Numism > For the New Ancient Coin Collector

Collection Strategies for the New Collector

(1/11) > >>

Lucas H:
In reading posts from new collectors, and thinking back to my own dilemma, I thought we could cobble together some advice for new collectors reading here on collection strategies.  When I was starting, the dilemma for me was between a few nice coins, or lots of more common ones. 

My initial interest was in ancient coins in general, but specifically those with a biblical connection.  I did a lot of looking, and neither the art nor history of the Byzantine Empire appealed to me.  I liked the art and history associated with many of the Greek coins, but many were outside my price range, and it still lacked that biblical connection.  I initially gravitated toward the Judean bronzes, and collected a number of those, but quickly learned my language limitations as I couldn't decipher the Hebrew.  I collected a few Persian coins as well, but I didn't find joy in having more than one (or maybe two) Persian Siglos with the Great King, as they all tended to look the same to me.  Now, I was in love with the silver though.  Prior to discovering ancients, I was in love with silver coins anyway in my collection of American coins.  Something about the look, and feel, of a silver coin calls to me. 

I tried a few denarii of the later Empire (Hadrian), and while I liked the silver and I could decipher the Latin legends much better than Greek or Hebrew, again, the history of the period just did not call to me.  I continued to browse coins, and as always, tried to learn more history.  As it all came together, the silver of the 12 Caesars (Imperators and Republic as well) became my true love.  The silver metal was my thing.  The period covered the formation of the Christian religion.  As an attorney, I've always had a love of government formation, and this period saw a shift from a Republic to an Empire as well, and that history really called to me.

Had I purchased a few, nicer coins, I don't know that I would have had the budget to experiment through these various periods to end up with something I truly had a passion for.  Several experienced collectors encouraged me to buy nicer coins as it would be better for my collection and resale if it ever came to it.  I suppose that's true, as I have more prutah than I could hock at a coin fair, but that was part of my learning process.

Off to the races, I started collecting what I could.  Within the 12 Caesars, it quickly became clear that the Flavians were probably the most common, and therefor, the most affordable, and I acquired a number of coins.  As my collection progressed, I learned more (about the hobby, availability, prices, and myself), I found that I did not need pristine pieces, but I desired to upgrade some of the more common, but worn, denarii I initially picked up.  The price difference between a worn denarii, and a nicer example, on the more common types, was not that much, and my enjoyment was enhanced by having nice devices and complete legends.  In my own journey, I had gone from a number of common, more affordable coins, to fewer, nicer examples in my own collecting practices.

Inspired by another recent thread that took a tragic turn, I thought we could pool the experience of our board here for some advice on collection strategies.  I know this advice has been given to many on individual threads over time, but I wanted to have a thread to collect it in one place.  If we get a good pool of advice, I'll make it a sticky topic for beginners on this board like common mistakes and books.

1.  What to collect and why (Greek, Roman, Byzantine)?
2.  Fewer, nicer coins, or more coins of a more common or worn variety?

I think there are many different options for the new collector.

To me the first and most important question a new collector should ask themselves is "why?".  Why do they want to collect ancient coins? 

The answer(s) to this question will help direct some decisions. 

For example if it is ancient Greece that really attracts someone then they should try starting with Greek coins even if their budget limits them to rough bronzes or tiny silvers, etc.  Yes they could get nicer quality late Roman coins for less money but better to stick to their passion.

Some answers, like "making an investment", "having a few coins to display or as conversation pieces", or due to a "strong attraction to a specific time or area or ruler" could point a new collector towards Mark's suggestion of buying one nice quality coin.

However, other responses to the why question could lead to other strategies. 

Some people are interested in uncleaned coins - their hobby is more like a craft - through their work and skill they turn an uncleaned coin into a cleaned and identifiable one (that is the goal anyway).  Here you want both some cheap practice coins (culls or low grade uncleaneds) and a source of nice uncleaneds (e.g. forvm stock) so you have a chance to end up with nice results.

Others like the puzzle / challenge of attributing unattributed coins.  Once again this sort of desire leads in a different direction to lots, or small groups, of cleaned, or "semi-cleaned", but unsorted / un-attributed coins.

