UNCERTAIN EAST. Circa 450/440-400 BC. Tetradrachm (Silver, 24 mm, 17.49 g, 2 h), imitating Athens. Head of Athena to right, wearing crested Attic helmet decorated with three olive leaves and palmette. Rev. Owl walking right, left leg raised and head facing; to left, small crescent; to right, 𐤊; all between two laurel branches within round incuse. Unpublished and unique, a fascinating coin of great interest and beauty. About extremely fine.
From a European collection, formed before 2005.
This is an unexpected, fascinating and quite mysterious piece! While the obverse does not differ in any way from ordinary late Classical Athenian tetradrachms, it is only when the coin is turned that it reveals its astonishing reverse type: an owl walking to the right between two laurel branches within a round incuse. Despite the excellent style, it is obvious that this cannot be the product of the Athenian mint - not only does the coin lack the usual ethnic, the round incuse on the reverse is also unlike anything ever produced in Athens (regular Attic owls do, of course, have a square incuse), and the single letter on the reverse - probably a Phoenician kāp - clearly points towards an eastern origin. Why a local die cutter created such a remarkable, new type is unknown, but he evidently was a most ingenious and skillful artist, as he beautifully adapted the Athenian reverse type to the unorthodox round die he was crafting by adding two rounded olive branches to the image and having his owl raise its left leg, as if it were walking to the right. As a consequence, the owl's feet serve as a visual extension of the right olive branch and create the illusion of a wreath enclosing Athena's sacred bird. It is, as such, a most remarkable type and of the greatest historical and artistic interest.