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Coinage Technique

Greek coins were usually struck rather than cast. Dies made of specially hardened bronze or iron were prepared by engraving the types or designs into a fixed anvil and a portable punch. Struck by a hammer, the punch compressed the softened metal blank set between the two countersunk dies to create a two-headed coin in high raised relief. The anvil side of the coin face is called the obverse; the punch side the reverse. On rare occasions the coin engravers, or die-cutters as they are sometimes known, were allowed to sign their works.

Silver Tetradrachm ca. 449&endash;410 BC Athens
The head of Athena is on the obverse, an owl with olive branch on the reverse. The goddess (in Greek, Athena) is a punning reference to the city (in Greek, Athenai) that honored her as its chief protective deity. The owl was Athena's favorite bird and the olive, which was one of the city's most lucrative exports, came in time to stand for Athens throughout the Mediterranean world. Dia. 24.0 mm.
Top: Photo courtesy Registrar's Office, Univ. of Pennsylvania Museum. Bottom: Photo courtesy Donald White. (142k)

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