Numismatic and History Discussions > Greek Coins

Complete novice with questions.

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David T7:
Hi folks, as the title says I am an absolute beginner. I have a bit of an interest in ancient history and am considering starting a small coin collection. I have some time on my hands being recently retired and I would appreciate some guidance. Your forum looks like a great place to start so I have been reading through various threads but would appreciate pointers on a few specifics.

1/ My area of interest is ancient Greece. A few forum members recommend as a starting point the book "Greek Coin Types and Their Identification" by Richard Plant. Is that the best starting point or are there other standard works.
2/ I appreciate this is an impossible question to answer accurately but what, very roughly, is the range for ancient Greek coins in terms of value. I may be miles out but I have seen "Owls" for sale in the region £1,000 to £2,000. I may well want to acquire one when I know a lot more but is it possible to pick up interesting coins for a lot less, say a few hundred UK pounds.
3/ In terms of a collecting theme I appreciate I am "jumping the gun" as I need to read up first but my initial thought is that I might try to acquire one coin with "eye appeal" from each of the locations in Greece which my wife and me have visited over the years, about a dozen islands/mainland locations.
4/ What do you guys do about security? Sadly crime is quite prevalent but I can't see the appeal of having coins in a bank vault as the appeal for me would be partly in handling something which was touched by people two thousand years ago plus. When I acquire coins do I keep quiet about it and hide them under the mattress! I'm being flippant but it is a serious point.
Thanks to anyone who has read this far. Thanks in anticipation of any replies.


Joe Sermarini:
I suggest starting with this discussion board and Numiswiki.

We do not discuss prices here. If you want to buy an Athens tet, click the shop button. 

I suggest taking your time with developing a theme but I like your idea.

Security depends on you own situation. I live in a place with little crime, have cameras, motion sensors, and a safe that cannot be moved or opened without great expertise and a lot of time. I would recommend a very good safe or a bank safe deposit box.

Welcome to the forum David.

Best bet is to read, read and read some more.  The message threads and articles on this site as well as books.

Joe's forum website store can give you an idea of prices.  The short answer is you can find Greek coins from $10 to $10,000 or more.  Depends on metal, rarity, condition, etc. 

In terms of books, while Plant's book is great it is really a book for identifying coins from the design on them.  It is not an overall history.  In fact, because Greek coinage was so varied and struck in so many areas over such a wide time - mostly in "independent areas" not a single Empire - there is no one single book that covers it all.

The forum coin shop, run by our host Joe, has a book section and see that they currently have a few good used books:

Dictionary of Ancient Greek Coins, 1986, John Melville Jones - good reference to have, though in dictionary form it is more of a short encyclopedia.

Greek Coins and Their Values, Volume I: Europe and Volume II: Asia and Africa. 

Personally, when it comes to Greek coins I found that some of the very old books were quite useful to me.  It is not hard to find used copies of:

Barclay V. Head, History Nvmorvm: a manual of greek nusismatics, over 1050 pages, 1911 but the hardcopy 1967 reprint can often be found for cheap.

Charles Seltman, Metheun Handbook of Greek Coins, 370 pages, I got the 1955 hardcover 2nd edition for quite cheap.

But perhaps best of all, though more expensive, is the Oxford Handbook of Greek and Roman Coinage edited by William E. Metcalf, 2012, almost 700 pages, it contains the latest (as of 2012) scholarship on all Western and mediterranean coinage from its beginning until about 500 AD.

In terms of security.  Yes, I would keep quiet in general and think carefully before displaying any in open view in your home.  Depends on the coins you get, their individual and total values, and the volume of your collection.  A safe is the norm for high value stuff.  Some people use a safety deposit box for extremely valuable stuff but as you say there seems to be greatly diminished fun in that.  It also depends on your home situation - isolated vs. in a condo, dog, people around all the time, etc.


Mark Fox:
Dear David, Joe, Shawn, & Board,

There is too much to say in one night, so I will try to keep my remarks brief!

My initial reaction to using Richard Plant's Greek Coin Types and Their Identification (1979) as a beginner's guide for finding one's place in the hobby was similar to Shawn's response.  However, after thinking more deeply on this, I can see the logic in such an approach, based on how the book is arranged.  Attached is a sample page which, in addition to the book's coin attributing qualities, also illustrates its rare potential as a theme finder.       

Like Joe, I am also liking your idea of tying coins into your past travels.  Along this same vein, perhaps you would like to obtain another of Rev. Plant's books, namely A Numismatic Journey Through the Bible (2007).  The way he weaves traveling into the narrative is quite fascinating and entertaining in my opinion, a concept which can be easily applied to a traveler visiting the cities of mainland Greece and be used to help you to decide which coins to collect. 

On a more academic, but no less interesting, level, perhaps this very old numismatic tour of Ancient Greece will give you some ideas and entice you to open the door to the Roman provincial world as well:
A Numismatic Commentary on Pausanias (1885–1887) by Friedrich Imhoof-Blumer and Percy Gardner

For a far more general read on the history and what kinds of coins the Greek World has to offer, I have to go with Ian Carradice's Greek Coins (1995).  It was one of the very first ancient coin books I read from cover to cover.

By the way, one way to help decide on a collecting theme or pinpoint a certain issue that interests you is to write a short article.  It doesn't have to be for publication.  It can be just for your own amusement or to post here on Forvm.  I know when I do research on a particular numismatic topic, the coins under study can easily become incredibly fascinating to me.  A lot of my enduring interests in this or that group of coins can be linked to such literary efforts.
Whatever direction you decide to trek toward, don't forget the bronze issues!  Not only are they more affordable on average as compared to their intrinsically more valuable silver and gold counterparts, but they are the coins most likely to have been used by the citizens of the cities that issued them.  They also can be just as rich in design and beautiful in color and craftsmanship as any silver tetradrachm or gold stater.

Everyone has already adequately addressed the topic of security, but I will add that storing your collection in multiple locations might be something worth considering as well.   

Hope some of this helps and Godspeed on your collecting adventures!

Best regards,

Mark Fox

David T7:
Thank you for those comprehensive and helpful comments folks. Much appreciated.


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