Choice Athenian Tetradrachm

Today we continue our preview of the ancient coins featured in our Official Auction of the Whitman Coin & Collectibles Baltimore Expo with a highly collectible and popular type, an Athenian Tetradrachm. The Golden Age of Athens resulted in this lovely coin, as well as a flourishing of culture that occurred thanks to the playwrights Sophocles and Euripides, the first historians Herodotus and Thucydides, the physician Hippocrates, and the father of Western philosophy, Socrates. These important figures contributed to the advancement of classical learning during the Age of Pericles. Easily the most prominent and influential Greek statesman of the Golden Age, Pericles was also an accomplished orator and general of Athens. His contemporaries knew him as “the first citizen of Athens.”

The City-State of Athens struck coins that bore an effigy of their patron deity, Pallas Athena. Credited as the goddess of wisdom, righteous warfare and civilization, one of Athena’s many symbols was an owl, representing wisdom. The silver Tetradrachm of Athens featured the head of Athena facing right, wearing an Attic style helmet with three evenly spaced olive leaves facing upward along the crown of the helmet. A palmette begins at the backside of the helmet and wraps around near her ear. Details of the horse hair plume (which is normally off the flan) can be seen at the far left side of the obverse, just behind the helmet. Some very minor porosity is present on this example, but it does little to detract from the desirability. The finer points of Athena’s face are crafted with an attention to detail. The lines of her hair under her helmet, her earring, her lips and her almond shaped eyes all coalesce into a face of classical beauty.

The reverse exhibits the Owl of Athena; this particular style of owl is a little thicker than the other reverse designs from Athens’ numismatic history. The owl’s back shows a slight curve running from head to the edge of its wing. The head of the owl is held upright and it seems to stare out at you. In the upper left hand corner appears an olive sprig, which is also a symbol of the goddess Athena, and according to some myths it was Athena’s gift of an olive tree to the city that earned Athena their unwavering devotion. A tiny crescent moon also appears behind the owl, and is very nearly touching the neck and back of the owl. The ethnic “AOE” is an abbreviation whose longer form translates to “of the Athenians”. This entire design is found within an incuse square pattern.

Overall this is a nice example struck on a slightly long planchet, but featuring full obverse and reverse details. This piece also features a nice strike, and is housed in an NGC AU holder, with the designations Strike: 5/5 and Surface: 4/5.

Look for this and other ancient and world numismatic rarities in our upcoming Winter Baltimore Whitman Coins and Collectibles Expo Auction. Preview this impressive coin along with the rest of our auction this October at the Stack’s Bowers and Ponterio office located in Irvine, California. For details please refer to the Events Calendar link at To schedule an appointment, please call 800.458.4646. While our Stack’s Bowers Galleries Baltimore Expo Auction is no longer open for consignments, we are currently taking consignments of ancient and world coins for our January 2015 New York International Auction and our April 2015 Hong Kong Showcase Auction of Asian Coins and Currency. Time is running short, so if you are interested in consigning your coins and paper currency (whether a whole collection or a single rarity) be sure to contact one of our consignment directors.

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