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Collecting the Oldest Coins in the World

April 5th, 2013 Coins

If you have a coin collection, it's likely it includes American memorial coins or international currency gathered from family trips or found in antique shops. But do you have any coins that are over a couple hundred years old?

Metal coins were introduced around 5,000 B.C.E., according to Inventors, and since then have been used throughout much of history. In short, you're likely to not have any of the coins listed below, but if you can find them, they could make a great addition to your collection.

The stater
The oldest coins still existing today were discovered in Efesos, a Hellenic city off the coast of Asia Minor that for a time was one of the Mediterranean's most profitable trading centers. According to Fleur-de-coin, the 1/6" thick stater coin, the oldest intact metallic currency on record at 2,700 years, was made from electrum - a blend of gold and silver alloy. The piece features a lion head on one side, with a punch mark negative on the other. At the time, each coin was hand struck by the blacksmith. The best-preserved stater is now exhibited in the Department of Coins and Medals of the British Museum.

Greek mythology holds that the Pactolus River, where the locals found the majority of their gold and silver, received its bounty when the legendary King Midas bathed there to try to wash away his golden touch.

The Lydians were the first in the Western world to create metal currency, punching their city symbols into the backs of their coins to indicate their place of origin and promising that each one was of an equal lump weight of electrum.

The Coins of Midas
According to Real History World Wide, electrum coins quickly spread throughout Greek city-states in what is now the Aegean coast, but there was one big problem. Because blacksmiths and metallurgists at the time had little way of creating an exact balance between silver and gold, some coins ended up being worth slightly more than others. This drove the people of Lydia, located in modern day Turkey, to create the world's first gold refinery at Sardis, the empire's capital. There, craftsmen used combinations of dust and clay to separate the alloys at melting point, enabling the Lydians to create the world's first truly gold coins.The first memorial coins were minted around 800 B.C.E. to honor the memory and mythology of King Midas.

The Athenians and Spartans were the next to take up coin currency, although the Spartans differed significantly in their tactics. While the Athenians adopted the traditional use of silver, gold and electrum in their coins and included images of mythological figures, heroes and kings, the Spartans chose instead to use only plain iron coins that were of little use when traded to other city-states. By this point in human history, bartering and coin currencies interacted quite heavily. People would trade money for other goods, but even coin currency for other currency forms, like in today's international exchanges. Sparta took up coin currency only briefly, and about 300 years later than the rest of Greece, before forbidding the use of silver and gold as trade items.

According to a publication of the Classical Association of Canada, iron currency was enacted primarily to prevent hoarding. It forced people to use their money quickly, because it weighed so much that it became inconvenient to carry around in large amounts. This also made common thievery less rewarding, because people tended to have less money on their persons than they would otherwise.