BY DAVID T. ALEXANDER
would be easy to draw up a list of great world rarities - coins
that would strain a king's treasury to buy. Fascination can come,
however, not only from great rarity and dazzling price records
but also from the story a coin can tell and from the historical
context in which it was written. Coins have been eyewitnesses
to the stirring and often violent events of the just past century.
Coins testify to the birth or death of nations, recall vanished
rulers and regimes, and bring revolutions and conquests into your
the opening of the 20th century, the name Israel was found only
in the Bible or as a collective word for the Jewish people in
exile. After the founding of Zionism by Budapest-born journalist
Theodor Herzl, vast effort was expended in establishing what Britain's
Balfour Declaration called a "National Home for the Jewish People"
in what had been the neglected backwater of the Ottoman Empire,
growing Arab and British opposition, Jewish immigration accelerated
in response to Hitler's wartime genocide in Europe. Unable to
resolve the Arab-Jewish conflict, the British withdrew in May
1948, after the United Nations voted to partition Palestine into
Jewish and Arab states. The Zionist leadership proclaimed the
State of Israel on May 15, 1948. Already under attack by Arab
irregulars, the new nation repelled several Arab regular armies,
emerging with greatly increased territory after three waves of
the new Jewish State, coinage had an unusually poignant significance.
A start was made toward a new Jewish coinage during the 1948 fighting
in the Mechsav cutlery factory in Tel Aviv's industrial suburb
of Holon. The fall story of this coinage emerged only after the
present writer's on-the-spot research during the 1979 American
Israel Numismatic Association study tour to Israel.
Gannoy of Mechsav modified a Bridgeport-built cutlery stamping
press to hold coinage dies cut by Saloh Kluegermann, brother of
the firm's owner. Moshe Neudorfer of the new Israel Treasury brought
the reverse (value-side) die to the factory every working day
and a slow, laborious striking commenced.
25 mils was a 30mm coin of 97 percent aluminum, 3 percent magnesium,
bearing a plain edge. The obverse depicted a bunch of grapes taken
from a bronze prutah of Herod Archelaus (circa 4 B.C.). The stylized
reverse wreath was adapted from coins of John Hyrkanos (135-104
B.C.) and was used in the later prutah series.
exact number of coins bearing the Hebrew date 5708 (1948) is unknown,
but certainly small. Little attention was paid to such details
in the midst of war. A substantially greater number was struck
dated 5709 (1949). The coins' overall quality disappointed the
Treasury, and they were released only because of the serious coin
shortage following the British withdrawal and the following war.
5708-dated 25 mils (KM 8) is virtually unknown in choice uncirculated.
What might be called "basic uncirculated" examples with typical
marks and planchet defects catalog at $850 and sold for much more
when the Israel market was booming.
5709 pieces are of two varieties. The open link with widely spaced
arcs at the top of the wreath catalogs at $150.-. Closed link
coins in uncirculated condition catalog at $25.-