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
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