison.  I also wonder how high would be the bid for one of these in the condition of those high priced sheep obols.  Show me one and satisfy my curiosity.  Neither of my coins claim to be the finest known but that is a meaningless term until you find enough specimens to compare.  When I die I will be spared seeing the 'fight' over these coins.  It will determine who gets stuck with them. Demand in the market tends to be higher for coins with three characteristics:  High grade, high art and high exposure (people know they exist).  Everyone knows about EID MAR denarii and Athenian tetradrachms.  How many people care for the fractions? 

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That brings me to the question I really would like to know:  How many coin types were made 'back then' that have not survived even as one specimen?  Did Syracuse, for example, issue other denominations in the days before someone decided to switch to bronzes for small change?  Was there a one dot, a four dot etc. that just have not turned up yet or have been ignored because they are to terribly ugly?  Everyone who wants one can have the common, obol sized whole litra from this series.  There may even be as many of them as there are dekadrachms and/or tetradrachms.  I'm not sure about that either.  Any dealer who has a big guy lists it in their catalog.  Small coins sometimes get swept into the junk drawer.  'Not knowing' is part of the hobby. 

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Recently the market has been flooded with really small fractions in electrum in hundreds of types.  These are so common that we have seen offerings of the least of them as bulk lots.  The nice individuals sell high.  I doubt many of us understand why anyone pays the extreme prices brought by the best ones in high grade with interesting designs.   I do wonder if there is any market for the off centered, worn and ugly much beyond melt.  That is another post for someone here wo collects these. 

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  • Benefactor

I echo what others have said in that

  • Just because it's small, doesn't mean it should be cheap AND
  • This particular coin is a nice example of a rare and expensive type

That being said, I do find it interesting how in some cases coins seem to be "randomly expensive." I certainly have the impression that, one day, two people get into a bidding war for one coin. It sells high. The next time it comes up for auction, bidders investigate and find that previous copy that went for a lot, so they bid a lot. That coin eventually becomes known as a pricy type.

In the case of the coin above, I'm not sure why it consistently receives such high bids. It's certainly not the only representative of the type. The bronze coinage is relatively common and Pheneos triobols aren't nearly as pricy. Poorer quality issues of the same type have sold for far less here and here. AFAIK there's no "special" history behind this coin that would drive up prices. Therefore, I can only guess that it's value is based off a few bidding wars similar to that mentioned above.

Some examples of varying prices. 

  • The Megalopolis obol is common and inexpensive
  • The Thrako-Macedonian spear is rare, but also inexpensive
  • The Samaria obol is also rare, but is pricier (though not as bad as the OP coin)

Presumably the Samaria obol receives its value through its history, but there's little sense why the other two coins should sell for similar amounts (indeed, I paid more for the Megalopolis) except maybe the design.

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Arkadia. Arcadian League. Megalopolis
AR Obol 320-275 BCE
12.24mm .87 grams
Obverse: Head of Pan left
Reverse: Monogram of the Arcadian League, I in left field, syrinx below
BCD Peloponnesos (Megalopolis) 1517
Ex Strasbourg (4 December 1985)
Ex Marc Breitsprecher

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Thraco-Macedonian, Uncertain mint Circa 420 BCE
Silver Hemiobol .30g, 8mm
Spearhead within a circle of pellets.
Quadripart incuse square.
Tzamalis 37
Ex Aegean Numismatics

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SAMARIA, Samarian-signed Series
Circa 375-333 BCE
AR Obol 8.5mm, 0.63 g, 7h
Forepart of lion crouching right, head facing / Bearded head of male left; ŠMRY[N] (in Aramaic) to right.
Meshorer & Qedar 83; Sofaer 59
Ex CNG

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I kinda prefer small coins because I am still amazed about the artistry that ancient people were able to create on such small pieces. Plus the technical limitations.

Paying this sum, like I mentioned, is not an option for me. I started, slowly, to favor quality over quantity, but I don't see me paying 4 digits hammer prices because the joy of owning a coin like this is not justified for the financial effort.

