Collecting Ancient Coins

Posted on 10/20/2016

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 ancient 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 B.C.? Few people in history had a greater impact on the world than this Macedonian King. He conquered much of the Western world and established 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.

Syracuse Decadrachm

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 B.C. 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. 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 B.C. and continued to be issued until the fall of the Roman Empire in A.D. 476. However, most also consider the field of ancient coins to include issues of the Byzantine Empire, which ended in A.D. 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 the 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. To learn more about CoinArchives, see this article.

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

Jeff Garrett bio

Images courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.

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