One of the amazing aspects of coin collecting is how many different types there are to collect. Among them, ancient coins hold a mystique that few collectors can avoid. Collecting ancient coins, though, can be tricky, and one must know several tips to build and maintain a valuable collection.
10 top tips for collecting ancient coins are:
- Insist On Reputable Dealers
- Insist On A Guarantee
- Insist On A Receipt
- Get International Purchase Paperwork
- Ship Certain Coins Separately
- Insure What You Can
- Safeguard Your Collection
- Be Wary Of Scams And Fraud
- Don’t Blow Your Life Savings
- “Too Good To Be True” Does Not Exist
There’s a lot to know about collecting ancient coins, but it adds a lot of fun to the hobby of coin collecting. With the right research and actions to avoid any potential pitfalls and traps, you could be holding Greek or Roman-era silver in no time. Let’s take a closer look at the ins and outs of collecting ancient coins.
Are Ancient Coins Worth Collecting?
Ancient coins are worth collecting if doing so is an exciting and fulfilling prospect. But the question depends on a few different factors. First, what is is your definition of “worth?” Why are you collecting ancient coins, or even thinking about doing so? Are you in it for the money or the hobby?
As an investment, unless you can afford to pay for extremely rare coins, ancient coins are probably not the way to go. Most are simply not that unique, and ancient coins that are unique get purchased by larger collectors quickly. That said, if you are looking for a modest way to diversify, ancient coins might be worth the investment.
If you are collecting ancient coins for the historical context, that’s another matter. You can find ancient coins across the world from just about every known culture, starting with the Lydian Lion, from about 610 BCE. Depending on your interests, you can find an ancient coin that covers just about every historical period, and most are surprisingly affordable.
That brings into consideration the third motivator for starting an ancient coin collection: Ancient coins tell a story and are fun. Holding in your hand, for example, a coin that a Roman Caesar might have held is both interesting and fun.
Those three factors into the value of an ancient coin collection contribute heavily to the discussion of whether ancient coins are worth your time or not. The only instance where ancient coin collecting is not worth it is if the collector is using them as an investment.
The Importance Of Experience With Worth
Apart from that, the other consideration is the extensiveness of your knowledge of the coin market. This is important, because even more than coins considered “current,” the ancient coin market is rife with fraud. If you don’t know the ancient coin market and what to look out for, trying to collect ancient coins on your own is asking to be swindled.
A new collector would be best served to find a mentor that has experience in collecting ancient coins. Having someone to rely on for good advice when making coin purchases is advisable for everyone, but particularly for new coin collectors that may not be aware of the nuances of the coin or the ancient coin market.
If, however, a mentor is not available, a new coin collector may still decide to enter the ancient coin market. If that is the case, the best advice to keep collecting ancient coins worth the money is to only work with established, reputable dealers. This greatly reduces the chances of someone trying to take advantage of a newbie.
Collectors that have experience beyond the novice stage, particularly if they have purchased ancient coins on the open market, may want to branch out into the world of ancient coins. For these collectors, a mentor is still a good idea until they get their feet wet. If one is not available, collaborating with reputable dealers is a must.
An advanced collector has the best chances of not being taken advantage of. This is because that collector will have experience dealing with older coins, fakes, scams, and will know the reputable players in the coin collecting and ancient coin collecting industry.
Why Do People Collect Ancient Coins?
People collect ancient coins for their value, for their history, and for fun. Even if an ancient coin has no particular value or worth, a history buff may still enjoy the feeling of owning an ancient coin. That said, there’s a lot that goes into these three motivations.
The value of ancient coins depends on the coin in question. Value also fluctuates. Depending on the price of precious metals, an ancient Roman coin made of gold or silver can rise and fall with the market. Occasionally, the bullion price of gold overtakes the value of a coin. Coins can be a financial security hedge, but they should not be considered as a primary investment instrument.
Another vein of value is the collector that purchases rare coins to resell at a profit. This strategy can also apply to collecting ancient coins. It also runs the risk that an investment in coins will devalue if the coin market devalues. As such, the only time this application of value as a collection motivator should apply is if the collector has no concerns about money.
