Tuesday, June 21, 2016

From Tyre Lebanon to Chiclayo Peru in 2300 Years

I have had a fascination with ancient Egypt for as long as I can remember. There was a time when I could recite the names and reigning dates of each Pharaoh. I knew the dates of discovery of each tomb uncovered in the Valley of the Kings. Now I’ve forgotten much of what I knew and it’s been a few years since I read an Egyptian history book, but I still never miss a documentary on television or any news articles about recent discoveries.

I always dreamed about going to Egypt and actually touching one of the pyramids of Giza, or the Sphinx, and maybe even being able to buy some small artifact to bring home with me. Well…a trip to Egypt hasn’t happened and probably never will. But I didn’t have to go to Egypt to get an Egyptian relic.

I was 16 when I bought an Egyptian coin at Gimbel’s Department Store in 1956 with my second paycheck earned selling shoes during summer vacation. It cost $35 which was a lot of money at the time and why I had to use two paychecks. I kept it in a suede leather pouch in a dresser drawer when I left the house. I didn’t dare take it outside for fear of losing it. In the house it was always in my pocket so I could take it out, hold it and think about the people who handled it in those days and what their lives might have been like. Gradually over time the coin spent less time in my pocket and more in the drawer. I’d guess that in the last 20 years I haven’t taken it out more than a dozen times, and then only when I stumbled across it while looking for something else.

I didn’t know much about the coin when I bought it. The certificate of authenticity stated the metal was bronze and that the head of Zeus was represented on one side, with two eagles on a thunderbolt on the other. It took me awhile to make out Zeus’s face. He’s in profile, facing to his left. The certificate also said the coin was minted during the reign of Ptolemy II, who ruled Egypt from 283 to 246 BCE. This period in Egypt's history is called the Greek Dynasty. Egypt’s glory days were a thousand years in the past, but I didn’t care; it was still an Egyptian coin, predating Cleopatra by 200 years. While doing some internet research a while ago I learned that there were four mints producing coins during Ptolemy’s reign but as near as I can determine only one of them; the mint in the city of Tyre, now in present day Lebanon made double eagle coins. I would love to know the path it took from Tyre about 2300 years ago to a Milwaukee department store.

I had learned where and when the coin was made but one thing that puzzled me was the holes in the center of both sides of the coin. I had always assumed that someone had for whatever reason done that after the coin was made, but I recently learned that the holes resulted from a polishing process in the final production step. A tool very similar to a flat bladed wood drill bit was used to polish the coin and remove any rough edges. The holes were made by the center index of the tool.
Recently when I came across the coin again I sat down for a moment, held the coin and remembered my excitement when I bought it. I felt a tug of regret when putting it back in the dresser. The coin deserved something better than being relegated it to a dark drawer for another 20 years. I dismissed the notion of a small display case to hold it and several other unique items that have special meaning to me. We have enough dust-gathering items scattered around the house.

Several days later I noticed that Maribel was wearing the necklace and earrings that a silversmith in Monsef├╣ had made for us partially from my design six years ago. With periodic polishing the jewelry still looks as if it were made yesterday. I had seen coin jewelry but it never occurred to me that maybe mine could become part of a bracelet, necklace or broach. Two days later we were in Monsef├╣ talking with the silversmith about possibilities for the coin.

This is the result of that discussion. No more sitting in a drawer for this coin. Though its new home will be a jewelry box it will frequently be out in the public eye, hopefully being appreciated by those who notice it (and if they don’t notice it I’ll tell them about it!). The chain and metal holding the coin are copper. Other options were gold or silver, but we both felt shiny copper would be the most attractive combination with the coin’s tarnished bronze color. The irregular shape surrounding the coin's contour was necessary because we didn't want the coin altered.

Maribel wears the necklace proudly and I feel good about the coin once again seeing the light of day. I wonder about its future. Who will the next owners be? Will it continue as a part of a necklace? Where will it go when its time in Chiclayo is over? I’ll never know the answers to those questions, but I’m content to enjoy the coin’s present circumstances.

1 comment:

  1. a most interesting story and a beautiful solution to the problem.