Excellent informaiton in this thread from many experienced collectors, but some of the information ran a little far afield from the intial questions.
Which region do you think it's best to collect; Roman, Greek, Byzantine or Celtic? Is it better to get a coin in really nice condition or something in lesser condition but truly rare?
Two excellent questions for a beginner, but as pointed out by others, there is no simple answer.
Which region do you think it's best to collect; Roman, Greek, Byzantine or Celtic?
The best answers I could muster to this with my limited experience have already been given to this.
Definitely buy what interests you.
This is one of the best responses to this question. What history are you interested in? I like Roman history myself given the scope of the Roman empire coupled with the contemporaneous sources of the time. Specifically, I like the late Republic/Early empire. Something about the transition from republic to empire on such a grand scale appeals to me. Thus, my collection reflects late Roman Republic, Imperators, and 12 Caesars for the most part. Others may prefer the artistic appeal of Greek coins, or the history, art, or availability of Byzantine coins. Others may be called to the art, rarity, or history of Celtic coins.
Look around here, and elsewhere at what is available. As you look around, find what appeals to you. As others have suggested, buy one or a few of each and hold them in your hand. Does one type of coin appeal to you over another after holding them? This can help you decide what to collect.
Traditionally Romans are the place to start because (a) their Latin legends and Imperial portraits or Republican family names make identification easy (b) you don't have to rely on expertise in style so much to weed out suspicious coins (c) they are cheaper.
This is the other response that spoke to me on this question. Initially, I found ancient coins because of their biblical connection. I accumulated some Jewish bronzes in that regard because of their connection with biblical history. Despite the resources here and Aarmale's best efforts, I could not decipher the Hebrew legends.
Greek coins were, and are, of interest, but the Greek is more challenging to me than the Latin, and the Greek coins that appeal to me are more expensive than the Roman ones that speak to me. Not to settle, but as a matter of appeal, after I had a few Jewish, Greek, and Roman coins, for these reasons, and my areas of historic interest, Roman coins became my area of initial collection in ancient coins after dabbling in several areas.
Is it better to get a coin in really nice condition or something in lesser condition but truly rare?
Another excellent question for a beginner, but as you have seen from responses of those with more experience than I, one with no universal answer. Some collectors prefer to accumulate many common coins in a lesser condition, while others prefer only pristine or rare coins in his or her collection. Like the question of what area to collect in, no approach is right or wrong, but rather, this is a matter of personal preference. I agree with those who recommend multiple affordable (which usually means not rare or pristine) coins to begin with until you decide what appeals to you individually.
Most of us probably could agree we enjoy learning about the context of our coins as part of the fulfillment of our collections of what ever scope, quality, are area. This means reading, researching, and learning. As with anything, the learning curve to begin with is steep. There is no need to buy expensive books to begin with, as in the modern age, you can learn so much on the Internet to get you going. Whatever your area of interest, you could (as I did and have), read the information here at the Forvm for hours upon hours.
1. Discussion Board. You can learn volumes worth of information by just reading the posts here on the discussion board. Read the threads with broad scope first, before you read those with a more narrow scope. Many of the more important or notable discussions are "tacked" to the front of each board with a red thumb tack.
2. Articles for beginners. There are countless possibilities, but a few to get started:
a. Ancient Coin Collecting 101. http://www.forumancientcoins.com/numiswiki/view.asp?key=Ancient
Coin Collecting 101 (number 3 on numiswiki, must be decent
b. Doug Smith's site. http://www.forumancientcoins.com/dougsmith
. This was one of the best sites for beginners outside the Forvm I found when I was getting started, and now, it is hosted here at the Forvm.
c. Warren Esty's site with pages for beginners. http://esty.ancients.info
. One of the best, non-Forvm, sites for beginners I know of.
These online resources will give you hours of reading. As others have pointed out, if you want more, or just prefer books, there are numerous, low cost, books to aid beginners. Esty gives a good summary of some books. From my experience, here are a few goods ones:
a. The Handbook of Roman Imperial Coins, Van Meter. This was a good resource for me for Roman coins. Available here at the Forvm with a discount if you get a coin with your purchase. http://www.forumancientcoins.com/catalog/roman-and-greek-coins.asp?param=34175q00.jpg&vpar=1231&zpg=82&fld=http://www.forumancientcoins.com/Coins2
b. Ancient Coin Collecting I, Wayne Sayles. I found this to be a good overview of ancient coin collecting. I liked it so much, I went overboard and got his Greek and Roman books. By that point, I had learned so much here, that they were too basic, and I don't recommend any of Sayles' books beyond I. Sorry Wayne.
There are some good threads here on the Discussion Boards about books.
No plans to bid on ebay... though if it were a graded coin ...Yet it seems not too many ancients are graded,
No grading of ancients as with modern coins. See Doug Smith's pages for an overview of grading.
it must be harder to admire the coin when it is in the case since the prongs cover the edges of the coin
Many of us would free an ancient coin from a slab if it were encased (entombed). I look at slabbing ancient coins as a travesty. One of the things I love about ancient coins versus moderns, is the ability to hold and handle the coins.
Since I'm an attorney by trade, of course I must include a disclaimer. These are my opinions. Like anything, the advice given here is subject to debate and dispute. As with anything, ask 3 ancient coin collectors a question, and you are likely to get 5 different answers. The advice given here is free, and you often get what you pay for. Collectors with a lifetime of experience have already chimed in and give their opinions on your questions before I put my 2 cents in anyway. First and foremost, have fun, and collect what you like. Welcome to the Forvm.