The classic numismatic icon of Ancient Greece is modernised for new antiqued silver coin

As iconic in its day as any modern design is now, the Ancient Greek Tetradrachm (literally ‘four drachmae’) was introduced in the sixth century BCE and replaced the older didrachms with their heraldic style. Carrying the head of the goddess Athena on one side and the image of the owl of Athena, with a crescent moon and olive sprig on the obverse, it became widely used throughout the ancient world, not just in Greece. A version recently appeared as a Niue bullion coin.

The Mennica Polska has chosen to take this numismatic icon and use it to create a quite superb new coin, albeit issued for the African country, Cameroon. The coin is struck in a style similar to that popularised by the beautiful ‘From Clovis to Republic’ series issued by the Monnaie de Paris. Those coins are struck with the rim unbound, allowing it to squeeze out gently and thus leave a coin that isn’t perfectly round. We suspect the shape here, because it’s a more extreme version of that, is simply designed – a replica.

Depicting a more detailed owl on a textured antique finish, we think this is a great interpretation of the original. The sprig of olive is enhanced with a jasper stone insert. Often these inserts can detract from the finished coin because insufficient thought was put into placement (or even the base necessity for it), but this actually looks good and isn’t detrimental to the end product.

The obverse carries the olive through of course, but the main element here is an excellent representation of Athena. Inscriptions are well placed and not obtrusive, detailing the composition, issuer, date and denomination. Packaging makes display of the coin easy. The latex ‘floating frame’ lets you see both faces and the mint has incorporated a themed insert to go with it.

The coin is struck in 16.5 grams of fine silver and has a mintage capped at 999 pieces. Selling price seems to be around the €80 mark and it should ship later in November. The original coin, as you can see below, is absolutely beautiful, and while this new effort won’t reach the same iconic levels as the 2,500 year old tetradrachm, it stands as a fine issue in its own right. We like.

2017 OWL OF ATHENA SILVER COIN

MINTS DESCRIPTION

Athene Noctua, in Greek mythology the ‘little owl’, was always associated with the virgin goddess of wisdom, Athena (Minerva in Roman mythology). Known as the ‘owl of Athena’ as a result, it came to symbolise knowledge, wisdom, perspicacity and erudition throughout the Western world as a result.

The reasons for the association of Athena and the owl are uncertain. Some mythographers, such as David Kinsley and Martin P. Nilsson suggest that she may descend from a Minoan palace goddess associated with birds and Marija Gimbutas claim to trace Athena’s origins as an Old European bird and snake goddess. On the other hand, Cynthia Berger theorizes about the appeal of some characteristics of owls —such as their ability to see in the dark— to be used as symbol of wisdom while others, such as William Geoffrey Arnott, propose a simple association between founding myths of Athens and the significant number of little owls in the region (a fact noted since antiquity by Aristophanes in The Birds and Lysistrata).

Owls were commonly reproduced by Athenians in vases, weights and prize amphoras for the Panathenaic Games. The owl of Athena even became the common obverse of the Athenian tetradrachms after 510 BC and according to Philochorus, the Athenian tetradrachm was known as glaux  throughout the ancient world and “owl” in present day numismatics.

An olive twig, standing for peace, victory and conciliation, was a symbol of the goddess Athena. This is why ancient Greek coins featured the effigy of the Owl of Athena accompanied by a laurel wreath or an olive twig.

SPECIFICATION

NAME 2017 OWL OF ATHENA
DENOMINATION 500 Francs CFA
COMPOSITION 0.999 silver
WEIGHT 16.55 grams
DIAMETER 41.00 mm
FINISH Antique
MODIFICATIONS Jasper stone insert
MINTAGE 999
BOX / COA Yes / Yes
MINT OF POLAND