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Ancient Coin Prices 101

Primary Price Factors

The most significant price factor for ancient coins (and all collectibles) is "does it complete a set?" Is it a "key coin?" For example, someone collecting one coin of every emperor will pay quite a bit for the more difficult to obtain emperors. "Set completion" is why some rather dull U.S. coins cost a fortune. Someone "needs" them. What comprises a set in ancient coins can be hundreds of different things. Rarity alone means little. It is not difficult to buy an extremely rare ancient coin variety for the price of a hamburger. Rarity plus set desirability determines price. If a coin is the challenging coin to complete any type of "set," it will cost more. 

The second price factor for ancient coins is eye appeal.  Beautiful coins command premium prices.  It doesn't matter what type it is. If it has eye appeal it costs more than the same type without eye appeal. A lot more. A coin with exceptional eye appeal might be 10 or even 20 times or more the price of an unattractive example of the exact same type. Grade is part of eye appeal, but only part. Eye appeal includes grade, design, artistry, quality of engraving, quality of strike, centering, patina, preservation, and whatever else makes a coin attractive. Anything that detracts from eye appeal will decrease the price.  Eye appeal includes every aspect of a coin.  

The next most important factor in determining is popularity. The EID MAR denarii of Brutus are not the rarest nor the most beautiful Roman coins but they are very expensive because every collector wants one. Even common denarii of Tiberius cost a lot because they are tribute pennies. Coins of Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, Cleopatra, Nero, Caligula and Pontius Pilate, for example, are more expensive because most people know their names, making their coins more popular.

Gold coins tend to be more expensive than silver coins, and silver coins tend to be more expensive than base metal (copper, bronze, brass) coins. 

Larger coins tend to be more expensive than smaller coins.  A superb large Roman brass sestertius can cost far more than more most gold or silver coins.

Using Price References

The most popular ancient coin books with price guides are by David Sear. His Roman Coins and Their Values, Greek Coins and Their Values, Greek Imperial Coins and Their Values, and Byzantine Coins and their Values include values for most ancient coin types. Unfortunately, the usefulness of the given prices is limited. As discussed above a beautiful example of a coin might cost more than 20 times the price of an ugly example of the same type. No price guide can adequately account for these differences. 

Prices change over time and with inflation, so the prices given in any reference become less accurate over time. Description historique des monnaies frappées sous l’Empire Romain by Henri Cohen, published from 1880 to 1892, includes prices in French francs. Despite its age, Cohen's prices are still sometimes included in auction catalogs and dealer's coin descriptions. Although prices change, Cohen's prices are still an indicator of rarity, desirability and current price. A coin that was expensive in 1892 is likely to still be expensive today. However, even as an indicator, historical prices must be used with caution. A type that was once very rare, might be common now due to large finds.

You could try to use a price guide to estimate values by adjusting the given values for inflation and eye appeal, but your results would almost certainly be far from accurate. At best published price guides are a rough indicator of value. You simply cannot look-up the price of an ancient coin in a book.

Errors 

For ancient coins, errors are usually worth less, not more. Few ancient coins are perfect. Nearer to perfect is more desirable than flawed. Although they are few, there are some ancient coins error collectors, so a particularly attractive or interesting error will sometimes command a higher price. Typical double-strikes, off-center strikes, and damaged-die strikes are worth less than normal strikes. Most legend errors have no impact on price. Over-strikes will decrease value if ugly but might increase value if the under-type is interesting. For example, a Jewish revolt coin with a clear but not detracting Roman under-type might command a premium.

Flaws and Damage

Holed coins, broken coins, bent coins, ex-jewelry coins, clipped coins, cut coins, and other damaged coins are worth less than undamaged examples. As usual, there is an exception to every rule. For example, a coin of Caligula with his name intentionally and neatly removed due to his damnatio by the Roman senate might be worth more than a similar example with his name intact. A prutah from a documented excavation, know to have been fire damaged in the destruction of Jerusalem, is worth more than a normal example of the same type.

