Previously we looked at a few different ways of presenting two heads on one coin. This week we present a most unusual variation on this theme. The Thracian city of Istros issued coins bearing a pair of facing heads side by side, one inverted. However one turns the coin, one head will be upside down. One some coins the inverted head is on the left; on others: the right. The small sample of these coins that I have seen suggests the two varieties are equally common. The reasons behind or meaning of this presentation is not clear. Some have explained the type as the rising and setting sun; others believe them to be Castor and Pollux, the Dioscuri.

Istros, Thrace - Silver obol or fraction - 400-350 BC - 8 mm diameter, .3g
Two male heads, one inverted / Eagle on dolphin IsigmaTPIH - T

This type is commonly seen as a stater weighing between 5g and 6g. Less common but frequently seen is the quarter stater. At .3 g our Featured Coin would seem to be 1/12 stater (obol) or even a smaller fraction. This raises the point that many of the popular types of Greek silver were accompanied by smaller denominations that were used in daily commerce but not as often hoarded as the larger coins. Some of these small coins are quite scarce and there is a real possibility of a previously unreported denomination coming to light. The minor issues of some cities (e.g. Athens) have been studied seriously but much work remains if we are to understand all of the small denominations from every city. My references are not strong enough for me to tell you the status of this little coin. Since most collectors prefer the large coins, the market price of the small fractions does not always reflect their scarcity. A number of other "Tiny Treasures" were displayed on one of this site's earliest pages.

The reverse type of this coin shows a sea eagle perched on the back of a dolphin. The type was shared by a this drachm of a completely different city, Sinope in Paphlagonia. Located on opposite shores of the Black Sea these two cities were both colonies of the Milesians. It is interesting to watch our Greek coins for these connections. Other colonies of Miletos used similar types but I am not aware of it being used by the mother city (whose usual type was a lion).

The coin of Sinope shown above was test cut to prove it solid silver. This brings to mind the need for collectors to be aware of plated counterfeit and genuine mint product ancient coins (both exist!) made to stretch the silver supply. While this worn out and ugly fourree of Istros would tempt or fool few collectors imagine how good it must have looked when it left the dies. Fourrees exist on almost all Greek and Roman issues until the reduction of silver in the coins made the practice not profitable. Buyer beware.

This page included two photos of the same small coin. Did you notice that one of my two photos showed the obverse upside down? Which one was it? Both?? This is certainly a coin that requires an open mind when defining "up".

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(c) 1998 Doug Smith