ISRAELS FIRST COIN
BY DAVID T. ALEXANDER

It 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 hands.

At 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, Palestine.

Despite 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 struggle.

To 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.

Yosef 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.

The 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.

The 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.

The 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.

The 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.-

25 mils, 1948


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