Local Prices

A vacation abroad is usually not the time to shop for ancient coins. Prices may be a little lower in some countries but buying local has its risks. Near ancient ruins and tourist sites, nearly all "ancient coins" offered for sale are fakes. Buying and taking home ancient coins from many countries is illegal or requires an export permit. It is not worth going to a Turkish prison to save a few dollars on some coins. It is illegal to export coins without permits (and permits are often difficult or impossible to obtain) from Italy, Greece, Turkey, and almost all of Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Sometimes, prices are actually higher overseas than they are in the U.S. Don't assume that just because you are in Israel an ancient Judaean coin will be cheaper. Unless you are a savvy haggler, it may be more expensive.

eBay Prices

On eBay, some sellers price extremely high just hoping that someone who doesn't know better, or who just assumes eBay is always cheap, will pay their crazy price. Many eBay sellers' "fixed" prices are actually "asking" prices. Typically these sellers will discount 10-25%. Some sellers list at outrageously high prices so they can offer huge "discounts" or later put coins "on sale" at 50% or even 70% off. 

Some sellers on eBay know little or nothing about what they are selling and therefore may price both extremely high and extremely low. You might get an amazing bargain from one of these sellers, but don't depend on their authentication or attribution. They are often wrong. The coin may be fake or a completely different type than they  describe.  A coin they describe as an unpublished great rarity may be very common.

[Forum's fixed prices on eBay are 15% higher than in our forumancientcoins.com shop. Obviously, you should buy them here on our website, not there. When we sell through eBay Auctions (not fixed-price), however, many auctions close at super bargain prices.]

Online Shops

The price of two nearly identical ancient coins may vary greatly depending on who is selling them. Just as Neiman Marcus is more expensive than Walmart, some ancient coin shops are more expensive than others. Expect to pay a little more from a fixed-price shop with an expert staff and guaranteed authenticity.

There are literally hundreds of ancient coin shops on the internet. Some of these "shops" are owned by well intentioned collectors who actually know little about how to authenticate or identify ancient coins. Every dealer must begin somewhere. You may find super bargains from these sellers but you should understand the limits of their expertise, ensure they offer a guarantee without time limit, and you should independently verify the authentication and attribution of the coins. [To be fair, when Forum Ancient Coins opened in 1997, it was just one well intentioned collector without much expertise. After almost two decades of intensive study and through the use of expert consultants when necessary, we can now claim expertise comparable to the finest dealers worldwide.]

Auction Pricing

It is often said that, at auction, the market sets the price. In reality, auction prices vary considerably, so "the market" is clearly not the same for every auction. It is  possible to get a coin very cheap at auction, but sometimes just two crazy buyers set a very high price for a coin.

Because beating estimates is seen as positive and not meeting estimates is a negative, auction price estimates are often low. On the other hand, some auction price estimates are clearly very high and intended to entice higher bids. In any case, as a buyer, you must determine the fair price you are willing to pay and should mostly disregard the auction estimate. 

If buying at auction or comparing the price of a coin with closed auction prices, don't forget the buyer's premium. Almost all auctions charge a buyer's premium, typically 10% - 20% of the winning bid.

Coin Show Pricing

Good buys are often possible at coin shows, particularly if you have the knowledge to cherry-pick the bargain bins. Most sellers expect you to haggle.

How to Price Ancient Coins

To price an ancient coin, we recommend the following steps: Find current online offerings and closed auctions for the same type. Arrange (mentally) the comparison examples in order by eye appeal/price (including the buyer's fees and for older auctions adjust prices to account for changes since the closing date). Put more importance on prices of coins currently for sale and more recent auction prices. Attempt to place the coin you are pricing within this spectrum and price competitively to coins with similar eye appeal. For rarer types, there may not be close examples to compare. In those cases, compare with what is most similar and/or refer to an expert consultant.

[Forum subscribes to Coin Archives Pro to obtain the best available record of auction prices. We compare prices with auctions and fixed price shops across the internet and occasionally look at eBay prices. We price competitively, at or about the same price as comparable coins. Sometimes we will price just a little higher to help a consignor who paid more for his coin. We price lower when a consignor wants quicker sales. Prices for coins that do not sell are reduced in steps of 10% or more until they do sell. If you think a coin is priced too high, just wait, it will be reduced - unless it sells first!]

Also see: ERIC - Pricing And Grading.

- 101

Ancient Coin Collecting 101
Uncleaned Ancient Coins 101
Roman Coin Attribution 101
Greek Coin Collecting 101
Patina 101
Magnification 101
Diameter 101
Die Alignment 101
Bust Types 101