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Two probable Persian imitations of the Athenian classical owl - die matches?


robinjojo

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Continuing in the weird and wonderful world of imitation owls, here are two coins that I think are die matches for both obverse and reverse. I am much more certain about the obverse die match.

The origin of these owls is still up in the air and will likely remain there for some time. They could be satrap coins, but again there is controversy about this possibility. The fabric of the coins certainly excludes them from the Egyptian pharaonic owls as well, I believe, from a Levant origin.  Also excluded, I think, is an Arabian origin.  The owls of the Lihyan Kingdom (northwest Arabia) and Qataban Kingdom are very distinctive and unlike these coins, as are the Bactrian owls. 

Both came from the same UAE seller, one in much better condition (top) than the lower one, which is off center on the reverse, encrusted (with minor corrosion) and cruder overall compared to the top owl.  Both have a version of the "classical" eye, with the front end nearly, but not completely, closed.  The reverse owl in a faithful rendition with a very localized style of the classical owls crudely engraved.

Persia imitating Athens, tetradrachms, 4th century BC. 

17.08 grams (top); 17.16 grams (bottom).

D-CameraAthens-Persiainitationtetradrachms4thcenBCdiematches17.08g(top)17.16(bottom)1-4-24.jpg.86b26f57fb6c8b77ec7063ba4d1288f9.jpg

 

Any thoughts?  Thanks!

Edited by robinjojo
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  • robinjojo changed the title to Two probable Persian imitations of the Athenian classical owl - die matches?

I always enjoy your owl posts, and have shamelessly copied your Starr explanations to my own "teach myself" Athenian coinage page. Could  I ask, from a position of no knowledge at all, and no hint of aspersion, how you can be fairly sure these far less well discussed types are genuine? As a rank amateur  here I'd be scared off by die matches from the same seller on very  unusual coins. I see some somewhat similar types on Leu or the other sellers of large numbers of owls and the explanations or references offered are usually  just "contemporary imitation" (a CNG specialty phrase here!) or broadly non-Athenian origin. Thanks!

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1 minute ago, Deinomenid said:

I always enjoy your owl posts, and have shamelessly copied your Starr explanations to my own "teach myself" Athenian coinage page. Could  I ask, from a position of no knowledge at all, and no hint of aspersion, how you can be fairly sure these far less well discussed types are genuine? As a rank amateur  here I'd be scared off by die matches from the same seller on very  unusual coins. I see some somewhat similar types on Leu or the other sellers of large numbers of owls and the explanations or references offered are usually  just "contemporary imitation" (a CNG specialty phrase here!) or broadly non-Athenian origin. Thanks!

Thanks

For the past several years now I've concentrated on imitative owls, and it is true that there's a chance that some might be modern fakes, but the fakes tend to be quite obvious, either through style of the devices, legends or even the composition of the flans. After collecting these coin one gets a familiarity of the fabric of these coins that makes them ancient, albeit imitations, such as surface conditions (deposits, corrosion), flaws, strike (hammer versus casting), metal composition, weight, and finally references, including auction records.  This is the same approach that one would take collecting any type of ancient coin. 

Of course, I guess someone could go the trouble of producing an owl that would fool any experience collector of dealer, and there have been very good modern copies, such as the British Museum electrotypes of an Athenian owl.

Here's a 19th century BM electrotype owl offered on VCoins:

BMC Electrotype by Robert Ready or his sons.
Signed British Museum electrotype Athens AR tetradrachm.

Stamped BM monogram on reverse field.
Head, Guide Period II. B. 31, this coin illustrated but the original.

16.95 grams

Ancient Coins - 19th C. BMC electrotype - Athens AR tetradrachm - Athena & Owl

Ancient Coins - 19th C. BMC electrotype - Athens AR tetradrachm - Athena & Owl

 

However, the vast number of modern copies are not nearly as sophisticated as this coin! However, I do make mistakes.  I have one owl, acquired in 2018, that was condemned by NGC as a fake.  I sent the coin to David Sear, who certified it as a 19th or 20th century fake.  Other dealers that I have shown it to think it might be an imitation.  I still have the coin and take out sometimes to ponder it, when I'm in a pondering mood.  It is an odd bird!  The portrait, patterned after the archaic style, looks later, especially regarding the nose, which is not archaic style at all.  The shape of the upper and lower eyelids are unlike anything that I've seen Athenian or imitative.  The crest is vaguely archaic but flat.  That could be due to the die engraving and strike, with the pressure of the hammer blow diminishing from the center to the edge.  The owl on the reverse is quite flat, but more faithful to the archaic style owl.  So what is it?  If it is modern, I don't think it is a fake more than a fantasy coin.  On the other hand could this be a contemporary imitation?  There are certainly a lot of them out there, in all forms.  The book on imitation owls is not closed by any means and may never be so.  So, the mystery and fun continues.

