Getting Started With
Ancient Coins

Alexander the Great lifetime silver tetradrachm from Macedonia, c. 325-323 BC


IN A NUTSHELL: Ancient coins can be intimidating at first. They almost require that you read, study, learn. But this can open up a fascinating world -- the past -- which can shed marvelous insights about the present and perhaps the future as well.

 

People involved with ancient coin collecting, for the most part, start out as collectors of modern coins. They move on because they find ancient coins more compelling.

In the minds of those who collect ancient coins, for one thing, there's more history. An early U.S. coin may have been touched by Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Hancock, or other Founding Fathers, but an ancient coin may have been touched by Thales, Pythagoras, Xenophanes, Democritus, Hippocrates, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Euclid, Archimedes, or others whose thinking formed the very basis of Western civilization. Age, by itself, is intriguing, and the older, the more intriguing.

There's also more beauty, particularly with the ancient coins of Greece. U.S. coins often considered the most attractive, Saints, Walkers, and Standing Libs, for instance, imitate the timeless designs of ancient Greek coins. Ancient Greek coins, initiated soon after coins were invented, are considered the pinnacle of numismatic art. Ancient Roman coins can be beautiful as well, though their history is typically their stong suit.

Despite their history and beauty, ancient coins are typically not more costly than modern coins but less. As with modern coins, there's a huge range of pricing, from very high to very low. Among lower priced ancients, a Maximian follis is a bronze coin just about exactly the same size and weight as a U.S. large cent. But this 1,800-year-old Roman coin in extra fine condition typically costs just $25, about half of what a common-date large cent costs in the same condition. You can find smaller fourth century AD Constantinian bronzes in this condition for $10.

The reason for pricing like this is supply and demand. On the supply side, billions of ancient Greek and Roman coins were minted over more than a millennium, and unlike with modern coins, availability increases as numerous ancient coins are dug up from the ground each year in source countries such as Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey, and Israel. On the demand side, there are fewer collectors of ancient coins than modern coins.

In a nutshell, though modern coins have their considerable attractions, you can't beat ancient coins for their awe/cost ratio, at least according to ancient coin collectors.

But ancient coin collecting can be intimidating, at first. Ancient coins almost demand that you be a numismatist, that you study and learn. There are no albums you can buy and fill with neat, orderly acquisitions. Similar looking coins can be minted in entirely different countries. Counterfeits are a reality, greater than with modern coins because ancient coins were struck by hand and are much more varied in style, thus easier to fake.

Because of all this, the maxim "Read the book before you buy the coin" applies even more to ancient coins than to modern ones.

But today, you can surf the Net first, to dip your toe in the water. Then, if you're still drawn to these magical totems from times long gone, you can dive in further. Here's one way to go, a basic ancient coin guide for beginning collectors:

Read these Web sites

Out of their love for ancient coins and as a service to others, a number of ancient coin collectors have put up informational Web sites, usually lavishly illustrated with coin images. A number of dealers include useful instructional information at their Web sites as well.

Doug Smith's Ancient Greek & Roman Coins
This is the most comprehensive collector site about ancient coins on the Web. Doug has written and illustrated more than 100 pages of information, including pages on coins of various Roman emperors and Greek city-states, coins of the "barbarians," judging the attractiveness of ancient coin styles, ancient coin glossaries, plated and countermarked coins, coin photography, and stereo microscopes.

Warren Esty's Ancient Roman and Greek Coins
You'll find good advice here about buying and selling ancient coins, various collecting strategies, women on ancient coins, grading, and fakes.

Brad's Introduction to Ancient Coins
This site deals mostly with Roman coins, but this is where a lot of people get started, as ancient Roman coins are on average are about one-third the cost of ancient Greek coins. You can read about buying and storing, identifying and attributing, grading, and fakes.

Dennis Rider's Ancient Cash
Using a clever image map of a real map of the ancient world, you navigate to Rome, Greece, Macedonia, Asia Minor, Egypt, and elsewhere. Once there, you see and read about examples of the coins that were minted in these locales, and you also read background historical information about the places themselves.

Tom Buggey's Ancient Coins: In Praise of the Celators
Here you'll find a complete list of Roman emperors, a list of Roman mints and mint marks, a list of Roman coin denominations, common abbreviations, maps of ancient Rome and Greece, astronomical symbols on ancient coins, nominations for the most beautiful ancient coins, and tips for new collectors with a limited coin budget.

The Money Museum
An offering from Germany with an English version, this site has lots of information about money in general, including coins. There's material about ancient, medieval, and modern coins, coin production, how the eagle got on coins, lions on coins, women on coins, and more.

Bearers of Meaning
This scholarly site hasn't been added to in a while, but the information is still useful. You'll find essays about ancient coin production, portraiture, and other subjects as well as a catalog of ancient coins with detailed descriptions.