History is probably the greatest motivator of ancient coin collectors. Every coin, even one minted this year, has a tale to share. An ancient Roman coin tells the story of the Caesar in power and what type of person had the coin in their possession (merchant, soldier, peasant, etc.). It can provide a window into the cultural influences of the time and what motivated Roman citizens.
Generally, countries put images that were important to their politics or society on their coins. Seafaring nations, for example, often had ships on their coins. Ancient Roman coins usually had a Caesar on the front side and militaristic images on the backside. Other topics of coins in the ancient world include animals, landmarks, national crests, and government buildings or monuments.
Much like today, a coin presented an aura of power and prestige. Ancient rulers or ruling political groups wanted images that projected their status. The historical context of a coin can override all other value equations. It can make a relatively worthless piece of metal very valuable. That also drives the coin market in general.
If you like history, ancient coins are a blast. It is really that simple. It can be a thrill to hold something from 200 BCE or older. As such, collecting ancient coins provides you with a fun and exciting way to celebrate your interest in history.
Ancient coins are also a great conversation starter. Many people have at least a passing interest in old things. Old coins, particularly ancient ones, can interest even those poor souls who do not like or appreciate history.
Pros Of Collecting Ancient Coins
Now that we know what ancient coins might be “worth,” There are some pros to collecting ancient coins. In addition to being a fulfilling hobby, you may be able to find some financial value in it from time to time, and the historical value of it speaks for itself.
There Is Some Money In It
You won’t be able to retire on your ancient coin collection unless you are investing in extremely valuable ancient coins. Some ancient coins, however, are valuable. Austin Rare Coins & Bullion, a very reputable ancient coin vendor, sells ancient Roman coins ranging from a few hundred bucks to over $10,000.
Again, unless you are extremely wealthy, you are unlikely to spend $20,000+ on a coin. You may, however, want to buy a gold Roman coin for a few hundred bucks or a silver Roman coin for the same. The value to your collection would be the face value of the coins, unless you have other coins that would help sell your collection as a “set” of rare, ancient coins.
Ancient Coins Are Extremely Interesting
It is fascinating to hold a piece of history in your hand, even if you do not know the history of that coin exactly. A Roman gold coin from Nero’s reign, for instance, is very interesting, even if you have no idea how it was used. Additionally, the various images on ancient coins give you a fascinating look into what was going on at the time.
Recently, in Jerusalem, a rare gold coin minted during the reign of Nero was discovered. The coin, called an aureus, bears Nero’s visage. The interesting aspect of the coin, is the inscription “PONTIF MAX TR P III.” This designation is important because it puts Nero as the sanctioned religious head of Rome.
It also was the type of coin only a wealthy individual would possess, and it was the first of its kind found in Jerusalem. The average ancient coin collector may not ever come across a piece with that type of significance, but what they do purchase or add to their collection is no less interesting.
Cons Of Collecting Ancient Coins
For as many pros as there are to collecting ancient coins, there are, however, some cons. The world of ancient coins can be expensive, and it is rife with fraud. Here are the cons of collecting ancient coins in more detail.
Collecting ancient coins can hurt you in the wallet. You can find some coins cheaper than others, but most of the highly desired coins will cost you some money. If you are only interested in gold and silver coins, collecting ancient coins can get very expensive.
The most significant con to collecting ancient coins is ensuring that a coin you want to purchase is legitimate. Fraud is a problem with any collectibles, but particularly with coins because of their monetary value. If you collect stamps, for instance, you may never see one that is worth more than $100 but you will routinely see ancient coins that are worth that and more.
Another con is the value placed on each coin. Coin values fluctuate, and while a collectible will never fluctuate drastically, it may depreciate. This is particularly true if you purchase a coin that is unique but not rare. If more coins are found making yours common, you could lose money on your investment.
Ancient Roman Coins vs Ancient Greek Coins
There are many types of ancient coins you can collect, but by far, two of the most popular are Greek and Roman coins. While the basics are the same, each country’s coin is unique to the other in several ways.
