Ugly Object of the Month — September 2016

SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator of Conservation

ugly_sept
Athenian tetradrachm. Silver. 4th century BC. KMA 85513.

Money, money, money. If you take the time to really look at the money you carry around, you will probably notice two things: most of it is dirty, and it also looks pretty weird. Pretend you’ve never seen U.S. currency before and look at it carefully: there are shields and seals, birds, buildings, strange symbols, and people with crazy hair.

I really like this coin because it’s ugly in a special, money kind of way. Dirty, corroded, and tarnished, it’s got an odd-looking woman on one side and a weird little bird on the other. And — like a lot of ancient coins — it wasn’t made all that well in the first place. It’s super crooked, in fact. But, back in the day, it was legit because it’s very recognizable as an Athenian owl coin. These coins were widely used throughout the ancient classical world. On the front is the head of the goddess Athena, facing to the right. On the back – another symbol of Athena and Athens — a small owl. I think the one shown above is especially cute. You can see six of these cute-ugly owl coins for yourself at the Kelsey; they’re on view now in the special exhibit Less Than Perfect.

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