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When a coin just "catches you"


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Recently, I added two major pick ups for my 10,000 collection, which left me with only one "common" coin. While there are still a few very rare coins I would love to add some day, the addition of a Pharnabazos example would make that collection for all practical purposes complete.

Pharnabazos coins are common, but I was conflicted about which one to buy. Should I add a high quality obol, or should I go after one of the staters? High quality staters of Pharnabazos can get pricy, so I would have to compromise. I decided to leave the matter until a coin "spoke" to me. I bought this one only moments after seeing it.


Cilicia, Tarsos: Pharnabazos
379-374 BCE
AR stater, 24mm, 10.3 g
Female head facing
Bearded and helmeted head left, test cut and two countermarks, one of "bull crossing (with crescent?)" and one of "wolf leaping with crescent at rear" (Callatay countermarks B and C)
SNG Cop. 266
Ex Marc Breitsprecher
Ex Wayne G Sayles


Since my goal is to tell a story, this one spoke volumes. Although the wear - particularly on the nymph, is more than I would have liked, the countermarks sold me. I later found more information on them in a de Callatay article. Despite the wear, the inscription is still in good condition, both sides are relatively well centered, and many of the details of the helmet are still decipherable.

Pharnabazos was an adversary of the 10,000 and no collection of them would be complete without a sample. He also factored heavily in Xenophon's Hellenika

From de Callatay's resource, the bottom countermark is clearly "wolf leaping with crescent at rear" (countermark C). I believe the right countermark is type B "bull crossing with crescent". Although the photo doesn't imply it, upon examining the coin with a magnifying glass, I see what appears to be a crescent over the rear of the bull. Per de Callatay, this is also the most common countermark and he notes one coin with both countermarks B and C issues by Pharnabazos (which could be this one).

These coins are believed to have been issued for military purposes, and the most likely reason for this one would have been Pharnabazos' second foray into Egypt. 

While de Callatay doesn't reach a reason for the countermarks, he casts doubt on the common speculation of banker's marks. Countermark B, for example, was used on the coins of 11 different mints. He therefore believes they had some official use. They could have been marks of quality, earmarked for a particular general, used to pay for a temple, or for other purposes. We don't really know. I did a search of countermarks on ACSearch and found five examples of the bull and none of the wolf. The original attribution of the coin was a lion, though de Callatay believes it's a wolf. Regardless, I couldn't find any samples with either a wolf or a lion, let alone two countermarks.

Unlike many other collectors, I actually like test cuts because it means the coin was used and adds to its story. Of the five examples I found with bull countermarks, two have test cuts. That tells me the cuts weren't automatically applied with the countermarks and the two were presumably for different purposes. My guess is the test cut was for the standard reason - to verify the coin before use.

Going back to the countermarks, this is just my speculation, but I believe they were rendered at different times. de Callatay mentions four Pharnabazos issues with countermark B (bull) and three with countermark C (wolf). He mentions one coin with both countermarks and one coin with three countermarks (probably would have had heart failure if I'd managed that one). Looking at my coin, the bull is pressed in far more than the lion. Again, we don't know what the exact purposes for, but my speculation is they were different.

Interestingly, per de Callatay the countermarks were used across rulers, but their progression can be used to help date coins. Whatever their uses, they don't appear to be for a "one time" event.

So, even though it's rough, from the time it was issued my coin was likely used to pay a soldier in Pharnabazos' second Egyptian campaign. It then served three purposes (two of them official) and finally underwent something that resulted in its loss until today.

Therefore, I cannot be more thrilled with my acquisition.

Show coins that just "caught" you! 

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 I decided to get a really nice Gaul coin so I went with this Coriosoltes tribe one because the swooshes swirls and abstraction looks like a Picasso painting. I like it as a piece of abstract art. Not much is known about Gallic tribes but Romans view them as primitive and foreign similar how early European settlers viewed Native Americans. It caught my eye because it has a full horse and it's interesting and inexpensive ($50 surprisingly)



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Nice coin! I can see why this was the Pharnabazos that you went with. 

Here's a pretty shiny one that I didn't need... but I kinda did. Slightly off flan made it more affordable and the rest speaks for itself. Literally, ok, figuratively, it whisperer to me, "Let me keep watch over all those MSCs and Sicilians and you won't regret it."

So I did and now I don't. 😁


PHRYGIA, Kibyra. Circa 166-84 BC. AR Drachm (15mm, 2.65 g, 11h). Helmeted head of male (Kibyras?) right / Horseman, holding couched spear and palm, riding right; O below. HGC 7, 706; SNG Ashmolean 996 var. (O below). VF

Edited by Ryro
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A recent addition to my collection was this Caracalla as Caesar coin..

