When it comes to exchange rates, the euro, pound and yuan have nothing on the ancient shekel. A silver shekel from the first year of the First Jewish Revolt was presented at auction earlier this year as part of the Shoshana Collection of Ancient Coins of Judea. Going in, estimates priced the rare coin at $950,000, but when the auctioneer’s gavel finally fell, an anonymous buyer had paid $1.1 million for this small piece of rebel currency. Although publicly unidentified, the buyer is a private collector known to be generous with loans of his artifacts to museums in Israel and elsewhere.
With a Hebrew inscription “Shekel [of] Israel, [year] 1” on the front and “Jerusalem the holy” printed on the back, this silver shekel was among the very first coins minted by the Jews after the start of the revolt against Rome in May 66 A.D. In fact this shekel was among “only a handful of coins struck from this first set of dies before the design was radically changed,” according to Cris Bierrenbach of Heritage Auctions. The rebels ultimately went through three distinct shekel designs, all bearing the same legend. This shekel and another in the Israel Museum are the only two known “prototypes” from the first series that have survived.