Building a collection of coins representing the life of Jesus Christ

California collector’s 38-coin set being offered as single lot in Heritage auction
By , Coin World
Published : 12/29/15
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How hard would it be to build a collection of coins representing the life of Jesus Christ of Nazareth?

Collector Frank Kovacs answered that question, building a collection of shekels of Tyre that would have been found in circulation during Christ’s lifetime. Kovacs worked on the collection from 1990 to the present before recently completing the task. 

Now the 38-coin collection is being sold, as one lot, in Heritage Galleries’ New York International Numismatic Convention Platinum Night auction.

The collection is dubbed “the Collection of a Lifetime,” and for good reason, according to David Michaels, director of ancient coins for Heritage. 

“To our knowledge, a set like this has never been put together before, and could not be duplicated at present,” he said, in a press release. “Furthermore, the coins span the birth, ministry and crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, and circulated in the Holy Land, where he and his Apostles lived.”

The collection of 38 shekels of Tyre, the main silver coin used in ancient Judaea, was assembled by numismatist Frank L. Kovacs of Corte Madera, Calif. 

Michaels said the set’s value “lies in the completeness of the group.” 

The coins were minted in consecutive years between 5 to 4 B.C., the most likely year for the birth of Jesus, and A.D. 33 to 34, believed to be the year of the Crucifixion.

Tyre, an important trade city on the Phoenician coast (now in Lebanon), began striking silver shekels after it won its independence from Greek rule in 126 B.C., Michaels said. 

Since the Kingdom of Judaea did not at the time have a silver coinage of its own, the shekel of Tyre became the main coin of the realm, Michaels said. “The authorities at the great Temple in Jerusalem would only accept Tyrian shekels as payment of the tithe or temple tax due to their consistent weight and purity.” 

Kovacs, an expert on dated coinages of the classical East (including Armenia, Judaea, Syria and Phoenicia), mined contacts from around the world to build the collection, according to Heritage, acquiring several newly discovered dates that still survive only singly or in tiny numbers (fewer than five known examples).

Eight coins in the collection are believed to be one of three or fewer examples known, and the A.D. 28 to 29 shekel is thought to be unique.

Though traditionally ascribed as 1 B.C. / A.D. 1, modern researchers pinpoint the date of Jesus’ birth as 4 or 5 B.C. Establishing the actual lifespan of Jesus is an uncertain, but the last year likely for his crucifixion is believed to be A.D. 33/34. 

Tyrian shekels were the only large silver coins to circulate heavily in Judaea and other regions Jesus frequented during his ministry.

The Tyrian shekel features prominently in many Gospel accounts, including the scene in which the apostle Judas betrayed Jesus to the temple authorities and when Jesus attacked the “money changers” in the temple. 

Tyrian shekels carry the obverse image of Melqart, a Phoenician version of Heracles, and a reverse depiction of an eagle standing on the prow of a ship, palm branch tucked under its right wing, with a club in the left field. 

The reverse legend translates to “Of the Holy and Inviolable City of Tyre” and in the left field is a date in Greek numerals, counting years forward from the date of the city’s autonomy (126 or 125 B.C.). 

The coins are in various conditions, all graded and encapsulated by Numismatic Guaranty Corp

The set is estimated to sell for between $150,000 and $200,000, and has a reserve price of $125,000. None of those figures includes the 17.5 percent buyer’s fee. 

The set is being sold Jan. 5, 2015, at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.

For additional details about the set, visit its special page at the Heritage website. 

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