Widow's Mites

Coins mentioned in the Bible are popular collectables and a speciality I have not covered previously. The popularity of these coin types has tended to drive up the price to the point that I have avoided collecting them. An exception is the one coin mentioned in the Bible that exists in such vast quantities that common varieties in miserable condition can be found for $5 or less.

Mark 12:42-44 and Luke 21:2-4 tell the story of the Widow who gave all she had, two "mites". A number of tiny copper coins circulated in Judaea during the time of Christ so there is no way to establish any particular design as "the" Widow's Mite. The coins were produced in vast quantities through the first century BC and first century AD. The quality of workmanship employed in the production of these coins varied from rushed to misreable. It is rather unusual to find a single coin that shows all of the legends and design on both sides. Sizes of individual specimens also vary greatly (some were halves of the whole 'prutah' which itself was worth half of a Roman quadrans, the smallest denomination then being produced at Rome). Whatever the exact coins, the gift of the Widow was certainly a small amount of money.

Judaea - Alexander Jannaeus - 103 - 76 BC - Bronze prutah
2.1g, 17x14 mm - Seaby 6087
Anchor - Greek "of King Alexander" / wheel - Hebrew "Yehonatan King" between spokes

Most common of the types called "Widow's Mites" are coins of the first Hasmonaean king to issue coins, Alexander Jannaeus. The rarely are well enough struck or preserved to allow reading of the tiny Hebrew letters between the spokes of the wheel. Off center coins are the rule. Flans are irregularly shaped from sort-of round (if the coin is really round I would suspect it is a fake!) to irregular. This squared off example is very unusual but not hard to believe compared to all of the other possibilities.

These three other examples of Judaean bronze coins are a bit more usual in shape. They are not exceptional coins but are still rather nice compared to the average specimens seen on the market. Missing here is one interesting class of coins: issues of the Roman procurators (including Pontius Pilate). None of these coins bear a portrait or other 'graven image'. On the left is the same type as the Featured coin but much more clearly struck allowing reading of the Greek legend. In the center is a coin of Herod Agrippa (year 6 = 42/3 AD) showing a canopy and three grain ears with his name in Greek on the obverse and the date (LS=Year 6) on the reverse. On the right is a coin of the First Revolt (66 - 70 AD) showing an amphora and grape leaf surrounded by Hebrew legends. These are just a few of the varieties of these small coins available to collectors. Judaean coinage also included larger bronze and silver denominations. The popularity of these makes many rather high in price (and well outside my collecting interests).

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(c) 1998 Doug Smith