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What is the per cent silver content in an Athens owl?


tartanhill
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I have seen studies where these coins, pre Peloponnesian War mintages, were something like 96-98 % pure Ag. i wonder if things being what they were, this might have declined after the war started going bad for Athens, say right after the Syracusan disaster. Certainly at one point near the end of the war Athens seems to be issuing plated silver coinage. The assay (assuming it is accurate) of 92% seems closer to Sterling standard.

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There’s a good free to access study on this on academia.edu. Search Gil Davis and Athens.

 

His conclusion was 5% were under 95% pure.

“1,258 silver coins have been measured including 424 owl tetradrachms which are the focus of this presentation and 81 owl obols used for comparison. Most coins are slightly elliptical and vary in thickness, probably as a result of hurried minting when production was massively ramped up before and during the Persian Wars. Analysis of the weights reveals that the coins were minted to their ideal standard. This is in contrast to both the Wappenmünzen which preceded them and the contemporary obols as an example of the fractional coinage minted for use in the local market place. 95% of the owl tetradrachms were minted from over 95% pure silver. It is proposed that these data demonstrate the owls were specifically intended as an export coinage from the outset. Approximately 5% of coins were test-cut in antiquity, but this appears to be routine practice, and not on suspicion that individual coins were debased.”

 

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A few questions for our metallurgist friends:  If, using the standard technology of the day, a mint worker put 95 units of silver and 5 units of copper in a pot and poured a hundred puddles of alloy as evenly as he could, what would be the variation between the hundred just from incomplete mixing?   If a mintworker went into the storeroom and took out two bags of silver fresh from the mines and assayed them by the best available technology, would he be able to tell the difference between the two in terms of purity?  Would he care?  Did 'as pure as we could do' silver vary from batch to batch enough to explain the differences between 98% and 92% using modern techniques.  Did the mint worker make coins from whatever was delivered from the mines as 'pure' or did he attempt to adjust the best down and the worst up to some standard? Today we 'care' about the difference between 99%, 95% and 92% and it is not unusual for a person to be able to look at a coin and tell which of the three it was.  Did the merchant on the street in Athens consider such things and discriminate against 95% coins?  Test cuts were made to find or deny copper cores.  That is not the same thing as telling alloys within a given range.  Did the person who cut this coin say anything beyond "Its good"?   How low would a coin have to go before it would have been found unacceptable in the market? 

Test Cut Athenian Tetradrachm

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And as far as i have read, the ancients, weren't great sticklers  for the amount of silver  in each product ( of, course, up to a point)  Gold was always highly regulated. The Athenians never produced gold EXCEPT in times of great stress.  The marks sometimes seen on coins and believed to be a way of removing excess silver  I have my doubts  if they didn't tightly regulate silver weights!  But the ancients were anything but consistent!

maybe the coin in question is not an Athenian product too!

 

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The Numismatist, researcher, retired ancients lecturer David MacDonald believes  that the circular digs in this coins' reverse is due to clawing back XS silver.  I'm not a fan! The claw-back could only be miniscule  and it wasn't a heavy piece anyway IMHO!  But the ancients  were strange and not consistent! PS  Has anyone seen Pegasos on her travels?

 

Bought from Mr Lanz, in the good ol' days for £340! Via eBay

Athens New Style Tetradrachm c144/3 BC

Obs : Athena Parthenos right in tri-form helmet
16.75gm 34mm Thompson issue 21
Thompson catalogue : Obs : GAZIANTEP 185 : Rev NEW
Rev : ΑΘΕ ethnic
Owl standing on overturned panathenaic amphora on
which month mark Ε control ΤΙ below
2 complex magistrates monograms
RF symbol : Filleted Thyrsos
All within a surrounding olive wreath

17_Thyrsos-removebg-preview (1).png

Edited by NewStyleKing
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