Joe Sermarini's FORVM Ancient Coins
You'll find tools to help you identify Roman coins and decipher Greek letters, articles on various topics, active discussion forums, maps of the ancient world, and a searchable forgeries database.

Barry & Darling Ancient Coins
One of the best ancient coin informational sites from a dealer, this site provides a plethora of information covering coin hoards, cleaning ancient coins, spotting counterfeits, the origins of ancient coins, deciphering Roman inscriptions, and ancient mythology.

Classical Coins
With more excellent information from a dealer, Dave Welsh, this site offers an introduction to collecting ancient coins, including the attractions of ancients, how they were made, cleaning and preservation, grading, denominations, and more.

Harlan J. Berk
This site includes a number of articles from HJB, a well-respected ancient coin numismatist and dealer, dealing with ancient Greek, Roman, and Byzantine coins.

Pegasi Online
You'll find a whopping 127 articles here about various topics related to ancient coins, though most are short, introductory pieces. Most of the articles describe the history and numismatic output of various regions of the ancient world.

Indo-European Chronology
Here's a site about history, not about coins, but it provides excellent background information about the people who minted and used ancient coins and the places where they lived.

Browse these Web sites for pricing, attributions, and pictures

You can also find excellent information on the Web about ancient coin pricing, attribution, and counterfeits.

Wildwinds
This site provides the descriptions of and many prices realized for  Roman, Greek, Byzantine, Celtic, and British hammered coins, from from eBay as well as directly from collectors. This is a good place to go when you're looking for information about your coins or for information about what coins you may be interested in have sold for.

Ancient Coin Search Engine
Ancient Coin Search Engine provides the descriptions and prices realized of ancient coins from European and U.S. auction houses, which typically are higher end, and higher priced, than those sold through eBay.

CoinArchives.com
This used to be the top ancient coin search site. But when it went to an executive-pricing business model, at $600 per year for full access, usage dropped off.

Helvetica's RIC Lists
Dozens of lists of common Roman bronze types in XLS or OpenOffice Calc format, either according to reverse type or emperor. The lists have dropdown columns to limit the lines until you find your coin. The lists include thousands of types not in RIC. Some lists of Greek and Roman Provincial coin types are also available. Compiled by the inimitable "Helvetica" of Wildwinds.

Identifying Late Roman Bronze Coins
This is a great site, from Manuel Pina and Javier Marín of Spain in both Spanish and English, for doing what its name suggests, identifying Roman bronze coins minted from 317 to 498 AD based on obverse and reverse type and obverse and reverse legends.

Virtual Catalog of Roman Coins
This site focuses just on Roman coins, but it's a quick and easy way to view and read about and identify representative Roman Imperial coins of various emperors and Roman Republic coins of various time periods.

Jencek's Ancient Coins and Antiques
This site provides a search engine for obverse legends of Roman coins along with a list and description of Roman emperors and a handful of articles on other subjects.

Calgary's Modern Fakes of Ancient Coins
Here you'll find excellent information and photos of counterfeits of ancient coins, including types of modern fakes, how to recognize forgeries, and recommended books for further study.

Barry & Darling Ancient Coins' Counterfeits and Counterfeiters
This site also includes good information and photos of fakes of ancient coins, such as ancient counterfeits, methods of manufacture for modern counterfeits, ways that counterfeits were detected in ancient times, and punishment for counterfeiting.

Buy or borrow a book or several books

Ancient Coin Collecting by Wayne Sayles
Six volume set -- first is an overview and may be all you want -- plus a seventh book about forgeries titled
Classical Deception.

The Handbook of Roman Imperial Coins by David Van Meter
Introduction to the hobby and overview of the most commonly collected and affordable ancient coins.

Roman Coins and Their Values, Greek Coins and Their Values, Byzantine Coins and Their Values, Greek Imperial Coins and Their Values, etc. by David Sear
The standard general cataloging works for ancient coins, with each set providing a representative sampling of the most frequently encountered coins along with attribution information.

Coinage and History of the Roman Empire by David L. Vagi
Excellent history and background about ancient Roman coins.

Collecting Greek Coins by John Anthony
Engagingly written and organized primer for collectors of ancient Greek coins.

Archaic and Classical Greek Coins by Colin M. Kraay
Best scholarly book about earlier ancient Greek coins.

Early Hellenistic Coinage: From the Accession of Alexander to the Peace of Apamea (336-188 B.C.) by Otto Mørkholm
Best scholarly book about later ancient Greek coins.

If you still want more information

Borrow specialized books about subareas of interest to you from the
American Numismatic Association, provided you're a member, for the cost of round-trip shipping, or buy them from various book sellers that specialize in ancient coin books.

Spend a day (or days) poring through coin journal articles at the
American Numismatic Society -- search through their holdings at their Web site first -- or have the ANS mail you copies at 25 cents/page with a $10 minimum.

