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Million dollar ancient silver shekel highlights world's greatest private Jewish coin collection
Prototype year one shekel, one of two known specimens. Estimate: $950,000.

NEW YORK, NY.- The first silver shekel struck in Jerusalem by Jewish forces rebelling against Roman oppression in the first century CE, one of only two specimens known, will be auctioned as part of The Shoshana Collection of Ancient Coins of Judea, March 8-9, at the Fletcher-Sinclair Mansion (Ukrainian Institute of America) at 2 East 79th St (at 5th Ave.). The auction begins on March 8 at 6 p.m. ET.

The Shoshana Collection, assembled over the course of four decades by an American collector of Judaean coins, is perhaps the greatest assembly of ancient coins related to the foundation of ancient Israel ever offered, with more than 700 coins spanning more than 11 centuries. Auction estimates on the coins range from $200 to $950,000.

“This Year 1 silver shekel, struck shortly after the Jewish War began in May of 66 CE, is the prototype for all subsequent shekels,” said Cris Bierrenbach, Executive Vice President of Heritage Auctions. “Only a handful of coins were struck from this first set of dies before the design was radically changed. Only two ‘prototypes’ have survived to the present day, with the only other known specimen in the Israel Museum’s collection.”

In fact, the Israel Museum has stated that it would like to acquire many of the coins from The Shoshana Collection and has a “wish list” available to potential bidders interested in purchasing coins from the auction and donating them to the museum’s collection, or in making them available on long-term loan. This can be done through the American Friends of the Israel Museum, a tax-exempt organization.

“The revolt against the Romans sent shock waves throughout the Empire,” said David Michaels, Director of Ancient Coins at Heritage. “As soon as the Romans fled Jerusalem, the Jews set up a mint and began striking coins to celebrate their newfound freedom, 19 centuries before Israel was reborn.”

“All the coins in this collection are beautiful examples of their respective types,” said Bierrenbach. “Combine that with the sheer historical witness they can bear and you begin to understand just how special they are. It has been decades since examples of many of these coins have sold at auction.”

“This is a remarkable collection of ancient Jewish and Biblical Coins,” added David Hendin, author of the widely read Guide to Biblical Coins and primary cataloguer of The Shoshona Collection. “Testimony to the rarity and quality of the coins in the Shoshana Collection is that so many of them have been used to illustrate standard references or have come from important collections such as that of Abraham Bromberg and the late Teddy Kollek, mayor of Jerusalem.”

Also highlighted is another extreme rarity, a silver quarter-shekel of Year 1 (May 66-March 67 CE). Again, only two surviving specimens are known. Since the only other survivor has a hole in it, the Shoshana specimen is the only one known intact.

“Consider that this coinage was adopted by the Jewish freedom-fighters under incredibly stressful conditions,” said Michaels. “With a full range of denominations, it’s both starkly beautiful and remarkably advanced.”

A silver shekel of Year 5 (April-August 70 CE), pedigreed to the famous Nelson Bunker Hunt collection and reportedly found at the mountaintop fortress of Masada – one of the most holy Jewish pilgrimage sites – is certain to draw the eye of as many numismatists as it is historians.

“Shekels struck in the final year of the Jewish War are exceedingly rare,” said Michaels, “let alone one of them from the final year that made it to Masada, the last redoubt of the Jewish Rebels who held out for three years before committing suicide as a final act of defiance against Rome.”

The collection also contains Roman coins relating to the Jewish War.

“The Romans responded to the revolt with utter ruthlessness,” said Michaels. “Their forces were led by the general Vespasian, who soon became emperor himself, and his able son Titus.”

An incredibly rare gold aureus of Titus as Caesar (69-79 CE), struck at an Eastern mint in 69 CE, provides a different perspective to the bitter conflict. The reverse legend IVDAEA DEVICTA – “Judea is Conquered” – anticipates the subjugation of Judaea, which the Romans achieved with the fall of Jerusalem, after an epic seven-month siege, in 70 CE.

All of the coins will be available for viewing at the Fletcher-Sinclair Mansion from Tuesday, March 6 through Thursday, March 8, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The collection includes the earliest Philisto-Arabian coins struck in the Holy Land (circa 500-400 BCE), as well as coins issued by the Maccabbean and Herodian rulers of independent Judaea, by Jewish rebels in the First Jewish War and Bar Kochba Revolt and coins struck by the Romans with references to their Eastern province.

“Numismatists, history buffs and aficionados of fine Judaica alike are all invited to come out to the Fletcher-Sinclair,” said Bierrenbach. “The auction is open to the public. Whether people want to buy or simply bear witness the history, everyone is welcome.”

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