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Ancient Coins – Value and rarity


The value and rarity of ancient coins can be overwhelming, as they were struck by hand for more than 1,000 years.

Some rare types commemorate important historical moments in western civilization’s history, while others are the pinnacle in artistic and technical achievement. There are some types so rare that they are only found in a small number of examples today. However, there are also many types that collectors can obtain on a budget. Any collector can determine the relative rarity and value of ancient coins with some diligence.

The World’s First Gold Coin. Stater minted by Croesus of Lydia 560 – 540 BC. (16mm, 10.76 g). Obverse: Lion facing right, bull facing left. Reverse: Incorporate punch marks.

Online Research

Start your research online. You should also check out popular auction sites, such as Sixbid.com or Vcoins.com. Sixbid, a popular coin auction site that hosts many auctions every year from more than 100 reputable auction house around the world, is an excellent place to start. It’s fun to follow and participate in these auctions. Vcoins has over 130 dealers, and more than 90,000 ancient coin for sale. These websites help coin collectors estimate the value by using online tools.

Attending coin conventions is another great way to find out the value of your coins. Many top dealers will gather to sell their items to the public.

Let’s evaluate some popular ancient coin types from each of the two largest and most abundant groups in ancient numismatics: the Greeks and Romans by considering a few examples that are among the finest coins ever produced in the ancient era.

Augustus Aureus, issued in 8 B.C. depicts his honorary title and military tribute on reverse.

Ancient Greek Coins

Considering Greek coins, let’s start at the beginning in the archaic period and evaluate the first gold coin ever struck and its availability on the market. In the late 7th Century B.C., King Alyattes was often credited as the first ruler who issued coins. King Croesus was his son and he ascended to power in 560 B.C. and was an innovator with his father’s coin system. Croesus would take his father’s invention and refine it further, producing the world’s first gold and silver coinage. Croesus’ coinage became the first bimetallic and interrelated monetary system in the world. The stater shown here has an obverse that features a lion facing the right to represent the strength of the kingdom, and a Bull facing the left to represent virility.

This rare early Lydia coinage can command a premium, depending on its condition and denomination. Vcoins only had one stater, and a few 1/6 staters or trites in total out of 90,000. A gold Croesus stater in extremely fine condition can sell for $200,000, while a less-fine example can be worth $20,000. Even with these high prices, collectors are still able to obtain smaller denominations like a three-gram trite in fine condition for $2,000 to $5,000.

Fast forward to the Classical age, which is regarded by many as the peak of ancient Greek Art. Syracuse’s tetradrachm, which was struck between 415 and 409 BC, is an excellent example of coinage from this period. The city-states that issued the coins employed talented engravers in order to create artistic depictions of their cities. On the reverse, this coin shows a quadriga (chariot) being drawn by four horses. Nike, the goddess who brings victory, can be seen fluttering to the right, crowning the charioteer in a wreath. The reverse features an exquisite rendition Arethusa. She is a nymph who lives in a sacred spring of the colony. Only 33 coins were found at Vcoins, or 0.04% of the 90,000. This coin is available for around $1,000. However, the rarity and value of this coin increases dramatically with its condition. Auctions can bring up to $20,000 for a fine example.

The eventual conquest of Greece by the Macedonian King Philip II and his son Alexander the Great would bring a close to the Classical period, and usher in a new era called the Hellenistic period by Alexander’s death in 323 B.C. Alexander issued a large number of coins during his reign. One of them was a tetradrachm with Herakles depicted on the reverse. Herakles refers here to Alexander, who claimed his family descended directly from the famous hero. Zeus, revered in Greek Mythology as the King of Gods and Men, is shown on reverse. Searching revealed that only 360 examples were available at Vcoins. This is 0.4%. The price of a very good example is around $200. However, a very fine one can be worth up to $2,000 in a very high condition.

These famous types of Greek coins can command a premium on the current market. Even so, there are many Greek examples that can be purchased by modest collectors. Vcoins’ search revealed a wide variety of Greek staters in silver and gold, ranging from $200 to $20,000 Vcoins has a 90,000 coin database. Greek coins make up over 20% of that. Many of these coins range from $50 to $500.

Silver Tetradrachms from Amphipolis Struck near the end Alexander’s reign. Circa 323-320 B.C.

Roman Coins: How to Value Them

Roman coins are a great way to start collecting. Vcoins offers Roman coins in about 60% of its total coin selection. Even though Roman coins are plentiful, the rarer types can fetch a higher price at auction.

This coin was issued at the beginning of 44 B.C. and displays Julius Caesar on the obverse with the Latin inscription “CAESAR DICT QVUART” which translated means “Caesar Dictator for the Fourth Time.” This was the first time a Roman leader appeared on their coinage, quite a statement at the time when the Roman Republic was ruled collectively by Consuls and the Senate. The reverse shows the Roman goddess Juno Sospita (also known as the Savior for Rome), a tribute to Caesar’s efforts to save Rome. This coin is rare, as there are no examples at Vcoins. It can be found at auctions from around $3,000 to $60,000 if it’s in very fine condition. Despite this coin’s rarity, there are silver Roman denarius available in general. Vcoins has over 7,000 denarii from different emperors, many of which are priced between $50 and $500.

In the aftermath of Caesar’s death, his great nephew Gaius Octavius (Octavian) became the heir to most of his fortune. A wide range of coins were struck during his reign to commemorate all his accomplishments. He continued to amass titles, and he set about systematically restructuring the Roman Republic into an hereditary monarchy. The Roman Empire began to form at the dawn of the new era. By 27 B.C., the Senate had bestowed upon him the honorific title Augustus, or the “Illustrious One.” The coin reveals Augustus on the obverse facing right, with his heir Caius Ceasar on horseback with standards of the Roman army displayed in the background. Roman gold coins are difficult to find, especially in good condition. The majority of examples available on the market range between $3,000 and $100,000.

Julius Caesar Denarius, struck in 44 B.C. First time a Roman ruler appeared on a coinage.

Ancient Coin Market

About 65% of the 91,000 coins that were surveyed were Roman, and about 23% were Greek. Roman coins can be found in much better or very fine condition than Greek coins. You can get a variety of Roman and Greek coins for between $100 and $400 each. An analysis of the current market shows that a collection can be assembled at a reasonable price. Most collectors will be able to build up a decent collection by selecting coins that are in good condition and at the lowest price.

COINage published this article on ancient coin value. To subscribe Click here to learn more. Timothy M. Ryan. All photos courtesy Classical Numismatic Group, LLC, cngcoins.com.

COINage Magazine published the first article Ancient Coins: Rarity and Value.

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