Periodical about ancient coins

The Celator
Excellent monthly magazine primarily written by collectors and dealers about ancient coins and occasionally artifacts as well.

Online discussion groups about ancient coins

One of the best ways to learn more about coins, ancient or otherwise, is to participate in one or more of the many online discussion groups about them. There's a rough and tumble side of online discussions -- conversation can quickly turn to debate which can in turn quickly turn to argument. But most people are friendly and eager to answer questions.

Most of the discussion groups about ancient coins are e-mail based and take place through Yahoo Groups. You can elect to have all messages e-mailed to you individually as soon as they're posted or as a group once a day. Or you can choose to read messages through Yahoo's Web site, though this is slower.

The purpose of most of the following discussion groups is apparent from the group's name, and when it's not, the purpose is included in parentheses.

Moneta-L (general)

ancientandmedievalcoins (general)

ACM-L (buying and selling)

romancoincom

RomanProvincialCoins

CoinsRoman

CoinsGreek

CelticCoins

islamic_coins

CFDL (Coin Forgery Discussion List)

ACFDL (Ancient Coin Fakes and Deceptions List)

Uncleanedcoins

UncleanedAncientCoins

(ABM) Ancient Bulk Marketplace

Useful Web-based discussion groups about ancient coins in particular or coins in general include those at
FORVM, Ancients.info, Coin Talk, and Coin People.

The most active online coin discussion group is the Usenet newsgroup
rec.collecting.coins (RCC), though most discussion there is about U.S. coins. You can access it through a newsreader such as Forte Agent, an e-mail program with newsreading capabilities such as Microsoft Outlook Express, or the Web at this page.

National organizations in which ancient coins play a major part and which publish periodicals in which ancient coins play a major part

American Numismatic Society

American Numismatic Association

Royal Numismatic Society

Swiss Numismatic Society

Hellenic Numismatic Society

Italian Numismatic Association

Israel Numismatic Society

Local clubs in U.S.

Ancient Coin Club of Los Angeles

Orange County Ancient Coin Club

San Francisco Ancient Numismatic Society

Pacific Ancient Numismatists

Ancient Coin Club of Chicag

Twin Cities Ancient Coin Club

Ancient Numismatic Society of Washington, D.C.

Massachusetts Ancient Numismatic Association

Classical & Medieval Numismatic Society (Canada)

U.S. coin shows where ancient coins are a major emphasis

New York International Numismatic Convention
January
kfoley2@wi.rr.com

Chicago International Coin Fair
April
kfoley2@wi.rr.com

Ancient coins have a smaller but still significant presence at the major U.S. coin shows, including the two ANA shows, the three Baltimore shows, the three Long Beach shows, and the F.U.N. show. Depending on the specific show, ancient coins may or may not have a presence at local coins shows. Sometimes a small number of dealers collaborate on putting together a local ancient coin "bourse" in a hotel or similar meeting place to sell their wares.

Woefully incomplete list of recommended dealers

Occasionally expensive but world-renowned dealers based in U.S.:

Classical Numismatic Group (CNG)

Harlan J. Berk/Curtis Clay

Freeman & Sear

Jonathan K. Kern

Other well-known auctioneers based in U.S.:

Dmitry Markov

Ponterio & Assoc.

Good dealers/good deals:

Robert Kokotailo
Calgary Coin & Antique

Perry Siegel
Herakles Numismatics

Dave Welsh
Classical Coins

Marc Breitsprecher
Ancient Imports

John C. Lavender
Atlantis

Barry P. Murphy

John J. Jencek
Jencek's Ancient Coins & Antiques

Glenn Simonelli

Trustworthy value-priced auctioneer:

Frank Robinson

Value-priced mail-order catalog dealers:

Kirk Davis
kirk@ancientgreek.net

Wayne C. Phillips
909-629-0757

European auctioneers of ancient coins (alphabetical order):

Argenor Numismatique

AstArte

Baldwin's

CGB-CGF

Elsen

Galerie Numismatique

Gorny & Mosch

Kuenker

LHS Numismatik (formerly Leu Numismatics)

Münzen & Medaillen

Numismatica Ars Classica

Numismatik Lanz

Peus

Tkalec

Ancient coin auction malls:

VCoins

SixBid

MA-Shops

eBay


eBay can be a good venue for bargains, since selling costs are relatively low there and Eastern European direct sellers and collectors can sell directly to consumers (collectors) as well as dealers. Coins there often sell for about half of what they sell for elsewhere (though sometimes they sell for more). eBay is best for lower-end coins (there are exceptions here too), with other venues generally being better for coins that are less commonly seen or are in very well-preserved condition.

eBay, however, is also a risky place to buy ancient coins (and artifacts), since anybody can sell there and many buyers aren't experienced or sophisticated. Counterfeit scams are common, and eBay typically does little or nothing to stop them, with many scams lasting months or even years. The percentage of scam ancient coin auctions at any given time on eBay has been estimated to be as high as 10 percent (the percentage of scam ancient artifact auctions has been estimated to be around 50 percent).