I have 7 obols in my collection (and 2 uncertain if obol or trihemiobol). My favorite obol remains the first one I ever bought (but this is not the main reason)

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I paid 28 EUR on it including fees. Sure, this is a totally different league and I am under the impression this was a steal.
Judging just after the 2 different hammer prices I posted, I would say the hammer price for the Pheneos is normal. Even a coin in modest condition/badly centered obtains serious money.

But for my collecting goals and pocket, I would prefer adding ~85 obols like mine.

Edited by ambr0zie
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Love the artistry in these small coins. Don't buy them any longer because I can't see that well...

Pisidia. Selge. Circa 250-190 BC. AR Obol (8mm, 0.62g, 12h). Obv: Facing gorgoneion. Rev: Helmeted head of Athena right; spear and astragalos behind. Ref: SNG France 1951-1954; SNG Copenhagen 253; SNG von Aulock 5279. Very Fine, nicely toned. Ex Alex Malloy, Oct 1992.

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I really like how even the most renowned engravers of Syracuse worked with the smaller coins too. Both Kimon and Euainetos engraved hemidrachms while at the peak of their success. Or at least their success in coins…

 

SICILY. Syracuse. Second Democracy (ca. 466-405 BC). AR hemidrachm (16mm, 1.91 gm) Signed by Euainetos, ca. 410-405 BC. Charioteer driving fast quadriga right, Nike flying left above to crown driver; two dolphins nose-to-nose in exergue with E (die engraver's signature) between / ΣΥΡΑΚΟΣΙΟΝ, head of Arethusa left, hair in sphendone, two dolphins around

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13 hours ago, The Pontian said:

Do you know anything about this coin that makes it worth it ?

I think the previous prices realized for similar coins make collectors bid nearly that high because they don't have their own idea of value, rather accept the value others have assigned to it. This is regardless of the fact that the number of examples in the archives shows it is not super rare and the city is not important and the type not historical or very interesting in any way. In my opinion (and many collectors will not agree with me) it is at most a $500 coin. Great condition, dull type. Without the old, high, prices which demonstrate it is valuable, who really wants that type? 

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Maybe I'm paranoid, but the style of the OP coin seems very different to the ones that @ambr0zie presented. I get that different celators existed so that you will get a wide variety of styles for this issue, but the latter two seem more natural to me. Maybe that's why they hammered for more. IMHO, forgers nowadays can "distress" a coin well enough that is passes muster as ancient. The fields on the OP coin seem too flat and even, and the features of the bust type (eye, hair details) seem less well executed. If a provenance was included with this lot, I'd feel more comfortable about it. Auction houses sell so many coins these days that sometimes fake coins can slip by. As is, I probably would wait for a better executed one to come by if I was collecting these.

On the topic of fractional denominations, Tarentum (Taras) had a huge variety of smaller denominations, like the Sicilian mints that @dougsmitrefers to. It's not difficult to find diobols and litrae in reasonable condition, and some of them are true works of art when you consider the real estate that the celators had to live with.

There probably need to be more numismatic studies around these fractional denominations as they were truly used in everyday commerce as opposed to the larger emissions like tetradrachms and decadrachms which were mostly for paying mercenaries in the ongoing military campaigns. For Taras, Alberto D'Andrea recently published a pretty exhaustive work on the "Diobols of Tarentum" (https://www.edizionidandrea.com/) with pretty much every type known to exist in museums, auctions and collections around the world. To @dougsmit's point though, there are probably other fractionals that are less well understood and maybe even a few which still wait to be properly identified and attributed. 

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Just found this great ~1 hr Youtube video where Alberto discusses the Tarentine diobols and other aspects of Tarentine coinage (February 2022, in Italian) (see below). I think that this was presented following the release of the diobols reference work I referred to in my previous post. 

