Numism > For the New Ancient Coin Collector

How (and why) do you collect Ancient Coins

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Virgil H:
I have been around here for many years, but just read the sticky post "Common Beginners Errors." Great post, lots of good discussion (it is a sticky above). I thought I would revisit the questions of how (and why) we all collect ancient coins). I personally always consider myself a newbie, although I really am not any longer.  Part of this is that I am not as specialized as many. I am interested in what you think and your personal reasons for some of the specializations.

For me, I collect for two reasons, mainly:

1) Places I have spent a lot of time in. Turkey comes to mind here. I could say the same about Europe, but I can't go down the medieval rabbit hole. I am starting down the Roman rabbit hole as it is.

2) My historical interests, which is why my Turkish coins all have been Greek, with a smattering of Byzantine and Roman and that is expanding. But I have no interest in Ottoman. History led me first to Greek and recently to Roman. Also Byzantine and Crusader, but I also see Byzantine as the Roman Empire and Crusader is kind of a unique cross. My first historical love has always been Greek, I named my first born male child after Alexander. I took Homeric Greek in high school. My favorite book is The Odyssey (Fagle's translation, been a while since I read any of it in Greek)). For me, the history has always come first, but the specific history has often come from the coins I get.

I have zero interest in coins that all look the same other than dates or in coins that I cannot touch or hold in my hand for fear of reducing their value. I will probably never buy a coin that is in one of those holders. I am not a specialist, I don't think I ever will be except in possibly a very narrow area, but that will never be a narrow specialization. I may try to assemble a collection of Elymais coins, having recently discovered these are both beautiful and accessible (for the most part). This may be a concession to the notion that I am not a serious collector unless I have a specialty. But I guess I am also advocating that there is nothing wrong with the shotgun approach.

Interesting to see what you all have to say in 2021 versus 2012.

Virgil


Tracy Aiello:
Hi Virgil,

Great thread to resurrect. Unfortunately I can’t compare my reasons for collecting in 2012 to now, as I didn’t start until about 4 ½ years ago.

Why do I collect?

I’ve always been interested in history and the coins have sometimes led me to the history (Sextus Pompey) while the history (Aurelian and the Palmyrene Empire, Odenathus to Shapur I and therefore to the Sasanian empire, the interregnum after Aurelian’s murder) has led me to the coins. Then I can enjoy the best of two worlds: buying coins and buying books/hunting down journal articles (numismatic and purely historical).

Buying coins naturally leads to attribution and study, and that in turn satisfies my urge to do research, collect information about something, and then write it up. I feel that I often go overboard in my Forum gallery, but as someone on this discussion board once told me, if I enjoy it and it’s not hurting anyone, then I shouldn’t even think of it that way.

A given coin type can also inspire and stimulate my interest. The wonderful Crawford 511/4d that I purchased from Joe here at Forum, with it’s amazing representation of Skylla on the reverse, led to an interest in representations of Skylla. That has so far played itself out in the purchase of a book, obtaining a few journal articles, acquiring coins of Sextus Pompey, and a coin from Tarentum, Calabria. So...many...more representations of Skylla to explore. 

Quaintness, beauty, art. Some coins captivate me with these qualities. Many such coins I will never be able to afford, but others are within my reach. A few of the many examples that I am lucky to own: my AI signed Facing Head drachm of Larissa; my litra from Akragas with a badass crab on the reverse; my tritartemorion from Lampsako, Mysia; my Athenian tetradrachm and obol; my most recent Larissian acquisition which I was lucky enough to obtain, BCD Thessaly I 1111 (that very coin). Hmmm, that’s the second mention of Larissa.

Finally, I collect because as something that can give a tangible inroad into history I enjoy the fact that I can touch coins, examine them closely, hold them, show them to others, have others hold them, etc. Sometimes I will pick-up one of my joint Aurelian/Vabalathus coins from Antioch and wonder to myself if that coin had been used to pay one of Zenobia’s mercenaries in her war with Aurelian.

Obviously my reasons for collecting can overlap and be mutually reinforcing.

If I were ever to specialize, then it would be in the fractional silver coinage of Larissa, but not of the facing head types. Perhaps I already do this, as I own more Larissian fractionals than any other type of coin and lately I’ve been on a tear trying to acquire them. I don’t think, however, that I’ll ever be a specialist as a result of my specialization: I don’t see myself as having the skill, patience, and opportunity to acquire that level of knowledge, experience, and expert eye.

All the best.

Tracy










Virgil H:
Hi Tracy,
I love your answer and it is so close to my own reasons, but much better written. The attribution thing I just love for all the reasons you state. And, as I said, I start with history that I know or travels to places I have been. But the coins often take me other places. As far as specializing, I think the closest I will get will be "one of every king" kinds of things. For me, it all started with Alexander the Great, so Kings of Macedon are an area I pursue. Minor specializations for me could be coins of Sinope (Or Paphlagonia or Pontus) or coins with Artemis or Cybele (learning that the ancient Cybele cult was brought to Rome was something I learned from coins and didn't know before). My latest purchase from Forum is a Roman coin with Cybele. Who knew? LOL.

One recent specialization for me is Kings of Elymais and my reasons are multiple, a major one of which is budget. The other is esthetics of the coins (I love the portraits) and that Artemis is often featured on reverses. I also was right across the river from where Elymais was when I was in Iraq my second time. But, I got one for a super low price recently and since have acquired two more of different kings at very low prices. I know I may have to spend more to complete my set, but even the most expensive Elymais coin is within my budget.

Thanks for your response.

Virgil

Stkp:

--- Quote from: Virgil H on August 04, 2021, 11:39:54 pm ---I am not a specialist, I don't think I ever will be except in possibly a very narrow area, but that will never be a narrow specialization. I may try to assemble a collection of Elymais coins, having recently discovered these are both beautiful and accessible (for the most part). This may be a concession to the notion that I am not a serious collector unless I have a specialty. But I guess I am also advocating that there is nothing wrong with the shotgun approach.

--- End quote ---

Virgil,

I know the feeling. Apart from my medieval Hungarians, I dabble in many things and question whether I should call myself a "serious" collector of any of them. My Elymaian coins are a case in point. There was a sudden availability of these on the market several years back. This sparked my interest in a series that I had never thought about before. The result is my Elymaian gallery. https://www.forumancientcoins.com/gallery/thumbnails.php?album=6557. There is nothing wrong with having omnivorous collecting interests. I once tried to confine my buying into the narrow parameters of a specialty but have since given in to my impulses. Having a narrow-er specialty, and also collecting as the idiosyncratic interest in something new and unfamiliar hits you, is, I think, the best of both worlds.

Stkp

Tracy Aiello:
Thank you, Virgil, for the kind words. I like the fact that the places that you’ve been, actually seen and set foot on/in, are jump off points for your collecting.

Stkp’s phrase “omnivorous collecting interests” is a great one! I will have to borrow it, with full attribution of course, as I think that the sentiment behind the phrase is another powerful driver for collecting. Some coins do just hit me, and then I want them. Case in point is the hemiobol from Assos, Troas that I picked up a while ago from Forum. It just spoke to me.

I’ll be darned if I can remember who said it (I thought that it was Frank Lloyd Wright), but I recall reading a quote about how the collector doesn’t pick the Japanese woodblock print, the print picks the collector (another artistic area that captivates me; I think that I own just under 20 of them). That sentiment easily applies to coin collecting as well.

Tracy

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