These are photos from the seller, who was based in Germany and sold the coin through eBay.  I knew that this would be a somewhat controversial coin, and so it has been.

16.9 grams

AthensArchaicTetradrachmPossibleImitation.1.jpg.1ad52042dd9657247b40f9b910fa6761.jpg

AthensArchaicTetradrachmPossibleImitation.2-Copy.jpg.207fb3b4b61d1660fbbd6e8480cfa7fa.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

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FWIW, here's an interesting read on some different ancient owl imitations (including Persian). The same author also has a write-up on modern imitations.

For my own opinions, I don't have enough knowledge of these coins to fully comment. I would certainly be a bit concerned about having two coins double-die matches of each other of an unknown type due to the fear they could be both fakes from the same dies, but you have far more expertise here. It's certainly also possible that the mintage was very low or they weren't separated after leaving the mint.

Persian owl imitations have interested me due to the possibility of connecting them to Cyrus the Younger. I've read that he used siglos to pay his mercenaries, but without strong evidence. In one paper a "beardless Darius" was mentioned (but I've never seen a photo of an example), and in another there is a countermark. I also wonder whether at times they used owls, since the Greeks would have been very keen on them. However, I've yet to see anything convincing and can only assume that he used ordinary siglos and Darics.

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Posted (edited)
4 hours ago, kirispupis said:

FWIW, here's an interesting read on some different ancient owl imitations (including Persian). The same author also has a write-up on modern imitations.

For my own opinions, I don't have enough knowledge of these coins to fully comment. I would certainly be a bit concerned about having two coins double-die matches of each other of an unknown type due to the fear they could be both fakes from the same dies, but you have far more expertise here. It's certainly also possible that the mintage was very low or they weren't separated after leaving the mint.

Persian owl imitations have interested me due to the possibility of connecting them to Cyrus the Younger. I've read that he used siglos to pay his mercenaries, but without strong evidence. In one paper a "beardless Darius" was mentioned (but I've never seen a photo of an example), and in another there is a countermark. I also wonder whether at times they used owls, since the Greeks would have been very keen on them. However, I've yet to see anything convincing and can only assume that he used ordinary siglos and Darics.

Thank you for the links.  I very familiar with the information provided by Reid Goldsborough on Athenian owls, imitations and forgeries. This has been an important source of information and helped me form my interest in imitative coinage.  

As for the double die match, I'm having some doubts about the reverse die match possibility.  My main focus is on the treatment of the olive branch leaves and olive.  Although the second coin is lower in grade and weakly struck, along with possible die wear, the treatment of this design element is different compared to the top coin.  Although weak and at the very edge of the second coin, the olive and leaves seem to meet at a common mid-point, whereas with the top coin they are distinctly separate and offset.  So, based on that consideration I'd say the reverses were struck with different dies.    

Edited by robinjojo
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The coin was sold 2017 through Bulgarian fake seller "demetrius7107", chance that it is authentic 0%.

Same soapyness as his other fakes, which are all modern hand cut die fakes.

 

https://www.coryssa.org/2296037/subcategory_id/6002/page/0/search_seller/on/keywords/demetrius7107/search2/yes/date_to/2024-01-13/use_checkboxes/0/period/all/period/all/

 

 

   
   

2296037_.jpg

2296037_1.jpg

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2 hours ago, Nemo said:

The coin was sold 2017 through Bulgarian fake seller "demetrius7107", chance that it is authentic 0%.

Same soapyness as his other fakes, which are all modern hand cut die fakes.

 

https://www.coryssa.org/2296037/subcategory_id/6002/page/0/search_seller/on/keywords/demetrius7107/search2/yes/date_to/2024-01-13/use_checkboxes/0/period/all/period/all/

 

 

   
   

2296037_.jpg

2296037_1.jpg

Thank you for the link.  I've been searching, on and off, for more information about this coin.  So, it is now definitely part of my "black box" of fakes.

Edited by robinjojo
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On 1/4/2024 at 11:51 PM, robinjojo said:

Continuing in the weird and wonderful world of imitation owls, here are two coins that I think are die matches for both obverse and reverse. I am much more certain about the obverse die match.

The origin of these owls is still up in the air and will likely remain there for some time. They could be satrap coins, but again there is controversy about this possibility. The fabric of the coins certainly excludes them from the Egyptian pharaonic owls as well, I believe, from a Levant origin.  Also excluded, I think, is an Arabian origin.  The owls of the Lihyan Kingdom (northwest Arabia) and Qataban Kingdom are very distinctive and unlike these coins, as are the Bactrian owls. 

