Make amazing historical connections by holding coins that were part of the cogs of commerce millennia ago
By Jeff Garrett for Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) ……
When walking around most bourse floors at conventions these days, I am amazed by how many rare coin dealers now offer ancient coins. I would estimate that 20 to 30% of the tables at most shows have 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 auction 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 important segment of the market. One of the most important has been the acceptance of third-party grading for ancient coins. The NGC Ancients coin 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 offers. In the past, most collectors of ancient coins wanted to hold and feel these relics of the past. Many have decided the security of third-party certification far outweighs this single benefit.
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 300 BCE for Alexander the Great? Few people in history had a greater impact on the world than this Macedonian king. He conquered most of the known world, and established mints throughout his empire.
Julius Caesar is one of the best-known names in Roman history. The coinage of Julius Caesar tells an intriguing story, including his ultimate fate, which was depicted on the famous “Ides of March” issue. 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 rarity. The coinage of ancient Greece has had an impact on coinage designs for two millennia. Augustus Saint-Gaudens was significantly influenced by Greek coinage.
One of the all-time great coins of the ancient world is the Syracuse decadrachm from around 300 BCE. These coins are incredibly beautiful, and one the most desirable coins ever struck. If you could only own one ancient coin, this should be it!
Ancient coins are also very popular because of affordability. Many very interesting ancient coins can be purchased for less than $200 USD. This includes a large number of different Roman silver denarius issues. Large groups of these show up on occasion and are amazing works for 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 coins collecting includes a vast number of issues. Coins were first struck around 600 BCE, and most consider ancient coins to include issues through the Byzantine Empire, which lasted until 1453 CE.
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. Start with some of the more basic works, and one I highly recommend is 100 Greatest Ancient Coins by Harlan Berk. I would also recommend subscribing to the many auction houses for their catalogs. These have an incredible amount of information, and it is very informative to see what actual coins sell for.
You could also consider attending the ANA seminar “An Introduction to Collecting Ancient Greek and Roman Coins”, a two-day class being held August 12 and 13 at the Philadelphia Marriot Downtown. The class is being taught by Kerry Wetterstrom, a world-class expert on ancient coinage. The seminar costs $234 for ANA members and is designed specifically for new and beginning collectors of ancient coins.
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 greatly helped by working with a dealer that gives great advice.
Morgan silver dollars 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 might become hooked.
Some images in this article are courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group (CNG)
Also, be sure to check out CoinWeek’s ancient coin expert Mike Markowitz’s “Ancient Coins for Beginners” —Eds.