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Scarcity and Rarity

Also see ERIC - Rarity Tables.

Rarity ratings for ancient coins in sales catalogs, including FORVM ANCIENT COINS' catalog are based on some or all of the following:

- Published rarity ratings when available (such as those in Roman Imperial Coins below).
- The number of examples in published collections and other references.
- The number of examples in certain hoards.
- The number of examples sold in auctions over the past years.
- The number of examples currently on the market.
- The number of examples on the Internet websites.
- The number of examples handled by the cataloger or dealer in the past.
- The knowledge and experience of the cataloger.

An exact degree of scarcity and rarity of ancient coins is rarely certain. Also, the rarity of a type can change if a new hoard is discovered. Often coins that were once listed as rare in references are only cataloged as scarce and coins that were once scarce are cataloged as common today. Although unusual, a cataloger may also believe a coin is rarer than a published rarity rating or the number of examples in collections implies. Highly desirable coins are found in disproportionately high numbers in publications and collections because they were sought for each publication or collection with greater effort than other coins. Such coins may actually be quite scarce or rare. Also, the cataloger may know or think a published rarity rating is in error.

Another rarity consideration is how narrowly the type or variant is defined. A rarity rating might apply to the general type or to a narrowly defined variety. A particular coin of a short reigning emperor may be listed as common but overall the coins of that emperor are much rarer than those of Constantine, for example, who issued millions of coins. Yet, many Constantine variants are identified as rare or even extremely rare. Rarity might even refer to a specific mint workshop (officina) or control mark on the coin. The same issue applies to Greek coins. The coins of a city in general might be common or rare, but even in a city that issued many coins, the coins of a specific magistrate, with a certain monogram or a specific control mark might be unpublished and thus rare. Rarity is sometimes based on an obscure magistrate name, officina number or control mark because some collectors are interested in obtaining all of the variants of the type.

The impact of price on the rarity of coins is entirely dependent on demand. A rare variant may not cost much more than a common variant of the same type with similar eye appeal. On the other hand, a rare variant or type might be much more expensive if there are a number of collectors that find the type desirable. The greatest impact of rarity on price applies when the specific rarity is necessary to complete a highly collected series. Consider that some U.S. coins are extremely expensive when only the date or mintmark varies from millions of others of the same type. Collectors need to "fill a hole" and the price reflects the demand created by that need. Fortunately, for most ancient coins the need to "fill holes" does not apply to the same extreme - even some extremely rare, unpublished, and even unique coins are sometimes still affordable.

RIC Rarity Ratings

See Emperors and their RIC volumes if you are uncertain which volume below applies.

RIC I (1984)
Sutherland, C.H.V. The Roman Imperial Coinage, Vol. I, From 39 BC to AD 69. (London, 1984).
C: Common to very common
S: Scarce
R: Rare
R2: [Rare] 11-15 known [in the collections examined]
R3: [Rare] 6 to 10 known [in the collections examined]
R4: [Rare] 2 to 5 known [in the collections examined]
R5: [Rare] Unique [only one in the collections examined]

RIC II (1926)
Mattingly H. & E. Sydenham. The Roman Imperial Coinage, Vol. II: Vespasian to Hadrian. (London, 1926).
Unspecified, probably the same as RIC I

RIC II, Part I (2007)
Carradice, I.A. & T.V. Buttrey. The Roman Imperial Coinage, Vol. II, Part 1: From AD 69 to 96. (London, 2007).
C2: Extremely common
C: Common
R: Rare
R2: Very rare
R3 - Unique [only one in the collections examined]

RIC III (1930)
Mattingly, H. & E. SydenhamThe Roman Imperial Coinage, Vol III, Antoninus Pius to Commodus. (London, 1930).
Unspecified, probably the same as RIC I

RIC IV (1986)
Mattingly, H.B., E.A. Sydenham & C.H.V. Sutherland. The Roman Imperial Coinage, Vol IV, From Pertinax to Uranius Antoninus. (London, 1986).
Unspecified, probably the same as RIC I

RIC V (1927 & 1933)
Mattingly, H., E.A. Sydenham & P. Webb. The Roman Imperial Coinage, Vol V, Part I, Valerian to Florian. (London, 1927).
Mattingly, H., E.A. Sydenham & P. Webb. The Roman Imperial Coinage, Vol V, Part II, Probus to Amandus. (London, 1933).
CC: Very common
CC: Very common
C: Common
S: Scarce
R: Rare
R2-R4: [Rare] Additional degrees of rarity
R5: Unique [only one in the collections examined]

RIC VI (1967)
Sutherland, R.A.C. & C.H.V. Carson. The Roman Imperial Coinage, Vol VI, From Diocletian's reform to the death of Maximinus. (London, 1967).
C2: [Very] Common in every major collection
C: [Common] In every major collection
S: [Scarce] In most major collections
R: [Rare] 26-50 coins known [in the collections examined]
R2: [Rare] 11-25 coins known [in the collections examined]
R3: [Rare] 6-10 coins known [in the collections examined]
R4: [Very Rare] 2-5 coins known [in the collections examined]
R5: Unique [only one in the collections examined]

RIC VII (1966)
Bruun, P.M. The Roman Imperial Coinage, Vol VII, Constantine and Licinius A.D. 313 - 337. (London, 1966).
C3: [Common] more than 41 coins known [to the writers when the book was written]
C2: [Common] 31-40 coins known [to the writers when the book was written]
C1: [Common] 22-30 coins known [to the writers when the book was written]
S: [Scarce] 16-21 coins known [to the writers when the book was written]
R1: [Rare] 11-15 coins known [to the writers when the book was written]
R2: [Rare] 7-10 coins known [to the writers when the book was written]
R3: [Rare] 4-6 coins known [to the writers when the book was written]
R4: [Very Rare] 2-3 coins known [to the writers when the book was written]
R5: Unique [only one in the collections examined]

RIC VIII (1981)
Carson, R., H. Sutherland and J. Kent. The Roman Imperial Coinage, Vol VIII, The Family of Constantine I, A.D. 337 - 364. (London, 1981).
Unspecified, probably similar to RIC VI or VII

RIC IX (1933)
Pearce, J.W.E. The Roman Imperial Coinage, Volume IX, Valentinian I - Theodosius I. (London 1933).
C-C3: [Common with] increasing degrees of commonness
S: Scarce
R-R4: [Rare with] increasing degrees of rarity
R5: Unique [only one in the collections examined]

RIC X (1994)
Kent, J. P. C. The Roman Imperial Coinage, Volume X, The Divided Empire and the Fall of the Western Parts, AD 395 - 491. (London, 1994).
Unspecified, probably similar to RIC VI or VII

Notes:
- Although RIC rarity is often criticized, better ratings are not available elsewhere.
- RIC rarity is wrong for many individual coin types but overall they are fairly accurate.
- Some of the RIC volumes are quite old and the ratings are dated. These volumes have many types listed as rare that are scarce at best, yet overall they are still fairly accurate. Most R5 coins are not unique but are very rare. Most R4 coins are also quite rare.
- Older volumes were based on older collections that tended to have more Western mint coins and fewer Eastern mint coins. Since many coins are now found with metal detectors in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, the rarity of Eastern mint coins is more likely to be overstated.
- Rarity of very interesting types and coins of very rare emperors are probably understated because extra effort was likely expended to acquire those types for the collections examined.
- For RIC volumes that list the rarity of types by each officina the accuracy of rarity for the whole type is usually more significant and the least rare officina considered. Specialty collectors may, however, disagree and an R5 coin for a particular officina is probably very rare even if the type is not.