Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Lesbos coins

Lesbos, also known as Emerald Island, counts 320 kilometers of coastline. It is quite forested, has 2 mountain peaks and 2 large gulfs. Separated by the Mytilini Strait, Turkey is less than 10 miles away. Modern tourism in Greece only started to take off in the 1950s. The Lesbos Tourism Company, T.E.L., was incorporated in 1956 with its head office in Mytilene.

The Greek coins in the design of the company's shares, suggests the company wanted to promote the rich ancient inheritance of the island. Having collected coins as a child, this share certificate immediately drew my attention. Were these ancient Greek coins genuine or not ?

Mytilene, the capital of the island since the Greek classical period, was famous for its production of electrum coins that were struck from the late 6th through mid 4th centuries BC. Electrum is a natural alloy of gold, silver and other metals (a good conductor of electricity), but it was also produced artificially. For coinage electrum was preferred above gold because it was harder and more durable, and because techniques for refining gold were not known every where in the ancient world. The city of Mytilene used electrum with a gold composition of about 43%.

Further research on the depicted coins did not yield a quick result. So I asked the help of two numismatic experts : Mrs Dane Kurth,, and Mr Doug Smith,

Both were so kind to share their findings: thank you !  This is what they came up with independently from each other:
The head of Apollo on the obverse and the lyre on the reverse are common types from Mytilene. They were made in silver and bronze with that design over a long period. Many varieties are known.
This AR Stater from Mytilene dates around 350-250 BC.

So far for the similarities. What about the differences ?

Dane  :
There are coins with 'MYTI' (upwards) combined with either some small symbol or a letter or monogram in the right field (like the M in the example of the certificate), but not with 'MYTIL'.

Doug :
I do suspect that the artist for the engraving thought it would be more clearly a coin of Mytilene if the letters were rearranged all in one line. The fact that I have not seen a coin exactly like that one does not mean it did not exist.

Conclusion! The coins on the certificate are clearly derived from real ancient Mytilene coins. The engraver changed the legend a little to emphasize the link with Lesbos, and if he didn’t ... , then he probably used the design of a real coin that is probably extremely rare.


related link :

No comments:

Post a Comment