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Classic Athena Tetradrachm With Test Cut


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Here's a "Holy Grail" coin, for which I had been searching and waiting, for a long time. The ever popular classic Athena tetradrachm. Finally, last year, I found an example, which was within my budget, and which met my requirements. For the classic Athena tetradrachm, I'm an "Athena man", rather than an "Owl man". That is, my favorite side of the coin, is the Athena side. I like the owl side also, but the Athena side was my priority. For sure, the damaged owl, lowered the cost. And, of course, the test cut, lowered the cost. Perhaps the damage on the owl, was caused by the test cut. And, of course, the lack of any crest on the Athena side, lowered the cost. And, of course, the lack of an NGC Ancients slab, lowered the cost.
I've always liked the classic Athena tetradrachm. I like the primitive, yet beautiful portrait of Athena. The "side eye" reminds me, of ancient Egyptian wall paintings. The coin is an artifact, from the mysterious, ancient past.
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Athens AR Tetradrachm. 449 BC To 413 BC. Sear 2526. 24.8 mm. 17.15 grams. Obverse : Head Of Athena Wearing Helmet Facing Right. Reverse : Owl Standing, Olive Twig And Crescent On Left, Alpha Theta Epsilon On Right, All Within Incuse Square. Test Cut.
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Egyptian wall painting, from the interior of King Tutankhamun's tomb, circa 1323 BC.

Edited by sand
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Here's my double cut Owl with a swooping angel countermark (at least that's what it looks like to me).  I know some would turn up their noses at such a coin, but I love the darn thing.

 

Owl2.jpg.e61cee39330197935f0503c6cf2b2627.jpg

 

 

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Posted (edited)

 

17 hours ago, Nerosmyfavorite68 said:

Very nice!  I only have a contemporary eastern imitation.

 

Thanks @Nerosmyfavorite68. The contemporary eastern imitations are interesting.

9 hours ago, Cinco71 said:

Here's my double cut Owl with a swooping angel countermark (at least that's what it looks like to me).  I know some would turn up their noses at such a coin, but I love the darn thing.

 

Owl2.jpg.e61cee39330197935f0503c6cf2b2627.jpg

 

 

@Cinco71 Interesting coin. It looks like, it may have traveled a long distance. It looks like, it has been touched, by many ancient hands.

Edited by sand
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I think test cuts on owls are amazing and regret not getting an owl with a test cut. 

My next owl will have a test cut because I have this itch for one. I feel it's a big part of it's history..among other things.

Here is my classic cut-less owl;

 

owl.jpg.5b7ea574222ba60653497a217326683f.jpg

Ex-Roma

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1 hour ago, AETHER said:

I think test cuts on owls are amazing and regret not getting an owl with a test cut. 

My next owl will have a test cut because I have this itch for one. I feel it's a big part of it's history..among other things.

Here is my classic cut-less owl;

 

owl.jpg.5b7ea574222ba60653497a217326683f.jpg

Ex-Roma

if you reaaally wanted one you could make your own test cut i am joking

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9 hours ago, AETHER said:

I think test cuts on owls are amazing and regret not getting an owl with a test cut. 

My next owl will have a test cut because I have this itch for one. I feel it's a big part of it's history..among other things.

Here is my classic cut-less owl;

 

owl.jpg.5b7ea574222ba60653497a217326683f.jpg

Ex-Roma

@AETHER That's a beautiful example. I like the Athena portrait.

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On 3/23/2023 at 9:52 PM, Broucheion said:

Hi @Cinco71,

Angel, or maybe a stylized Tanit symbol? See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sign_of_Tanit .

- Broucheion 

I hadn't thought of the Tanit sign before.  That may very well be it.

Can't go back in time and ask who did it, though.  So now when I look at it, I'll think swooping angel or Sign of Tanit.  I'm not sure which is cooler.

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There are those of us who find test cuts interesting.  Which is more interesting: a coin with several cuts, a coin with one really severe cut or a coin which actually was plated and that fact was revealed by the cut?  

g41188bb2702.jpg.c0dc1b0bd34a9ac52e7380a4ae9c772a.jpgg41290bb0218.jpg.c6539ec757c6121e3d9a584da0d59f5a.jpgg41250b00444alg.jpg.9e4c92e20cc898875fc3f3c31d5d0fe9.jpg

I have never been all that decisive so I bought all three spending less than one half decent uncut owl.  Has anyone seen a test cut obol?  I have not. 

