Ancient Jewish Coin Brings Record $1.1+US Million via Heritage Auction

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Incredibly rare "Owl type" Silver Drachm (opposite face with Jerusalem lily) image:courtesy Heritage Auctions

The first silver shekel struck in Jerusalem by Jewish forces rebelling against Roman oppression in the first century CE, one of only two specimens known, brought a world record price of $1,105,375 at Heritage Auctions on March 8 as part of the auction of The Shoshana Collection of Ancient Coins of Judea. The coin sold to an anonymous overseas collector. Overall, this auction realized over $7.6 million, with the whole of the collection, consisting of more than 2200 coins in total, expected to realize more than $10 million in multiple auctions this year.

“This Year 1 silver shekel, struck shortly after the Jewish War began in May of 66 CE, is an incredible piece of history,” said Cris Bierrenbach, Executive Vice President of Heritage Auctions. “This is literally one of the very first coins the Jewish rebels struck after the ousted the Romans from Jerusalem, sending shockwaves through the empire. That history, as evidenced by the spirited bidding and the superb price realized, obviously continues to resonate today, more than 2,000 years later.”

The Shoshana Collection, assembled over the course of four decades by an American collector, is the greatest assembly of ancient coins related to the foundation of ancient Israel ever offered, spanning more than 11 centuries.

Other highlights from the collection include an incredibly rare gold aureus as Caesar (69-79 CE), struck at an Eastern mint in 69 CE, likely Tyre, anticipating the subjugation of Judaea, which the Romans achieved with the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE, which brought $956,000, while one of only two known surviving silver quarter-shekels of Year 1 (May 66-March 67 CE) in existence brought $896,250.
A few of the additional highlights included:

Jewish War (66 – 70 AD). AR half shekel. Year 4. Hendin 1365. TJC 209. AJC 262,25. Samuels 980 (this coin). Extremely Fine. One of six recorded specimens. Realized: $358,500.
Vespasian (69 – 79 AD). AE sestertius. AD 71 Rome. Hendin 1500b. RIC 71,161. BMC 543. Impressive Good Extremely Fine. Realized: $262,900.
Jewish War (66 – 70 AD). AR shekel. Year 5. Hendin 1370. TJC 215. AJC 263,31. Samuels 94 (this coin). Very Fine. Ex: Nelson Bunker Hunt. Realized: $262,900.
Jewish War (66 – 70 AD). Year 5. Hendin 1370. TJC 215. AJC II 263,31. Brand 3. Bromberg II, 309 Good Very Fine. Realized: $179,250.
Divus Vespasian (69 – 79 AD). AV aureus. Struck by Titus, AD 80-81, Rome. Hendin 1581. RIC 230,363. Cohen 143. BN 89. Superb. Realized: $131,450.
Aelia Capitolina (Jerusalem, renamed by Hadrian) Collection, 164 coins. Realized: $107,550.
Titus as Caesar (79 – 81 AD). AV aureus. AD 72-73 Rome. Hendin 1469. RIC 84, 370. BMC 520. BN 73. About Extremely Fine. Realized: $101,575.
Vespasian (69 – 79 AD). AE sestertius. AD 71 Rome. Hendin 1500b. RIC 71,161. BMC 543. Samuels 146 (this coin). Extremely Fine. Realized: $95,600.
Bar Kokhba Revolt (132 – 135 AD). AR sela. First year (132/133 AD). Mildenberg 125,4.1 (this coin). Hendin 1373. TJC 218c (this coin). AJC 264,1c (this coin). Samuels 98 (this coin). Superb. Realized: $89,625.
Bar Kokhba Revolt (132 – 135 AD). AR sela. First year (132/133 AD). Mildenberg 124,3.5 (this coin). Hendin 1373. TJC 218 (these dies). AJC 264,1 (these dies). Samuels 97 (this coin). Superb. Realized: $89,625.
Auction of US coins continues on New York and over the Internet at through Sunday, March 11.

Seldom Seen Selections: One of the finest known 1795 Eagles

The famous 1795 American gold 'eagle' coin

The ten dollar gold pieces, given the name “eagle,” were the largest gold coins produced by the first U.S. Mint from 1795 through 1804. Like all early gold coins (and many early silver coins), these pieces did not carry an actual denomination as part of the design.
The 1795 BD1 is considered the first variety coined for the year, therefore it is the first eagle minted by the United States! There are more of them surviving today than all other 1795 varieties combined, and it is actually one of the five most common die varieties of the entire series from 1795 to 1804, a fact that would probably surprise most collectors. Quite a few examples survive in Mint State grades, giving collectors a reasonable chance of obtaining a high-quality example of the Small Eagle reverse design.

Many of the Mint State pieces have prooflike fields, including the coin we are featuring in our upcoming 2012 April 18-22 US Coins & Platinum Night CSNS Signature Auction. Although the fields are not deeply mirrored, they are clearly reflective. The surfaces are exceptional with only a few scattered abrasions. Faint adjustment marks are evident at the center obverse and on some of the obverse dentils. All design elements on both sides are sharply struck, suggesting to some the possibility that this may have been some type of presentation piece. This example is a relatively early die state of the variety, with faint obverse die cracks but no evidence of reverse cracks. Despite the existence of several Mint State pieces, this example is one of the most attractive we have handled.

A curious situation exists for both early half eagles and early eagles. For both denominations there were multiple varieties dated 1795 and only a single variety dated 1796, despite mintages that suggest this is illogical. During the course of 1795, just 2,795 eagles were minted from September 22 through November 27. In 1796, the Mint produced 6,934 eagles from January 9 through December 22. If we take these annual production totals at face value, an average of 560 coins per die marriage were struck in 1795 while a single die marriage produced all 6,934 coins in 1796. Clearly there is something wrong, unless many of the coins produced in 1796 were from dies dated 1795, and we can be certain that this was the case. According to the Guide Book, the 1795 mintage totaled 5,583 coins and the 1796 mintage totaled 4,146 coins, but even those figures are suspect, suggesting a survival rate of 10% for 1795 eagles and only 4% for 1796 eagles. This discussion illustrates the challenge that numismatists have today when attempting to reconstruct the events of the earliest years at the Philadelphia Mint. There were no records of mintages for individual die varieties, and any attempt to make such estimates today is plagued with problems.

In Early U.S. Gold Coin Varieties, John Dannreuther provides estimated mintages for every variety and for the number of survivors for each variety. The only thing we know for sure is the number of die marriages known from 1795 through 1804 (32) and the total mintage for that period (132,714 coins including 122 pieces reserved for assay). By using the midpoint of Dannreuther’s survival estimates, we can also establish an approximate survival rate for the series of 2.5%. Is this enough information to establish original “mintage figures” for each variety or even for each coinage date?

Mark Van Winkle has spent considerable effort over several years attempting to correlate mintage figures with individual varieties, and now feels that it is impossible. There are at least two variables that cannot accurately be determined. First, the exact emission sequence needs to be determined (including both die marriages and remarriages). In a series like the early eagles, the emission sequence alone is enough to give a numismatist nightmares. Once the emission order is known, an accurate estimate of the survivors must be established for each variety and remarriage, and this is nearly an impossibility. Finally, differing survival rates from one coinage date to the next must be pinpointed, a seemingly impossible task. CP for Heritage Auctions Dallas, Texas

SupplementalThe Numismatic Network of Canada for those interested in studying and collecting Canadian coins, tokens, paper money and related numismatic materials

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