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Home ▸ Catalog ▸ |Themes & Provenance| ▸ |Birds| ▸ |Owl||View Options:  |  |  | 

Owls on Ancient Coins

Owls are depicted on many different ancient coin types but the most prolific types are the coins of ancient Athens. The ancient slang names for the coins of Athens were "owls" (but in Greek of course) and "girls" (referring to Athena on the obverse, also in Greek). "Owls" were so popular as a central currency of the ancient world that the design remained essentially unchanged and somewhat archaic long after other cities began to produce coins of a more refined artistic style. "Owls" of Athens are still very popular. For collectors, they are perhaps the most popular ancient coin type.


Athens, Attica, Greece, c. 454 - 404 B.C., Old Style Tetradrachm

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The old-style tetradrachm of Athens is famous for its almond shaped eye, archaic smile, and charming owl reverse. Around 480 B.C. a wreath of olive leaves and a decorative scroll were added to Athena's helmet. On the reverse, a crescent moon was added.

During the period 449 - 413 B.C. huge quantities of tetradrachms were minted to finance grandiose building projects such as the Parthenon and to cover the costs of the Peloponnesian War.
SH94261. Silver tetradrachm, SNG Cop 31, SNG Mnchen 49, Kroll 8, Dewing 1611, Gulbenkian 519, HGC 4 1597, SGCV I 2526, Choice VF, near full crest, well centered, high relief as usual for the type, flow lines, light marks, weight 17.172 g, maximum diameter 24.5 mm, die axis 330o, Athens mint, c. 454 - 404 B.C.; obverse head of Athena right, almond shaped eye, crested helmet with olive leaves and floral scroll, wire necklace, round earring, hair in parallel curves; reverse owl standing right, head facing, erect in posture, olive sprig and crescent left, AΘE downward on right, all within incuse square; ex Numismatik Naumann auction 83 (1 Sep 2019), lot 157; $1175.00 (1057.50)


Cilicia (Uncertain City, possibly Tarsos), 4th Century B.C.

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SNG Levante describes the obverse type as a Pegasos forepart, however, both their coin and ours clearly depict a griffin.
GS92951. Silver obol, SNG Levante 208 corr. (Pegasos vice Griffin in error), SNG BnF -, aVF, toned, light deposits, tight flan, worn dies, edge split, weight 0.680 g, maximum diameter 8.3 mm, die axis 90o, 4th century B.C.; obverse forepart of griffin left; reverse owl standing left, head facing, crescent and olive spray behind; only one sales of this type recorded on Coin Archives in the last two decades - Nomos AG, obolos 5 (26 Jun 2016), lot 437 (similar condition, realized 550 CHF plus 18.5% fees = $660); extremely rare; $400.00 (360.00)


Athens, Attica, Greece, c. 454 - 404 B.C., Old Style Tetradrachm

Click for a larger photo
The old-style tetradrachm of Athens is famous for its almond shaped eye, archaic smile, and charming owl reverse. Around 480 B.C. a wreath of olive leaves and a decorative scroll were added to Athena's helmet. On the reverse, a crescent moon was added.

During the period 449 - 413 B.C. huge quantities of tetradrachms were minted to finance grandiose building projects such as the Parthenon and to cover the costs of the Peloponnesian War.
GS94307. Silver tetradrachm, SNG Cop 31, SNG Mnchen 49, Kroll 8, Dewing 1611, Gulbenkian 519, HGC 4 1597, SGCV I 2526, F, high relief, centered on a tight flan, uneven tone, rough, test cut, edge split, weight 16.968 g, maximum diameter 24.4 mm, die axis 90o, Athens mint, c. 454 - 404 B.C.; obverse head of Athena right, almond shaped eye, crested helmet with olive leaves and floral scroll, wire necklace, round earring, hair in parallel curves; reverse owl standing right, head facing, erect in posture, olive sprig and crescent left, AΘE downward on right, all within incuse square; $290.00 (261.00)


Athens, Attica, Greece, c. 454 - 404 B.C., Old Style Tetradrachm

Click for a larger photo
The old-style tetradrachm of Athens is famous for its almond shaped eye, archaic smile, and charming owl reverse. Around 480 B.C. a wreath of olive leaves and a decorative scroll were added to Athena's helmet. On the reverse, a crescent moon was added.

