Jeff Garrett: Learn Things New and Ancient

Posted on 7/25/2019

Education is essential to succeeding as a coin collector.

During my 40-plus-year career, I have handled about every coin in the Red Book. My knowledge of United States coinage is extensive, and I spend a considerable amount of time doing numismatic research. But there is always something new to learn and new discoveries are being made constantly. Just last year, a previously unknown 1854‐S Half Eagle was discovered.

Unfortunately, my expert numismatic knowledge is pretty much limited to United States coinage. I have a general knowledge of other parts of the market, but I usually need to consult someone when offered a rare piece of currency, ancient coin, world coin, token or medal.

When I was having lunch with a young protégé recently, I told him that one of my biggest regrets was not becoming more proficient in other parts of the numismatic market. I encouraged him to continue to learn as much as he can about United States coinage but not to ignore other fields of numismatic knowledge. Any young person who wants to become a professional numismatist would be leaving a lot of money on the table if they ignore these specialties. Over the course of a long career, having in‐depth knowledge of paper money, world and ancient coins, and exonumia can pay huge dividends. I can think of very little advice for someone just getting started that would be more valuable.

Perhaps the most recognizable of all ancient mythological creatures is Pegasus, the winged horse. It appears on a silver stater of the Corinthian colony Leucas. Issued there c.320-280 B.C., it pairs the creature with the goddess Athena.
Click image to enlarge.

For years I have bought and sold ancient coins with minimal expertise. The subject of ancient coins is complex and covers centuries of production. Ancient coinage began around 600 B.C. and continued into the Byzantine era. Tens of thousands of different coin designs exist. Grading ancient coins also is complicated because the coins are hand-struck and every coin is different. Obviously, condition is very important with anything numismatic, so that is one constant.

Knowledge is power. I have decided it’s time for me to at least learn the fundamentals of ancient coin grading. I am going to take my own advice in a mini-seminar on ancient coins. The class will focus on the complex factors that come into play with grading coins of the ancient world. I have a lot of questions about grading ancient collectibles, and I’m very excited to learn as much as possible.

I encourage all collectors and dealers to learn more about numismatic subjects they are unfamiliar with. The ANA does a wonderful job with numismatic education and offers many opportunities. The ANA frequently offers two-day grading seminars at coin shows for coins and paper money. These seminars are very popular and usually sell out well in advance. Check for information about upcoming events.

The biggest annual ANA educational event is its Summer Seminars. Each year, over 300 students and instructors (many of them NGC employees) descend on Colorado Springs for a week of numismatic immersion. Many students return year after year to improve their numismatic skills and knowledge. Most also enjoy the camaraderie, and many make lifelong friends.

The Greeks did not invent coins but spread the idea throughout the Mediterranean. Persian coins of Egypt were simply imitations of the famous “owl” tetradrachms of Athens. This imitative owl was struck in Egypt c.343/2-338/7 B.C. under Artaxerxes III Okhos as Pharaoh of Egypt.

The ANA and several other organizations offer scholarships to attend the Summer Seminar. My first one was in 1974 after winning a full scholarship to study Colonial coinage with my longtime mentor, Ken Bressett. I can accurately state that my week of numismatic study in 1974 changed my life forever.

Information about the Summer Seminar and scholarships can be found at

The Summer Seminars are held in two sessions over two weeks in June or July; this year’s were held June 15-20 and June 22-27. Tons of activity happens between the classes and at night. An exciting coin show is held in Colorado Springs between the sessions.

The following is a partial list of classes that were at this year’s ANA Summer Seminars:

  • Grading United States Coins (beginner, intermediate and advanced)
  • The Business of Being a Coin Dealer
  • Detecting Counterfeit and Altered Coins
  • Detecting Counterfeit World Paper Money
  • World Numismatics
  • Collecting Roman Coinage
  • Numismatic Paper Money of Early America
  • Numismatic Publishing
  • The Modern Minting Process
  • Introduction to Numismatic Photography
  • Coin Carving: Modern Hobo Nickels
  • Collecting Mexican Coinage
  • Creating a Winning Numismatic Exhibit
  • Collecting United States Type Coins
  • Medals in America
  • Collecting Morgan Dollars
  • Early American Copper Coins

Also, several mini-classes and evening lectures are held on a variety of numismatic subjects.

One of the highlights of each session is a massive library sale of numismatic books that helps raise money for scholarships.

Please visit and download the full course catalog when it becomes available in January. Whether you attend a short course during a coin show or travel to Colorado Springs for the full experience, these numismatic education opportunities will be among the best money you ever spend as a collector.

Numismatic education is vital to be a successful collector. The more you know about the area of the hobby you have chosen, the more you will enjoy collecting.

You will also do much better financially when it comes time to sell.

Find educational NGC articles about Ancient coins here and here.

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Jeff Garrett bio

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