Sunday, February 12, 2006

My first Ancient Coin


In 1979, my wife and I had a holiday in Greece and the first week was based in Athens. It was a good holiday and one couldn’t help being caught up in the sense of the wonder of the past. What better way to remember some of this, I thought, than by buying a coin of the period and what better place to buy it than in the Plaka area around the Acropolis.
I found a suitable small shop that actually had a tray of coins in the window and we entered. The proprietor asked me what I was looking for and when I told him he sent his wife to get us some coffee and a tray of coins.
When she returned he proudly showed us a small velvet lined tray with various silver type coins. I looked, and then handled a few of the coins and then I said “I’m sorry but these are fakes”. You now have to appreciate the fact that at that time I knew absolutely nothing about coins and particularly nothing about ancient coins and yet I here I had just told this heavy looking Greek gentleman, that these coins were fakes. This begs the question : How did I know they were fakes, well, for a start for coins that were supposed to have been around for about 2000 years old they looked too pristine. They also looked, to my admittedly inexperienced eye as though they had just been minted and in addition they felt too light.
To my astonishment the proprietor made no attempt to remonstrate with me but spun round and let loose some pretty strong greek words at his wife, none of which appeared to be in my Greek phrase book
He then immediately translated what he had just said as “The silly woman has brought the wrong tray, these are just souvenirs for tourists “.
Having now lost confidence in the whole establishment we left the un-drunk coffees behind us and beat a hasty retreat.
I still wanted a coin to take home so on the way back to the hotel I found another shop, this one slightly larger and in a main shopping street.
This time the shop owner spoke little English but when I showed him a modern coin and said that I wanted to buy some ‘OLD’ ones he got the message. He produced a dusty tray of coins that he said were Roman, Greek coins being apparently out of stock at that moment The short story is that I bought two and he gave me a third for nothing and these looked genuine.
When we got back home I phoned the British Museum, said I had some unidentified Roman coins and could they help me with their identification.
Come along, they said, (In 1979 you could do this!) and within a week of my holiday I now knew that amongst the coins I had bought in Athens was one minted in Corinth during the reign of the Emperor Caligula , AD 27-41.
I did some research and learned that he was the youngest son of Germanicus the adopted heir of Tiberius. He was born in 12 AD and was murdered in 41 AD. The Obverse side portrayed Caligula himself, on the reverse side of the coin was Pegasus, Flying Right, as the terminology went. The coin is graded G for Good, although I would refer to it as G for Grotty..... never mind....

I was now a NUMISMATIST !

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