Two coins, two known, $2 million; that’s the mathematical equation
for a pair of coins that are each unique in private hands and that
together sold March 8 for more than $2 million in New York City.
The coins, a silver quarter shekel and a silver shekel that date
to the first year of the Jewish war from A.D. 66 to 70, were part of
the Shoshana Collection, auctioned by Heritage Auctions.
The silver shekel realized $1,105,375, including the 19.5 percent
buyer’s fee. The coin was a prototype design for the first shekel
struck by the Jews in the Jewish War.
The quarter shekel realized $896,250, including the fee.
Jeff Rubinger of Antiqua Ancient Art & Numismatics in Woodland
Hills, Calif., was the winning bidder, according to Heritage Auctions.
When the Jewish Revolt against the Romans broke out in A.D. 66 in
Judea, Jewish fighters captured Jerusalem and the temple treasure
became available. The silver (presumably the Tyrian coins that had
been paid to meet tax obligations over the years) was used to strike
shekel, half shekel and quarter shekel coins, and thus this coinage is
viewed as the first act of independence.
The prototype, as with the later regular issues, depicts a ritual
chalice surrounded by text on the obverse, with three pomegranates
surrounded by an inscription that translates to “Jerusalem is Holy” on
the reverse; a small ring of dots encircles the chalice on the prototype.
The type was unknown until the two coins were discovered in the
late 1970s, both struck from the same set of dies. The prototype is 24
millimeters in diameter and 13.34 grams, or about the size of a U.S.
quarter dollar, but a bit more than twice as heavy.
The other known example is in the collection of the The Israel
According to the catalogers, the extreme rarity suggests the issue
was very small, perhaps limited to a few trial strikes in the manner
of a modern pattern. “Both the Shoshana and Israel Museum specimens
display similar centering, with the reverse slightly off-center to
left, suggesting the moneyers in Jerusalem had not yet perfected their
techniques for striking such large silver pieces,” according to the
The major elements of the design were retained in the second
generation issues, but the inner dotted border was removed and the
Paleo Hebrew lettering rendered in a much less elaborate style.
In Good Extremely Fine condition, the coin had an estimate of $950,000.
According to David Hendin, writing in Guide to Biblical Coins, he
had a chance to acquire one of these prototypes when they were
unknown, but because the source was known for sometimes having dealt
in fakes, he passed.
“While it looked authentic to me, I was not certain enough to
overcome my doubts, and $2,000 for a questionable coin was a lot of
money,” he wrote. “It was to my chagrin that in 1991 the [Abraham]
Bromberg specimen sold at auction for $242,000.”
The prototype was sold in the first part of the Bromberg auction,
a sale that also included the quarter shekel, which realized $253,000
in that sale.
Silver quarter shekels from the Jewish War are extremely rare,
with five examples known, two from Year One and three from Year Four,
according to Hendin’s book.
The Year One example from the Shoshana Collection is the better
example, with the second example featuring a repaired hole (the coin
is part of a private collection in Israel.)
The difficult circumstances of that time period might explain why
quarter shekels were never struck in significant numbers, according to
the catalogers, noting the existence of some bronze examples.
The silver quarter shekel measures 16 millimeters in diameter and
weighs 3.13 grams, or slightly smaller and heavier than a U.S. dime.
The ritual chalice appears on the obverse, and a staff with three
pomegranate buds is shown on the back, with the Jerusalem is Holy legend.
In Choice Very Fine condition, the quarter-shekel had an estimate
of $850,000. ■