Intro to Ancient Coin Collecting

Coin collecting is a vast and intriguing hobby. For many areas of coin collecting, like American coins, the objective is rather simple as one can a procure a price guide, such as Whitman’s Red Book. For other areas, such as ancient coin collecting, however, the hobby is more complex as there is not a true price guide. (Yes, there is the Sear’s Roman Coins and Their values series and Seaby’s Roman Silver Coins, but these books do not include a majority of rarer types and varying conditions.) To make ancient coins collecting easier, I will outline a simple step-by-step method to aid new coin collectors.

The first key to building an ancient coin collection is assessing the rarity of a coin. For this, I will demonstrate with a denarius of Commodus whose attribution is RIC 259a. This coin of Commodus has his portrait on the obverse and a iconography-loaded scene on the reverse with the personification of Africa handing an ear of grain to Commodus, who is portrayed as Hercules. In the pre-internet world, the way to assess the rarity of the said coin was to look it up in The Roman Imperial coinage volume. Now, however, there is a simpler way. On, one can search “Commodus + RIC 259a” and find how many of this type have sold at auction. This coin has a little over a dozen results and is therefore quite rare.

The item of secondary importance in ancient coin collecting is assessing the condition of a coin. For ancient coins, the condition varies from worn flat to as struck state, or in more coin collecting terms “Good” to “Fleur de coin.” An easy way to grade condition is to examine the ear of a portrait. Ancient coins are concave in nature and the ear represents the highest point on the coin. If the ear is intact and not worn the coin is in high grade. If the ear is worn, the grade is diminished to at least “very fine” state. Another factor involving the condition is how the coin is struck. Unlike modern coins, ancient coins were not struck by a machine, but by hand and due to this, ancient coins are often off-centered.