ISLANDS OFF THESSALY, Peparethos. Circa 500 BC. Tetradrachm (Silver, 24 mm, 16.51 g, 10 h), Attic standard. Triple grape-cluster. Rev. Crested Corinthian helmet to right within incuse square. J. M. Balcer: Peparethos: The Early Coinage reconsidered, in: SNR 46 (1967), 4c = Jameson 2043 = Weber 2958 (but with the obverse confused with 2956 on pl. 114) = W. Wroth: Peparethus and its Coinage, in: JHS XXVIII (1907), p. 96, III.A and pl. IV, 4 (all this coin). Leu 38 (1986), 78 (same dies). Pozzi (Boutin) 4626-4627 (same dies). Traité IV, 762 and pl. CCCI, 12 (same dies). Of the highest rarity and arguably the finest of apparently just six known examples. A wonderful coin of splendid Archaic style, beautifully toned and with an illustrious pedigree. A few very faint marks and with a light scuff on the edge, otherwise, about extremely fine.
From the collection of PWH, privately acquired from BCD, from the C. Gillet Collection ('Kunstfreund'), Bank Leu / Münzen & Medaillen, 28 May 1974, 32, and from the collections of R. Jameson, Sir Hermann Weber, Stoney Stratford, and A. J. B. Wace.
Peparethos (modern Skopelos) is one of the main islands of the Sporades archipelago, situated to the North of Euboia and to the East of the Pelion Peninsula, which separates the Pagasetic Gulf from the Aegean Sea. The island was usually considered part of the Cyclades in antiquity (Diod. XV, 30.5), although Strabon calls it more precisely one of 'the islands in front of Magnesia' (Strab. IX, 436), whereas Pliny speaks of the 'islands in front of the Athos' (Plin. n. h. IV, 72). Peparethos was reportedly first settled by Minoans and recolonized in the 8th century BC by Chalkidians from the nearby island of Euboia. In the 470s BC, the island joined the Delian League, where it paid an annual tribute of 3 talents or 18'000 drachms, a surprisingly high amount compared to the 1000 drachms imposed on its somewhat smaller neighbor Skiathos, clearly reflecting its considerable wealth and prosperity at the time. In 340 BC, Peparethos subjected to Philip II of Macedon before regaining its independence in 196 BC after the defeat of Philip V against the Romans. Mark Antony gave the island back to the Athenians in 42 BC, in whose possession it apparently remained until the time of Septimius Severus (193-211).
The first scholar to connect a series of impressive late Archaic silver coins showing a grape cluster on the obverse with the island of Peparethos was W. Wroth, who in 1907 challenged Head's attribution of the coins to Kyrene, that of Hill to the Chalkidiki, and that of Svoronos, more specifically, to Skione. Wroth was challenged, in turn, by Milne in 1941, who connected some of the coins – including the present piece - with the Naxian revolt from the Delian League in 467, while J. M. Balcer, in 1967, argued in favor of Wroth's original attribution of the entire series to Peparethos. This was called into question again, to some degree, by Price and Waggoner in their discussion of the tetradrachm in the Asyut Hoard (no. 232, struck from the same obverse die as our piece but with a differing reverse), where they suggested that the series may originate in the Thraco-Macedonian region.
As with so many Archaic Greek silver coins, the latter is certainly a possibility, but Balcer’s arguments should not be discarded lightly. The issue consists of a few tetradrachms, a unique didrachm and a handful of tetrobols, all of which carry, in differing forms, a grape-cluster on the obverse and much more varied types on the reverse. That the coins form a closely related group becomes clear from the consistent obverse type and the extensive die linkage among the tetradrachms and the didrachm, the latter of which was struck from the same reverse die as our coin. Balcer argues that the grape cluster would be an astounding type for Naxos, as the island's emblem had always been a kantharos, and that it would be surprising for a Naxian independence movement to briefly come up with a new coat of arms rather than reviving the old symbol of civic pride. In addition, he points out that his no. 7, which is die-linked to no. 6 (given by Milne to an uncertain Thessalian mint), was part of the 1911 Taranto Hoard, thus dating the entire series to before 490 BC. Last but not least, he refers to his no. 8 - the only coin Milne had also given to Peparethos based on the clear ethnic ΠE on the obverse and its find spot on the island - arguing that albeit being plated, the iconography clearly connects it to the rest of the series, making an attribution of the entire group to Peparethos rather persuasive.
The grape bunch was unquestionably a fitting civic emblem for the island, which was famous in antiquity for the quality of its wine and worshiped Dionysos as its chief deity. It is worth noting that the Archaic silver coinage of Peparethos bears close resemblance to the output from the nearby Thraco-Macedonian mints, with our example finding its closest parallel in an issue by the Orreskioi with a virtually identical reverse (AMNG III, 18 and Asyut 93). This similarity was also the main argument put forward by Price and Waggoner for a tentative reattribution of the series to the Thraco-Macedonian mainland. However, the location of Peparethos on the important trade route from Attica to Macedon, just one sailing day south of the Pallene peninsula, readily explains the influence of the northern neighbors on the island’s earliest coinage, all the more, as the silver-rich Chalkidiki was much more easily accessible by sea than the dangerous Thessalian mainland coast to the west. This changes from the 4th century onward, when the island’s very rare bronze coinage more closely resembles contemporary outputs from nearby Thessalian mints, reflecting initially, perhaps, a reaction to the expansionism of the Macedonian Kingdom in the North, as well as, most certainly, a much more interconnected Greek world in the late Classical and Hellenistic period in general.
This present coin is arguably the finest of just six known examples, forming part, over the years, of some of the finest collections of Greek coins ever assembled, most notably those of Sir Hermann Weber, Robert Jameson, Charles Gillet (‘Kunstfreund’), and BCD, the latter of whom acquired it for a hammer of 52,000 CHF in the famous Kunstfreund sale by Leu / Münzen & Medaillen Sale in 1974. The current owner PWH, a friend of BCD, first saw the coin in person over a coffee at Sprüngli in Zürich in the 1990s, and thanks to BCD’s generosity and goodwill, he was able to privately purchase it during the time of the BCD sales. However, now that the time has come to part with an old friend, PWH expresses his hope that the lucky future owner of this magnificent piece of late Archaic art will enjoy it as much as he and its previous custodians did.