Editor's note: this is the first part of a feature by Jeff Starck
about famous world coins. The story originally appears in the
September monthly issue of Coin World.
coins are just cooler than others.
it’s their design, the circumstances surrounding their issue, or how
they reflect technological changes in minting, some coins just have a
contemplating a move into world coins might use these as starting
points, inspiration for their next challenge.
Connect with Coin World:
coins might be classified as iconic, important, or interesting in
other ways, and though those classifications apply to a broad number
of pieces, we’ve narrowed down our list of coins notable for their
designs or effect on coinage history to these splendid issues.
may be no more iconic ancient Greek coinage than the Owls from Athens.
is (rightfully) credited with providing a foundation of Western
thought and governance, and a rich cultural legacy.
the Athenian Owls are the signature coin of the Greek issue. These
were struck from silver from mines owned by the city-state and they
financed projects like the reconstruction of the Acropolis and
building the Parthenon, as well as many wars, including the
quantities of these small silver coins were produced, most importantly
in the tetradrachm denomination (equal to four drachms), which
measures about the same size as a Washington quarter dollar.
different denominations of Owls from Athens are found, with the
largest being the decadrachm (equal to 10 drachms) and the smallest
the hemitetartemorion (equal to one-eighth of an obol; six obols
compose one drachm).
classic design features on its obverse a head of Athena in profile
wearing an earring, a necklace and a crested Attic helmet decorated
with three olive leaves and a spiral palmette.
the reverse is Athena’s owl, sometimes facing front, sometimes with
its wings spread, an olive sprig in the corner and the abbreviated
legend translating to “[coin] of the Athenians.”
of the nature of man-made striking, not all coins exhibit all these
details in totality.
Greek mythology, a little owl traditionally represents or accompanies
Athena, the virgin goddess of wisdom. Athena is the namesake of the
ancient world’s cultural and economic hub, Athens.
popular were these “Owls”?
a central currency of the ancient world, the design remained
essentially unchanged and somewhat archaic long after other cities
began to produce coins of a more refined artistic style.
remain very popular today, especially with coin collectors.
major types of Owls exist, beginning with the Early Athenian Owls,
issued from circa 510 B.C. to circa 454 B.C.
tetradrachm replaced the “heraldic” type of didrachms then in use, and
Early Style Owls were issued until about 454 B.C.
mass coinage of Owl coins began around this time, and many of the Owls
in coin collections today were minted around this time, ushering in
the Classical Style.
Owl was soon adopted by many other city-states of ancient Greece, Asia
Minor and Magna Graecia and Greek colonial cities throughout the
Mediterranean Sea. With the armies of Alexander the Great, it spread
to the Greek-influenced areas of present-day Iran and India.
Late or New Style owl, with a more refined artistry, are dated to
around 164 B.C. and later. These pieces are slightly larger and wider
than earlier Owls, in conformity with other coins of this period.
of the Late or New Style Owls ceased in 42 B.C. when Rome took over,
replacing them with the Roman silver denarii.
Owl lives today, having appeared on 20th and 21st century coins from
Greece, currently on the €1 coin issued since 2002.
reading Coin World's series on what makes a world coin cool:
Silver denarius was centerpiece of Rome’s currency
Britain’s ‘Cartwheel’ coins reflect Industrial
New steam machinery brings Dragon dollar design to China
1910 Caballito silver peso is first commemorative
coin of Mexico