Other people are interested in linking their collecting with research - maybe into the general time period or specific Emperors, etc.  In this case a collector might want to buy more inexpensive coins rather than fewer expensive ones so that they have more lines of research and reading to pursue.

Though many people look down on it as cliche I would say that new collectors, if interested in the Roman Empire, should consider the "Emperor's collection" as one option.  Most of us will never do the 12 Caesars in gold or be able to get every super rare usurper even in bronze.  However it is a good introduction to Imperial coinage.  Gives you something to shop for and hunt out at shows.  Allows for a lot of research and is easily upgradeable.  A collection started with a low value limit could be built up fairly quickly but then replaced over time with better quality examples.

Personally I began collecting with both the unattributed lots route (which had the advantage of exposing me to coinages I never would have though of buying - Judaean, Nabataean, Seleucid, etc.) and the Emperor's collection route (with a self imposed $20 limit per coin).  On the down side none of these coins - the unattributed cheapos nor the various under $20 Emperors - were exactly investment pieces.  On the up side I soon had a fairly large number of coins with huge scope for reading and research. 


I think there are two fundamental motives behind almost all collecting, which may help determine how a new collector sets about collecting ancient coins.

1. The desire to arouse envy in other collectors, by possessing rarities or coins in superb condition that they wish they themselves owned.

Rarities are a good option today, since relatively few collectors collect them. Even with a limited budget it is possible to acquire large numbers of rare varieties that almost no museum or other collector has. You've got to become a specialist in the series chosen, of course, so that you recognize the rarities when they happen to come up!

Everyone wants superb condition today, so you'll have to be a wealthy man, indeed richer than a millionaire, if you want to collect superb Greek tetradrachms or superb Roman aurei or medallions or sestertii! However if you choose a more affordable series, such as Roman denarii or antoniniani or Constantinian bronzes, a collection of very attractive, near perfect coins can be built up even on a moderate budget.

2. The second fundamental motive. Bargain-hunting; the delight in acquiring a coin for much less than it ought to be worth. The reason many of us used to go though rolls of coins acquired from the bank, hoping to find that 1950-D nickel for just five cents! The rarity collector of ancients will find lots of opportunites to acquire bargains, since so few other collectors today know about or seek rarities. But even the condition collector will make the occasional killing if he is persistent and patient and lucky!

A third motive for a good number of collectors: possessing a coin can be a powerful spur to investigating its rarity, chronology, and historical background, so educating yourself about the relevant culture and time period. See Doug Smith's excellent educational site, based almost exclusively on coins in his own collection. And as John Hooker, an expert on Celtic coins, recently wrote on Moneta-L, he has never made any important contribution or discovery about ancient coins without being spurred to start the investigation by having such a coin in his personal collection. My own first publication, in Num. Chronicle 1970, was on an As that I had just acquired from Seaby's, which I subsequently sold to the British Museum about twenty years later: "Nilus and the Four Seasons on a New As of Septimius Severus".

You seem to be doing much the same as I did when I started. Give it time, and see what interests you. Read the history behind the coins, and don't be put off by strange languages. It takes a while to learn the Hebrew script used on coins, for instance, even if you know the very different script used today. You get there with patience. If you're very rich, by all means go for EF Nero sestertii or whatever, but unless you're a multi-millionaire, find another period which interests you.

Anyone can acqure rarities in superb condition, as many of them are obscure, with few people after them, and it's just a matter of patience. You'll probably get more satisfaction from developing an in-depth interest in a particular specialism than a random collection, but give it time and see what takes your fancy. If you do, you'll find after a while that you're spotting the rarities other people miss.


--- Quote from: Lucas H on May 01, 2012, 07:56:49 am ---1.  What to collect and why (Greek, Roman, Byzantine)?
2.  Fewer, nicer coins, or more coins of a more common or worn variety?

--- End quote ---

One consideration that's going to play into both of these is that you need to collect what you can afford, and for most people it's not going to be very satisfying only buying 2-3 coins a year. A collection is like the proverbial shark - it needs to keep moving/growing to stay alive, or you'll lose interest. I'd suggest collecting an area/quality that'll allow you to buy at least one coin a month, or more. Within this constraint, buying fewer nicer coins is generally going to be more satisfying over the long term, especially since your taste/budget is likely to increase as you get hooked!



[0] Message Index

[#] Next page

Go to full version