Unless you're an expert about a particular coin type and the ways of eBay, it's safer to buy only from recommended eBay sellers such as those below and to avoid buying from anybody not recommended. Despite the risks, it can sometimes also make sense to buy on eBay from what appear to be collectors selling duplicates or heirs selling entire collections. You can get advice about particular auctions or sellers from from online discussion groups such as
Moneta-L and FORVM. It's better to ask there than of me because you'll get more opinions. I cover eBay fraud in more detail, including ways to prevent yourself from becoming victim, here.

The following is a list of trustworthy eBay sellers, based on my own and others' experiences. These recommendations, of course, aren't a guarantee. This is a fairly comprehensive list of reliable active sellers of ancient coins on eBay, but it's not a complete list. The eBay sellers below are listed according to the number of eBay unique feedbacks they've received. Their eBay I.D. is on the second line, and the number of eBay feedbacks at the time of this writing is on the third line.

The number of feedbacks is a factor of how long the seller has been selling on eBay and in what quantity. It generally is one indication of reliability but may not necessarily be in all cases. If you want to further gauge reliability, look at the percentage of negatives received (positive feedback percentage) and calculate the ratio of members who left a positive feedback to all positive feedback received (a relatively low ratio means many repeat buyers), comparing both with other sellers.

Dimitre Genov, Ancient Auction House
ancientauctionhouse.com, ancient_auction_house_uk
13,872

S.P.Q.R.
s*p*q*r
12,193

Plamen Arsoff, Ancient Treasures
ancient_treasures
10.453

Hubert Lanz, Numismatik Lanz
numismatiklanz
7972

Herb Chavarria, Nemesis Ancients & Antiques
nemesiscoins
5670

Ilian Lalev, Ancient Caesar
ancientcaesar
4911

Lee Johnson
oldcoinman
4222

Clark Smith, Gold Hill Coins
clarksmith
3297

Joe Sermarini, FORVM
forvm
2748

Jerome Holderman, Rusty Romans
rustyromans
2667

Alex Stanichev, Cameleon Coins
cameleoncoins
2528

Joe Karon, Atlantic Treasure Coins
littlejoe8668
2513

Gantcho Zagorski
dianacoins/paganecoins0oh6
2509 (plus previous history selling on Yahoo Auctions)

David Hendin, Amphora Coins
amphoracoins
2165

Mike Malter, Malter Galleries
maltergalleries, malter-galleries
1882

Harlan J. Berk
hjb-ancientcoins
1852

John McIntosh, Ancient Artifacts & Treasures
mcintosh55, bbucklan
1832

Tom Mann
frascatius
1757

Blake Davis, Mortown Ancient Coins
mortown
1297

Andrew Metz, Agora Coins
agoracoins
1043

Kevin Barry, Barry & Darling Ancient Coins
tiberius
961

Glenn Simonelli
gsimonel
805

Jim McGarigle, Polymath Numismatics
polymath_numismatics
690

David Tranbarger
dltcoins
649

Serge Nechayev, Mithras Ancient Art
victoram
647

Mike R. Vosper Coins
vivienne5592
642

Ras Suarez, Dirty Old Coins
dirtyoldcoins
620

Zach Beasley, Beast Coins
beastcoins
570

Tom Wood, formerly Chi-Rho Ancient Coins
twood*xp
572

Joe Winnett, JW Numismatics
kerux99
577

Leisa Waggoner
momsquared
566

Brad Bowlin, Eukratides Ancient Numismatics
eukratides
519

Joseph Mastrario, Imperator Coins and Antiquities
imperator_coins
510

Tony Jaworski, Common Bronze
commonbronze
363

Parviz Ahghari, Pars Coins
parscoins
251

Brett Telford, Southern California Coins
southerncaliforniacoins
239


Translating the German, French, etc., with mostly understandable results

Google Translate

AltaVista BabelFish Translation

Currency conversion

XE.com

 

Coin Fraud

Counterfeit Coins

Grading Services

Coin Toning

Coin Cleaning

Coin Prices

Censorship

Compulsion

Coin Holders

Coin Photography

Pocket Pieces

Coin Jewelry

Ancient Coins

Ancients Market

Ancients Grading

Attributing Ancients

Language and Ancients

 Looting and Coins

Coin sites:
Coin Collecting: Consumer Protection Guide
Glomming: Coin Connoisseurship
Bogos: Counterfeit Coins
Pre-coins

© 2013 Reid Goldsborough

Note: Any of the items illustrated on these pages that are in my possession are stored off site.