By Jeff Garrett for Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) ……
Ancient coins are extremely popular because of their historical importance, artistic merit and affordability.
This year’s ANA convention was held in Anaheim, California and dealers from the United States and around the world were in attendance. Collectors were there in force, but in numbers that were less than average for the World’s Fair of Money. The collectors that did attend, however, were there to buy coins. Our table was very busy from start to finish. We had a large selection of merchandise, which I have stated many times is one of the keys to success in today’s market. Another important factor for success these days is diversity of merchandise. Mid-American Rare Coin Galleries offers everything from Colonial coinage to double eagles. We also offer an interesting selection of NGC ancients coinage.
When walking around the bourse floor of the ANA this year, I was amazed by how many rare coin dealers are now offering ancient coins. I would estimate that 20-30% of the tables had ancient coins as part of their inventory for sale. This is a huge change from just a few years ago. In the past, most of the ancient and world coin dealers were closely grouped in a small section of the bourse floor. Now, ancient coins are sprinkled throughout the convention. Even the largest companies in the world (Heritage, Stack’s Bowers and others) have staff and inventory devoted to ancient coinage.
There are many reasons for this huge change in the way American rare coin dealers view this segment of the market. One of the most important has been the acceptance of third-party grading for ancient coins. The NGC Ancients program, led by David Vagi, has given buyers and sellers the tools to deal in this somewhat complicated part of the rare coin market. Buyers are now more comfortable with ancient coins because of the expert attribution and grading that NGC Ancients offers. They are also on the forefront of weeding out counterfeits. In the past most collectors of ancient coins wanted to hold these relics of the past, but many now have decided that the security of third-party certification far outweighs this single benefit.
Alexander III ‘the Great’ Tetradrachm
Ancient coins are also extremely popular because of their historical importance. Most have great stories and colorful characters attached to them. Who can resist a silver tetradrachm struck around the time Alexander the Great died in 323 BCE? Few people in history had a greater impact on the world than this Macedonian King. He conquered much of the Western world and established coin mints throughout his empire. Julius Caesar is also one of the best known names in history. The coinage of Julius Caesar tells an intriguing story, including his ultimate fate as commemorated on the famous “Ides of March” denarii of his lead-assassin, Brutus. The story of the Roman Empire is well told in its ancient coinage, and collecting this area of the market is an endless pursuit.
One of my favorite parts of the ancient rare coin market are the incredibly beautiful coins of ancient Greece and its surrounding empires. Many of these coins are collected more for their artistic merit than their rarity or historical significance. The coinage of ancient Greece has had an impact on coin designs for two millennia. Augustus Saint-Gaudens was highly influenced by Greek coinage. One of the all-time great coins of the ancient world is the Syracuse decadrachm from c.405-370 BCE These coins are incredibly beautiful and are among the most desirable coins ever struck. If you could own just one ancient coin, this should be it!
Septimus Severus Denarius
Ancient coins are also popular because of affordability. Many very interesting ancient coins can be purchased for less than $200 US. This includes a large number of different Roman silver denarii, which occasionally show up in large groups. They are amazing works of ancient art that can be purchased for very modest sums. Ancient gold coins are much more expensive in most cases, but are relative bargains compared to scarce American gold issues.
The field of Ancient coin collecting includes a vast number of issues. Coins were first struck around 650 BCE and continued to be issued until the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 CE. However, most also consider the field of ancient coins to include issues of the Byzantine Empire, which ended in 1453.
As has been my advice over the years, I highly encourage you to research any part of the market before jumping in too deeply. There is a tremendous amount of scholarly work on the subject, but a basic “beginners” book you might try is 100 Greatest Ancient Coins by Harlan Berk. I would also recommend subscribing to the many auction houses for their catalogues. These have an incredible amount of information and it is very informative to see what actual coins sell for. In this regard the best resource is CoinArchives, which can be accessed free of charge on NGC’s website.
I have been dealing in ancient coins for several years, but I am by no means an ancient coin expert. Over the years I have sought out mentors in this area of the market and I suggest you do the same. There is no substitute for experience and your learning curve will be helped by working with a dealer that gives great advice.
Silver Eagles are great to collect, but I doubt anyone would find them nearly as interesting as coins of the ancient world. If you are looking for a numismatic challenge, give ancient coins a close look. You will be hooked!
Questions about the rare coin market? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Images courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group, Inc
About Jeff Garrett
Jeff Garrett, founder of Mid-American Rare Coin Galleries, is considered one of the nation’s top experts in U.S. coinage — and knowledge lies at the foundation of Jeff’s numismatic career. With more than 35 years of experience, he is one of the top experts in numismatics. The “experts’ expert,” Jeff has personally bought and sold nearly every U.S. coin ever issued. Not a day goes by that someone doesn’t call on Jeff Garrett for numismatic advice. This includes many of the nation’s largest coin dealers, publishers, museums and institutions.
In addition to owning and operating Mid-American Rare Coin Galleries, Jeff Garrett is a major shareholder in Sarasota Rare Coin Galleries. His combined annual sales in rare coins and precious metals — between Mid-American in Kentucky and Sarasota Rare Coin Galleries in Florida — total more than $25 million.
Jeff Garrett has authored many of today’s most popular numismatic books, including Encyclopedia of U.S. Gold Coins 1795–1933: Circulating, Proof, Commemorative, and Pattern Issues; 100 Greatest U.S. Coins; and United States Coinage: A Study By Type. He is also the price editor for The Official Redbook: A Guide Book of United States Coins.
Jeff was also one of the original coin graders for the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS). He is today considered one of the country’s best coin graders and was the winner of the 2005 PCGS World Series of Grading. Today, he serves as a consultant to Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC), the world’s largest coin grading company.
Jeff plays an important role at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Numismatic Department and serves as consultant to the museum on funding, exhibits, conservation and research. Thanks to the efforts of Jeff and many others, rare U.S. coins are once again on exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American History. We urge everyone who visits Washington, D.C., to view this fabulous display.
Jeff has been a member of the prestigious Professional Numismatic Guild (PNG) since 1982 and has recently served as president of the organization. In 2009 and 2011, Jeff ran successfully for a seat on the Board of Governors for the American Numismatic Association (ANA), the leading numismatic club in the world. and he is currently the ANA President.
NGC Ancients Currently Available on eBay