Artistry And Imagery
Greek coins tend to be more detailed. Roman coins tend to focus detail on the rulers on the coin. An ancient Greek coin, for example, may have a detailed image of a city or landmark. Roman coins tended to have detailed visages of Roman Caesars, even down to including idiosyncrasies in their appearance. Both coins had animals on various coins, but the Greeks tended to use them more.
Greek coins tended to avoid using profiles of people. When the Greeks did use profiles, they were anonymous or obscured. Roman coins tended to highlight a person or a major event. For example, a popular Roman coin included Brutus’ Ides of March. Roman coins also featured Gods on the back of a coin as well.
Whereas Rome was an empire, Greece was more of a collection of nation-states. Thus, Rome had one currency that stood as fiat for the Roman government and the Empire of Rome. Greek currency tended to be individualized to a nation-state, which could make common acceptance more difficult.
Weight And Shape
Roman coins had a standard weight. It was common for coins to be weighed as part of transactions to ensure a customer had not shaved off part of a Roman coin. This practice has been common whenever precious metals are involved. The practice involves shaving off a very small portion of many coins and then melting the metal to create one piece of precious metal.
To address that, Rome had standard weights for different types of coins. During a transaction, if a customer or merchant suspected shaving had occurred, they could verify the value of a coin by its weight.
In Greece, many different types of currency created an opportunity for unscrupulous merchants and buyers. Shave off enough gold, for example, and you could amass quite a bit of bullion. By the 5th century BCE, Greek coins all had a standard weight.
Early Greek coins came in many different shapes, and early Roman coins were lumps of bronze. Eventually, ancient Roman coins were ingots decorated with different designs. By the third century BCE, a standard Roman coin shape was implemented. The standard shape also allowed for a standard weight to be developed for each type of coin.
Both ancient Roman and Greek coins are common in certain denominations. Greek coins tend to be more common in a silver variation. The Tetradrachma, for example, is considered very common because a lot were made, and they were used in trade throughout the known world. Some Greek coins, like the Tetradrachms Aeolis Kyme, are fairly rare, as is the Corinthian Stater.
Likely because of advances in coin minting, Roman coins tend to have more variety and be more available in affordable denominations. Additionally, the Romans made more gold coins, which are valuable because gold itself so valuable. As mentioned, a collector can purchase silver coins for under $150 and gold coins that cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Ancient Roman and Greek Coins Summary
Both Roman and Greek coins offer exceptional design and beauty. Both are affordable for the average collector and have pieces that are worth a lot of money. Both are popular with collectors.
Roman coins tend to be easier to find and less expensive, but it is possible to find ancient Greek coins that are affordable as well. With each, however, fraud can be an issue. A collector, no matter their experience, should always verify an ancient Roman or Greek coin is authentic.
The collector should also have the coin weighed, particularly if it is sold as an official weight of an ancient government. While it is unlikely the dealer shaved anything off, there is no way of knowing what happened to it before the dealer purchased it.
10 Tips For Collecting Ancient Coins
1. Insist On Reputable Dealers
You should never purchase a coin billed as ancient if you cannot verify the reputation of the dealer. For argument’s sake, “dealer” in this sense is anyone that is trying to sell you a coin. If the dealer is not able to verify they are reputable, you should take measures to ensure you are not cheated.
Those measures include insisting on references from legitimate collectors and/or dealers and mandating the seller prove the coin’s authenticity. You can also insist on a full refund return policy if you find out the coin is a fake and ask for a second opinion in person and on live video
If you want to buy the coin but it cannot be verified, insist on a discount to cover your risk.
Follow up with references and do your due diligence if the dealer does give you a few names to contact. Ask those individuals what transactions they have completed with the dealer, how much they paid, and how much and how satisfied they were. The experiences of other people can be very useful to making sure yours is acceptable.
Beware of any reference that is effusive in their praise. This may indicate they were put up to praising the dealer. Also, try and verify that the reference bought a coin similar to the one you are considering purchasing.