Both came from the same UAE seller, one in much better condition (top) than the lower one, which is off center on the reverse, encrusted (with minor corrosion) and cruder overall compared to the top owl.  Both have a version of the "classical" eye, with the front end nearly, but not completely, closed.  The reverse owl in a faithful rendition with a very localized style of the classical owls crudely engraved.

Persia imitating Athens, tetradrachms, 4th century BC. 

17.08 grams (top); 17.16 grams (bottom).

D-CameraAthens-Persiainitationtetradrachms4thcenBCdiematches17.08g(top)17.16(bottom)1-4-24.jpg.86b26f57fb6c8b77ec7063ba4d1288f9.jpg

 

Any thoughts?  Thanks!

Granted this is not my area and I know next to nothing about the Eastern imitations but how sure are you that these are genuine? Just based on first impressions, I personally would stay clear of them but you undoubtedly have more knowledge in the area than I do. Have you found any other examples with similar obverses or reverses?

Overlaying the two reverses, the feathers on the owl's body and around its head seem to be identical so I would say they're definitely die matches. When you say the 2nd coin has the olive branches meeting at a common mid-point, I believe you're just seeing the tip of the branch that comes after where the leaves actually meet on the branch, and that tip and the outline of the leaves visible does seem to line up with the first example.

That second example you had sent to NGC is a much clearer fake, the first two I'd have just avoided based on first impressions, the fact that they seem to be of unknown origin and style, and as others have mentioned that they're a double die match. The toning and deposits also remind me of forgers who go to town trying to replicate find patina and silver oxide or silver chloride and end up making the coins look unnaturally toned but I've got nothing to back that up except gut feeling.

edit: an attempt at fading in/out the reverses overlaid on each other:

owl_gif2.gif.5c93afcc90c7b186200a47355556bf05.gif

 

Edited by Kaleun96
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1 hour ago, Kaleun96 said:

Granted this is not my area and I know next to nothing about the Eastern imitations but how sure are you that these are genuine? Just based on first impressions, I personally would stay clear of them but you undoubtedly have more knowledge in the area than I do. Have you found any other examples with similar obverses or reverses?

Overlaying the two reverses, the feathers on the owl's body and around its head seem to be identical so I would say they're definitely die matches. When you say the 2nd coin has the olive branches meeting at a common mid-point, I believe you're just seeing the tip of the branch that comes after where the leaves actually meet on the branch, and that tip and the outline of the leaves visible does seem to line up with the first example.

That second example you had sent to NGC is a much clearer fake, the first two I'd have just avoided based on first impressions, the fact that they seem to be of unknown origin and style, and as others have mentioned that they're a double die match. The toning and deposits also remind me of forgers who go to town trying to replicate find patina and silver oxide or silver chloride and end up making the coins look unnaturally toned but I've got nothing to back that up except gut feeling.

edit: an attempt at fading in/out the reverses overlaid on each other:

owl_gif2.gif.5c93afcc90c7b186200a47355556bf05.gif

 

Thanks!  The juxtaposition of the two coins is very interesting.

The fact is that both coins have been cleaned with thiosulfate to remove some horn silver, which is quite heavy in spots.  One coin has toned a kind of light brown and black (horn silver), while the other, not treated as extensively is more grey with some black areas.  I guess that the thiosulfate might  have spread some of the horn silver over the entire coins, in the first case, causing the brownish color.  

You could be right about the reverses of the two coins.  But that upper leaf seems different, but that be due to the effects of the strike.

I do recognize that, as imitations, there's always the chance of fakes, and I am willing to take that risk.  I will say that I've collected enough of these coins over the past years to the point where I feel comfortable collecting this series, and I hope that some day this part of the collection could be passed on for scholarly research.  Unfortunately it is becoming increasingly difficult to donate ancient coins without a pre-1970 provenance, which is a pity, since this means many coins will go unresearched by institutions such as the ANS.

As for the Bulgarian fake, I am glad that a confirmation has been made.  I am surprised by the "price" in the listing of over $1,400.  I don't know if this is the true sale price or if it part of the deception.   I pick up this coin early on in my collecting Athenian owls on a large scale and probably should have been more cautious.  But, even back then in the back of my mind I knew there was a good chance that it wasn't what it was claimed to be.  I don't mind this, and I will save it as an educational object. 