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16 hours ago, dougsmit said:

There are those of us who find test cuts interesting.  Which is more interesting: a coin with several cuts, a coin with one really severe cut or a coin which actually was plated and that fact was revealed by the cut?  

g41188bb2702.jpg.c0dc1b0bd34a9ac52e7380a4ae9c772a.jpgg41290bb0218.jpg.c6539ec757c6121e3d9a584da0d59f5a.jpgg41250b00444alg.jpg.9e4c92e20cc898875fc3f3c31d5d0fe9.jpg

I have never been all that decisive so I bought all three spending less than one half decent uncut owl.  Has anyone seen a test cut obol?  I have not. 

The first one for me!

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18 hours ago, dougsmit said:

There are those of us who find test cuts interesting.  Which is more interesting: a coin with several cuts, a coin with one really severe cut or a coin which actually was plated and that fact was revealed by the cut?  

g41188bb2702.jpg.c0dc1b0bd34a9ac52e7380a4ae9c772a.jpgg41290bb0218.jpg.c6539ec757c6121e3d9a584da0d59f5a.jpgg41250b00444alg.jpg.9e4c92e20cc898875fc3f3c31d5d0fe9.jpg

I have never been all that decisive so I bought all three spending less than one half decent uncut owl.  Has anyone seen a test cut obol?  I have not. 

It’s interesting they always go for the owl. Often right in the face.

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Posted (edited)

@dougsmit Those are interesting examples. To answer your question, I don't recall ever seeing a test cut classic or intermediate Athena obol. In fact, I've seen very few classic or intermediate Athena obols at all.

@Curtisimo That's an interesting example.

@Arcane76 That's an interesting example.

On 3/23/2023 at 6:05 AM, NewStyleKing said:

Compared to the Old style, the NewStyle are comparatively test cut free.  The shear number of old styles produced and from different mints...imitatives from Egypt..necessitated much more care when getting an owl.  

@NewStyleKing That's interesting. I had not thought about it, but I don't recall ever seeing a test cut new style Athena tetradrachm.

13 hours ago, John Conduitt said:

It’s interesting they always go for the owl. Often right in the face.

If I remember correctly, it seems like, the majority of test cut Athena tetradrachms, have the test cut on the owl side. I once searched ACsearch, for test cut Athena tetradrachms, to research this hypothesis. The majority of the coins, had the test cuts on the owl side. However, it was not an overwhelming majority. Maybe 60%, if I remember correctly. However, an ACsearch search may be biased in some ways, such as a bias toward the more expensive examples. If I remember correctly, I may have read somewhere, that when someone did a test cut, they preferred to cut the owl side, because people didn't want to anger the goddess Athena, and because many people disliked Athens and therefore cut the owl because the owl was also a symbol of Athens, although my memory may be incorrect. Also, it seems like, if the test cut is on the Athena side, then, often, the cut is along Athena's neck, so that Athena's face is not damaged.

Edited by sand
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I  think that some places  for test cuts  are naturally easier than others..ie  where the chisel sits  comfortably. Some people might have  ben bothered by the desecration  others  not.  I have seen a few test cut NewStyles, often the ones that ended  up in  celtic regions!

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Posted (edited)

I've never seen test cuts on new style owls, but then my experience collecting them has been definitely limited.  It does seem that test cuts as a method of verifying the silver content was wide spread in the 5th-perhaps the 4th to early 3rd centuries BC?  By the time of the broad flan Alexander III tetradrachms appeared, it seems that countermarks became the rule, validating them for circulation in certain realms, particularly the Seleucid kingdom.

Also, it would be interesting to know if new style owls circulated in the east to the extent of the classical and intermediate owls.  My knowledge of hoards of this type is lacking.  Did they have more a western dispersal compared to their earlier counterparts?

