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Very Rare Ancient Coins Rediscovered in University Library

Friday, March 13, 2015 9:09
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Very Rare Ancient Coins Rediscovered In University Library

By Neils Christensen of Kitco News; nchristensen@kitco.com
Follow Neils Christensen @neils_C



Image courtesy of the Univeristy of Buffalo: Part of the collection of ancient Greek and Roman coins recently rediscovered in the univerities library.


(Kitco News) - If you have ever needed proof that gold and silver has always been a store of value then you should take a class at the University of Buffalo (UB).

On Wednesday, the university announced what they have dubbed “the discovery of the century” as a collection of 55 ancient Greek and Roman coins were unearthed from its library archives.

The rediscovery was made by Philip Kiernan, an assistant professor at UB.  In an interview with Kitco News, Kiernan said the collection hasn’t been touched for decades. When he was first researching the existence of the coins, Kiernan said that he wasn’t expecting see an extensive collection maybe “one or two coins and some replicas.”

“I was so struck by the collection… we had coins from the most important Greek city states. The kind of coins you see in the text books,” he said. “They were never lost but they appear to have been forgotten about.”

According to the university this is the first time the coins will be extensively studied. The coins range in dates from the fifth century B.C. to the late first century A.D.

The collection contains Greek silver and gold coins and 12 gold coins of the first Roman emperors, from Julius Caesar to Domintian. One of the “remarkably rare” coins is of the Roman emperor Otho who only ruled for three months but still had gold coins struck for his reign.

Image courtesy of the University of Buffalo: The reverse of the Otho Roman emperor coin, showing the Goddess Securitas holding a cornucopia.

Adding to the rarity of this coin is its flaw. The reverse of the coin features an image of Securitas, the Roman Goddess of security and stability. Traditionally, Securitas is personified holding a wreath in her right hand and a scepter in her left. However, the university’s coin shows the Goddess holding a cornucopia in her left.

“It wasn’t until Kiernan examined them out of curiosity that the currency’s rarity and value were realized,” the university said in a statement.

Kiernan was recently able to verify the coins’ authenticity by two numismatic experts. He is now developing a graduate course based on the collection, with plans to publish papers regarding their historical significance.

Non-Circulated Stores Of Wealth

What also sets this collection apart from others is its remarkable condition.

“These are not the coins that you would have spent in the marketplace. Based on the gold content and size of the coins these could present a store of wealth, several months of pay,” he said. “You would put your wealth in these coins and then stash them away because there were no banks.”

One of the collection’s significant Greek coins is a silver Tetradrachm dating between 450 and 400 B.C. Kiernan explained that the coin, which features an owl on its reverse was traded extensively throughout the Mediterranean and massed produced. It was the eras’ version of the modern-day Canadian silver maple leaf or the U.S. American eagle.

“The Tetradrachm was used as a known unit of silver,” he said. “It was regarded for its consistency and high quality of silver.”

Image courtesy of the University of Buffalo: The reverse of the Greek Tetradrachm, considered a known unit of currency in ancient times and regularly traded throughout the Mediterranean.

Although the coins are in remarkable condition, Kiernan added that some of the silver coins do show some wear and also feature marks where bankers or traders scored the coin to verify its authenticity. Some of the coins also feature a unique stamp mark.

“Instead of just scoring it, a busy trader might use a special stamp to market the coin. That way if they see it again they knew it was not counterfeit,” he said.

The Lockwood Collection

The coins were first donated to the University in 1935 by Thomas B. Lockwood, who is believed to have bought those 10 years earlier.

The coins are just one of the many treasures donated by Lockwood, who was considered an avid reader and collector of rare books. Some of the books in the collection include original works by William Shakespeare, James Joyce, and Dylan Thomas.

“Lockwood’s collection includes more than 3,000 books, medallions and additional coins from early America and England. Other notable items include a medallion of Napoleon Bonaparte and 36 British gold coins, including one of Queen Elizabeth,” the university said.

Michael Basinski, curator of the UB Libraries Special Collections, said that it is exciting to see that coins are being brought of the collection to be studied.

“It just goes to show that we still need libraries. You never know what treasures you are going to find,” he said.

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