Grades Armenian Rarity
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 included 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
1500 lots were sold in two days. One that caught
his eye was lot 1597, 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. to the
11th Century A.D. Highlights included a Roman
silver denarius of 41 B.C. 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
(NGC) dedicated to coins of the ancient world.
On his submission form, the last 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 in fact was Armenian.
The prize coin was an Armenian bronze follis of
“Kiurike the Kouropalates” from the 10th or 11th
Century A.D. Modeled after contemporary coins of
the Byzantine Empire, it belongs to the first
coinage with Armenian inscriptions. Martineit’s
example is perhaps the finest of the 19 known,
and its inscription has an unusual arrangement
that until now may not have been documented.
“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 says. “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
As it turns out, one of these three coins was a
“At first glance it appeared to be an ordinary
Byzantine bronze,” says David Vagi, director of
NGC Ancients, “but when I turned it over I knew
it was something I had never handled before.”
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 says. “I cannot tell you how
happy I am about this stroke of luck. I feel
like a kid who just got the greatest train set
it the world and cannot stop playing with it.
NGC’s service went light years beyond anything I
Without proper identification, the Armenian coin
might have remained unknown until it entered the
marketplace as an ordinary Byzantine coin,
valued at perhaps $50. “This is the kind of
thing you expect to see on Antiques Roadshow – a
discovery that makes what we do so rewarding. We
normally do not grade Medieval Armenian coins,
but this case was so unusual that we made an
exception.” Vagi adds.
Originally, the surface of the coin was partly
covered with encrustation. David Hendin, an
expert in coin conservation, was enlisted as an
outside consultant 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.
Authorities generally agree that it is from
Lori, a region in northeastern Greater Armenia,
and that it likely was struck in the city of
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 sharply
divided over which Kiurike issued the coin, some
preferring the dynast Kiurike I (c. A.D.
979-989) and others his grandson Kiurike II (c.
For more information about NGC Ancients, visit
www.ngccoin.com/ancients online. NGC Ancients
can be contacted at 1-800-NGC-COIN (642-2646) or
by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.