Wednesday, 2 December 2015

The silver coins of Taras: part eleven

An auction lot of small silver from Taras
(click above link for descriptions)
photo: Classical Numismatic Group Inc.
So far in this series I have shown many coins that are well out of the price range of the young collector but those coins have been mostly the larger denominations. Popularity drives the market and small Greek silver coins are not in high demand at this time. When I was a kid, this was slightly less evident and it was the bronze coinage that could be bought for very little. Nowadays, Greek bronze coins are more popular and many are well beyond the price range of  kids. Even bulk lots of "junk" Greek bronze fetch more than their Roman counterparts.

Unlike the larger denominations, small silver coins such as the obol were the daily currency at the market while a stater would be about a day's pay for a labourer. Here in Calgary, the legal minimum wage is $11.20 per hour and a frugal shopper can easily pay that for an entire day's groceries for one person. I do even better but I mostly cook from basic ingredients and avoid processed food. The other day I made my own cream cheese and added some smoked salmon. Much better that the store-bought version which contains carageenan (and is a little shy in the smoked salmon). Of course, the ancient Greeks cooked like I do. They also lived long lives and part of that was due to their diet.

A hexante from Taras (0.15g)
photo: Classical Numismatic Group Inc.
A little frugality in buying ancient coins is also a good idea, and auctions can sometimes deliver the unexpected. The tiny coin on the left (much smaller than an obol) was estimated at $150 but got a hammer price of $1200. Perhaps this is a typo, perhaps there were two people bidding that had more money than sense, I don't know. But you will notice, that a month later, the same coin type was sold as part of the lot illustrated above (1) and the whole lot only fetched a hammer price of $300, two hundred below its pre-sale estimate. The same coin type, in 2013, got a hammer price of 110 GBP.

Back in the mid eighties, when Calgary was in the midst of a severe recession and when I applied for a job that had two hundred applicants, my wife and I decided to run a flea market business. We survived quite well. Mind you, we had six tables and sold everything: housewares, books, records, collectables, you name it. One oil company owner used to spend $200 with us at each visit as part of his Sunday routine (the market ran only on Sundays). One day, a small boy sat at one of our tables for hours, carefully going through a box of junk Roman coins we were selling at a dollar each. Finally, he handed me one coin and his dollar. I looked at the coin and said "This is a coin of Eugenius, but it is a bit small and it's not in very good condition so it's only worth about a hundred dollars." The chances of finding such a coin is remote, rather like a big win on a lottery and dealers do not waste their time looking for such, but even if that boy had a very good after-school job, his hourly pay could hardly match what he made that day.

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