Finally, keep your perspective. With rare exceptions, no single coin will make or break your collection. Walking away from a sale that you are suspect of will only save you money. If the dealer is legitimate and can verify the coin is authentic, they will find a way to show you the value and lineage of the coin.
2. Insist On A Guarantee
Every transaction you agree to beyond $25 or so should have a guarantee that covers the authenticity and value of the coin and your satisfaction with it. If the seller has no guarantee, suggest they do so in writing. If they balk, reconsider your purchase.
The seller may not want to guarantee a coin because they may not be fully aware of what they’re selling. In that case, have a third-party assessor look at the coin and verify their authenticity. If your seller still refuses, consider that a red flag and cancel the sale. You don’t want to find out after buying they wouldn’t guarantee their product because it’s fake or not worth the given price.
3. Insist on a Receipt
A receipt shows what you paid for the coin or coins. Make sure you have one in case you ever need to take the dealer to court. Instances where that might happen include, but are not limited to:
- The coin is fake
- The coin’s value is significantly less than advertised
- The coin is stolen property
- The coin is involved in another lawsuit or is part of a lien on property
4. Get International Purchase Paperwork
International purchase paperwork is important to buy ancient coins internationally in a safe and legal manner. If you are purchasing a coin or coins from an international source, make sure you get the following:
- Official Declaration of the Country of Origin (of the coin)
- Official name of the dealer
- The specific coin involved
- The coin’s value
- Certification or authentication paperwork
These documents will serve as proof of purchase, authenticity, and, as far as you know, legality. The most important of all these documents is the certification paperwork. If an international dealer cannot prove to you that they are legally selling you the coin or coins in question, terminate the sale. You can always ask them to hold your sale and get the requested information.
5. Ship Certain Coins Separately
If purchasing a coin or coins from an international dealer, make sure what you want to purchase does not have any import restrictions. If it does, insist that it be shipped separately from coins that do not have import restrictions. There are two reasons for doing this:
First, coins with restrictions must clear different hurdles and can get bogged down in importation paperwork, authorizations, and requirements. Second, your coins that do not have import restrictions will get to you sooner. Verify You Have Required Paperwork for International Sales
Before paying anything, verify that your coins come with certification of legality and legal compliance with restriction requirements, a certificate of authenticity, and all pertinent information related to contacting the dealer. This is to ensure that any insurance claims you file will be honored. Missing paperwork can negate any coverage you have in the event your coins are damaged or stolen.
6. Insure What You Can
You should insure your coin collection as soon as you can unless there is relatively little value to the collection. As soon as you purchase anything of value over $100 or your coin collection exceeds that amount, you should insure it.
You should also insure any international purchases of coins for at least the term of travel needed to deliver your coins to you.
7. Safeguard Your Collection
Nothing negates insurance coverage quicker than not safeguarding your coins. You should buy a safe for your collection, even if you do not have any coins of high value. A safe makes sure no one can take your collection easily and it lets you store loose coins before you do anything to present them.
You can also store any associated paperwork in the safe. The safe you buy should be both fire and waterproof. A fireproof safe, at minimum, is essential, particularly if you have paper currency or collection associated paperwork.
8. Be Wary Of Scams and Fraud
For better or worse, coins are an easy target for fraudsters. This is particularly true for ancient or specialty coins. Forging those can make someone committing fraud a lot of money, even if your coin is not worth all that much.
Be wary of internet scams. Make sure anyone that you deal with is in good legal standing and can show you a history of reputable sales. Also, if a dealer or seller cannot prove to you the authenticity of a coin, assume it is a fraud.
9. Don’t Blow Your Life Savings
If you are just starting out, or even if you are just starting to purchase ancient coins, do not mortgage your home to buy a coin. Start small, get familiar with the market, what is out there, and for what to watch out. Make sure you understand any sales fully and ask questions about anything you are not sure about.