 

Edited by robinjojo
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Here's another pair of imitative owls that appear to be die matches.  I believe these coins might be satrap owl of Sabakes, though that is a point of debate to say the least!  They do not have his name in Aramaic on the reverse; instead there's the standard AOE, but the style is somewhat indicative of such an origin.  The CMs are very interesting, and I am still trying to decipher them.

Unlike the two OP coins, these owls have the later frontal eye instead of the classical profile eye.  Van Alfen mentions that both types were produced as imitations in the east during the 4th early to roughly mid century BC

Two eastern owls, circa 4th century BC.

16.86 grams (l); 17.09 grams (r).

D-CameraAthenstwoeasternowls4thcenBC16.86(l)17.09(r)eBayVCoins2-16-23.jpg.57efcf21e0bb1c02ce327bc69e4079f5.jpg

Edited by robinjojo
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The reverses are not die matches, the claws are much longer on one of these and the feather is one time connected with the A (Alpha) in one line and one time not!

Sometimes it can be difficult to do authentication based on pictures alone and and the more information is available the better and more reliable.

Sometimes it can be even very difficulat to impossible to authenticate coins in hand, and opinions can vary.

An example some think this coins is authentic others not, all have their argumetns, who is right?

We do not know

Some very respected Experts think this Titus is authentic ancient other respected experts think renaissance forgery.

https://www.numisbids.com/n.php?p=lot&sid=7477&lot=733

I do not have them in hand and pictures can be misleading but I think we can get nearer the answer if authentic or not, if we check some thinks that are wrong on many fakes of this type.

Very important would be the edge, is it very smooth and equally thick everywhere, than it would be a bad sign, because this is the case on many pressed Beirut forgeries.

The edges of authentic ones, you have so many for comparison have often on the edge folds and cracks and the edge is not everywhere equaly thick.

The planchets look very round too and are suspicious but we need to know how authentic coins  of this and emissions (same mint, time and emperor) are supposed to look like to know if this planchets are still acceptable or not.

To the style we would need to know what emissions (same mint, time and emperor) they are supposed to be to judge more reliable is style is off or still ok.

 

 

 

 

differences.jpg

Edited by Nemo
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2 hours ago, Nemo said:

The reverses are not die matches, the claws are much longer on one of these and the feather is one time connected with the A (Alpha) in one line and one time not!

I think they  are still die matches and what I find helpful in these tricky cases is to focus on the features that are very unlikely to be the same if they were not die matches. In this case, I consider that to be the position and distribution of the feathers on the body and around the head. What are the chances a die engraver gets these right on two different dies but flubs something else like the length of the claws? I'd say that's incredibly unlikely.

I've highlighted both sets of feathers, using dots and lines, from the top example on a transparent layer and then superimposed that layer over the second example. As you can see, the position of the dots and lines is virtually identical, allowing for some minor perspective/parallax differences and wear. The only way that these will be identical and have other features mismatch (that are not explained by perspective, parallax, or wear/physical defects) is if the die was recut at some point or they used a die hub with the primary features to create two dies that they then retouched/modified slightly.

image.png.46ec4203fe41009a5a30004ba4ab8004.png

 

The length of the claws can more easily be explained by deposits and wear making it difficult to discern the true outline of the claws as well as differences in perspective or parallax. I believe you also made a mistake in drawing those lines - you didn't insure the coins were rotated in the same position. So when you drew a line on the second example and dragged it to the top example, it was way off because the features of the top coin were rotated slightly relative to the bottom coin.

If you overlay both coins and fix their relative rotation so the features match up, you can see just how far off your lines are due to the uncorrected rotation.

image.png.5b7631d7e9d166708d38c49bf86fe865.png

After fixing the rotation and drawing a straight line starting from the edge of the claw up to the eye, I get virtually a perfect match between the two examples (allowing for some slight distortion from the photography and positioning of the coin on its surface):

image.png.570acdd4990bb5ba9d8a5bb8d0543b77.png

 

The A's position relative to the head feathers is tricky because on the first example it is so close to the edge of the flan that it is difficult to say what is part of the A and what is not, and also how much the A has been distorted by the increased wear it would receive from being on the very edge. I had a go at tracing the A of the top example and overlaying it on the bottom example. Note that I did not trace the A and then move it around to fit in the position of the second coin, rather I already had the two coins aligned, traced the A, turned off the layer for the top example, and would you believe it, the A is in the exact same position on the second coin with the same shape.

There's a minor difference with the top leg of the top coin having a wider angle than is apparent on the bottom coin but I put this down to the fact that the A on the top coin is right on the edge and it has been deformed from wear and likely was never perfectly struck in the first place.

image.png.a60f4a24dc71a885371af87d3958aff1.png

Edited by Kaleun96
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