World Coins

An ancient Olympic coin expected to bring $30K

A circa 340 B.C. silver stater from Olympia marks the 110th Olympiad of ancient times. The coin is expected to realize $30,000 during a Feb. 14 auction.

Coin images courtesy of Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles.

The ancient tradition of Olympic Games also includes an ancient tradition of Olympic coinage.

An example of this early commemorative coinage, a circa 340 B.C. silver stater for the 100th Olympiad, highlights the Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles Pre-Long Beach auction Feb. 14.

The coin, from Olympia in Elis, is from the Hanberry Collection, an assemblage of ancient coins formed by a husband and wife and later their son. Dealer Frank Kovacs sold this coin (and most others) to the Hanberry Collection caretakers in 1991.

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This coin was struck for the premier athletic event of the Greek world — the Olympic Games held every four years to honor Zeus Olympios at Olympia in Elis. Although the religious quality of the ancient games died out long ago, the medallic tradition lives on in the variety of commemorative coins and medals still struck for every modern Olympics.

The laureate head of Zeus faces right on the obverse of the coin in the Goldbergs’ auction, and an eagle, with folded wings, standing and facing right, atop the head of a ram, also facing right, graces the reverse.

Charles Seltman’s landmark study (1921) of the series has shown that the ancient Olympian staters were struck by two mints, one of which was linked to the temple of Zeus and the other to the temple of Hera in the large sacred precinct at Olympia. 

The staters, which are thought to have been struck both as souvenirs and as money, were used during the Olympic Festival so that Olympia could profit from changing foreign coins brought by visitors from throughout the Greek world.

According to the auction house, this example is “extremely rare and an absolutely incredible specimen,” that is “boldly struck in high relief with the bust of Zeus exhibiting an amazing forceful portrait, the eagle on the reverse ready to take off. [There is] slight doubling on the obverse with incredible beautiful light iridescent blue overtones.” 

Graded Superb Extremely Fine by the firm, the coin has an estimate of $30,000. 

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