Friday, 22 July 2011

A Coin Hoard from Abdera returned to Greece

Return of a Coin Hoard to Greece
Source: Eleutherotypia, 21.07.2011.
By N. Kontrarou-Rassia

A rich American collector bought from a coin auction in New York in 2000 an Archaïc hoard of coins from ancient Abdera.

The hoard bought by 54-year old Jonathan Kagan was made up of 22 silver coins, which he delivered last year in September to the Consulate of Greece in New York, having previously studies them and published his conclusions in a volume dedicated to the great American numismatist John H. Kroll.

His desire was that the hoard enrich the collection of the Numismatic Museum of Athens, in honour of the professor of the University of Texas J. H. Kroll, whose work in a landmark in the study of the coinage of Athens.

How much did the acquisition cost?

The hoard is made up of three didrachms, a drachm, a hemidrachm, two obols and fifteen hemiobols. The coins first appeared in commerce in London in 2000 and were divided. Some appeared in auction catalogues. Greece did not claim them, evidently because it had no evidence of illegal exportation from the country.

Mr Kagan is a director of a company that is active in hi-tech products in New York; he has a degree from Harvard and completed his post-graduate studies in Oxford. He obtained the greater part of the hoard in 2000. He is a collector himself, and in the past has offered pieces from his collection to various American museums. He admires ancient art and his wife is Ute Wartenberg-Kagan, head of the American Numismatic Society, prolific writer on ancient Greek numismatics.

Octadrachm (28,12 gr, 28 mm) of Abdera (c. 500-475 B.C.?). CNG eAuction 256 (25.05.2011), 4. NOT part of the hoard.

How much did the acquisition of the 22 rare coins of Abdera cost? "I do not know. But whether he bought them for a cent or for five millions, what is important is the gesture, which shows that the world is now sensitive and responds to our calls for the return of antiquities", Despoina Evgenidou, director of the Numismatic Museum of Athens told us yesterday. She is already working on the exhibition of the hoard, which will be ready during the second half of November.

The scientific value of the coins is great. They prove that in this early time, the 6th century B.C., people used coins and, what is more, small silver fractions of the drachma, which a few years later were replaced by bronze coins. These coins were not destined to pay taxes or to buy grain from other regions. They were the means to cover everyday needs (food, household objects). "The larger exchanges, as the payment of taxes and long-distance commerce, where largely covered by the silver series, meaning the octadrachms and the tetradrachms", claims the director of the Numismatic Museum. The existence of this treasure shows that moneyed societies existed in very early times. It also tells us what the coinage of Abdera at the end of the 6th century was.

Apollo and Gryffin

"It is a very important donation, because not only does it enrich the numismatic series of Abdera that we have in the Numismatic Museum, but it adds to a very important section of our collections, that of coin hoards", underlines mrs Evgenidou.

Abdera was founded, according to myth, by Hercules, to honour the memory of his comrade Abderus, who had been killed by the mares of Diomedes. The first founder was the Klazomenian Timesios in 654 B.C. The city was refounded in 545 B.C., when migrants from the ionian town of Teos arrived, escaping enslavement by the Persians. The coins of the new inhabitants were similar to those of their old home. On the reverse they bore the head of Apollo and on the obverse a Griffin, the monster of myth that was considered to guard gold and silver mines. This is the type to be found on the coins offered by mr Kagan. The most important ones are those almost invisible to the eye: the small silver fractions that circulated for a few years before being replaced by larger bronze coins.


A.M. Notes

1. The image that illustrates the original article (not reproduced here) has nothing to do with the hoard under discussion. It is an image from the Hoard Northern Syria, Manbij (?), 2010 (see here), comprised of tertradrachms and drachms of Philip II and Alexander III.
2. The complete title of the publication mentioned is: Jonathan H. Kagan, "Small Coinage and the Beginning of Coinage at Abdera", Agoranomia: Studies in Money and Exchange presented to John H. Kroll, New York 2006, 49-59.
3. The complete composition, as presented by Kagan: 5 Didrachms, 2 Drachms, 2 Hemidrachms (first known), 2 Obols, 18 Hemiobols. Total 29.
4. The early coins of Abdera did not have the Apollo type. They bore the Griffin on the obverse and an incuse square on the reverse (see photo, above). These are the types that the coins from this hoard bore.
5. For the coinage of Abdera see: J.M.F. May, The Coinage of Abdera, London 1966.

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