By World Coin News
A box of old
coins purchased for $28.25 at an estate sale
near Burlington, Vt., held an unexpected
surprise: its contents are estimated to be worth
more than $15,000 because it held one of the
most important Armenian coins in existence.
It was Richard Martineit's good fortune to be at
that auction in October 2007, where more than
1,500 lots were sold over two days. One that
caught his eye was a group of 13 coins in a box
labeled "Roman & Ancient pieces." It contained a
variety of silver and base metal coins issued
from the 3rd century B.C.E. to the 11th century
C.E. Highlights included a Roman silver denarius
of 41 B.C.E. with the portraits of warlords Marc
Antony and Octavian, and three coins struck by
Greek and Roman rulers of Egypt.
Seeking proper identifications and grading,
Martineit sent his coins to NGC Ancients, a
branch of the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation.
Three coins were described by the submitter as
issues of the Byzantine Empire. Each had an
image of Christ on the obverse and an
inscription on the reverse. It was soon
discovered that only two of them were Byzantine
and one was in fact Armenian.
The prize coin was an Armenian bronze follis of
"Kiurike the Kouropalates" from the 10th or 11th
century C.E. Modeled after contemporary coins of
the Byzantine Empire, it belongs to the first
coinage with Armenian inscriptions.
Martineit's example may be the finest of the 19
known, and its inscription has an unusual
arrangement that until now may not have been
documented, NGC says.
"Even through I owned that box lot for 15 months
I never looked at the three coins I identified
as Byzantine until I mailed them to NGC,"
Martineit said. "In fact, I bought the lot for
the other coins and I was not going to send in
those three coins until I realized I could never
find a value for them until I knew what they
were. So I added them to the submission at the
last minute." As it turns out, one of these
three coins was a hidden treasure.
"At first glance it appeared to be an ordinary
Byzantine bronze, but when I turned it over I
knew it was something I had never handled
before," said David Vagi, director of NGC
Vagi consulted with Robert W. Hoge, a curator at
the American Numismatic Society, who confirmed
Martineit was overwhelmed when he got the news.
"To say the least, David made my day with his
phone call," he said. "I cannot tell you how
happy I am about this stroke of luck. NGC's
service went light years beyond anything I ever
Without proper identification, the Armenian coin
might have remained unknown until it entered the
marketplace as an ordinary Byzantine coin,
valued at perhaps $50, according to NGC.
"This is the kind of thing you expect to see on
'Antiques Roadshow' - a discovery that makes
what we do so rewarding," said Vagi. "We
normally do not grade Medieval Armenian coins,
but this case was so unusual that we made an
Originally, the surface of the coin was partly
covered with encrustation. David Hendin, an
expert in coin conservation, was enlisted to
help reveal the full detail of the coin.
Conservation was especially important since the
coin was a condition rarity, and the inscription
needed to be fully visible.
The precise attribution of the coin is debated
since it contains no indication of date or mint.
NGC says that authorities generally agree that
it is from Lori, a region in northeastern
Greater Armenia, and that it likely was struck
in the city of Tashir.
The inscription, which is the earliest
appearance of Armenian language on a coin,
translates to "May God aid Kiurike the
Kouropalates," and shows that the issuer claimed
the title Kouropalates ("charge of the palace"),
a rank awarded by Byzantine emperors to vassal
rulers of Armenia. However, scholars are divided
over which Kiurike issued the coin, some
preferring the dynast Kiurike I (c. 979-989) and
others his grandson Kiurike II (c. 1048-1100).
For more information about NGC Ancients, visit
www.ngccoin.com/ancients online. The firm can be
contacted by phone at (800) NGC-COIN (642-2646)
or by e-mail at email@example.com.