There are some really nice examples of owls with  and without test cuts posted in this thread.  Studying groups of owls is fascinating.  Some groups or hoards, if you will, have a high preponderance of coins with test cuts, while others have far few, at least based on what I've seen of the 1989 Syrian hoard. 

Groups of owls are entering the market from anonymous sources on an ongoing basis.  It is impossible to attribute any of these coins to hoard discoveries.  Indeed, these owls are likely being combined with other finds group or individual.  It seems to me that the prime source of these coins, especially the pharaonic types, are coming from Syria.  I have acquired a group of 33 owls that came as part of a larger group from that country in late 2022.  I plan to photograph them soon, but aside from a couple of owls, of which one is definitely an intermediate owl, while the other may or may not be an imitation, the rest are clearly pharaonic types, non with test cuts, although this might be due to high grading of the coins offered, and all are generally in very nice condition for this crude type.

In the meantime, here are three owls with test cuts.

Clearly an imitation, probably from the region of Philistia, but city unknown, so far.  With four test cuts on the reverse, it seems that at least one person was taking nothing for granted with this coin.

Imitating Athens, Philistia, Aramaic nun on obverse,  four reverse test cuts.

17.2 grams

D-CameraAthensPhilistiaimitowlAramaicnunobv.testcuts17.2gfine5-13-21.jpg.74f1f44a07d86f82ec1aad259790d65b.jpg

 

Imitating Athens, tetradrachm, probably Lihyan, Arabia, circa 4th century BC

16.7 grams

For this coin, a fairly deep test cut was administered down the middle of the owl's head.  A popular spot for test cuts are in the neighborhood of the owl's neck running parallel to the head. 

D-CameraAthensimiationtetradrachmprobablyLihyanArabiac.4thcenBC16.7g3-11-21.jpg.20ff7425354ee79b38e3beaece813ac4.jpg

 

Imitating Athens, owl, eastern imitation, possible Sanskrit countermark "ta"?

16.1 grams

Acquired from an eBay seller in 2019, this highly circulated imitative owl has a substantial diagonal test cut on the reverse, deep enough to cause the flan to partially split.  A much smaller one covers the middle of the owl's face on the reverse and a larger one on the obverse neck.  Additionally, this coin has a very interesting countermark on the obverse, clearly a character of some sort.  A small punch-like countermark is on the reverse, along with some graffiti on the obverse that might be another character, though that's difficult to determine.

D-CameraAthensowleasternimitationpossiblesanskritcmta16.1geBay2-19-22.jpg.912a80f42708841fcee7e27f909f0547.jpg

Edited by robinjojo
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Here's one more pharaonic type owl, as found, with a test cut and surfaces thick with crystalized horn silver, a chemical process altering the silver into an oxide.  I imagine that this coin is brittle due to the degree of alternation.  I imagine that this coin is more or less the norm for these hoard coins.

Imitating Athens, Egypt, pharaonic owl, as found, 4th century BC.  Heavy horn silver.  Obverse test cut.

17.05 grams

D-CameraAthenseasternimitationowlasfound4thcenturyBChornsilver17.05grams4-4-23.jpg.d0213db97e4a75fc445d5122634eaf20.jpg

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Posted (edited)

@robinjojo Those are some interesting Athena tetradrachms with test cuts. I'll enjoy seeing the 33 Athena tetradrachms, which you purchased. That's a lot of tetradrachms. For coin # 1, the coin with 4 test cuts on the owl side, perhaps the 4 test cuts came from 4 different persons, as the coin went from 1 person to another person, to another person, to another person, etc. I like the tone, and the owl side, of coin # 4, the pharaonic type.

Edited by sand
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Posted · Supporter

Interesting thread and wonderful new purchase!

Mine has a severely deep test cut on the Athena side, which fortunately didn't damage the overall design too much:

GriechenAtticaAthentetradrachme.png.ba5f12919e94faaef8ce8ce283514213.png

Attica, Athens, AR tetradrachm, ca. 440s‚Äď430s BC. Obv: head of Athena to right, wearing crested Attic helmet decorated with three olive leaves and palmette. Rev: AőėE; Owl standing right, head facing; to left, olive sprig and crescent; all within incuse square. 24mm, 17.14g. Ref: Kroll 8.

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