Historic Flip of Coin It Happened in Constantinople at Landmark Ceremony for Civilization

By Dionne Searcey Of the Chicago Tribune | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), August 26, 1996 | Go to article overview

Historic Flip of Coin It Happened in Constantinople at Landmark Ceremony for Civilization


Dionne Searcey Of the Chicago Tribune, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


FLASHBACK to a ceremony 1,666 years ago in Constantinople, formerly Byzantium, currently Istanbul.

A sudden blast of a horn halts the small talk among soldiers and toga-clad dignitaries on this day in early May, and all in attendance turn their eyes to a balcony high above their heads.

Out walks Constantine the Great. The crowd cheers, then hushes as he begins a speech officially declaring the city as the "New Rome" and establishment of the Christian capital.

For Christians, the declaration meant the end of persecution, reducing considerably the fear of becoming a lion's lunch. Constantine, too, scored himself a sweet deal, moving his empire's capital away from Rome, where feisty barbarians lurked near the Danube River, and into a land of greater economic prosperity.

There was great reason for celebration as Constantine tossed coins minted just for the event to the crowd.

Pity the poor mope who had too much to drink that day in 330 A.D. and dropped his coin to the ground as he stumbled home.

This scenario, as envisioned by Chicago coin dealer Harlan Berk, is just one possible explanation of where that coin has been.

It could have been hidden in a hillside, or maybe it was buried with family treasures or in a grave - alongside the body of a wealthy politician.

Regardless, the coin's home now is in the hands of Berk, a Chicago coin dealer and historian who recently spotted it at a coin show.

Such a coin has never before surfaced; historians weren't even positive it existed.

Research proved the half-dollar-sized coin was of historic significance, so Berk bought the coin - for considerably less than the $600,000 value he now places on it - from a dealer who didn't quite realize the coin's history. …

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