ACTA ACCLA, April 2003
MY FAVORITE COIN: THE MYSTIQUE OF THREE-DIMENSIONAL PATINA
Macedonian Kingdom, Alexander III, 336-323 BCE
Bronze, 18 mm, 5.78 g. Head of Herakles facing left. / Club above, bow in case below. Legend: ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡ (Alexander) ΟΥ off the flan. Price 304; SNG Cop 1056/9; SG 6739 (var).
I am the general manager of a small grand format digital printing company in downtown Los Angeles. I have a B.A. in history and a M.S. in secondary education, and I hold a lifetime teaching credential. Like many people with an academic background who became stranded in a low-paying, lackluster educational system, I left the idealistic hallways of the public educational establishment for a far more lucrative challenge in the field of business. But I have never lost my love for all things historical. I have recently been 'born again' as a student of history, with my reintroduction into coin collecting as a hobby and in the field of classical numismatics in particular.
The lifetime bronze coin of Alexander the Great, which is the subject of this narrative, is the first Greek coin that I have ever owned. Prior to its acquisition, I had concentrated on collecting, studying, and attributing Imperial and Provincial Roman coins (which are still my main focus). Bronze coins with rich and interesting patinas had become a particular interest of mine. But when I discovered this coin listed in an auction on the internet, I knew I just HAD to have it.
This particular coin is not a rare example for its type. In fact, one can find a decent example, in many variations, for about the price of a fill-up at your local service station. What made this coin special to me, however, were several distinguishing characteristics it possessed, which seemed to 'speak' to me. First, this coin was a lifetime bronze issue of one of the most famous personalities in world history. Secondly, it was in a high state of preservation, especially for a coin that was over 2300 years old. It also possessed what I considered to be an almost unique and therefore very difficult to find, appearance. Beyond its value as a coin that makes a statement (i.e., tying the personality of an absolute monarch to the attributes of a mythological god-like figure - Herakles), it possessed an almost three-dimensional visual quality to it. This was due to the fact that the multiple patinas present on the coin were deposited over the centuries in an interesting manner, amongst the high-relief features of the strike, which gave it that special three-dimensional 'look' to it. Many well-preserved Greek and Roman bronzes are often encountered with an even patination of olive, ebony, or chocolate brown coloration. But this coin possessed colors reflecting bright emerald green, light desert sand, and the deepest olive / black tones imaginable! The fact that it had been so carefully restored by someone in the field who knew the value of leaving just enough of the original patinated colors on the coin during restoration, indicated to me that the coin would probably command a premium at auction time. The full strike, complete legend (ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡ = ALEXANDER), and well-centered qualities of the coin also drew me to this example.
As it turned out, I was justified in my guess about the higher price point this specimen would command, as well as its popularity. I watched the coin carefully for the week that it was listed on the internet, seeing the bids increase gradually day by day. I was surprised to find that by the time I placed my winning bid on the coin (with less than a minute to go before closing time), the number of individuals bidding on this coin had reached 18. I then placed two counter-bids on the coin, with only seconds remaining, as other individuals had the same perceptions of the coin as myself. In the end, I became involved in what was to be my first (and certainly not my last) sniping war with two other bidders. Even Alexander himself, being the supreme warrior of his era, would have been impressed with the last-minute competitiveness of this contest!
But in the end, I was the lucky contender who came out on top. I even drove to the auctioneer's place of business late one evening to personally pick up the piece. My Alexander the Great bronze has subsequently turned out to be one of my favorite coins. Besides the adventure of the chase, the coin's characteristics relating to history, mythology, and numismatics as an art form, brought me enhanced enjoyment with my new hobby. Additionally, it introduced me to a new feature of internet collecting - dealing directly and personally with a rather peculiar buyer of ancient coins and artifacts, whose visits to the fields of Europe regularly to obtain relics of history, allow individuals like myself to explore a special area of interest in the field of history: classical numismatics.