CIT continue their delve into our ancient numismatic past with a stunning reimagining of the Athenian Owl Tetradrachm

We’re all aware of just how important the influence of Athens has been on the development of Western civilisation, but much of the history of this ground-breaking city state is less well known. Even the notion that Athens took its name from the goddess of wisdom, Athena, is up for debate, with historians now believing the opposite was true, that the goddess took her name from the city.

The city is old, continuously occupied for at least five millennia, and a powerhousein ancient times. WIth military and political power comes financial influence, and the city has a rich history of iconic coins, none more so than the Owl Tetradrachm. In circulation from around 510 until 38 BCE, although mostly produced in the latter half of the Fifth century BCE, the Tetradrachm was named after its value – four drachma – and become one of the most widely distributed and numerous coins of the ancient world. It’s even said to be the coin used to pay off Judas for betraying Jesus.

Literally millions of these were produced over a few centuries, so it’s of little surprise that they remain readily available today. Some may have been used to pay for weapons used in the Peloponnesian War, the fight against Persia, or to finance the construction of the Parthenon itself. It was a common trade coin in the ancient world for centuries. History in the hand.

The design varied in detail, but consisted mainly of a stylised owl, the ‘Owl of Athena’ and the symbol of the city. In the background was a sprig of olive (to symbolise the gift of an olive tree Athena gave to the city) and a crescent moon. The insribed ‘ΑΘΕ’ is Alpha, Theta, Epsilon, the abbreviated name of the city. The obverse carried an effigy of Athena in a crested helmet adorned with olive leaves. It’s this that is the inspiration for CIT’s latest mini masterpiece.

There have been modern coins using the original Athenian Owl Tetradrachm as a basis, most notably a silver bullion coin that while not ambitious in execution, was quite a close copy in outline, at least. What CIT have done is completely different. Last year, the European producer launched a new series with a beautiful ‘Tortoise’ coin design, which was a reimagining of the 2,500 year old Aeginetic Stater.

Instead of slavishly copying the original, they brought it bang up to date using the full capabilities of their proprietary smartminting technology. The end result was an extraordinary combination of ancient style and modern high-relief detail. The same principle has been applied to the Owl Tetradrachm.

This is a simply stunning coin. It manages to evoke everything about the 2,500 year old original, while simultaneously being an absolute showcase of modern minting technology. All the iconic elements have been reproduced, most strikingly the owl itself. The level of high relief, and its prominence from the background field is impressive enough, but it also manages to exhibit first class levels of fine detail over every surface. That’s a notoriously tricky thing to pull off, but it all looks so effortless here.

The sprig of olive and the moon sit exactly where they should, but in a neat touch, the letters ‘CI’ replace the originals. This stands for Cook Islands, the issuing country, and apes the purpose of the inscription on the original. The obverse is a bog standard affair sadly, We’d love to have seen a stylised effigy of Elizabeth here, but the monarchy is notoriously humourless with this stuff, so we’re not surprised at the lack of tweaking. The antique finish of the coin suits it perfectly, as does the unbound edge..

This is a one ounce 0.999 silver coin, and the relatively small amount of metal does mean the diameter tops out at 33 mm, but this is well in line with the original and a fair compromise in the name of affordability. There’s a trend towards heavier and more expensive designs today, and we’re stoked that CIT continue to bring their progigious talents to issues available to a wider audience. There’s an attractive display box of the ‘floating latex’ style, complete with a customised insert, so putting this on display, where it belongs, is super-easy.

It’s been a stellar week so far, with Mint XXI’s Honey Bee coin yesterday and this today, and it’s only Tuesday. With coins like these, combined with the ever increasing choice of limited mintage precious metal bullion coins, it’s never been a better time to be a coin collector. Coins are one of the purest of art forms, designed to represent the culture and civilisations of their time. That some twenty five centuries after it was introduced, a coin can still inspire great items like this, is a testament to the power and influence of numismatic art. An outstanding release and one every collector of Ancient Greek coins should be proud to have sitting alongside their originals. Available to order now, just 999 examples will be struck.

DENOMINATION $5 CID (Cook Islands)
COMPOSITION 0.999 silver
WEIGHT 31.1 grams
FINISH Antique
MODIFICATIONS Ultra high-relief, Smartminting
BOX / C.O.A. Yes / Yes

The Tetradrachm image is a Wikipedia Common by the Museum of Fine Arts in Lyon, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 2.5