Slide 3 presents a table showing all the different fractional denominations of Taras at that time. As you can see, it goes well below that of an obol, which was worth 1/6 of a drachma. Unlike other Magna Grecian city-states, Taras issued all of its fractional denominations in silver up until the Punic Wars, when it finally began issuing bronze fractional coinage.

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It just seems a shame for two posts to mention diobols of Tarentum but not show one.  I know nothing except they are larger than I prefer and I do not have smaller from that city.

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I lied.  This is my .6g obol of Tarentum.  I admit trouble remembering what I have these days.  Too many coins and too few available brain cells.  Does anyone have a fraction smaller? 

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@The Pontian a beautiful coin at any price - I am beginning to believe that there are some coins that I will never own, so far this has not affected my ability to enjoy the hobby.  Here is my favorite obol - a photo that badly needs updating.

Cilicia, Soloi, 350 - 330 BC, AR Obol
Obv: Bust of Athena in Attic helmet
Rev: ΣOΛEΩN, Bunch of grapes with AΠ to left

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Man, have I done this exact thing on a different coin type! After having a very distinguished coin buddy explain all that I'd missed about what truly was (in retrospect) a beautiful coin. I realized what I'd forgotten, if it's not an area that I specialize in, I don't know shit about it. Aaand this was the key area I specialize in. Sooooo Awkward! Ultimately I learned that I should be asking more questions and making less statements.

Anyways, ewwww gross. Little Greek coins are disgusting:

 

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Point well taken, @dougsmit. 

My most recent Tarentine diobol is an indigenous imitation which is not great to look at, but I think you will appreciate that its added history makes it a bit more interesting. Tarentine diobols were produced at a turbulent time for Southern Italy. Tarentum's dominance in the region began to be threatened as Rome pushed southward after the second Samnite War around 304 BC. These diobols, which were the first extensively produced coinage in the region for mercantile rather than mercenary purposes, were used by Tarentum to maintain economic dominance in the region - local hoards during this period never contain any Roman coinage. These issues were also imitated by Samnite, Apulian and Messapian city-states including Teati, Caelia, Rubi and Arpi. It was one way for these city-states to remain distinct from Rome and to challenge its economic and military push into the region. Herakleia, of course, produced diobols which were identical and identifiable only by the different ethnic, which was often off the flan of these small coins.

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My smallest Tarentine silver denomination is a half litra or hemiobol with Satyra and the familiar pecten shell on the obverse. This denomination was issued as both litra / obol and half-litra / hemiobol (I guess at that size, uncertainty remains as to which denomination it is) around 500 - 450 BC and is identical except for the size of the flan. I am not entirely sure if this is my coin as I collect photos of all recent coins of Tarentum which come up at auction or on EBay (I guess an alternate to acsearch when it comes to market pricing for these issues), but it is definitely similar in terms of preservation. 1226076816_tarassatyraeur85r.jpg.5070edb4bb373861308aa0b6b5bdb711.jpg189066219_tarassatyraeur85.jpg.d2905bcdc3250042bb2e10bb126b160c.jpg

Edited by Romismatist
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I like the Obols too, but better not drop them on the floor. You will never find them again.

 

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Boeotia, Tanagra
AR Obol
Early-mid 4th century BC
Obv.: Boeotian shield
Rev.: forepart of horse right, T above, A below
Ag, 10 mm, 0.9g
Ref.: BMC 35
Ex BCD Collection.

 

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Mysia, Pergamon
AR Obol (ca. 420 BC).
Obv.: Laureate head of Apollo right.
Rev.: Calf's head right, eye to left, ΠΕΡΓ to right, all within incuse square
Ag, 0.5g, 5mm
Ref.: SNG France 1555-1556

 

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Attica. Athens
Obol (after 449)
Obv: Head of Athena to right, wearing crested Attic helmet decorated with three olive leaves and palmette
Rev: AΘE Owl standing right, head facing; to left, olive leaf and fruit; all within incuse square.
Ag, 9 mm, 0.69 g, 3 h
Ref.: Kroll 13
Ex Leu Webauction 8, Lot 265

Edited by shanxi
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