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An interesting countermark on a classical owl and another countermark reexamined


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This is a recent pickup from the last Roma auction.  I really limit my classical owl acquisitions to those that have an interesting feature or background, such as a classical owl found at  a location with some documentation however general it might be.  Another type that I sometimes buy are owls with countermarks, which are plentiful given their circulation throughout much of the Mediterranean and further east.

The coin posted here is a high grade one, designated mint state in the description.  I'm not much of an authority when it comes to lofty grades, but it is nice, albeit off center on the reverse.  I think that is the reason it did not garner lots of bids.  It sold for £550 (not including buyer's fee), ten percent above the estimate of £500.

There's a small countermark on the obverse next to the hair.  I did some research on it prior to bidding.  As far as I can determine that countermark is a Paleo-Hebrew "taw" or t.

Here's the coin:

Athens, tetradrachm, 440-404 BC, with a possible Paleo Hebrew 'Taw' countermark obverse.  From Roma E-Sale 100, lot 133.

17.18 grams



And here's a table, courtesy Forum Ancient Coins:

paleo-hebrew - NumisWiki, The Collaborative Numismatics Project


It is interesting that this coin had a countermark applied and then not circulated, or at least not circulated to any point of wear.  My guess is that the coin must have been set aside by the creator of the countermark, possibly a banker, merchant or some official, and never put into circulation.  I don't see very many owls in this grade with a countermark.  Most show circulation and often associated signs of commerce such as additional countermarks and test cuts.


Here's an owl that I posted before, on CT.   It is an eastern imitation of an intermediate type owl, possibly of Persian origin.  I spent some time last night examining the countermark on the obverse and from what I can determine it is the depiction of a phoenix arising from flames, with the head and wings angled up and to the right.  This is just a guess.

There's also a punch mark on the reverse.  

This owl weighs 16.84 grams. 



Am I on the right track or should I open a bottle of wine and proceed from there?

Post your countermarks, owls or any other feathered or non-featured coin you wish!



Edited by robinjojo
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Those are great owls! I really love the Phoenix banker mark/countermark (I usually call the small Eastern ones on silver coins "banker's marks" and bronze ones countermarks, but that Phoenix is big and elaborate enough to resemble the countermarks [usually issued by governments] on Roman Provincial Bronze coins). I can definitely see it as a Phoenix and flames as you suggest.

EDIT: Actually, looking again, could those be two overlapping symbols on top of each other? It's a bit of an odd shape for a countermark. Can't quite tell from here if that could be possible, but it's a really interesting one.

The new one is really beautiful for a countermarked specimen (doesn't seem to be a pseudo-countermark in the die itself). Does it have to be "taw"? I can see that for sure, but others seem plausible too, especially reorienting it? Having it in hand and having looked at others, though, I assume you've got a better idea.

Returning to your bottom one, one of mine has a comparable punch on the reverse/owl:



For my archaic Aegina Turtle Stater (Meadows IIIa, before 456 BCE), below, I was actually able to find a reference for the banker's mark (Millbank, P. 19, Counterstamp 15  [Millbank full text]).

One thing I liked about it was how the design of the mark makes a nice complement to the incuse design on the reverse:



Aegina Sea Turtle AR Stater (leatherback, Dermochelys coriacea)

Greek (Archaic). Islands off Attica (Saronic Gulf), Aegina. AR Stater (12.19, 21.5mm, 7h), struck c. 480-457 BCE (contested).

Obv: Sea turtle (prob. leatherback, Dermochelys coriacea), head turned sideways in profile, with trefoil collar and 'T-back' design, column of pellets on shell. Banker's mark: Incuse circle with cross and four sunken compartments. Also a tiny punch in r. field.
Rev: Large 'skew pattern' incuse square with five sunken compartments. Slight incuse in r. field (trace of banker's mark on under-type?).

Ref: Milbank period III, pl. 1, 14-15 (Banker’s Mark = p. 19, Counterstamp 15) [Millbank full text]; Meadows Aegina Group IIIa; HGC 6, 435; SNG Cop 507; SNG Lockett 1970.
Prov: Ex-Nomos Obolos 16 (Zurich, 11 Oct 2020), Lot 772.
Note: Incuse geometric design of the Banker's Mark (Milbank #15) is an interesting complement to the reverse imagery. Coin-in-hand video.
There's also a faint semi-rectangular incuse or dent or two in the r. field, rev. I wonder if that could've been a banker's mark on an under-type, and that is coin overstruck? Except I don't think these older Aegina staters were overstruck on older types (later ones, yes).

Edited by Curtis JJ
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That's a really nice Aegina stater and banker's mark!  A nice owl as well. 

Yes, I have seen this rather rudimentary used on other tetradrachms - crude but quite effective in detecting copper cores. 

I have an owl that I am sure is an imitative one, with a giant punch on the reverse.


I just took a look at the "phoenix" CM/banker's mark.  It seems to be from one punch.  The design appears to be continuous and I don't see any apparent overlap. The shape of the die is generally oval coming to a more pointed end at the bottom.  The orientation of the countermark is at an angle, no doubt due to space limitation.  I did rotate the coin to see if any other design becomes apparent but with no success.  I guess this phoenix design is pretty much fixed in my head.

As for the classical owl, I see two crossed lines regardless of orientation, which leads me to thinking it is a Paleo Hebrew t.  The countermark is quite small.

Now I am by no means an expert when it comes to ancient languages and alphabets, so this conclusion on my part is based at best on enlightened ignorance.  I guess it could be Aramaic since there are overlaps when it comes to the two alphabets.

Edited by robinjojo
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9 minutes ago, robinjojo said:

I guess this phoenix design is pretty much fixed in my head.

As for the classical owl, I see two crossed lines regardless of orientation, which leads me to thinking it is a Paleo Hebrew t. 

I can definitely see both of those, too. I think you're probably right.

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I have posted these before, but haven't been able to identify the exact countermarks from any of the tables I have come across from Peter van Alfen or others. The best I can determine is that these coins circulated in Egypt or the Levant as they all have test cuts, which was apparently not practiced as often in the Mediterranean.



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3 hours ago, Romismatist said:

Here are all the tables of countermarks that I was able to find in the published literature.

Thank you! I didn't have those ones in my countermark biblio but now I've added them. (Let me know if I've got the wrong reference for any of them below [haven't double-checked yet], but I think these must be them.) For anyone who wants to see the full articles, I've included links to JSTOR, which has American Journal of Numismatics and the Numismatic Chronicle, up to the last few years:


Buxton, R. F.. 2009. “The Northern Syria 2007 Hoard of Athenian Owls: Behavioral Aspects” in AJN 21. [JSTOR: https://www.jstor.org/stable/43580558 ]

van Alfen, Peter. 2002. “The ‘Owls’ from the 1989 Syria Hoard, with a Review of Pre-Macedonian Coinage in Egypt” in AJN 14. [JSTOR: https://www.jstor.org/stable/43580247 ]

van Alfen, Peter. 2000. “The ‘owls’ from the 1973 Iraq hoard” in AJN 12. [JSTOR: https://www.jstor.org/stable/43580105 ]

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