While the temptation might be to buy as much as you can afford as soon as you can, it pays to research the coins and make sure you are buying one you will appreciate years from now. Taking your time also will let you decide if you are a “quality” or “quantity” person.
Collectors that focus on quality of their pieces are concerned with buying fewer coins that hold special significance. They may pass on bulk purchases in favor of knowing exactly what they are paying for. Taking time to learn the coins for sale also lets the collector determine if they want to focus on specific ancient coins.
For example, a buyer might want to exclusively buy Roman coins of specific time periods. Or they might decide they only want coins from the Middle Ages or coins from countries outside of Europe. There is almost no limit to what path a collection can go.
A quantity collector has a goal of amassing as large and interesting a collection in as fast a timeframe as possible. That might mean they forego extremely expensive or rare coins in favor of smaller denomination, more common coins. Focusing on coins in this manner can also have several different faces.
Perhaps a quantity collector will highlight coins used by everyday folks. Or maybe they will only focus on coins made of non-precious metals. Or they may only care about specific types of coins, such as collecting ancient shillings. Their focus is to build a collection based on volume.
10. “Too Good To Be True” Does Not Exist
If a deal looks like it is too good to be true, it is. Do not fall into the trap of thinking you are getting a bargain. In almost all cases, you are not. Most dealers, even reputable dealers, do not sell something at a loss, so it makes sense they are not giving you a bargain they make no money on.
Carefully consider any coin purchases and ask yourself if what you are paying is fair. If you are getting an asking price that is way below market value, it could be because the coin is fake, not as advertised, or the seller is naïve about what they have.
Whether you tell the seller they are undervaluing a coin is up to you, although you will almost always gain an ally by doing as such. If, however, the dealer or seller does not seem like they are making a mistake, they are probably relying on your greed to help make a sale where you pay too much for what you are getting.
The 5 Best Ancient Coins To Collect For Beginners
Collecting ancient coins is a wonderful hobby, especially if you’re a history buff. But if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the scope of this centuries-long hobby, there are a few good ways to get started. Rather than going for the rarest of coins from the get-go, settle into your new collection with a few basics.
The 5 best ancient coins to collect for beginners are:
- Widow’s Mites Coins
- Silk Road Hoard Coins
- Silver Drachm
- Greek Coins From Alexander The Great’s Time
- Roman Prutah
These coins are usually common, affordable, and filled with history. Even if you don’t want to pursue this hobby any further, you’ve already amassed a collection bound to satisfy yourself and impress others. Let’s look at these beginner coins in more detail.
1. Widow’s Mites Coins
A mite, or “prutah,” was a coin that factored into the story of “Jesus and the Widow’s Mite.” It was the lowest-denomination coin of the time. These coins are common and affordable.
2. Silk Road Hoard Coins
These coins were used when the 7,000-mile Silk Road was the main trading conduit from China to the Middle East. The Silver Hemidrachm was the most famous Silk Road coin and was favored by merchants. This type of coin is attractive, packed with history, and is a world traveler.
3. Silver Drachm
A silver drachm was allegedly the coin given by the Wisemen to celebrate the birth of Jesus. It was a favored coin of the time and carried primarily by merchants and the wealthy. It is also exceptionally common and easy to secure a genuine article.
4. Greek Coins From Alexander The Great’s Time
Any Greek coin from this era is an exceptional piece of history. These coins are also common. Featuring Heracles and Zeus, they were struck for decades after Alexander passed on, which ensured there would be many in circulation. Some are exceptionally rare and valuable, but finding an affordable lower denomination from this time is relatively easy.
5. Roman Prutah
The bronze Pontius Pilate Prutah were the last coins struck before Jesus’ death. They were circulated all over the Roman Empire. While there is no guarantee a Prutah purchased made its way through Jerusalem, it is a fairly good bet it was heavily circulated throughout the Roman Empire, so you never know.
Ancient Coins are fascinating, affordable if you are careful, and a wonderful way to get started collecting coins. Each one comes with its own story and is a window into the past. If you are interested in amassing ancient coins, follow these tips and you will have a collection to be proud of in no time.