(Editor's note: this is the first part of a feature by Jeff Starck about coins that show maps or are shaped by maps. The story originally appeared in the March issue of Coin World).
Maps predate the birth of coinage and both have played critical roles in the development of mankind’s economies and exploration of the world. It is no surprise, then, that coins have depicted maps for hundreds of years. Some coins are even shaped like maps.
Collectors have, literally, a world of options to consider, but here are some starting points.
Ancient coins depict maps
From ancient times, maps have recorded and communicated data about the natural world, society, and culture.
And from ancient times, maps have been featured on coins.
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According to research in the Journal of Hellenistic Studies by A.E.M. Johnston (issue 87, 1967), a reverse design on certain coins from the region of Ephesus, a city on the Aegean Sea in modern-day Turkey, might depict a map, making them the earliest such coins to serve a cartographic purpose.
Writing in the article “The Earliest Preserved Greek Map,” Johnston suggests that the unusual design on the reverse of these coins “could represent a map of the hinterland of Ephesos with the valleys of the Kaystrus and the Maeander.”
Several examples of these coins have been offered in auctions since 2002, according to research conducted at ACSearch.info, a site that allows collectors and researchers to search auction records for coins and medals.