Reinterpreting a 'plain' electrum type
Lot 94
IONIA. Uncertain. Circa 650-600 BC. Stater (Electrum, 20 mm, 14.03 g), Lydo-Milesian standard. Irregular convex surface. Rev. Central rectangular incuse punch flanked by two smaller incuse squares. BMC -. BMFA 1747 (same die and punches). Linzalone -. Pozzi 2349 (same die and punches). Rosen -. SNG Kayhan -. SNG von Aulock -. Traité -. Weidauer 1-3 (same die and punches). Of the highest rarity and of great numismatic interest. Struck from a very worn obverse die, otherwise, very fine.

From a European collection, formed before 2005.

Electrum coins without motifs are typically considered the earliest coinage altogether. However, a closer look is warranted because some allegedly imageless obverses actually result from completely worn-out dies. We have traced such increasing die wear in this catalogue on lot numbers 97-105. Another intriguing case presents itself in the present coin - an impressive early electrum stater - where the slightly convex obverse structure faintly suggests the contours of the ram's forepart depicted on lot 93, indicating it was probably struck from the same obverse die. Conversely, the reverse has been newly designed with only three punches instead of the previous four, which are also cut in a more wedge-shaped manner.

What we observe here is likely similar to the phenomenon seen in lot number 102 below, where a completely worn-out obverse die was paired with a new reverse - not for iconographic reasons, but out of practical necessity. The old reverse dies appear to have failed in their primary function, which was to securely hold the blank during the striking process, due to severe wear, and were consequently replaced. Conversely, the obverse, where once a ram was discernible, was left in its worn state, resulting in the coin now being entirely devoid of imagery.

Should our interpretation prove accurate, it would bear significant implications for the study of early electrum coinage. Notably, coins such as BMFA 1747, Pozzi 2349, and Weidauer 1-3, which share reverse punches with our coin, would then not be truly motif-less but rather struck from the same worn-out ram die. Consequently, they would not be dated earlier but contemporaneous (or slightly later, for that matter) to pieces such as lot 93 above, showing a wonderful archaic rendering of a ram.
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