It shows the Bucranium on the reverse, something you don't see every day on Roman coins...Thought it was an interesting type..


Caracalla, as Caesar. 196-198 AD. AR Denarius (3.00 gm, 17mm). Rome mint. Struck 196-198 AD.
Obv.: M AVR ANTO[N CAES PON]TIF, (Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Caesar Pontifex (High priest)), bareheaded and draped bust right.
Rev.: DESTINATO IMPE[RAT],(Designation to the empire,basically calls Caracalla "Emperor to be "), Lituus, Apex, Bucranium, and Simpulum.
RIC#6; BMCRE 193; RSC 53. VF.

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My personal best example is the first coin I wanted to buy individually in an auction.
My first real contact with ancient coins was an auction where I got 3 lots of coins (34+8+4) and it was extremely educational (Greek coins, Roman silver, Roman bronze). I wasn't sure if I want to start collecting ancient coins but I checked some auctions to see what coins are sold, being a beginner.

Seeing a reverse with a pig (sow in fact) ... OK, I needed to have it!



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I've been literally caught by that one when I saw it, and I think I paid too much for it, but what the heck, we live only once, don't we ?

Of course it's not at all belonging in any of my collecting fields, but from the minute it arrived home, I've never regretted buying it 


Ptolemy II Philadelphos : Obol (Bronze), Alexandria, circa 260-246 BC.
Diademed head of the deified Alexander III to right, wearing elephant skin headdress and aegis around his neck, and with horn of Ammon on his forehead.
ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΠΤΟΛΕΜΑΙΟΥ Eagle with open wings standing left on thunderbolt ; between the eagle's legs, Λ.
24 mm, 10.43 g, 1 h
Ref : Lorber # B250, Sear # 7780v.



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Justinian I (527-565). Æ 40 Nummi - Antioch - year 20 37mm 20.77g Sear 220

I'm sure there's a few in my collection which fit the topic, but this one comes to mind.  The patina may or may not be a faux patina (the 'oreo' dusting of the dirt - any opinions?), but I had wanted a large Justinian follis of Antioch and this one was the one for me.


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One coin that I always wanted/ but everytime prices went ballistic in Rauch/ Fruhwald/ Künker events. This FDC ex. was featured in Spink/USA auction. The starting price was $4000US. I thought i would have no chance to win it. The event started early Sunday morning at 9:00AM. My lot came up at 9:15. Lo and behold/ no bids were placed/ so I bid $4000 and won it. The coin is perfect/ not one mark.....


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These three coins below definitely "caught me" when I first saw them. I bought them only because I liked the way that they looked (and they weren't really that expensive). I've had to resist quite a few coins that have caught my eye. Buying every one is not an option at all. Regardless, I recently ordered a Justin I Follis that looked appealing. Usually I know within 1 minute of looking at a photo and the price whether I'll end up buying it or not. I resisted the Justin for a while, but, while driving to get dinner, I regretted not ordering it before leaving. It was still there upon return (Byzantine coins don't seem to vanish quite as fast as others, sometimes it's very satisfying to collect things that nobody else wants), so it was then scooped up. Then I had a new coin and food. The combination proved a nice, and hopefully auspicious, beginning to the weekend.

Pisidia; Selge; c. 250 - 190 BCE; AR Obol; 0.89 grams; Obv: Facing gorgeoneion; Rev: Helmented head of Athena right,
astragalos to left; SNG Ashmolean 1546 - 50, SNG BN 1948-54


Marcus Aurelius. AR Denarius. Struck 161/2 AD. M ANTONINVS AVG, bare head right / CONCORD AVG TR P XVII, COS III in exergue, Concordia seated left, holding patera, resting left elbow on statuette of Spes set on base. 18mm 3.4gm

This one caught me because it looked particularly nice for the type. And I couldn't resist those staring eyes.

Leo V AD 813-820, Æ Follis (23mm, 4.43 grams) Constantinopolis; LEON S CONST; facing busts of Leo (l.) and Constantine (r.);
Large M between XXX and NNN; cross above and A below; Sear 1630

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A blast from the past, 2009, but this was one.  The porosity (crystallization?) made it affordable.  Amphora had a mini-hoard of them at the time.  The light weight also suggests crystallization.  This was the 'worst' one of the lot.



ukratides I, 171 - 145 BC, silver 31.2 mm, 14.89 grams. Obverse: Helmeted bust right of Eukratides I. Reverse: The Dioskouroi on horseback right. Reference: SNG ANS 465 uneven surfaces on this coin, which is otherwise very bold and does not show much wear.   Amphora description, 2009.

I've noticed a fair number of crystallized Bactrian coins.

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