During the period 449 - 413 B.C. huge quantities of tetradrachms were minted to finance grandiose building projects such as the Parthenon and to cover the costs of the Peloponnesian War.
GS94305. Silver tetradrachm, SNG Cop 31, SNG Mnchen 49, Kroll 8, Dewing 1611, Gulbenkian 519, HGC 4 1597, SGCV I 2526, F, high relief, toned, rough, lamination defects, test cut, edge split, weight 16.934 g, maximum diameter 25.8 mm, die axis 270o, Athens mint, c. 454 - 404 B.C.; obverse head of Athena right, almond shaped eye, crested helmet with olive leaves and floral scroll, wire necklace, round earring, hair in parallel curves; reverse owl standing right, head facing, erect in posture, olive sprig and crescent left, AΘE downward on right, all within incuse square; $260.00 (234.00)


Velia, Lucania, Italy, Late 5th Century B.C.

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According to Herodotus, in 545 B.C. Ionian Greeks fled Phocaea, in modern Turkey, which was being besieged by the Persians. After wandering 8 to 10 years at sea, they stopped in Reggio Calabria, where they were probably joined by the philosopher Xenophanes and then moved north along the coast and founded the town of Hyele, later renamed Ele, then Elea, and eventually Velia.
GI89083. Bronze chalkous, Di Bello II.1.A.a.193 (not in his collection), HN Italy 1321; SNG ANS 1413; BMC Italy p. 317, 118; HGC 1 1342 (R1) var. (owl left), VF, green patina, earthen deposits, some light scratches, weight 2.045 g, maximum diameter 14.3 mm, die axis 0o, Velia mint, 440 - 400 B.C.; obverse head of Herakles right, wearing Nemean lion skin headdress; reverse owl standing right on olive spray, head turned facing, wings closed, VEΛH upward behind; ex CNG e-auction 233 (26 May 2010), lot 66; ex Colin E. Pitchfork Collection, ex Spink America (6 Dec 1999), part of lot 440; this coin is the only specimen of the type on Coin Archives; very rare; $250.00 (225.00)


Nero, 13 October 54 - 9 June 68 A.D.

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Quadrantes, like quinarii, were issued only occasionally, perhaps exclusively for imperial distributions. Suetonius reported that, from the roof of the Basilica Julia "Caligula threw coins among the people." Perhaps this small coin was thrown to the crowd by the Nero himself at a similar event.
RB89528. Orichalcum quadrans, BMCRE I p. 258, 300 (same legend breaks); Mac Dowall WCN 342a; RIC I 258, BnF I 353; Cohen I 110; Hunter I -; SRCV I -, aEF, nice red and green patina, porosity, obverse slightly off center, weight 1.910 g, maximum diameter 13.7 mm, die axis 180o, Rome mint, c. 64 - 66 A.D.; obverse NERO CLAV CAE AVG 16, owl, with wings spread, standing facing on garlanded altar, snake winding up the right side of the altar; reverse GER P M TR P IMP P P, upright olive-branch, three tiny dots (mark of value) below, S - C (senatus consulto) flanking at sides; from the Errett Bishop Collection; $200.00 (180.00)


Roman Empire, Anonymous, Domitian to Antoninus Pius, c. 81 - 161 A.D.

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Minerva was the Roman virgin goddess of wisdom, trade, medicine, defense, magic, and the arts: music, poetry, weaving, and crafts. She was born from the head of Jupiter. The Romans equated her with the Greek goddess Athena. She is often depicted with her sacred creature, an owl, which symbolizes her connection to wisdom.
RB91944. Copper quadrans, RIC II p. 216, 8; Cohen VIII p. 268, 7 var. (owl right); SRCV I 2918 var. (same), VF, dark green patina, earthen deposits, scratches, edge cracks, weight 3.568 g, maximum diameter 16.7 mm, die axis 180o, Rome mint, c. 138 - 161 A.D.; obverse helmeted bust of Minerva right; reverse owl standing slightly left, head facing, wings closed, S - C (senatus consulto) flanking across field; $60.00 (54.00)







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