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2016
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The Ormskirk & West Lancashire
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BANS 2011 Congress Report

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Numismatic Notes Small Change A Famous Victory The Buffalo Nickel

Small Change?

The Very Minor Silver Coins Of Arados

 

According to most reference books on Greek coins the smallest silver denomination is given as the hemitartemorion or 1/8 obol, weighing just over 0.09g when full weight. However, according to the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, there is in their collection an even smaller Greek silver coin.

 

This tiny coin, which corresponds to a 1/16 of a silver obol, was issued by the island city state of Arados off the coast of Phoenicia and was minted early in the 4th century BC. It weighed just under 0.06g (approx. 2/1000 oz.) with a diameter of less than 3.5mm (14/100 ins.) The obverse depicted the head of Melkert and the reverse showed a Phoenician Galley. The denomination does not appear to have been given an official name as such and is simply known by its fraction.

Like most inconveniently small coins they are thought to have been carried under the top lip in the mouth of the owner to avoid loss. This theory about how very small denominations were carried is given some credence by a passage in Aristophanes’ Wasps written circa 422 BC.

 

“For once Lysistratus, the funny fool, played me the scurviest trick. We had a drachm between us; he changed it at the fish stall, then laid down three mullet scales. I thought them to be obols and popped them in my mouth. Oh, the vile smell! I spat them out and collared him!”

 

Such a precarious practice must have resulted in the occasional accident – leaving quite a wait for small change.

Perspectives

 

The illustration above shows an obol, or twelfth stater, considerably enlarged. In reality, the coin is approximately 9 millimetres in diameter, and weighs 0.83 grammes. To put this into perspective, consider the obol in relation to a modern UK decimal penny, which is 20.3 millimetres in diameter and 3.56 grammes in weight:

 

The illustration shows the minute size of the obol. Using the same perspective for the one-sixteenth obol with its diameter of 3.5mm and weight of 0.06g, less than a fiftieth of the penny, we can see how impossibly small such a coin turns out to be:

The smallest coin in the modern UK coinage is the silver penny struck for the Royal Maundy. In comparison, this is a giant amongst coins, with a diameter of 11.5mm and a weight of 0.47g, being three times the size and seven times the weight of the one-sixteenth obol!

 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the sixteenth-obols aren't the commonest of coins, which is why this note has been illustrated using the image of an obol. The design of the sixteenth is, like most of the Arados silver coinage, of the same design and general appearance.

 

Alan M Dawson